An invoice gives your clients a huge amount of information, but it really only tells them two things. First, that they owe you money. Second, how serious you are about collecting that money.
If you’ve ever gotten a $700 invoice from the local painter, you’ll know what an unimpressive invoice looks like. Handwritten on some ancient piece of carbon paper while they stand in the doorway. It’s an invoice that screams, “Leave me in a drawer and this man will never remember that you owe him money!”
Contrast that with the $0.78 fee your bank is trying to collect from you. Its invoice says, “If you don’t pay in the next three hours, we might try to foreclose on your house.” That’s a bit extreme, but it’s the power that a professional invoice has.
The way we present ourselves is an extension of the respect that we command. People wear suits because suits are signifiers of power and responsibility. We take people in suits more seriously then we take Bronies, for instance.
If you’re handing out invoices, you want to be putting your best foot forward. You want to say, “See this invoice that would be printed on nice paper if I wasn’t just sending it digitally? Yes, you’re correct. I mean business.”
For many small businesses, an invoice template is the way to go. We’ll talk later about how you can move on to bigger, better things, but first let’s talk templates.
Invoice templates and why we use them
This will be quick, and then we’ll get to the resources.
Invoice templates are the white button-up shirt (note that a button down shirt is a reference to the collar buttoning down, not the shirt itself) and grey slacks of the world. If you have to look nice, this is a viable option for everyone. You might not win any awards for presentation, but no one is going to laugh you out of the building, either.
For small businesses, using a template means a) not having to reinvent the wheel, b) knowing the client is getting a polished invoice, and c) having consistency in your filing system. Each invoice gets a number and you can track them in your accounting software of choice so that you always know who owes you what.
You also can make these up using the most basic set of software tools available – Microsoft Office. So grab a template that works for your business and start getting paid.
Also, don’t tell people they have 60 days to pay you. Just tell them payment is due on receipt. The speed at which you get paid has an incredible correlation to the quality of your cash flow. Faster is better.
Resources for business templates
Three tips for all of these.
- Find an invoice you like and use it without alteration. You’re (probably) not a good graphic designer, despite what your loving parents have said to you.
- Don’t change horses in midstream. Find something nice and stick with it so that you have a consistent brand in all of your client communications.
- Proofread everything. Just because you download something nice from the internet doesn’t mean it’s flawless. Just because you’ve “sent these kinds of things out a hundred times” doesn’t mean you didn’t misspell “carburetor” this time.
Microsoft Office Invoice Templates. These bad boys are hosted by Microsoft, so you can at least feel confident in their functionality. You can search for these within Word or you can browse online. I prefer to browse online, as it makes the whole user experience more pleasant.
There are a ton of options here, but most are of the “professional office of the 1990s” variety. That’s no bad thing. It’s just a bit like giving out the business card with the underlined name and the fax number.
In Microsoft’s defense, there are some much nicer ones available, if you look around a bit. It’s just that the overwhelming majority are very classic in feel. Still better than your chicken scratch on that torn off yellow sheet of paper.
- Red and black themed template. Clean, but with a hint of fresh from the pop of color.
- Cleverly named “Basic invoice with unit price.” Looks unlike something from the 1970s.
- Service invoice, green style. The most basic, acceptable invoice.
Invoice Home. Invoice Home doesn’t even require you to have Microsoft Office. You can just go online, generate an invoice, and be on your merry way. It’s a free service for up to $1,000 worth of invoices in a given 30-day period. After that, you’ll be spending $5 per month for unlimited invoicing.
Be picky with these. There are some excellent design on here. There are also some that look like you let your aunt with the garden gnome collection design your wedding invitation.
Free or cheap invoicing options. We wrote a whole piece about other free invoicing services that might float your boat.
When you’ve started burying yourself in invoices, it might be time to consider billing software or at least an accounting package that covers invoicing and billing. We’ve got you covered. Check out Capterra’s Billing and Invoicing directory or our Accounting Software directory.
Looking for Accounting software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Accounting software solutions.