The sun shines brighter on payday.
But before you can get paid, you’ve gotta work up an invoice. The better the invoice (i.e. the simpler it is for a client to pay you), the sooner you’ll get paid.
In this article, we’ll cover how to write an invoice and provide a few suggestions for popular invoicing software (in case you want to just plug-and-play).
Once you’ve mastered your invoice process and worked with a client for some time, you can then move on to writing a price increase letter.
Two Types of Invoices
Before a Project Starts
It’s wise to invoice for part of a project’s cost before you get started. Think of it as collecting a good-faith payment. When I’ve collected these payments over the years, I usually invoice between 30% – 50% of the full project.
In this invoice, include language that gets the client excited about the project, while being firm about this first payment. A kickoff payment should be paid before you start doing any work. That incentivizes the client to pay quickly.
Also, make sure the invoice clearly states what percentage of the total cost this payment will cover. In case you get pushback later—“What?! I paid your invoice at the beginning of the project. Why are you billing again?—it’s best to have “⅓ of total project payment,” written clearly in the initial invoice.
Keeps things clear and in writing.
After a Project is Finished
This is the obvious invoice everyone thinks of: the project is over; it’s time to collect.
In this invoice, it’s common to include a kind note to the client like, “Thanks for your business!”
How to Write an Invoice
The first rule of asking for money: make it easy for the other person to pay you.
If your client gets confused, they might procrastinate in paying you just because they don’t have time to figure out your odd payment process.
Making a payment to you should be the easiest thing a client can do when they open your invoice. If the client sneezes or trips while looking at your invoice, there should be a slight chance they pay you by accident. It should be that easy.
(Okay, okay, maybe not that easy. But close.)
How do you make invoices simple to pay? By making them clear, with simple instructions and the right tools to process the payment or send you a check.
Simplicity doesn’t mean you have to use the newest, greatest software (though that can help). You can send perfectly clear invoices via PDF, for example, or through everyday payment tools like PayPal—the business version.
How Should An Invoice Look?
Let’s get down to the actual information you’ll include in every invoice.
1. Start with the Invoice Number
This is helpful for keeping records. An invoice number usually appears in the top corner of the invoice.
Occasionally I’ve had to request payment updates from clients. In those cases, I usually reference the invoice by number: “Hi Frank, just checking in on Invoice #122. It’s a week past due. Would you like me to resend it?”
2. Add The Issue Date and Deadline
Include on your invoice the day it was sent to the client and the day the payment is due.
3. Insert The Client’s Contact Information
Before filling in this section, you may want to ask your client, “Who should I direct the invoice to?”
They may direct you to send the invoice to the company’s accounting department. No matter who you direct it to, be sure to include the person, department name, and the address of the company.
4. Insert Your Contact Information
On a similar note, you should include your information (or information about your business) on the invoice. This includes your name, business name, business address, and possibly a phone number or email address.
5. Include Detailed Line Items
Here you’ll include each item for which you’re invoicing. This should include a title, quantity, and the item’s cost. If your client gets sticker shock, the line items enable them to comb through each billable item one by one to confirm the work you did and what you’re charging.
6. Provide Clear Payment Options
Most invoicing software allows you to collect credit card or ACH transfers through their tool. It’s as simple as checking or unchecking the right boxes before you send an invoice.
But if you’re creating a PDF invoice, you may need to include additional payment options and instructions. Want them to send you a check in the mail? Say so. Do you demand payment via carrier pigeon? Tell them where to find the fastest birds.
7. Add Payment Terms
You should also include payment terms. Beyond deadlines, you may also want to offer options to break up the payments into installments, for example.
8. Conclude with a Summary
The summary should be kept brief. It should be sectioned off from the rest of the invoice, so it’s easy to find. You can get away with saying as little as, “Total: $$$.”
9. Write a Short Message
You may send your invoice to clients using email. This is your opportunity to remind clients how excited you were to work with them, offer to answer any additional questions, or even suggest a next project. Just because you’re invoicing for one project doesn’t mean you can’t pitch the next one.
In your invoice email, it’s best to be firm, confident, and friendly. Avoid hedging language—it can come across as apologetic or insecure. You have nothing to be sorry or insecure about. You did the work. They owe you $$$.
Examples of hedged vs. confident invoice emails:
Hedged email: “Let me know if everything looks good here — happy to make changes if something seems off. No rush or anything.”
Confident: “I’ve attached the invoice for the project. Please let me know if you have additional questions.”
10. Send the Invoice
The best part: Click send and wait to collect your well-deserved money.
Popular Invoicing Software
If you don’t want to create invoices from scratch, there are dozens of tools on the market you can use instead.
Quickbooks is owned by Intuit, the parent company of financial tools like Mint.com and TurboTax. As an accounting tool, Quickbooks offers straightforward invoicing across all their plans.
Like Quickbooks, Freshbooks is an accounting tool. It’s often seen as simpler and leaner than Quickbooks, which appeals to many small businesses. Among its many features, Freshbooks offers invoicing. That way, you can track your income and spending in the same tool where you create and send invoices.
Fiskl is an AppSumo partner with similar tools and functions to Freshbooks. You can get a one year plan for $149. Included within Fiskl’s suite of accounting tools is a sleek invoicing platform, so you can impress clients and make it easy to get paid.
I kept these descriptions intentionally brief because we have another post dedicated to our favorite invoicing software.
Write and Send Your Invoice with Confidence
Ready to ship that first invoice and get paid for your hard work?
Learning how to write an invoice is a process almost every business owner must eventually go through.
Remember: invoices aren’t just about getting paid for your work. They are part of your brand.
When an invoice has a sleek design and is intuitive to use, those details convey a level of professionalism. Alternatively, if your invoice is confusing or cumbersome, it can leave a negative impression in the mind of your client.
It’s worth investing time to create templates or find the right invoicing software. That way, you can impress clients and put more money in the bank.
P.S. If you’re not getting enough chances to send invoices, maybe you need better proposals. Here are some top proposal tools to consider for your business.