Tell me if this sounds familiar…you bust your butt creating the perfect content for your client, send over an invoice, and then you wait…and you wait…and you wait longer.
Freelancer invoicing is an incredibly important topic that doesn’t get discussed nearly enough. The truth is there’s a science to the invoicing process — creating the perfect invoice, sending it at the right time (and to the right person!), following up at the right time, and making the entire billing process as easy as possible for both you and your clients.
In the guide below, you’ll get all the info you need to start sending freelancer invoices that get you paid on time and with minimal fuss. I’m going to show you exactly how to write an invoice for freelance work, critical mistakes to avoid, and the best invoice apps for freelancers to create professional bills so you can get your money.
Click any section in the table of contents below to jump directly to that topic, or simply keep scrolling to read the full guide.
- What to include in your invoice
- Freelancer invoicing mistakes to avoid
- Best freelancer invoicing apps
- What to do when a freelance client won’t pay
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means at no extra cost to you, we may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
What does the perfect freelancer invoice include? You need to make sure every invoice has the following info:
- Your name & contact info–Include your name (or your business name if you operate under one), address, phone number, and email address. You should also include your business logo if you have one to give your freelancer invoice a more professional appearance.
- Your client’s name–You also need to include your client’s name/business name and address. And if you know there’s a specific person who handles their invoice processing, you may want to include their name as well.
- An invoice number–Invoice numbers make it easy for both you and the client to easily track down specific transactions. If you use a good invoicing app, it should automatically create invoice numbers for you.
- Issue date and due date–There are two essential dates that need to be documented on every freelancer invoice — the date you sent the invoice and the date the bill needs to be paid by. The number of days between the issue date and due date is typically something that should have been outlined in your contract with the client.
- Clear line item descriptions–Clear communication is essential to the freelancer invoicing process. Make sure you breakdown the services you provided by listing each item separately with a clear, concise, easy-to-understand description of the work, including the price for each line item.
- Total amount due–Obviously, this is the most important part. Your client needs to know how much they owe! Make sure the invoice total is clearly presented, and don’t forget to denote if the client has already paid a deposit and adjust the total accordingly.
- Payment options–I live by the belief that the easier it is for clients to pay, the likelier it is that they’ll pay without any issues. Make sure your freelancer invoice includes options for the different ways clients can pay you and any details they’ll need to send the payment (e.g. your PayPal email address tied to your account, bank info if you want a bank transfer, etc.).
- The fine print–At the bottom of your invoice, include any other important information about things like fees for late payments (or maybe even discounts for early payments) and other points of clarification.
According to data scientists at FreshBooks, 40% of self-employed workers have at least one past-due invoice floating around, averaging over $2,500! While there will always be some slow-paying, sketchy clients you come across in your career, the truth is many freelancers put themselves in a bad position by making critical mistakes. Avoid the following so you can make money writing more easily:
- Mistake #1: Not having a clear contract at the start–Before you ever even get to the invoicing stage and before you ever do a single bit of work for a client, you should have ironed out all of the details of your arrangement in a contract or agreement. Never work without a freelance writing contract! A good contract will go a long way to avoiding invoice disputes.
- Mistake #2: Making it hard for clients to pay you–Setup multiple payment options so your clients don’t have to jump through a million hoops to get you your money.
- Mistake #3: Using unclear line item descriptions–Never assume the client knows all of the little details about the various work you’re completing. Your service descriptions need to be very clear and accurate so they know exactly what they paying for.
- Mistake #4: Sending it to the wrong person–If your freelancer invoice goes to the wrong person, it might never get seen and can get stuck in limbo. Before you send your invoice, make sure to ask who exactly you should send it to, and verify you have that individual’s correct email address and contact info.
- Mistake #5: Sending it at the wrong time–Don’t forget and wait around for months to send over an invoice to a client. Invoice for the work done in a timely fashion. And here’s a pro tip — try to avoid sending invoices at the very end of the month as they can sometimes get lost in the shuffle.
- Mistake #6: Not following up with late payment reminders–If your client misses the due date, you need to send timely reminders until the bill is paid. One of the features I like in FreshBooks, my invoicing app of choice, is you can set up automatic late payment reminders (up to 3 of them) and choose the increments for them to go out.
- Mistake #7: Putting forth an unprofessional image–As writers, we can sometimes overlook the importance of design. If you want to be treated like a real business owner, you need to put forth a good, professional image. That applies to your invoices too. Brand your invoice, choose a color scheme you like, and pick a sleek template. This will all help you be taken more seriously as a service provider.
- Mistake #8: Not using a freelancer invoicing app–Are you manually creating invoices in Word or Excel? Come on, you’re better than that. Not only is it unprofessional, but it’s also super inefficient and makes tracking your overall freelance finances a nightmare. There are so many great freelancer invoicing apps and tools out there that will make your life way easier…
There are tons of invoicing apps for freelancers out there, and I’m not going to go over all of them. I will share some of my favorites and ones I know my other freelancer friends enjoy using.
Best Overall: FreshBooks (30-day free trial)
Pros: Real-time invoice tracking; easy to use; cloud support for all-device access; automatic payment reminders; affordable
Cons: Expense importing can sometimes make mistakes; reporting is simple but not super robust
FreshBooks has been my go-to freelancer invoicing tool dating back several years. Invoicing is always a breeze, and there are tons of cool features that make the invoicing process way easier for freelancers, like recurring invoices, automated late payment reminders, template customizations, and more.
There’s a 30-day free trial, and after that, pricing is regularly $15/month for up to 5 clients or $25/month for up to 50 clients. You can get a discount by paying for an annual plan in advance. Also worth noting, right now at the time of this writing, monthly and annual plans are both an additional 60% off for the new year! Both plans come with unlimited invoices; expense tracking; the ability to send project estimates; accept payments by credit card, bank transfer, etc.; and lots of automation to save you time.
You can try FreshBooks free for 30 days to see if it’s a fit for your freelance business.
Best Free Invoicing Software: Wave Invoicing
Pros: Free to use, customizable invoices
Cons: Learning curve to access all features; customer service is limited; no time tracking
We all love free, right? Wave Invoicing is completely free, meaning you don’t have to pay to create and send invoices.
And for the low, low price of free, it’s a pretty darn good freelancer invoicing solution. It has the ability to create customized invoices, recurring billing, and more.
Of course, there will always be limitations with a free invoicing program. One of the most common complaints I’ve seen about Wave is its customer support is very limited — email only, no phone or live chat, which can make it time-consuming to resolve issues. It also lacks some helpful features like time tracking.
That said, it is free and may be worth a look. Learn more here.
Best for Freelancers Using TurboTax: QuickBooks Self-Employed
Pros: Fairly affordable w/ multiple discounts available at various times of year; designed w/ freelancers in mind; easy-to-use interface; integrates easily w/ TurboTax
Cons: Missing some features like time-tracking; all-device access is lacking; doesn’t integrate with as many third-party platforms as FreshBooks
While QuickBooks Self-Employed has many of the same features as other accounting software programs, what really sets it apart is how it directly integrates with TurboTax, which is another Intuit product. So if you’re someone who uses TurboTax to file your self-employed taxes, you’ll want to seriously consider QuickBooks Self-Employed as it can save you a ton of time getting all your data setup.
Some drawbacks, however, include its lack of all-device access and syncing, no time-tracking feature, and it doesn’t play as nicely with other third-party platforms outside of TurboTax.
You can see a comparison of FreshBooks vs QuickBooks Self-Employed here.
Has this happened to you? You slave away meeting a client’s deadline. Get an editor’s approval on you work. And weeks later you’ve still got an unpaid freelance invoice.
Your client is smelling like a deadbeat.
FYI…great clients don’t string writers along and leave you hanging with an unpaid invoice. Why? Because they know they need your help, and they value your writing skills.
Some places are slow to pay because there’s inner turmoil within their organization. Maybe it’s management. Maybe it’s accounting or the HR office holding up a check. And sometimes it’s a sign of impending doom.
When you have an unpaid freelancer invoice, you might think there’s isn’t a whole lot you can do. But that’s just not the case.
In fact, I’ve had my share of freelance clients that drag their heels on payment and leave me hanging with an unpaid invoice for weeks or months.
Over the years, I’ve developed a system for giving flaky clients a wake-up call about an unpaid invoice. And it works.
Here are my 5 best tips for rounding up those stray checks:
1. Friendly email reminder
I like to begin on the assumption that my unpaid invoice is a simple oversight or mistake. The day after the payment was due, I send a friendly email:
“Hi, I’m just checking in because my final payment on this project was due yesterday. I know you got my final draft a couple weeks ago — are we all set? Please let me know if you need anything from me, and do let me know when I can expect payment. Let me know if you need another copy of the invoice.”
Sometimes, that’s all it takes. The unpaid invoice was mislaid, or the accountant was out sick a couple days, and your nudge will send the check or payment your way.
Remember, automated follow-up emails on unpaid invoices are also something you can set up in FreshBooks (30-day free trial).
2. Make the call
No response to this friendly email about an unpaid invoice? It’s time to try to get them live on the phone.
Many people are less evasive if you can get them on a call. They may give you a sob story about why it’s late (set phasers to ‘ignore’), but hopefully they’ll tell you when you can expect the check or payment.
If you’re too chicken to confront a client about an unpaid freelancer invoice…
Consider hiring a collections agency to help you, or enlist a friend to do it. Invoicing tools like FreshBooks can help, too (and yes, I use this and proudly affiliate sell it).
3. Go up the chain
After a live chat, if the unpaid freelance invoice fails to get taken care of by the new (late) date they promised, I usually conclude I’m talking to the wrong person. It’s time to try someone else.
- If you’re talking to an editor, try the managing editor or editor-in-chief.
- Better yet, try the accounting department. Often, the bean-counters will tell you an editor who failed to follow their paperwork protocol is responsible for an unpaid invoice. Or they’ll reveal that the invoice came too late for this month’s cycle, so it’ll pay out in 30 days.
- If you’ve been working with a marketing manager at a company, try the chief finance offer (CFO) or their right hand.
Now, you at least know the problem, and can get back to the editor if it’s their mistake and they need to supply paperwork.
Note: Editors will sometimes dodge these calls because they feel frustrated and helpless — they don’t sign the checks, and are often deeply unhappy that their writers are being jerked around. Hopefully, if it’s an oversight on their part, they’ll help.
4. Bill a late fee
In the absence of any satisfying responses on steps 1-3, I will sometimes re-submit my bill with a 2% monthly late fee (compounding) applied for the first month.
- For those of you who aren’t math dorks, that means next month, I’ll take this new larger amount and charge them 2% more based on that amount, not the original, lower fee. And so on.
Often, the late-fee bill will wake up the client and they’ll send a check.
They may only send the regular amount and not the late fee, but they decide it’s time to pay. The late fee makes them see that not only are you not going away, but you will actually expect more money from them, the longer they drag this out.
Once it’s clear that they can’t sit on the bill forever without consequence, it’s amazing how often deadbeats suddenly find the money they need to pay you.
5. Social shaming
I know — I feel ashamed to mention this. It’s a little bit mean, I admit. But it often works like a charm.
Publicly ‘outing’ a deadbeat client in social media can really get them off the dime. Every company is paranoid about social-media reputation damage. So you’ll usually get a rapid response about an unpaid freelancer invoice from a tweet like these:
“@magazine — Still looking for my $1,000 article fee due 3 weeks ago. When may I expect it?”
“@company — Turned in my final draft 3 weeks ago. Payment now overdue. Please advise when I will see my check?”
OR, possibly worst:
“@writers — anyone else writing for @X company? Having trouble getting paid? Would like to connect…
3 tips for social-shaming
- Keep it professional.
- Don’t be rude or call names.
- Stick to the facts.
Once they see that word of their irresponsibility may spread to their own clients, they’ll probably overnight you a check or send you and electronic payment.
They owe you money, and it’s overdue. If you start flaming them, you may hurt your chances of getting paid instead of helping them.
The other thing to do to protect yourself from deadbeat clients is to stop working on any ongoing assignments you have from that client.
Slow payers earn a trip to the bottom of your priority list
You might choose to let them know that this work stoppage has occurred, or you may decide to keep it under your hat. But you should move on immediately to either do other client work or to do marketing to find more clients.
After all, this payment may never arrive
Don’t get in deeper and rack up more bills with a client who may be getting ready to stiff you. I hear too many sad stories from writers who end up with $10,000 or more outstanding from a client who’s gone belly-up.
Are you happy with your freelancer invoicing process? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.