Many of the things I address on my Ask the Copy Bitch YouTube channel have to do with the day-to-day running of your freelance copywriting business. And how to invoice as a freelancer is a biggie. It applies to most freelancers out there, not just writers.
Don’t feel like reading? Watch the video. Otherwise, jump ahead to the text.
How to invoice as a freelancer: When should you invoice?
You’ll typically invoice when . . .
- You complete a one-off project for a client. (Often a first-time client or a repeat client who you only work with every now and then.)
- At the end of every month for recurring/ongoing work with clients.
When you’re doing a one-off project for a client, make sure you include a statement in your scope of work that says something to the effect: “The balance is due within 30 days of your receipt of the first draft.”
The reason why you want to tie balances to first drafts and not final drafts is because sometimes a client will drag their feet. What if it takes them months to sign off on the content you created? You shouldn’t be penalized for their slowness. By marrying the final payment to the first draft, you ensure you’ll get paid in a timely fashion. Plus, you’ll motivate clients to get cracking.
Note: I also require any revision requests within 30 days of the client receiving the first draft. Again, for the same reasons: It motivates the client to complete the project. (And the last thing you want is a client knocking on your door three months from now with revision requests when you’re drowning in other work.) By keeping to clear, but firm deadlines, everyone can plan accordingly.
For ongoing work with clients, get in the habit of sending invoices at a regular time. I do mine once a month at the end of the month. But if you prefer doing your invoicing on the 15th or some other time, that works, too. Just be consistent.
A big reminder about first-time clients: You should get a down payment before any work starts. I typically require 1/3 of the overall project quote as a down payment before I lift a pen or finger to the keyboard. You’ll reflect this payment on your invoice. More on this below.
How to invoice as a freelancer: What should your invoice look like?
It’s SO easy to get caught up in how things look. And I get that you want your marketing materials, like your website and business cards, to reflect your brand. And sure, if that’s easy enough for you to do with your invoices, by all means, make ’em look pretty.
But it’s perfectly OK to have something super simple. You don’t need fancy fonts or colors. I use one of the invoice templates from Excel and call it a day. And I don’t feel doing so has adversely affected me or my business.
Honestly, the simpler and clearer you make your invoices, the easier you make it for the financial person on the other end who is processing them.
If you prefer using a product like Venmo, PayPal, or FreshBooks (to name just a few), that’s cool too. The most important thing is consistency. You need to work in “bookkeeping time” into your schedule so that you send them.
‘Cuz otherwise, you won’t get paid.
And that wouldn’t be good.
How to invoice as a freelancer: What should go on an invoice?
When it comes to how to invoice as a freelancer, here are the basics you should include:
- Your name (and company name, if applicable)
- Phone number
- Invoice number
- Date of the invoice (the date you send it)
- An itemized list of the work you did
- The associated costs for the work
- A tally of all costs
- Due date (I usually do 30 days from the date on the invoice)
- Any other info a client specifically asks for, like a vendor ID #
I don’t include my social security number. My regular clients require me to fill out a W-9 for tax purposes. Then, they issue 1099s at the end of the year. Note: Not all clients issue 1099s. That’s on them. As long as YOU report all income, that’s what matters. (Again, I’m in the U.S. Follow the rules for your country. And BIG REMINDER: I’m not an accountant or lawyer, so nothing I write should be considered tax or financial advice. Consult a professional if you have questions.)
From there, I email the client the invoice (or to whatever email address they want invoices to go to). I copy myself as well.
Note: When you start working with a client, ask them their process for paying vendors. Companies often have specific steps you need to follow, like an accounting email address to send invoices to. Some might even have special invoice templates to fill out. Others might require you to create an account in the software product they use to process invoices. Just follow everything carefully and keep track of account names and logins. Usually getting everything set up is the hardest part (and it’s not that hard). Once set up, it should be turnkey.
Whenever possible, ask for ELECTRONIC PAYMENT. Meaning the client will deposit your payment directly in your business bank account. (And you should have a separate business bank account. Keep your business and personal lives separate.)
Getting electronic payment is quicker and greener (no paper, no envelopes, no need to visit a bank).
How to invoice as a freelancer: What happens if a client doesn’t pay you by the due date?
Follow up. I maybe allow a grace period of a few days. But this is a business. If you were late with your utility payment or car payment, you’d hear about it, right? So follow up. Most of the time, it will just be an oversight where the invoice got lost in the shuffle. I’ve been doing this since 2002, and I’ve only been stiffed once and that was very early on when I was a baby copywriter and there were a bunch of red flags that I ignored. (And luckily, the amount was small, relatively speaking.)
How to invoice as a freelancer: How ’bout I show you my freelance copywriter invoice template?
But first, a disclaimer: I’m not responsible for anything that happens when you open links to the files below. They should be OK, but as we all know, weird stuff can happen during the translation, and files can become corrupted. Take heed!
Here’s a link to the freelance copywriter invoice template that I use (which I got from the templates available within Excel). The link opens an Excel template. If you can’t open it on your machine, here’s a link to a PDF of the same thing.