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5 Tips for Sending More Useful and Effective Invoices

It happens all the time. No sooner than you click the send button does the phone ring. At the other end is an angry client who just received an invoice. Despite the fact that all of your payment agreements were handled before the project ever started, he has still somehow managed to be surprised at the amount that he owes you.

Whether the description above typifies your client base or not, it can still be a good idea to soften the blow of an invoice by showcasing what you did and how it benefited them. There are also a few things you can do to make the whole process easier and therefore (hopefully) speed up payment. Below we’ll look at five things you can do to make your invoices both more useful and impressive.

1. Show Measurable Improvement

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There’s nothing that can make a large dollar amount seem acceptable quite like hard data showing that it was worth every penny. If you’re doing continual work for someone to improve the performance of their site, toss in a few reports that prove you’re actually doing your job.

These can be free and quick to put together. Use Google Analytics or Alexa ratings to showcase a jump in traffic and search rankings to prove that your SEO tactics are working.

2. Show a Quick Before and After

If you’re doing straight design work then it’s not easy to show improvements that are measurable with graphs and data. In this case you could attach a quick before and after shot of the logo or website.

They’ve obviously already seen both the old version and the one that they’re paying you for, so the goal here is a little more psychological in nature. At that moment when they see the total and wonder “why the heck am I paying them all this money?” you want to be able to provide a good answer.

Immediately being shown the drastic change is just a friendly reminder of the effort you put into the project. Even if the result is a half a second thought that goes something like “wow, it really does look a lot better” you’ve hit your goal on the bullseye.

If the project was more drawn out, toss in all the major revisions. Clients have a tendency to think that they shouldn’t be charged extra for calling you every ten minutes with “minor changes.” Actually getting a look at all the revisions you had to go through every time their mom or neighbor suggested a color change will help show how any extra charges were merely the result of you following direction.

3. Itemize Like Crazy

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If you really want to make your client feel like he’s getting screwed over, put a single line item on your invoice with a big total for the amount owed. There’s simply no better way to ensure that you look like an overpaid prat.

A better way to approach invoicing for design work is to itemize your tasks, whether you consciously think of them that way when you’re carrying them out or not.

Odds are, you put time into initial concepting, rough layout, concept tweaking, final layout, client-directed redesigns and minor revisions. All of these and more should be reflected on your invoice. Don’t go overboard and make it seem like you’re charging by the mouse click, just be sure to do justice to the amount of work you actually put into the project.

Again there’s a psychological element strongly at play here. Even if the work delivered is the same, a client is much less likely to begrudge writing your check if a significant amount of work has clearly been put forth on your part. Charging $1,200 for a web design might seem cruel and unusual while charging for all the items listed above seems professional and appropriate.

4. Make it Easy to Read and Decipher

While adding all these extra features to your invoice, it can be quite easy to get carried away. Make sure you don’t overwhelm your client by sending a tome of payment conditions.

Invoices should be clear and easily readable. The total should not be hidden in fine print but displayed prominently along with a definitive due date.

If you decide to add attachments per the suggestions above, make sure most of them are of a visual nature and can be comprehended in only a few seconds. Ten pages of extra reading won’t earn you any points with a client and is a great way to cause them to look for a new designer with a simpler process.

5. Add PayPal Integration

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If you’re still running to the mailbox every week to see if your clients have finally mailed the checks, you’re getting screwed. There is simply no reason that payment should be delayed when free and quicker alternatives exist that are much more secure than sticking a stamp to a month’s worth of wages and hoping it survives the grand journey of jumping countless flights, trucks, bins and mail bags.

I have completely made the switch to electronic payment and now require that all my clients use PayPal. It’s free for them and infinitely convenient for me. Though I have had a client or two show surprise that I wouldn’t allow them to simply mail a check, in the end it’s never been a serious issue and many have even been thoroughly surprised at how much better the process was as a result.

Getting paid electronically means no more waiting at the mailbox. You receive an instant notification via email and can easily transfer the money to your checking account from your computer or smartphone (this step can admittedly take a few days).

Integrating PayPal (or whatever financial service that you prefer) into your invoices can be as easy as including your PayPal email address and specifying that payments must be made to that account. Other more advanced options might include a “click to pay” feature.

The biggest thing that you have to watch out for with PayPal is international payments. It turns out, as I discovered the hard way, that you get slapped with a fee when any currency exchanges take place. This sort of kills the “free” aspect, but it’s understandable that PayPal can’t stay in business while taking the hit for any non-desirable currency fluctuations. If anyone knows of a better free service that doesn’t charge you for international exchanges, I’d love to hear about it.

Online Invoicing Services

If you feel lost in the whole invoicing process or simply hate putting them together, there are a number of great services on the web that make it much less work. By building a template or two to start from you can rapidly create and send invoices and then track payment with ease. Here are a few of the services I’ve come across.

The Invoice Machine

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Invoice Bubble

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CurdBee

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FreshBooks

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Blinksale

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Ballpark

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Siwapp

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MyClientBase

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Simplybill

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Harvest

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CannyBill

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Conclusion

Invoicing is one of the necessary evils of being a freelancer. We designers love getting paid but hate the paperwork it involves. I hope the tips and resources above will help you boost the effectiveness of your invoicing. If you’re looking to create an invoice template from scratch, be sure to read our guide on “Creating a Well Designed Invoice: Step-by-Step.”

Leave a comment below and share any bits of wisdom you’ve learned over the years regarding invoicing clients. Also be sure to list any great invoice services that I missed!