Chapter 2 of 8

How to make an invoice that’s taken seriously

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Small business guides > Invoicing Survival Guide > How to make an invoice that's taken seriously

How to make an invoice that’s taken seriously

You’ve done the work; now it’s payment time. Here’s where your invoice plays a key role, and is a vital piece of work. An invoice pulls together precise details from several places.

These details include:

  • your company name, address and reference numbers
  • your customer’s name and address
  • details of the goods or service you provided and the cost
  • your bank account number or other payment options

The secret sauce of any invoice is having a great template to start with. A template – or templates – that you use each time, eliminates lots of copying and pasting and fiddly formatting.  

Main steps to follow when preparing an invoice

steps on how to make an invoice

Here are the main steps:

  1. Open your invoice template.
  2. Add the date.
  3. Enter the invoice number.  
  4. Fill out the customer name, address, reference and/or order number.
  5. Enter a description of the goods or services.
  6. Total the costs and double-check your maths.
  7. Check and make any changes to the payment terms that apply to this customer or this job.
  8. Get the invoice approved if you need to before you send it.
  9. If you use a Word document or spreadsheet template, save the invoice as a PDF before sending to provide some protection against it being altered by fraudsters.
  10. Once sent, file a copy for your tax records.

Create an invoice template that’s the envy of your friends

When all the required information is included on your invoice, even your most finicky customers won’t have a reason to question it.

Handwritten invoices are practically a thing of the past, so your choices are to create:

  • create a Microsoft Word or Google doc
  • use a spreadsheet with simple formulas that calculate totals and taxes
  • use a template that comes with your invoicing or accounting software 

How to make an invoice that promotes your business

Each invoice provides a great opportunity to market your business. This could be about communicating a special offer, offering a discount, announcing a new product, or requesting feedback or referrals. Include a place on your invoice template where you can enter the details. One way to do it is to have a line saying “we appreciate your business” which you can edit and alter when you choose.

Handy tools for your business

Format your invoices for easy reading

To make your invoice look professional and inviting to read:

  • include your logo
  • make sure the text is large enough to be readable on screen as well as in print (usually not under a 10 point font)
  • use a table for the descriptions of goods or services and amounts so the content is clearly aligned in rows and columns
  • add white space so your invoice doesn’t look cramped. Space out the sections of your invoice and make sure text and numbers aren’t squashed up hard against the lines of tables.
  • create strong alignments. Align each section to the left or to the right – not centred. Make sure that decimal points align and the number of decimal places for quantities or amounts is consistent.

Number your invoices so they're unique

An invoice number can be any string of number and letters but it needs to be different for each invoice.

Many businesses simply number their invoices sequentially starting from one. If you want your invoice numbers to stay consistent in length as your business grows, decide on say a five or six-figure invoice number as your standard, for example, starting from INV00001.

A clever invoicing system will assign the next invoice number for you and let you choose different ways to view your invoices. This could be by invoice number order, date order, or alphabetically by customer name. The software does the work, so you don’t have to worry about figuring out the best invoice numbering system for you.

Without invoicing software, you may want to use a prefix within the invoice number to help you sort and see things like:

  • which invoices apply to which customer by including part of the customer name or a customer number, for example, XER00001, 203-00001
  • how many invoices you sent in any month, for example, JAN00001, 01-00001
  • how long a customer has been with you, for example, 2014-00001, 2018-00001

Remember to invoice when you're done

You might think it will never happen to you, but it’s easy to forget to invoice for work you’ve done or goods you’ve supplied.

So you need a system that makes it simple to invoice promptly. You might make it a rule that you invoice as soon as a job is complete or before you start on something else. Or you could keep a careful record of time and costs, then invoice daily, weekly or monthly.

If you use invoicing software that works on your mobile phone, there’s no need to wait until you’re back in the office You can send an invoice instantly.   

Get the amount of detail right

Always provide a description of the goods or services supplied so the customer knows what they’re paying for. If you provided a quote, use the same language so the customer can see you’re delivering on your promise.

Sending a clear and complete invoice makes you look professional and helps you get paid on time. Be concise, but provide enough detail that your customer doesn’t need to come back and ask you what a charge was for. Limit your invoice to a single page if possible. 

If you need to provide a detailed record of the work done or a breakdown of the items used on the job, you can provide a summary on the invoice and add the details in an attachment. If you can, format the attachment so it looks similar in style to the invoice rather than a hurried afterthought.

Lisa Martin

"Get the client, do the work, and invoice as soon as possible. Make the invoice so clear you get paid for it, no questions asked. The invoice should be your brand equity. The client should be in no doubt about the value-add you bring."

Lisa Martin, Go Fi8ure, Xero gold partner

Chapter 3: Send an invoice

Some businesses invoice every week or every two weeks. Some do it only once a month. But the truth is, it’s best to send your invoice as soon as the work is done.

Read chapter 3