What to include in your invoice: A checklist

Invoicing. Let’s face it, as a freelancer it’s unlikely to be what gets you out of bed in the morning, but it’s SO important that you get your invoicing right if you want to keep your cashflow healthy – and avoid the distraction of wondering whether you’ll be able to eat next month!

Unfortunately you can’t always prevent late-paying clients, but you can do yourself a massive favour by getting your invoicing spot on. As well as invoicing promptly, this also means giving the person who pays the bills all the info they need to get your invoice processed and paid as quickly as possible.

As someone who has worked as an accounts assistant for creative businesses, I've seen first hand that avoidable delays are often caused by freelancers leaving vital info off their invoices. Keep in mind that if your client is a large company, the person making the payments may not even know who you are or which project you worked on, so the more information you can provide them, the less time they will have to spend digging for the details they need to get your invoice signed off and paid.

With this in mind, and having spent some time on the other side of the table, I thought I’d put together this checklist on what needs to go in your invoice. Hope it's helpful!

What to include in your invoice: a checklist

  • The word ‘invoice’
  • Who the invoice is from – Your name, your business’ name (if different) and your business' address.
  • Who the invoice is to –  Your client's business name (including the ending, eg Ltd) and address.
  • An invoice number – You can use whatever system you like, just make sure each invoice has a unique number and ideally keep it as simple as possible.
  • An invoice date – Many companies will stamp invoices to show when they were received, but realistically not everyone does this, so do yourself a favour by always including a fair invoice date.
  • What you do – For example, my invoices say: Steph Welstead, freelance writer and editor.
  • Your phone number – If there’s a problem or query, the accounts team will then be able to call you straight away.
  • Your email address – Some systems now send remittances via email – these are notifications that let you know when your invoices have been paid. It’s also another way people can contact you if there are any problems.
  • Your bank details – These days most clients pay by BACS, so leaving out your bank details will almost certainly delay your invoice being processed and paid. Even if it's a regular client that already has them saved in their system, each bill should still contain payment details for auditing purposes.
  • The purchase order number (if relevant) – If companies use a purchase order (PO) system, your invoice will need to be matched up to a signed PO before it can be paid. This isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds, especially in big companies where hundreds of POs are generated every week and there are lots of different projects on the go. If you’ve been given a PO number, be sure to include this in your invoice.
  • The name of the person who hired you – This is not essential but I usually include this on my own invoices – that way, if there are any queries or problems, the accounts team knows exactly who to speak to straight away.
  • Clear description of the work – Before your invoice can be processed and paid, it will usually need to be signed off by the person who hired you (or matched to a purchase order if there is one) and ‘coded’. Businesses usually keep track of how much they spend on different things by assigning numbered codes to different areas. From stationery for the office to payments for freelancers, each type of expense gets its own code, and every penny the business spends has to be assigned appropriately. You want to provide enough info for your invoice to be coded accurately as quickly as possible. Don’t worry, you don’t need to write an essay or go into crazy amounts of detail, but be sure to include the following:

- The type of work you did –  eg writing, designing, etc. Be as specific as possible.
- The specific job you worked on – Each project may have its own budget, so if you worked on a specific book, magazine, show etc, make sure you include the name.
- The number of days you worked – Always include the actual dates. You may also want to include the number of hours worked each day, depending on how your fee is being structured.
- Your rate – whether daily, hourly or for the project, depending on what was agreed.
- A breakdown of costs – If your job involved different elements, list each one on a separate line and make it clear how much you’re charging for each item.

  • Payment terms – And/or due date. I add a simple 'Please pay within X days' to the footer of my invoices (depending on the type of job and whether we've agreed anything on this upfront. I usually put 30 days for short/one-off jobs and 14 days for longer/ongoing projects).
  • Total – Finally, don’t forget to include the total amount.

If you're VAT registered you also need to include:

  • Your VAT number – Without this, the client isn't actually allowed to pay your VAT. 
  • The VAT amount – Best practice is to list three amounts: the net, the VAT and the gross.

If you're a limited company you also need to include:

  • Your company number 
  • Your registered office address – People often put both their company number and registered office address in their invoice footer.

Optional extras

  • Your logo – If you've got a logo, why not put it on your invoice? It all helps to build your brand and present a professional image.
  • Your website url – It's always helpful to let people know where they can find out more about you and your business.

Accounting software and templates

While it's perfectly possible to knock up your own invoices in Word, and keep track of the invoices you send out/when they're paid using a spreadsheet (I've always done it this way, but you do have to be organised to make sure you keep on top of things!) another option is to use accounting software designed for sole traders and small businesses.

Obviously this isn't a free option – you'll be looking at around £15-£19 a month for the basic packages, but it can make life easier and save you time and hassle when it comes to managing your accounts. For example, you can easily generate invoices, see which bills are due for payment and keep on top of your finances, freeing up time to focus on building your business.

Or, if you'd rather go down the DIY route, there are loads of free templates available to download online which you can use to help you create a professional looking invoice. Just search for 'invoice template', find one you like, then use this checklist to make sure you've included all the necessary deets. Sorted.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash