How to write an invoice

The first time I was asked to invoice for something, I didn’t. It was a $25 article I wrote for a local paper, I was drowning in finals, and I said, “Fuckit, I don’t have time to figure out something new. Enjoy your free article, newspaper.”

I’m still like this to an astonishing degree. If I deem my time to be more valuable than the money in a certain situation, I’ll happily let the money go and hold onto my time.

However, I wish someone had taken me by the hand and said, “Chris, darling, it will take you five minutes. Sit your ass down and learn how to invoice properly.”

Fortunately, I did level up in Adulting at some point, and now invoicing is just part of business.

However, I do consistently run across professionals dipping their toes in the water of contract work and being astonished that invoicing is a thing.

Why Invoices Are Necessary

Most clients don’t react well to emails that just say, “Can you pay me now?” There’s not a lot to an invoice, but it’s definitely a key element in the cogs of payroll.

A proper invoice demonstrates professionalism. It demonstrates that the work you performed was not some casual thing you did on the weekend (even if it was), and that you view your client as a Real Client who has Real Bookkeeping Requirements (even if they don’t). And if your client is, say, a corporation and not just your mom’s friend, they need that paper trail for real.

I’ve had contractors get huffy and say, “Well, Chris, you have all this information! You know what my fee is! Why can’t you just slap something together and send it to billing?”

Because the paper trail has to start with you. It demonstrates to anyone checking up on things that actual work was requested by the company, completed by an outside source, and money leaving the company is a thing that was supposed to happen.

There’s a reason the person buying the service or product is not the one who prints out the receipt. That’s your job.

But it’s not hard, I promise!

Anatomy of a Proper Invoice

A professional-looking invoice consists of a separate file (usually a PDF or something generated by a program, such as PayPal). It will include, at minimum, the following information:

  • your name and mailing address
  • the client’s name and mailing address (show some initiative here and try to look it up if they don’t provide it for you)
  • a description of the work you did (say, the title of an article you wrote)
  • the date you submitted it
  • the agreed-upon fee
  • how you would like to be paid (PayPal, bank transfer, check, Square, etc.)

Find a Template

There are a bazillion ways to produce this information in a clear, concise format. PayPal has a fantastic invoicing feature. If you want a more personal touch to show off that you too are a Serious Business, you can create an invoice yourself. Knock yourself out searching for free templates online (avoid anything too showy or quirky; the key is simplicity), or the word-processing software you use probably has a couple templates. Microsoft Word has boatloads:

  1. Open Word.
  2. Click File.
  3. Click New from Template. A new window full of template options will pop up.
  4. In the search field, type invoice. You’ll get at least a hundred options.
  5. Select your invoice template and fill it out with the information I laid out earlier.
  6. Make sure everything’s correct, and save it as a PDF.
  7. Send your client an email with a very polite note that your invoice is attached.
  8. Profit.

“Who has Word?” you say. “Fuckin’ expensive piece of bloated software, I don’t have that.”

You made it this far. Here’s a (very simple, very plain, very ultra-basic) invoice I made just for you. Copy that invoice (no, you can’t edit that one), enter your own information, and download it as a PDF. Send that PDF to your client, and wait for the money to come in.

And make a note on a calendar of when your payment is supposed to arrive! Not everyone cares about paying freelancers as much as I do.