From 1989-1991 I taught a class covering professional business practices for artists at ACCD. An important area covered was on developing an invoice that wouldn’t stall as it moved through the clients’ payment approval and check writing systems. Developing a clear and concise invoice that benefits everyone who handles it, including you is crucial to receiving timely payments for services rendered. For most of my career I’ve worked client direct. This means no “middle man” advertising or pr agency acting as a payment and paperwork buffer. The buck starts and stops with me. In order for this to work efficiently I have to have clear and simple paperwork: 99% of the time the person who hires me is not the person who approves my invoice for payment and is certainly not the person who cuts the check. There may be three to five separate people who handle/review an invoice. Some of these people are housed in separate buildings, cities, states or even countries! If a particular invoice raised an eyebrow, what do you think happens? The invoice in question gets kicked back to the previous person for them to deal with. Or worse, it just sits in that persons inbox until someone up the chain inquires about it. And this won’t begin until I start asking questions, which is usually two or three weeks after I’ve submitted it for payment. Maintaining a positive cash flow is hard enough (especially for self-employed creatives), why add dead weight?
I want to be paid in a timely manner for my efforts. When you are a self-employed creative professional, you live and die by how good you are and how well you run your business. When I make an invoice mistake it costs me: I wait longer to receive payment. This may adversely affect how and when I pay my bills. I maintain reserves for just this scenario, but I’d rather not have it happen, so I try to ensure that it doesn’t. People who work for a regular paycheck, whether or not they make a mistake, still get their paycheck. Self-employed people don’t.
When thinking about your invoice template consider some of the following… 1) Terms: Due Now. Use this exact terminology to avoid a common accounts payable gimmick: using the current date as the starting point for when to begin processing the payment. For example if your invoice terms states NET 30, (in your mind) this means 30 days from the invoice date, payment is due. Not so for the people handling your invoice as it wends its’ way through the belly of the beast. Every person who receives your invoice sees the terms as giving them 30 days from when it hits their desk to do their part. When 2-3 people handle your invoice, this can stretch out the waiting time to 90 days or longer! Who in their right mind waits for a payment 90 days out? Stop this form of self-abuse by changing your payment terms. It’s your business to state your terms to your client base. You’re self-employed, you don’t get enough abuse, you want more? Even if the client says.”we usually pay in 30 days”, that’s OK, each person who handles the invoice sees that it is DUE NOW and they will usually work on your invoice before some other unfortunately worded invoice.
Item 2) Have a clear description of what job, assignment or project your invoice is for. This will minimize your invoice being kicked back for lack of clarity. Be descriptive. Be brief. Be clear. Along with this also make sure you have their internal tracking number and that you have an internal tracking number too. My tracking number sequence is 0090209 The first three digits identify the current job, in this case nine. The next two digits represent the current month and the last two identify the current year.
Item 3) Indicate whether or not the job, assignment or project was ordered verbally or via a purchase order. If verbally (like a lot of mine are), be sure to insert that persons name. VERY IMPORTANT!
Item 4) Order, photography and delivery dates. The idea here is to provide a time frame for all concerned.
Item 5) Usage. I present my clients with a quote before a job begins. The terms, conditions and licensing agreement are spelled out in this document. (I will post another blog about contract agreements soon) I only reference this agreement in my invoice.
Item 6) Identify the contact person on the project with a phone number so the internal people have someone to verify your information.
Item 7) List the client name, address and how the job is to or was delivered.
Item 8) List the charges you are billing for. I have developed the technique of billing my client (on the initial project), for every possible item I can legitimately bill for. At the end of the invoice (after the sub-total), I back out a lot of these charges as a first-time courtesy price reduction. This way the financial “risk” on the part of the client (for the initial project) is minimized yet I get to introduce to them my regular and customary charges for future reference. It works for both parties.
Item 9) ALWAYS THANK YOUR CLIENT FOR WORKING WITH YOU. ALWAYS BE GRATEFUL AND BE HUMBLED BY THE FACT THEY CHOSE YOU OVER YOUR COMPETITION.
Item 10) Always put in the © symbol, let the world know you OWN YOUR ARTWORK.
Item 11) Always put in how you want them to make out the check. Seem obvious but there was a time when clients called to ask who the check should be made out to.
Item 12) I use a tax ID number instead of my SSN. I feel better using the ID over the SSN. Ask your accountant or CPA for help on this.
Item 13) I don’t list it here but you should also make it known where you want the check sent. This is covered in my contract and when I do a lot of business with a company, I’m already in their system.
Ok, that’s it for now. A long post but worth the read.
Take care and here’s to all of us!