6 Important Features Of A Professional Invoice That Gets You Paid
You work hard on growing your solo operation, diversifying your income by winning multiple clients and working on numerous projects, and you expect to reap the rewards that you’ve earned. Sadly, the entrepreneurial life isn’t that easy — because invoicing is a headache.
It’s frustratingly easy for an individual or company to commit to a specific deal (e.g. you provide your promised service, and they pay you a certain amount), but then fail to hold up their end of the bargain in a timely fashion. This then requires you to chase them (especially if your finances are precarious), taking up your precious time and stopping you making money elsewhere.
The key to minimising the danger of this happening is your invoicing process. Great invoicing should be set up with advance notice, then followed up with receipt confirmation — but the invoice itself is the most important part. The better the invoice, the faster the client will pay.
But what makes an invoice great? Let’s take a look at six features of a truly professional invoice — the kind that cuts back on objections and gets you paid as soon as possible:
A strong brand header
The very first thing that the invoice recipient should see is a header that clearly details your business. You don’t want there to be any confusion about where the invoice came from, or whom they’re being asked to pay — consider that they might have many pending invoices for different services, and could be having trouble sorting them all out.
This matters even if you reached the arrangement with someone you know very well, because you can’t know that they’ll be the one dealing with the invoice. If they run a company, it could be one of their employees handling it — if they’re another solo operator, they might forward all their invoices to a financial assistant to lighten their workload.
At a minimum, your brand header should include some type of headshot or logo (if you don’t have a logo, you can throw one together using something like Looka), your business address, and your contact information (include various options if possible, e.g. an email address, a phone number, and a website link). If someone has a problem with paying their invoice, you want them to get in touch instead of leaving it for later.
A unique identifier
Every invoice needs a unique ID, typically just an alphanumeric string, to make it easy to track. This is particularly the case if you’re sending particular clients multiple invoices fairly rapidly.
Ideally, you should have this ID logged on your system in a way that can be checked externally. Why? Because a digital invoice can be viewed by multiple people in an organisation, and having an easy way to check whether an invoice has been paid will avoid the risk of multiple payments.
If there’s an identifier for the product or service to be paid for (for instance, an order number, or a booking code), then that’s also worth including to add some clarity to the invoice. You want minimal confusion on the part of the recipient — if they have to spend time figuring out whether they’ve seen (or even paid) your invoice before, they’ll be slower to pay.
In addition, be sure to note the submission date alongside the identifier if necessary. It may be clear from the identifier when it was created (you may have the date as part of it), but if not, directly noting when it was sent will provide some valuable context.
A full cost breakdown
Not every service or product order gets fully assessed before the client decides to go with it.
This is particularly true of fast-turnaround projects — when someone needs a piece of work done ASAP, they might not stop to ask too many questions about what specifically it will involve, or even how much you’ll ultimately charge them. For this reason, it’s essential to include a full cost breakdown that fully accounts for the final figure.
Doing this will achieve two important things: firstly, it will lessen the likelihood of the recipient contacting you to ask about the details of your charge, and secondly, it will clearly display all the work that went into your end of the bargain, making the total seem more reasonable. You might still get the recipient querying a specific part, wondering if every one of your costs was necessary, but that kind of occasional quibbling is unavoidable.
A reasonable due date
Choosing a due date for an invoice can be surprisingly tricky. If you ask for the payment to be made extremely quickly, you might come across as overly demanding, and even find that the client pointedly lets that date pass by. On the other hand, if you allow them too much time to make the payment, they may assume that it isn’t an urgent matter, and make little effort to get it done.
The goal, then, is to find a comfortable middle ground. The best thing to do is choose a payment schedule and stick to it for every invoice (here are some relevant terms you should read about) — that way, no one can feel that they’re being treated unfairly, because everyone will be given the same amount of time.
Something you need to think carefully about, though, is avoiding public holidays, weekends, dates that you know will be difficult for specific clients, and anything else that might interfere. Before you send an invoice, check the default due date to confirm suitability — if you need to make a manual change, then go ahead and do so.
A personalised message
Massive corporations can get away with being completely impersonal because they don’t need to carefully negotiate payment; they can simply bring in their high-powered legal teams to handle any issues that arise.
As a solo entrepreneur, you don’t have that luxury — you need to keep your payments coming in while ensuring that you maintain good relationships.
Accordingly, it’s a good idea to include a personalised message of some kind with every invoice. If you’re creating your invoice using a template-led system, you can put this message in the “Note” section so it will appear near the end as an aside. It doesn’t need to be integral, certainly. You can think of it as akin to an after-dinner mint — something nice at the end to leave a positive impression.
What you put in each message is up to you. You can make reference to an in-joke between you and the client, wish them luck with something they’re working on, or simply note how much you’re enjoying working with them. You could even give them an incentive to work with you again — for instance, you could say that you’d give them 10% off their next invoice.
A payment link
Even clients with good intentions and strict professionalism can have issues paying invoices due to payment methods. Perhaps one of their payment systems isn’t working on the day they receive the invoice, and it’s their only viable option, so they have to postpone it — and that postponement makes it possible for them to let it slip their mind entirely.
Due to this, you should allow as much freedom in the payment process as possible. You should certainly support a wide range of payment options (possibly even things like cryptocurrency if you’re sufficiently tech-savvy).
If possible, you should include a link to an online payment portal so they don’t need to go to their banking system — something like PayPal’s One TouchTM system can make dealing with an invoice so much easier.
Adding each of these features to every one of your invoices will make your clients much less reluctant to pay what they owe. Will you still get objections? Of course, but that’s just part of running your own operation. All you can do is smooth things out as much as possible, and choose your clients carefully.