Freelance Writers: How to Generate an Invoice

What You Need to Know About Invoices

Generating an invoice
Generating an invoice. Courtesy of: Tim Teebken/PhotoDisc Collection/Getty Images

When I hire new writers (which I sometimes do for volume work), I often have to explain to them how simple an invoice can be. It's hard to read tone in some emails, but I think some of them may panic when I say that I want an invoice. No need to panic!

Writer Invoice: What Do They Need That For?

An invoice serves several purposes. It's not just the catalyst that gets you paid, although I'd venture to say that's the #1 role, huh?

But that invoice is often needed by the buyer for other reasons. They need that record. They need to prove that they paid you, often so they can write off your payment. In my years of writing, I've only had one client, a magazine, that didn't need an invoice. I'm not sure why or how they managed that, though (and if you know, please visit this blog post and let me know- how do some clients get away without one?)

Writer Invoice: Kinds of Invoices/Software

In the original article that I wrote about invoices, I stated that I just stick with a Word document. If I have time I'll change it to PDF, but that doesn't always happen. Another common practice that I've seen is using an Excel spreadsheet to generate the invoice. But one important consideration that I didn't mention back then is the plethora of accounting software out there. Due to affordable small business-targeted options such as Freshbooks or Quickbooks, you may never have to generate an invoice yourself anyway.

I've heard wonderful things about these applications, but have yet to check them out. Thoughts? Be sure to leave thoughts in my blog post about the subject.

Writer Invoice: What to Include

Since that original article, I've clarified some of the more important parts of a writing invoice. This is, of course, through trial and error.

  • Your name and mailing address should be right at the very top so that check can reach you very quickly, and so that you're not fielding an email a week from now asking for it.
  • Do include a logo for branding purposes (if you have one).
  • Date the darn invoice! Some companies and publishers have a mandatory waiting period on your invoice- 30 days, even 60 days- and you want the right date on there. Again, this is all about avoiding a delay in payment.
  • If you do multiple projects for this client, name them! Use some kind of phrasing that denotes this project from the one before it or the one after it. This will limit mix-ups and (you guessed it) get you paid on time.
  • Make payment instructions clear. If you want a paper check, should it be made out to you or to your business? If you want a Paypal payment, then by all means, include the relevant information.
  • Some larger companies and publishers will only refer to your invoice by an invoice number. Sometimes they even dictate that number or the conventions of your number. If not, I simply use the date: Invoice #112811.
  • The above represent a couple years of invoicing dances. Be sure to read the basics of what to include on your writing invoice here.

    Tips for Writer Invoices

    I've heard from some clients that they don't necessarily need the long itemization that I've included in past invoices. At the same time, I've encountered clients who ask me to break down my invoice into very specific parts.

    When it comes to generating invoices, it's important to keep in mind that you're not making any money doing this. So, keep it simple and quick. I like this idea from Thursday Bram at Women on Writing. She says she makes invoices in sets, on one day of the week. You can also make a template, save it and reuse it.

    Here's some tips:

    1. Stick with what you know. I don't know many writers who can't use Microsoft Word and/or Publisher in their sleep, so consider using one of the templates provided with these software systems to create your invoice.

    2. Brand it. You want this employer to remember you in the future should they have any other writing positions available. If you have a logo, or even a certain font, quote or layout that is unique to your particular service, consider using it on your invoice. At the very least, you must include your name, address, and other identifying information in the header of your invoice.

    1. Provide the details. The main body of the invoice should detail the service you provided. If you completed the service via an hourly rate, be sure to enumerate the hours worked. If you completed a per page or per word project, provide those details, too. Basically, you'll want to detail exactly what you did, how, and for how long.

    2. Draw it out. Include a per charge column that cites your rate (i.e. cents per word or dollars per hour), and then draw it out to a total charges column. This not only helps eliminate math mistakes or typos, but it also provides the client an easy way to estimate the cost of hiring you for future work, too!

    3. Bold the total. Make the grand total easy for the accounting department to find...maybe you'll get paid all that much quicker!

    4. Cite your terms. Hopefully, these won't be a surprise to your client, as terms are generally discussed ahead of time. Whatever you agreed to, gently remind your employer by adding a one-two sentence blurb under the total due. Example: Total due net 10 days.

    5. Proofead. And then proofread again! Now is not the time to space out and lose a potential future account. Make sure your invoice is as perfect and flawless as your project before you turn it in.

    6. Get paid. Celebrate your success!