A Free Invoice Template for Freelancers

Recently I wrote several tips for getting paid faster – and many of these related to the information and layout of your invoices. It’s important to get this right, and is something a lot of freelancers get wrong when they are starting out, so I’ve put together an invoice template for you to use.

The template is available in several formats below. Feel free to edit and use the template as you wish, and if you have any suggestions for improvements be sure to let me know in the comments.

Open Document Format Invoice Template
Word (.docx) Invoice Template
Word 2003-2007 (.doc) Invoice Template
PDF Invoice Template

A Free Credit Note / Memo Template for Freelancers

Following on from my Free Invoice Template post which has proven to be highly popular, I’ve been asked about credit notes by several visitors.

Credit notes are essentially the opposite of an invoice, and can either be claimed by clients in cash, or offset against future invoices or unpaid past invoices.

For example, if you’ve supplied your client with 100 widgets and five turn out to be faulty, you should issue a credit note for the five which are faulty. For freelancers who are providing services such as design or copy writing credit notes will be rarer, but it could be that the client isn’t happy with the work provided, or you are unable to complete all work on time so would like to issue a refund in the form of a credit note. Some contracts may have specified a penalty for late delivery which again could be provided by a credit note.

Credit notes should always be a last resort once all efforts have been made to rectify any issues your client may have had, but at the same time if a client really isn’t happy then trying to wriggle out of a refund will, in most cases, do more damage to your companies reputation and potential future work with that client than the value of the credit note!

Their layout and the information contained within them should be similar to that of an invoice although they won’t have a due date, and I’ve included a template in various formats below, which you can use or edit as you wish.

Open Document Format Credit Note Template
Word (.docx) Credit Note Template
Word 2003-2007 (.doc) Credit Note Template
PDF Credit Note Template

5 ways to stay on top of your expenses

As a freelancer you’ll almost inevitably spend money out of your own pocket on your business’s costs.

It’s important to keep track of that, partly to make sure you don’t pay more tax than you should, but also because the costs you pay out of your own pocket still count as costs of the business, so if you don’t track them, you could think your business is more profitable than it is – which means you’re at risk of charging too little, or running out of money.

Emily Coltman ACA, Chief Accountant to FreeAgent – who provide an award-winning accounting system for freelancers and small businesses – gives five top tips to help you make sure you don’t miss out any of your expenses.

Keep all your receipts together

You’re likely to pick up a lot of receipts for out-of-pocket expenses, like train tickets or bus tickets.

Have a set place to keep these, whether that’s a particular slot in your wallet, a certain pocket in your laptop bag, or a clear plastic wallet that you carry with you.

This makes it much easier to keep all your receipts and lessens the risk of losing any of them.

Schedule a regular time

Take a day each week, or each month if you don’t have many expenses, to take all your receipts out of their designated storage place and process all of them together.

If you make a regular appointment to do this then you’re less likely to leave them and forget about them.

Use a mobile application

Once you’ve collected all your receipts and set aside some time to process them, use a mobile application like ReceiptBank or Expensify, which will let you literally photograph your receipts on your mobile phone and do all the rest of the work for you, including posting the receipts to your online accounting system.

Make use of travel time

If you have a mobile application that you can use, then you can photograph and process your receipts wherever you are.

I’ve processed my expense receipts while waiting at Heathrow Airport, or in the back of a taxi, or even walking across London – time that I couldn’t otherwise spend working.

This makes the best use of your time while ensuring that you don’t miss claiming any expenses.

If in doubt – don’t miss it out!

If you’re not sure whether or not you should include a certain expense in your business costs, then don’t just leave it out – ask your accountant whether you might be able to claim it.  You never know – don’t risk paying too much tax for the want of asking a quick question!

Managing pieces of paper is never easy but there are tools out there to help you keep track of everything you’ve spent personally on your business and make sure that its accounts are correct.

Freelance Resume – Do I need one?

When setting out as a freelance one thing which is often overlooked is a resume (or Curriculum Vitae, for the Brits!). Those of you going from working full time will more than likely already have a resume from previous job applications but even these will need some fine tuning if you want to attract good clients to your freelance business. As a freelance, your business is all about you as a person and your experience – and they best way to show this off is through a resume.

Work Experience

You’ll want to show that you have a good amount of experience in your field, so keep all your previous work experience from industry related jobs on your resume, but don’t bother with the Summer job you had at a burger restaurant. Having gaps on your resume as freelance won’t be a problem.

Education

Education is an important part of any resume, but again keep it relative, and think about what kind of skill set your clients will be looking for. Higher level qualifications such as Degrees should be included from any subject, but stick to only relevant under-graduate level qualifications.

Work Examples

The most important part of a Freelancers resume is examples of your previous work. You will probably already have a website detailing your work, but also include the best examples on your CV. It may be that a marketing manager finds your website via a search engine but needs to get approval from their boss before hiring you, so will print a selection of resumes to show them before they make a decision. I would stick to four or five of the best examples of your work, and don’t be afraid to use images on colour if relevant.

A few additional benefits of having an online resume:

  • Search engines will pick up on word document of PDF files and will give you additional exposure to your clients
  • They can be downloaded by clients and kept for future reference
  • They show education and relevant previous work experience which is often overlooked when creating a portfolio website

Choosing The Right Name for Your Freelance Business

One of the hardest things to decide when starting out freelancing is what to call yourself. The biggest decision will be if you want to use your own name or setup a trading name. This article will explore the advantages and disadvantages of each, and provide tips on finding a good domain name for your business.

Using your own name

The first and most obvious option when freelancing is to use your own name. A web presence is a necessity for almost everyone who wants to be a successful freelancer, and critical for those in the online design or development industry – so first of all check that you can get a good domain name for yourself. If your name is John Smith you should be looking for domains along the lines of johnsmith.com smith.com, jsmith.com so that you can be easily found.

If you are looking to be a bit more creative try playing around with country specific domain names – for example Matt Mullenweg (Founding developer of WordPress) uses http://ma.tt/ for his personal website. A freelance writer friend Alastaire Allday uses http://allday.cc/ for his freelance copywriting business ‘Alastaire Allday – Creative Communication’.

You could also try getting your industry name into your domain name and business title – for example a lot of photographers opt to use something along the lines of www.johnsmithphotography.com – this instantly tells your visitors what you do and will help your search engine rankings.

There are a few things to avoid when choosing a good domain name:

  • Avoid hyphenation unless there is no alternative – these make saying your domain name tricky and lead to confusion.
  • Avoid second-level domain extensions such as “.uk.com” – stick with the extensions your customers will be most familiar with and get the .com if available.
  • Avoid hard to spell words or names – for example if you spell your first name in an unusual way it might be best to stick with your initial and surname so you don’t have to spell out your domain name
  • Make sure your chosen domain name can not be mis-read – the popular experts-exchange.com could have an entirely different meaning without the hyphen! (Perhaps there is a good reason to hyphenate your domain after all!).

Remember that your will probably be using your domain name as part of your email address too – if your customers can’t easily remember or spell your domain – you could miss a new lead or upset your existing clients if you don’t receive their emails.

Before deciding to use your own name for business, have a search on Google for your own name – there may well be others with the same name as you in your industry – which could cause confusion for both your clients and theirs.

Using a trading name

Many freelancers opt to use a trading name rather than their own name, and there are some good reasons for this – It will make you look like a larger business, and some businesses prefer not to use freelancers, so you may be able to get work in from larger companies. This is specific to your area of work, so do some research within your industry. Look at what others are doing and talk to your potential customers before making a firm decision.

Another advantage of using a trading name is that you may one day want to expand the business into a Limited company, or sell the business on to peruse other ventures. While both of these are possible if you use your own name – using a trading name makes the business seem less personal to your and will make it more attractive to purchasers as they will not have to rebrand.

Consider the following when choosing a trading name for your business:

  • Ensure that a good domain name is available
  • Check to see if anyone else is already using the name you have chosen – a Google search would be a good place to start, or your government should have a list of registered companies (e.g. Companies House if you are in the UK)
  • Although this is not so common on the internet, a lot of offline directories will list companies in alphabetical order – ‘A1 Photography’ will usually be seen before ‘ZX80 Computer Services’
  • Consider appending a description of your services to your company name – look for something which will describe what you do such as ‘XZY Creative’ if you are a designer, or ‘ABC Photographic’ for you photography studio.
  • Location – If your business is location specific and you want to attract clients from your area you may want to include your location in your name – e.g. ‘London Photography’ or ‘New York Design’. Think about what your clients may be searching for when looking for your business, so if you live in a small village go for the name of the nearest large town or City.

Be consistent

Your company name, whatever your choose it to be, will form part of your brand identity – so make sure that whenever it is used it is consistently capitalised and spaced. Also consider how it will look as part of your domain name and if it could be used to form part of your logo.

Think you’ve come up with a good name?

Post up in the comments section and let others know who you are, just make sure you’ve registered the .com before telling too many people about your new idea!

10 Simple Ways to Get Paid Faster

Getting paid after completing a job can be both the best and worst part of being self employed – the first big cheque you get in will be incredibly motivating, but the time you spend chasing clients for later payments will be very frustrating, and having a client go bust or refuse to pay at all could ruin our cash flow.

I’ve put together some tips so that hopefully this will never happen to you.

Got some tips of your own? let me know in the comments section!

1. Agree payment terms up front

It’s very easy to get carried away at the start of a project with a new client, and be eager to impress and show off your creative talent that you agree to start work before letting them know your payments terms. Always make sure you agree in writing your payment terms before agreeing to start work. This could either be as part of your standard terms and conditions or via something as simple as an email exchange.

Personally I ask for 50% payment up front as a deposition and 50% before the final work is handed over on all projects under £2000. For larger projects this can be broken down further to payments of 25%/25%/50% or even four payments of 25%. You may be worried about asking for such a large payment up front, but if a client isn’t willing to pay up front it’s a good sign that they may be having cash flow problems themselves.

If you’re planning on using terms of anything less than 30 days on your invoices it is best to be clear about these up front too. Using task based milestones also helps as the client will associate the payment with the work being completed rather than as spreading the payment over the duration of the project. It will also incentivise you to get the work done on time!

Finally, if you’re in the UK and VAT registered – make sure you make sure you are clear on your quotes weather your prices are inclusive or exclusive of VAT.

2. Make sure your invoice contains all required information.

It’s important that your invoice have all your company information on them as well as payment details, and the clients information. Ensure that you are using the correct client company name and address, and that your figures and dates are accurate. It’s embarrassing to have to re-issue and invoice if you get something wrong, and if the client spots a mistake they may use it as a reason to delay payment.

As a rule, you should be including the following information on all your invoices:

  • Your full company name (and logo).
  • The invoice date
  • The invoice number (This should be unique to each invoice, and preferable sequential).
  • Your registered address.
  • Your company number (if applicable).
  • Your postal address.
  • Your client’s company name or name.
  • Your client’s address.
  • A job reference or purchase order number (if the client have provided one)
  • An itemised list of the services you have provided (see point 5).
  • The invoice due date (see point 3).
  • Your payment details (see point 4).
  • A detachable payment advice slip.

And if you’re in the UK and VAT registered you also need to include:

  • Your VAT registration number
  • An breakdown of the VAT which has been added to each item on your invoice, and the rate at which this has been charged.
  • The total amount of VAT charged

3. Make the due date more prominent.

Make sure that the Due date on your invoice is clearly visible, and more prominent than the rest of the text on the invoice. This will ensure your client knows when to pay and makes it harder for them to make excuses about forgetting or not knowing the invoice was due.

If they’re organised they will be entering this information into their accounting systems, which may mean they are less likely to pay early, but will ensure that you get payment before the invoice goes overdue.

4. Include your payments details – all of them.

Be as flexible as you can with payment methods, and include all your details. My preference is for payment via bank transfer as this is fast, and easily auditable, however some clients (usually larger businesses, charities and government departments) prefer to pay by cheque. So make sure that you include your bank details, a postal address and the name or company which cheques should be made paypable to.

You might want to also consider accepting PayPal if you are selling services or products to smaller companies, individuals or trading internationally. If you are doing repeat business or selling subscription or one-off services via a website it may also be worth setting up an internet merchant account and payment gateway to enable you to accept payments by credit card – however keep in mind that it will typically cost you around 3-5% of the transaction value plus a monthly fee to receive payment this way if you are processing low volumes.

5. Itemise your invoices.

Giving vague descriptions of the services you have provided will make it easy for the client to query the invoice and delay payment, whereas providing a detailed breakdown of the work carried out will remind the client and anyone within their organisation exactly what is being invoiced for. It’s also a requirement if you are charging VAT.

6. Email a copy to your client.

Posting invoices will take time, and will allow the client to make excuses about not receiving the invoice or misplacing it. Make sure that you email a copy of the invoice to the client as soon as the invoice is produced.

Sending a copy of the invoice by both email and post is the ideal solution, as the client will hopefully have already read and verified your invoice when they receive your email, and the copy in the post will act as a reminder to pay. It also makes it much harder for them to try and wriggle out of paying.

After you have complete a few jobs for a client you get an idea of how long they take to pay and if they need reminding. For those clients who pay quickly or consistently a few days before the invoice goes overdue I usually won’t bother posting a copy, as there is a time and cost associated with this.

7. Thank your client.

One piece of information to include on your invoices which I didn’t mention earlier is a simply thank you. This should be along the lines of ‘Thank you for you custom, if you have any questions please contact (You) on (Your phone number). This way if there are any queries relating to the work carried out or payment details the person processing the invoice can quickly contact you – it may not always be your contact within the organisation who deals with the accounting.

8. Send reminders.

Always send reminds when an invoice goes overdue, or even leading up to the due date. Make sure the reminders are written in a friendly tone and remain professional. Rather than asking for the client to pay the invoice, try asking for an anticipated payment date or ask if there is anything you can do to help such as set up a payment plan to help with their cash flow.

I would recommend sending a reminder three days before the due date if no payment has been received, the day after the due date and then once per week after that. Follow up and reminders for overdue invoices with a polite phone call to check that the client is happy with the services provided and has received the invoice.

9. Stay calm.

Clients who consistently pay late can be infuriating, however getting angry or making threats rarely helps. It may get them to settle their invoice, but will guarantee you lose out on any future work from them. Becoming personal with lines such as ‘I need payment so I can ‘feed my family’/’pay the rent’/’pay my tax bill’ are also a big mistake.

10. Thank your client again.

Always let the client know once you have received payment and thank them again for their business. I also use this an opportunity to ask if they have any other work they would like quoting, or suggest additional work which could be carried out to extend or compliment the original project.

This list is by no means comprehensive – if you think I’ve missed anything or disagree let me know in the comments!

5 Awesome Web Applications for Freelancers

When starting out freelancing there are a lot of things you need to do before you can start working and earning money. You can speed these up and make life a lot easier later on if you set yourself up with a good set of tools and applications.

Whatever industry you are in if you want to succeed you will need to be online (and if you weren’t – you wouldn’t be reading this) so email is essential. You will also need to be creating documents for proposals, invoicing, sales letters and more.

I’ve hand-picked a few of my favourites which I use on a daily basis to help improve my workflow and keep things ticking over with minimal effort.

Google

Google offer a full range of office applications for free.

Google Mail has revolutionised the way I use email by providing an incredibly powerful and near instant search, as well as conversation view. Check back soon for a detailed article on how to setup GMail with your own domain, and manage multiple email addresses from one GMail account.

Google Docs makes it easy to work collaboratively on documents, spreadsheets and presentations with clients. They also provide a quick way to view and store almost any attachment received via email.

Google Calendar makes it easy to schedule appointments and deadlines, and hard to forget them. Email and SMS reminders can be set to send out reminders of meetings to make sure you leave – and arrive – on time. It’s also handy for remembering Birthdays!

Xero

After spending several years using various accounting systems from a simple Excel spreadsheet and invoices created in Word, to the likes of QuickBooks and Sage, discovering Xero was revolutionary.

Not only is their web site beautiful and easy to use, it actually makes doing the accounts enjoyable. It handles VAT, invoicing and integrates with your bank account to automatically pull in bank transactions on a daily basis (no more importing statements manually!). You can even set up user access for your accountant (if you use one), who can then login and view all your financial information, without the need to post or hand deliver paperwork.

Dropbox

With Dropbox all your client files, company accounts and resources are kept securely online, and can be automatically synchronised between your laptop and desktop computer. You can access the latest version weather you are working from home, on the move or with a client via their incredible web interface. Even without an internet connection files are still accessible – they simply sync up next time you connect to the net.

What’s more – Drop Box maintains a history of your files – so if you flatten a PSD and save over the original, or word corrupts 10,000 words of copy you have just prepared you can login to the web interface and restore the original. It also keeps all deleted files, like a giant on-line ‘recycle bin’.

Todoist

Todoist is a very simple and easy to use online todo list – while it isn’t quite enough to micro manage every project, it’s a good place to keep track of your longer terms goals for your freelance business, and jot down ideas then check them off once you have carried them out.

Spotify

While most people probably wouldn’t associate an application such as Spotify with productivity, personally I find music helps me concentrate while working, and Spotify provides access to a massive music library from the latest chart music to your favourite 80s classics. It’s well worth paying the £9.99 fee for the advert removal and higher bit-rate audio streams.

Know of any killer applications I’ve missed out? Let me know in the comments…

Thinking of Going Freelanace?

Welcome to Going Freelance – A resource site to for freelancers discussing issues relating to freelancing across all industries.

If you are thinking of going freelance or have just started out freelancing check out the articles and resources on this site. We will cover everything from invoicing and accounting to self-motivation and how to best spend your cash!

Before making the switch from 9-5 to freelancing you should ask yourself the following questions:

1. Am I passionate about my work?

If you don’t have a passion for the work you will be doing, you won’t make it freelancing. When freelancing there is no one checking up on you so it’s easy to take time off to enjoy your hobbies or have an extra hour lay in. If you don’t enjoy the work you are doing you won’t be motivated to do it, and won’t be able to run a successful freelance business.

2. Am I willing to work long hours?

A common misconception people have is that working from home will allow them to have lots of time off or not work as hard. This for the most part isn’t true. There are many perks to working for yourself, but there are also lots of times when you will need to stay up all night working on a project for little or no immediate financial return. If you’re not willing to put in the hours you may find that you can’t sustain your business and personal financial needs.

3. Am I good enough at what I do?

There are going to be a lot of competitors when you start out, all of whom will have more experience than you so you will have to gain clients by either being very good at what you do and getting noticed, or undercutting your competitors on price while you built up a client base and reputation.

4. Can I manage the finances?

A big part of working for your self is learning to copy with a massively variable income. There will be months where you invoice out very little and end up with a bill to pay which means you have nothing left to pay yourself, but there will also be months when you finish a large project and take a deposit for a couple of new projects and have more money than you know what to do with! It’s important that you plan and budget your finances and keep something put by for those periods when you are working your hardest but invoicing out relatively little.

Christmas is often a time where you are working hardest to get projects ready for launch in ‘the new year’ and is also a time where most clients feel they don’t have to pay on time as “it’s Christmas”. If you haven’t been putting something aside during the year you may not have the cash spare for all the Christmas related expenses. You also won’t be getting the nice Christmas bonus you may have been used to receiving when working for someone else.

5. What am I bad at?

This may seem a strange one, but it’s important when freelancing to be able to recognise your faults so that you can improve yourself by learning new skills, or outsource some of your workload to others. For example if you know your spelling isn’t great always make sure your run your emails and promotional materials through a spell checker! Or if you’re a top notch designer and a client asks you to produce a leaflet including copy – know when to hire the services of a professional copywriter rather than attempting it yourself. Don’t forget to charge enough to cover your time managing the outsourcing too!

If you’re already freelancing, what kind of questions did you ask yourself before you made the switch?