How to invoice for freelance work

You’re getting ready to send an invoice to bill your first client. Congratulations, that’s a huge step!

I’m going to tell you, today, the best stress-free ways to handle getting paid as a freelancer.

When I first worked self-employed, getting to send my first invoice gave me one of the biggest senses of achievement in my life. It feels awesome, right?

I’d done the work, earned the money and then at the end of the month, the company I was contracting for sent me an email saying that I needed to submit an invoice so that they could actually pay me what I was owed. I guess I’d never had to worry about that before. When I was employed, money had always just turned up in my bank account at the end of each month from my previous employer. But now…

I needed to do it for myself. Because getting paid is pretty important! I did some research and cobbled together a rough invoice. In the years in between, I’ve invoiced a whole lot more and seen lots of freelancer invoices from people who’ve been working for me. 

Getting to send my first invoice quote

So let me tell you what you need to know to write and send an invoice, including a basic free template you can use to get started and a simple invoicing system. We’ll cover:

This tutorial is for:

  • Journalists
  • Writers
  • Consultants
  • Videographers
  • Graphic designers
  • Copywriters
  • Translators
  • Photographers
  • Web designers
  • In fact, anyone, if you work for yourself  on a freelance or contract basis and want to send an invoice

Here’s how to invoice a client or company for freelance work

Let’s keep it simple:

Process for creating an invoice

1. Agree terms with your client

Before you start working for a client, you need to have a chat with them about money. Setting out the terms in advance is going to protect you when it comes time to invoice. Make sure you at least get a record in writing on email if you don’t have a signed contract. So what do you need to agree?

Cost

It could be an hourly rate, day rate or a fee for the whole piece of work. If you’re not sure what’s the right price to set, watch this video workshop. It covers setting the right rates to meet your financial goals and to attract the high-paying clients that you want to be working for. Or you check out data on the day rates that existing UK freelancers charge.

Payment terms

In this part of the chat, you need to cover when you’re going to invoice. Ask yourself these questions, thinking about when you want to, and when your client will allow you to do each of them:

  • When do you want to bill? Just at the end? Or do you want to split payment into several tranches for a larger project so that you get paid in part sooner?
  • How quickly do you want to be paid after you send the invoice? 30 days is fairly standard because it lets your client pay you in the next monthly pay run they do, but 7 days isn’t unusual.

How you’ll get paid

Some clients will prefer one payment method or another. And the bigger and more systematised they are, the more likely they’re going to want you to just accept their way of paying. They might also ask you to fill in a form with your payment details before you start work so they can set you up in their software.

But most smaller companies and individuals will let you dictate how they should pay you. Bank transfer or PayPal invoice are a couple of good, free options.

2. Get all the important details ready for the invoice

You’ve done the work and you’re ready to bill. Great! Now it’s time to get ready to make your first invoice. 

What info do you need on an invoice?

  1. Say it’s an invoice
  2. Your name
  3. Your address
  4. Your contact details – email and/or phone number
  5. Your client’s contact name (if any)
  6. Their company name (if any)
  7. Their address
  8. The invoice number
  9. Any reference number they’ve asked you to use to help them recognise what your invoice is for
  10. The date you create & send them the invoice
  11. Your payment terms (when they should pay you)
  12. How they should pay you
  13. What it is your billing for and how much it costs
  14. The total amount (including the currency symbol or code)

Here’s an example invoice

This model shows you how to put the basics onto an invoice:

Sample example invoice with anatomy

3. How to create an invoice for freelance work

The free way to make an invoice

Once you know how to write an invoice, it’s easy to create one yourself. You could use a word processor, but I’d recommend using a spreadsheet because you can create just as good a layout, and get the software to do the maths for you. The example you can see above uses a spreadsheet.

The other brilliant, time-saving thing you can do with a spreadsheet is to keep track of all your invoices in one place. 

Then you download to a PDF and it’s a pro-looking invoice ready to send.

What a free system can’t do is help you do your bookkeeping (tying your bank account and card transactions up to your invoices and logging them in the right place in your accounts). When you’re ready to go pro, you need an accounting software package. But more on that later…

If you’re just dipping your toes into freelancing or just starting out, a free template can be just the thing. So guess what…

I’ve created a…

FREE freelance invoice template 

You can save so much time – and get it right first time – using a smart template that does that hard work for you.

This free template will guide you through creating your first invoice and it’ll automate as much as possible so every future invoice is quick and easy to create.

This template:

  • Contains everything you need to include as a self-employed freelancer 
  • Guides you through setting the template up with your logo, contact and payment details
  • Lets you store clients’ names and addresses for easy reference
  • Automatically fills your and their details in on every new invoice you create
  • Include a personalised sign off for a personal touch, to keep that good relationship with your client going
  • Does the sums for you
  • Is A4-sized so it creates the perfect PDF
  • And BONUS: keeps track of all the invoices you’ve entered and highlights any that go overdue, so you know you’re getting paid on time

Find it in your existing Jambo Member’s Area account.

Or get your free access to this template and all my other free resources in the resource library now:

It’s built in Google Sheets (the Google Docs equivalent to Excel) so it’s always free to access, save, edit and download.

The pro way to create an invoice

If you’re ready to commit to freelancing and you want to take away the headaches of doing everything by hand, an accounting tool is what you need. The right tool will help you create invoices, keep track of them, link up to your bank account so you can mark them as paid when the money comes in, build your year-end accounts and generate your personal and/or company tax returns.

FreeAgent* is my favourite accounting package to recommend because it’s so simple to get started with and goes the extra mile with making it easy to sort out your taxes etc at year-end – it’s the best of both worlds, easy-to-use yet powerful. It’s also supported by my brilliant accountants (who I’d recommend to anyone).

I’ve also used Xero, which is powerful but complex. And Crunch, which I found not quite as simple and not quite as feature-rich.

To get started and create your first invoice in FreeAgent, I can’t do better than to point you to their own help article to get invoicing. 

Freeagent accounting software - create a new invoice

Use code 4ar8he48 on sign up, or this link* > to get 10% off your FreeAgent subscription forever.

4. Send your invoice to your client

If you’re using an accounting package, that will let you send off your invoice directly from inside the software. Otherwise, it’s really easy to attach your PDF invoice to an email and send it off to the person who’s most likely to get you paid in your client’s company.

I always like to reiterate a couple of details from the invoice in the email, so the recipient knows what to expect even if they don’t open the file straight away.

So I say something like: “Here’s my invoice for the October’s SEO work. I did 8 days, coming to £4,000, due by the end of November. Thanks so much…”

Advanced tips

Can I bill my client for expenses?

This is another discussion to have in advance with your client. It’s normally considered perfectly reasonable for a freelancer to bill for expenses as long as they’re within sensible limits.

So when you first send your pricing to your client, you can add a note saying that it costs this amount per day to work with you, plus expenses, which will be limited to (for example), pre-agreed travel to their offices.

If that’s all agreed, then just add them to your invoice as another line, and include a copy or photo of the receipt when sending your invoice to your client.

Do invoice numbers have to be consecutive?

The quick answer is that it’s simpler for your accounts if they are because you can present a complete list of invoices for auditing without any questions about where the missing numbers are. But they don’t have to be – some people use different references and numbers for different clients, others use the date as part of the invoice number.

What about my company details?

If you want to be paid through a limited company, then you need to include the company’s details on the invoice too: the company’s registered name and address, the country it’s registered in, registration number and, if you’ve registered for VAT, the VAT number.

Is it different depending on whether they’re an individual or a company?

Not really, no. A company might have a more formal process and they might ask you to give put a reference number (often what’s called a purchase order number, or a project reference) on the invoice so they can match it into their accounting system easily. And they might be quite prescriptive about when they want to pay you, rather than you dictating the terms. But how you actually invoice them is the same.

Even if the company is VAT registered, you don’t need to worry about VAT unless you’re on track to bill £85,000+ in the coming year (in which case, you’ll need to register for VAT and start charging it on appropriate products and services).

Unpaid invoices

If you’ve got a client who’s not paid by the due date, the first thing you need to do is send a gentle reminder. Maybe it’s an honest mistake. If you’ve got an ongoing problem, then here’s some good advice from accounting software FreeAgent’s chief accountant on what you can do.

* This is an affiliate link. If you sign up for a paid account, FreeAgent may make a small payment to thank me for me sending you to them. My recommendation of FreeAgent is unrelated to their referral scheme. It won’t cost you anything more – in fact, you’ll get 10% off by signing up with this link.

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