Posted 18 August 2021
Written by Creative Lives in Progress
Illustration by Luci Pina

A guide to making, sending and chasing up invoices

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There’s nothing more exciting than landing your first few creative gigs. But while doing the work is one thing, making sure you know how to get paid for it is another. Whether you’ve been commissioned to write an article, design a logo or whip up an illustration, if you’re taking on any kind of freelance work, you’ll need to know how to invoice for it. The good news is, it’s actually not that bad once you get going. To help you get started, we’re sharing all you need to know.

What is an invoice and why do you need one?

An invoice is a time-stamped, informative document that you send, usually as a PDF in an email in order to be paid for freelance work. And if you’re a full-time freelancer or take on any kind of extra freelance work, invoicing is something you’ll need to get to grips with.

An invoice is a simple document that specifies essential information like the terms of the work agreed, the job itself, dates and, of course, your bank details. It also provides all the necessary details about how to get paid, how much you’re getting paid, and when you’re going to get paid.

Put simply, without creating and submitting an invoice, you won’t get paid. Plus, learning how to invoice will not only cut down your time spent doing admin, it will also help you get paid quicker and lessen the load when it comes to the dreaded tax return.

✋ But first – contracts

Contracts and invoices go hand-in-hand, and often signpost the start and end of a project. So it’s worth knowing a little about how the two work together.

Sometimes, at the beginning of a project, a company will create a contract for you, and ask you to fill out a form. At other times, you’ll have to create your own. Either way, it’s important to have one, and to ensure you’ve read every inch of it so that you completely understand what you’re agreeing to. Here are a few things to watch out for:

💳 Check the fee
How much are they are offering in terms of payment? Be sure that this is clear and that you can actually deliver within that budget before accepting the job. You also don’t want to get to the stage of invoicing to realise that you had different payment figures in mind.

🗓 Check when you’ll get paid
Generally speaking, all invoices should be paid within 30 days. This is a general timeframe and most companies will adhere to this, but check your contract for any differing dates or times. You might be able to ask the employer for a different time frame, but never assume that it’s shorter.

Ideally, you want to have the contract signed and all the negotiations done before you start the work, as it can be difficult to renegotiate once you’ve started. If you’re looking for more advice on contracts specifically, check out our guide to being commissioned here.

What does an invoice look like?

Everyone has their own way of doing things, and invoices are no exception to that. But, the basic rule of thumb here is to keep it simple: a separate, one-page document will do just fine.

Creating a clear and editable template from the off will set you up well for filling out and sending invoices for future work. Keep it to hand on your desktop or have it saved on a hard-drive, so that it’s easily accessible. You can create this in Microsoft Word, InDesign, or whichever software you find easiest.

If you’ve already set up a template for your CV or cover letter, you might find it easier to adapt this for your invoices, especially if you want it to look consistent with any personal branding or identity you might have. Just remember to keep it clear and prioritise substance over style; your information should be easy to read and access. Below are a couple of examples:

What information do you need to include?

Unlike your CV or cover letter, there’s less room for interpretation when it comes to invoices. So if you’re hoping to find a one-rule system of what to include, then you’re in luck! Here’s a list of what you definitely need to include in yours:

📇 Name and contact details

This should include:

• Your home or business address
• Your email address
• Your phone number
• Links to your website or social media handles
T
he address of the company or individual you are invoicing

🗓 Invoice date

It’s vital to clearly specify the date you are submitting or sending the invoice. This is not only important for your own records, it also ensures that you get paid on time and within 30 days.

If you’ve agreed to something different and it’s specified in your contract, you can also put in a reminder, like: “Payment to be received within 30 days” or “two weeks”, for example.

#️⃣ An invoice number

Including a unique number for each invoice is a good way to keep organised if you need to find or refer to any in future. One way to do this is to base your invoice number on dates, which can make it easter to locate the exact month and year of an invoice.

For example, if you were sending your first ever invoice on 2nd August 2021, your invoice number would go like this:

02082101

The first two digits are the day (02) the second two digits are the month (08) the third is the year (21) and the last two digits are the invoice number (01). Then, the next invoice would be 02, 03 and so on.

📝 Project details

Next you’ll want to outline the nature of the project you’ve completed. This should include:

• Project name
• Description of services or deliverables, including quantity
• The dates and hours per day that you worked
• The fee or payment amount agreed
• Any additional or tax information
• Any purchase order numbers (if one has been assigned)
• The final total to be paid

This will vary slightly depending on the type of work you take on, for example, if you are being commissioned to create something specific, the hours you worked would be less relevant – whereas if you’re working on a variety of projects with a studio on a freelance basis, it’s more about highlighting the number of days you worked.

🏦 Your bank details

It almost goes without saying, but this is a truly vital piece of information! You’ll need to include your:

• Account number
• Sort code
• IBAN number
if you’re invoicing abroad.
You can find this number by logging into your online banking account.

🌎 A note on invoicing different countries
The great thing about being a freelancer is that you can work for anyone, anywhere! But a word of caution for anyone taking on work in different countries – as this usually ends up with a fee being taken out of your final payment. This varies depending on the transaction and how it is processed, as well as the country.

You can also include a Paypal address, though this also requires a fee, or use other services like CHAPS. Discuss with your employer about which option they might prefer to use.

🚨 Double and triple-check these numbers!
The last thing you want is for your payment to not go through because of a typo, or for a stranger to get paid for your hard work! Be vigilant, especially if you’re copying and pasting numbers across on screen.

How and when to send your invoice

Depending on the project at hand and what industry you’re working in, an invoice usually gets sent over email once a project is complete. When you’ve finished the work, and after any feedback has been implemented, it’s simply a case of exporting your invoice and emailing it to the commissioner along with a short message.

Make sure to name the file clearly with your name and invoice number, for example:

JaneDoe_Invoice_02082101.pdf


It’s also worth watching the size of your PDF – you don’t want to send a huge file that takes too long to open or which uses up a lot of space to file. Once sent, follow up to make sure that they have all they need. Ask the commissioner to confirm they’ve received it and that all the details are correct.

There are some instances, however, where you might need to send your invoice at different stages:

🚛 Requesting half of the payment upfront for big projects

If you’re a designer, carpenter, maker or working on a longer term project, then you might want to receive a 50% payment upfront before you start. This is especially useful if it’s a big project – and big fee – as it ensures you get paid. It also helps with covering materials that you might need to start the work.

This means you can send an invoice before starting the project, and once the work is done, you can send your final invoice.

🤹 Working on multiple jobs for the same company

If you’re working on multiple jobs for one company, it might be worth sending a bundle invoice at the end of the month. Again, check in with your employer to see what’s the best option for you.

Use an invoice system to stay organised

Knowing how to create and send an invoice is ace, but it’s also worth thinking about having a longer-term system in place to help you stay organised, make sure nothing goes missing and also to keep track of invoices sent, paid – and those you might need to chase.

Plus, if you decide to work with an accountant when it comes to filing your taxes, having a well-organised system will make it a lot easier for them to go through all your paperwork.

Here are a few tips to consider when it comes to landing on a method:

🗄 Create a system that works for you

The main thing you need from a system is easy access, and to be able to locate any given invoice at any time, particularly when the end of the year approaches... ahem, the tax deadline.

This could be a digital spreadsheet that lists the dates of any invoices submitted, and when they’re due – or overdue! Alternatively, you might prefer printing your invoices, filing them physically and setting a calendar reminder to check in on payment.

Whatever you decide, an ideal invoicing system will:

• Remember your details for easy input
• Track when payment has been completed
• Remind you if the invoice has not been paid within a certain date
• Be easily organised so you can recall a certain invoice at a moment’s notice

📲 Use an automatic filing app

The other option is to sign up for a digital service or app. There are obvious benefits to this; for starters, they can prompt you with reminders to send invoices and also alert you when one is due. They can also assist with creating invoice templates for you, and keep everything in place.

Xero is great for sending out reminders and timed invoices, but there are also a bunch of other free apps out there. Here’s a list of free automatic filing apps that you could use, as suggested by digital platform, Zapier:

PayPal for creating invoices on mobile devices
Square for accepting POS (point of sale) and online payments
Wave for all-in-one invoicing and accounting for small businesses
Zoho Invoice for automated invoice workflows
Harvest for time-tracking invoicing software
Invoice Generator for sending invoices without creating an account
AND.CO for managing a single client project
Hiveage for integrating with multiple payment gateways
Stripe for all-in-one payment processing across platforms

🕰 Keep it chronological

Whatever method you choose, you can’t go wrong with a chronological approach. Having your invoices organised by year and month will not only will help you to keep track of any pesky late payments, it will also help you file your tax return.

If everything’s jumbled up, trust us when we say you’re probably going to have a headache when it comes to filing your taxes – especially if you’re working with a lot of invoices.

Following up and chasing invoices

Everyone knows how anxiety-inducing it is to follow up a late payment, especially if you’re just starting out and trying to keep in people’s good books. But, remember this: they haven’t paid you yet. Sometimes this is a one-off, but other times this is a really bad reflection of a company, especially if it’s a reoccurring thing.

The best thing to do if you have a late payment – even if it’s a couple of days overdue – is to email them with a polite reminder. Something like:

“Hi [Name],

Hope you’re well,

I wanted
to check in on my invoice. Can you let me know when this will be processed please? Thank you,

[Name]."

⚖️ Know your rights

Even if you’ve done all of the above, things can still go wrong that are out of your control. So it’s important to understand your rights and how you are protected by the law. If a payment has not been made according to the terms in your contract, you are legally allowed to charge statutory interest, which is 8% of your fee, plus the Bank of England base rate for business to business transactions. You are also able to claim up to £100 of debt recovery costs.

Gov.uk explains how all this works in detail. You can also consider adding a warning about late payment fees on your invoices.

While creating an invoice can feel like a bit of a mystery when you’re starting out, having a bulletproof template and system in place will help set you on the right financial path. Start as you mean to go on, and soon enough those invoicing skills will pay off – literally!

Written by Creative Lives in Progress
Illustration by Luci Pina