How many times you’ve received an invoice or bill that looks all mixed up with bad layout and information scattered all around? Well I’ve received them quite too often. Some of the utility bills I get are so unclear that I have to literally put effort in understanding what they’re charging for. Yes they all have their own unique identification numbers and schemas, but that doesn’t mean the cost for the services they offer should be hard to comprehend by regular folks.
But your business don’t have to be like that. When it comes to preparing your legal and business documents you should never neglect their look & feel. Those are important just as the services or products you provide and receive payments for. Cristal clear invoices will not just make you stand out among the crowd, but will confirm your professionalism and quality over time. So if you’re wondering how you can achieve this, here’s 5 simple tips to follow when creating your invoices.
1. Well defined invoice sections
This is probably the foundation for every invoice and quote you’ll ever prepare. This will define the layout and the bird’s-eye view of the invoice so you need to make sure every information is properly grouped and placed at the right part of the invoice. Whether you’re offering consultant services or tangible goods most of the invoices will be comprised of the following 6 sections: your company details, information for the invoice (issued date, due date, PO#, etc.), your client details (name, address and contact info), number of the invoice, list of the services/products you offered and general payment terms.
So make sure everything is grouped in their own logical blocks and clearly visible for your clients. Client info should be one logical block, another should be your company details. Same rule applies for the invoice number, product items and terms. This will split the invoice in separate simpler compartments which will be easily digestible for your clients.
2. Use your own logo
I consider this as a “must” for every legal document one business can have no matter its size, even for freelancers and one-man businesses. Using logo on your invoices will not just make the invoice look more professional, it will also make your brand more recognizable and connected on personal level with your clients. One glimpse on it and the client will instantly know who’s on the other side, even can guess what he’s charged for if he’s doing business with you on a regular basis.
Depending on the layout of your invoice you have to choose appropriate logo for your company, but be careful of the size and the colors. If the logo is too colorful you can make a monochromatic version of it, if your branding allows that. That way the logo will look more tuned with the rest of the invoice and it won’t grab too much attention. The invoice should speak for the client and the job you did for them.
3. Choose colors wisely
Just like using a logo it is also highly recommended to include the colors of your brand in your invoice. The colors can play a big role when building your brand. Did you know that major companies like Facebook, Tiffany or Nestlé legally register colors as their brand assets? For small businesses or freelancers this is probably exaggerated, but choosing a color for your brand and sticking with it can improve your brand awareness. Just like the logo, your brand color can help clients and prospects recognize your company easier, so using brand colors pays off in the long run.
But be careful when using colors on your invoices or other documents that are often printed. Printing can cost, so making them too colorful could make them useless when printed on paper. If you’re sure that your invoices are strictly digital/electronic (HTML, PDF or Word) than you’re free to experiment more with the colors and the shapes contained in the invoice.
4. Make your items and totals digestible
This section is the heart of every invoice, do it wrong and you’ll have your clients calling you back all the time. Actually it’s quite easy to mess this simple part of the invoice, humans have natural tendency to complicate simple things like this one. Advice: don’t complicate it. A simple grid will do the job perfectly. Most important part is to describe the services or products you offered and their prices in clear manner so the client can easily comprehend what he’s paying for.
The totals should also be clear and easy to digest. The standard way is to include Subtotal, Taxes (if applicable) and Total sums. Some even include shipping, discounts or paid/due amount here, but make sure this isn’t clogging the totals section of the invoice. Sometimes it’s better to move the shipping cost with the other items and give discounts per product line just to make the totals clear. To distinguish the “Total” sum your clients need to pay, it’s best to make it noticeable – make it bold and larger size, maybe even change its color.
5. Invoice terms can be friendly
Everybody in business should know the commonly used invoice payment terms. But not all clients are business savvy and understand their meaning. According to Freshbooks study specifying “21 days to pay” instead of “Net 21” resulted in more prompt invoice payments, because the later confused most of the people who weren’t familiar with the terminology. When this was combined with polite “thanks” in the terms they got even better results.
So instead of using cold terms like:
Payment terms: Net 21. After this a late fee of 1.5% per month will be charged.
We could add a human touch to the invoice terms and notes like:
Thank you for your business. Please send payment within 21 days of receiving this invoice.
Or even be friendlier:
Thanks! We really appreciate your business! Prompt payment within 21 days will result in a warm handshake and a hot cup of coffee.
6. Bonus: Use invoice templates
Making an invoice template for your business may seem like an easy task, and you might say I’ll just fire-up Word/Excel and make one myself. Instead of making mediocre invoice (unless you’re a graphic designer and know what you’re doing) I suggest using professionally designed invoice templates. You can get a design studio do the job if you can afford it, but note this can cost up to several hundred dollars.
The best affordable premium invoice design I’ve been able to find are the ones at marketplaces like Graphicriver, Invoicebus Store*, Creative Market and for sure the free invoice templates at Tidyform. There are literally hundreds of templates you can choose from and get the most suitable one for your business at affordable price. That way you’ll look professional with your invoices without ever doubting.
* Disclosure: I’m one of the guys behind Invoicebus.