15 Invoicing Tips for Designers and Freelancers

Most designers don’t particularly enjoy the financial side of running a business, but handling it properly is a necessary part of being a freelancer or running a design agency. The financial side of the business includes invoicing clients, and in this article we’ll look at some tips and best practices for invoicing.

1. Decide on an Invoicing App or Software

There are plenty of online invoicing apps available that have been created with designers and freelancers in mind. Additionally, there are some software options as well. Using either an online app or software to handle your invoicing will allow you to save time and to have better organization over your invoices and receivables, as opposed to using a manual system or spreadsheets.

With so many options to choose from (see 20 Invoicing Tools for Web Designers), you should be able to find an app or software that includes all of the features that you need, and ideally, not a lot of those that you don’t need. Online apps are available in a wide range of prices, some are even free. Prices will usually rise as more features are included, and most invoicing apps will have a few different plans according to the number of invoices and clients that you need to manage.

If you’d like to avoid monthly or yearly fees of online apps, you can purchase invoicing software for a one-time fee and manage an unlimited number of invoices and clients.

For invoicing software we recommend Fanurio. For online apps we recommend FreshBooks. Find a solution that meets your needs and it will help you to have more accurate invoicing and financial records with less time commitment.

2. Determine Your Policies

In an ideal world, all of your invoices would be paid on time. However, most designers have to deal with late payments, or even no payments, every now and then. You should be prepared and set some policies for how you will handle your invoicing and payments.

Some things you need to consider:


  • How much will you charge up front?
  • How many days will you give clients to make payments?
  • What late fees will you charge for late payments?
  • Will you provide completed files or work before or after final payment is received?
  • What types of payment will you accept?

Of course, there will be situations when you’ll want to make some adjustments or exceptions to your policies, but it’s a good idea to establish the policies in the first place and then deal with exceptions as needed.

3. Avoid Surprises

Clients should be made aware of your policies and they should know when they will be invoiced for your services. Clients who are surprised by anything on the invoice (whether it is the amount due, the payment terms, the hourly fee, or not knowing what the invoice is for) will be much more likely to pay late or to not pay at all. Part of having an invoicing system that works efficiently is to make sure that there are no unpleasant surprises for clients.

4. Include Your Contact Information

Your invoices should always include your name (or your company name), address, and preferably your email and phone number. Depending on the client you are dealing with, there may be a number of different people that handle the invoice before it gets paid. If it gets passed to an accounts payable department and they have some question about the invoice, it should be easy for them to get in touch with you. Any delays in being able to contact you will result in a delay of the payment as well. Additionally, some of your clients will need your contact information on invoices for legal or record keeping purposes.

5. Have a System for Numbering

Most designers send out invoices on a frequent basis. It doesn’t take long before it becomes difficult to track them without having a system for numbering. Most online apps and software will include this by default or will allow you to customize the invoice numbers. Having numbers will allow you to easily record payments accurately as they are received, it will help for tracking down late payments, and it will make it easier on your clients’ record keeping as well.

6. Include the Recipient’s Information

In addition to including your own contact information, you should include all of the same things for the recipient. This can help for making communication easier, but more importantly, it can be important for legal purposes if you are having issues with not receiving payments. The less information you have on the invoice the harder it is to prove that you are owed any money.

7. Provide the Details of Services and Charges

Each invoice should specify what the charges are for and what services have been performed for the client. This will help both you and the client. For the client, it will help to avoid confusion over what has been done, what they are being billed for, and what they have already paid for. This can especially be an issue for projects that involve multiple invoices or for clients for whom you do on-going work.

From your perspective, a detailed description can help you for record keeping and to know what clients have already been invoiced for and what they will need to be invoiced for in the future.

8. Include the Due Date

Each invoice should include a due date for when payment is expected. Without a due date it can be difficult to assess any late fees or to establish that a client has not paid on time. Due dates are helpful even for your clients that always pay on time, as it can help them to know what you expect and when they will need to process the payment.

9. List Methods of Payment that are Accepted

Clients should not only be aware of how much they owe, what services they are being charged for, and when they need to pay, but also how they can make a payment. Some designers prefer to receive checks, while others accept online credit card payments. Your clients should be aware of how they can get you the money that is owed. Making it easier for them and communicating clearly is always a good thing for increasing the likelihood that you will be paid on time. If you are accepting payment in the form of checks, clients should also know to whom they should make out the check.

10. Send the Invoice as an Attachment

Most designers send their invoices by email rather than snail mail or fax, and this is a good practice for saving paper and speeding up the process. Generally, the easiest way for clients to receive and view an invoice sent by email is a PDF attachment. Most apps and software will create PDF versions of invoices for you.

11. Be Sure to Send it to the Appropriate Person

Before sending an invoice to a client, be sure that you know who should be receiving the invoice. Especially if your client is not a small business, sending the invoice to the wrong person can slow down the process and increase the chances of the invoice being lost or ignored.

12. Record Payments as They are Received

Sending out invoices is really just the start of the process. You’ll also need to have a system for recording payments as they are received. This way you’ll be able to easily, and accurately, see who has paid you and what invoices are outstanding or past due. If you fail to record payments accurately you’ll waste time trying to identify unpaid invoices, and you may even wind up contacting clients about a late payment that has already been made.

13. Follow Up

As your unpaid invoices reach their due dates, take a moment to follow up with the client, remind them, and see if payment is on the way or if there are any problems. As was mentioned earlier, it’s a good practice to have some sort of policy for handling collections of late payments, and follow up will probably always be a part of the process.

In some cases the invoice may have slipped through the cracks and the client will quickly pay when they realize this. In other cases, a gentle nudge or the possibility of a late fee will be enough encouragement.

14. Indicate if it is a Partial Payment

Because most web design projects involve more than one invoice or payment (for example, 50% up front and 50% at completion), it’s a good practice to indicate this on the invoice. Doing so can help to avoid potential confusion and disputes that could lead to difficulty in collecting payments, plus clear communication is always a positive.

15. Address any Problems

Whenever you experience a problem or issue that a client has with an invoice or charge, address it as soon as possible. Don’t wait to see if they’ll make the payment, make an effort to get it resolved. The longer it goes the less likely you are to receive payment.

What are Your Tips?

If you have any tips from your own experience that you’d like to share with our readers, please leave a comment.

Disclosure: this post includes an affiliate link for Fanurio. We use this software and can honestly recommend it.

Looking for hosting? WPEngine offers secure managed WordPress hosting. You’ll get expert WordPress support, automatic backups, and caching for fast page loads.

61 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Zoe Feast, January 27, 2010

    Quick-books works very well for me.

  • Crystal, January 28, 2010

    I’m in love with Freshbooks for my invoicing, although I haven’t tried too many other programs. I just love that they’re online for one, and that their pricing plans vary depending on how many projects you have at a time (the free version is definitely helpful for those slow times).

    I find that if I enforce late fees problems seem to cease for the most part. I think it can, for one, obviously encourage clients to avoid the fees, as well as present a freelancer as more of a business rather than just a solo-worker a client can easily take advantage of, or sway easily with payments. Having an initial contract up front also tends to help by defining them there and not only in the final invoice.

    All great tips here, and from what I can tell from my experience, all accurate and well thought out suggestions!

  • Myo Han Htun, January 28, 2010

    Nice article. I had never done it before in my freelancing life. I used to send only emails and asked my clients to put either in Paypal or money transfer.

    Your advice is more professional. Thanks you so much for it.

  • Chuck Spidell, January 28, 2010

    Freshbooks is the bomb.

  • Melvin José, January 28, 2010

    This is very usefull information.
    I’m missing one important tip tough.
    A designers invoice should look professional aswell. So it should have a costum design IMO.

    • Vandelay Website Design, January 28, 2010

      Hi Melvin,
      I think a lot of people would agree with you, but I have had some clients that prefer a simple invoice.

  • New York Web Design, January 28, 2010

    Great Post :)
    I really benefited from the list. Thanks for your sharing!

  • Amanda Kay, January 28, 2010

    Crystal – thanks for your helpful comment about Freshbooks. I’ve been considering using this service for some time, but prefer to read of other’s experience before committing to anything. With your testimonial here, I’ll be sure to give it a try!

    • Vandelay Website Design, January 28, 2010

      Amanda,
      I’ve also used FreshBooks in the past and it is a good option.

  • Lenny Terenzi, January 28, 2010

    Harvest, Harvest, Harvest!

  • Eric Di Bari, January 28, 2010

    Great detailed post. I don’t think I would have given invoicing this much thought on my own.

  • Eric Benoit, January 28, 2010

    I use Billings 3. Great app, priced right and no monthly subscription to use it (I hate subscription based services, I like to own things).

    I also like to send a Thank You email when I receive payment… to say thanks and to let them know I received the payment.

  • Jeremy Ashburn, January 28, 2010

    Excellent tip about making clients aware of your invoicing policies. I’ll have to take a look at Freshbooks as I’m still newly emerging into the design world. I agree that follow up is absolutely essential.

  • orlando web design, January 29, 2010

    Good list but you forgot projectbubble.com
    It’s free and great,

  • u02, January 29, 2010

    Nice post. Thank you so much.

  • Aditya, January 29, 2010

    I’m using CurdBee myself and I must say being a free service (basic) it does a pretty fantastic job.

  • Thomas McGee, January 29, 2010

    If you are interested in a desktop application for mac, I’ve used On the Job, it seems to work pretty well: http://stuntsoftware.com/onthejob/

  • wedding florist india, January 29, 2010

    yes it good to have invoicing software for online payment.thanks for info sharing..

  • Web Developer, January 29, 2010

    I recently expanded my business and we started using Freshbooks , we love this web based soulition it saves us a ton of time with invoicing , time tracking and is very mobil. (not affiliated with them).

    Good post,

    George

  • Robert, January 31, 2010

    +1 for Curdbee. Simply amazing and its super value for small businesses like us. I’ve been using couple of other apps before including famous Freshbooks and Zoho, before switching to Curdbee which saves me at least $100 every year. Even their free account seems on par with the others. Highly recommend it for anyone.

  • dan, January 31, 2010

    I have not tried other programs, i like the ones on line and the pricing that hey have. thanks

  • Website Design Brisbane, February 1, 2010

    Really like this list. Freshbooks is definitely a favorite of mine without a doubt. :) Good work Vandelay.

  • Wladimir, February 1, 2010

    Do also try out http://www.cannybill.com. Not only does it handle all your invoicing but also web based order forms.

    Great for selling products, services, digital downloads, web hosting, domain names and even SSls!

  • Ronin, February 5, 2010

    Great tips. For those who are looking for an alternative online service, you can try us (Ronin, http://www.roninapp.com). We’ve crafted the workflow specifically around invoicing best practices and the application covers these tips. Also, tip #16 would be that it’s best to include a personal touch on your invoices, whether it’s a personal message or a customized design that matches you business’s persona. One thing you should look for is an application that will allow you customize or change your invoice’s look and feel to best match you business.

  • Manish Chauhan, February 6, 2010

    Thanks for these nice tips. Invoicing has become an vital part for freelancers and designers and these tips will surely help them managing their invoices.

    On the other note, I would also recommend to try http://www.invoicera.com , it is an easy to use online invoice application with advanced features like multiple currency support, invoice scheduling, time and expense tracking and many more.

  • John W. Vermaes, February 8, 2010

    Perhaps I’ve worked in too many “corporate” environments, but these tips seem like sheer common sense to me. I was really hoping to see something that would have made me stop and think, “Hm. Now that’s a brilliant idea!” Unfortunately that didn’t happen.

    Nevertheless, this is still a really great article. I have to keep in mind that not everyone has formed intimate relationships with accounting software like I have. I personally use Quickbooks for all of my accounting needs and am quite happy with it.

    Sure … Quickbooks doesn’t have the uber sleek interface that some of the listed services have, but it’s a one-time purchase and it gets the job done (really well). The bottom line is that even invoices follow a logical progression, much like the graphic or web design that we do.

    • Vandelay Website Design, February 8, 2010

      Hi John,
      If you have a lot of experience with invoicing and accounting I’m not sure there are tips that will blow you away. It’s a pretty straightforward process. The article was intended primarily for new designers or freelancers that don’t have much experience with that sort of thing.

  • Stu Green, February 11, 2010

    Project Bubble does invoicing but also Project Management, and is free – check it out: http://projectbubble.com

  • Philippe, March 9, 2010

    There is a new app designed for freelancer and designer its Ofuz in includes invoicing and make it simple as it take care of most of the 15 points above.
    Give it a try, http://www.ofuz.com/ its freemium with soon an open source download.

  • Tom, June 30, 2010

    I use Quickbooks and agree with the PDF of the invoice being emailed. (and conformation of receipt also helps)

  • Dave, August 15, 2010

    This is a good invoice app:

    http://bee-software.net/invoice-software/

  • skqi, September 4, 2010

    I’m using xin invoice free version http://www.xininvoice.com . It’s quite simple.

  • Matt, October 11, 2010

    I’ve been invited into the prerelease version of http://www.billfor.it
    Looks good so far. They say they are launching in november providing the testing doesn’t through up anything major. I have been impressed with how friendly and helpful they are so far.

  • John Cowler, October 12, 2010

    Good guide, invoicing is definitely something neglegted a bit by many entrepreneurs and once business starts rolling you are wasting alot of time without the right system.

  • free invoice software, November 29, 2010

    A good way to get invoices created free is to use Invoice Bubble, it’s an online app that is really easy to use. Also Billings App is good for the Mac, definitely recommend that too, along with Pancake for PHP.

  • Invoice Software, May 21, 2011

    Excellent tips, thank you very useful! I’d recommend using Paper Free Billing, it’s a very simple online application, but it has superb workflow making it very easy and efficient to use.

  • Hetal, June 8, 2011

    Hi there,

    Apptivo is another option that you could check out. You can create, send and track invoices for free. You can include payment options within the invoice (paypal or google checkout links). You can send automated reminders if an invoice is past due. They also have other apps – project management, customer management, timesheets all seamlessly integrated – all free – you can run your entire business from Apptivo. Check it out at http://www.apptivo.com/consultants-suite/

  • Andrew Ryan, July 28, 2011

    Thanks for the list! you covered a lot of great tips. I’d recommend http://www.nirvaha.com/billing-statements.html. It’s an online service and the invoice is easy to edit. Thanks again!
    -Andy

  • Simeon, July 29, 2011

    Good tips thanks..

    What about the case when you organised the printing on behalf of the client ? I received an invoice from the printer with payment details before they proceed but it’s addressed to me – though they do expect the client to pay for it directly, how does that work?

    I don’t like the idea of having an invoice in my name (for tax reasons maybe though Im not sure!) when I’m not the one paying the bill…. any tips on this i’m a bit confused?

    • Vandelay Website Design, July 29, 2011

      Simeon,
      If the client is paying the invoice you should be able to communicate that to the printer and have them invoice the client directly.

  • pwmateo, August 24, 2011

    For creating invoices we use http://hostbillapp.com

  • Vincent, August 29, 2011

    Great list and the applications suggested in the comments are just as great! Thanks!

  • Karen, November 5, 2011

    Great tips on invoicing! I’ve been using Freshbooks but my problem is finding another tool that accepts PayPal as a payment method. Right now they only accept credit cards for plans.

  • Kumar, August 14, 2012

    Actually, selecting the best tool or app for invoicing is the hardest part of all, where I have got some suggestions. I would prefer Invoicera for managing my invoices.

  • Dragonfly, October 17, 2012

    These tips are awesome. I get these questions so often and it’s a pain writing out the same email to so many freelancers. I’m also going to check out your book multiple income streams for designers. Could be useful for the designers on dragonfly.

    Cheers.

  • Andy Brown, November 29, 2012

    I use Salestastic. It’s actually pretty good. If you don’t invoice too often there’s a free for life plan too. Worth checking out: http://www.salestastic.com

  • Vinay@Website Design, January 8, 2013

    If we could have a software or an app which runs on hand held devices this could be good for the SALES TEAM to book orders during client meetings. it could be like this, they fill up a pre determined form which could be send to the clients inbox. The client then can take a print our or save it as pdf.

  • Dan, January 29, 2013

    Our small team of consultants just switched over to PlanetSoho for all our invoicing needs, and its been great for us! Worth a try guys. Good Luck!

  • David, February 4, 2013

    These are great tips.

    Adding to point #2, Define Your Policies, if you want to get paid faster, include a small discount for early payment or a small fee for late payment. This will help move your invoice to the top of a stack of invoices with no incentives. If you provide an incentive for early payment you can cover your costs by slightly increasing your rate. Either way, you can save yourself from having to send follow-up invoices.

    It’s also been shown that saying “Thank You” can help you get paid faster. It’s nice to know that good manners are also good business.

    If you are a freelancer or a small team doing creative work, I’ve created an invoicing, tracking and estimating app specifically for your situation, Scoreboard: http://getscoreboard.com.