This blog is intended to help anyone who finds themselves in this position, and to provide details of what should be included.
A variety of invoice templates can be found on the internet, and in fact there is probably an extensive choice of readily adaptable blanks if you click on File > New in WORD, along with a selection of templates for business cards, flyers, brochures, inventories, receipts and anything else you are likely to need. However, your own design may prove more useful. This means you can be creative and personalise your invoices, and make the page layout look presentable, although I feel that as well as providing all the information that is essential to your clients, your invoices are vital to your own record-keeping, and the content is therefore more important than a flashy and colourful page. There is going to be much more detail on your invoice than on the quick, hand-written invoices scribbled by my garage mechanic for a new exhaust, for example, efficient and organised though he is.
I should mention here that some companies make invoicing easy and convenient by setting up a one-click process on their platform or site, whilst others have very strict guidelines as to what is required. However, I would strongly advise you to adapt or design a generic invoice template, which provides headings to columns, your details etc., and save this where it is easily retrieved. Specifics can be added at the appropriate time. An invoice folder is also very helpful. This way you can keep track of all the work you have completed, when it was done, who for and what the document was about. Should an invoice go missing after being sent – which can sometimes happen – you can also find and resend it without searching around your computer.
Whatever information you choose to provide, I recommend that the following details are clearly stated on all your invoices: -
- Your name, address, company name, logo (where appropriate) and contact details. (This makes it easier for the client to identify you, process the payment and file the invoice away.)
- Client name, address and contact details.
- Name of the individual within the organisation who approached you, spoke to you or took delivery of the translated document. (This means that if there is any query over the payment you can speak to the relevant person.)
- Invoice number. (It is helpful to number your invoices and keep a separate “Summary of Projects” file. You then have an at-a-glance record of all projects, dates, payments made and payments outstanding.)
- Brief description of work and/or client project code. (If you have been working on various projects for several weeks, you may forget which translation was which, and who for, and if somewhere down the line there is follow-up, feedback or comeback on a project or payment, or further additions to be made, you need to be able to work out which one it was.)
- The date the translation was due and the date of delivery. (This will make it clear to the client which period you are invoicing for.)
- The date the invoice was sent, and the date the payment is due.
- The rate you are charging per word/per hour.
- Details of any discounts you are offering or granting.
- The total amount to be paid for each project.
- The total amount due for that month. (Charging for all projects completed during a single month on the same invoice is less hassle for you and less processing for the accountant receiving it. One invoice per project – unless this is specifically required by the customer - seems time-consuming and unnecessarily complicated.)
- Your bank details, which must include the bank sort code and account number. If the customer is based overseas, which will often be the case, they will also need an IBAN number and BIC number. These can be obtained from your bank if required. (Be aware that your bank may levy charges if you are receiving money in another currency in a bank account in sterling. If you regularly receive payment in euros, it may be advisable to open a separate, euro bank account to avoid these charges. It is worth discussing international transfers and multi-currency banking with your bank so that you can open the most suitable account for you. Note that some banks make a monthly charge on business accounts, irrespective of currency. Shopping around is time well-spent.) Some translators and some customers prefer to transfer or receive money by PayPal, which is a safe and reliable option and straight-forward to use.
Unless otherwise requested, I make a habit of sending out invoices on the last day of the month, or the last Friday if the last day falls during a weekend. However, creating all your invoices on the same morning would be a laborious process and you may find that you are too busy. It’s much easier to generate them as you go along, after each project has been delivered. Then, at the end of the month, all you have to do is add up the total charge for each client and send the invoice with a short friendly covering email.
Remember that customers may not always be in a position to pay you until they have been paid themselves, particularly if there is a chain involved, in which case everyone waits for the end-client. Accounts departments may have many invoices to process and each payment will require authorisation. My policy is to allow customers a full calendar month to pay, this being counted from the date of delivery of the invoice. This means that there can be almost 2 months between completing and delivering a document and being paid for it, but this is more realistic and relaxed than demanding payment too soon. Most companies have their own payment terms, although there are varying degrees of transparency in this area.
If two weeks elapse after a due date and the invoice has not yet been settled, I find that a polite email with a gentle reminder is usually all that is necessary to obtain the payment. Sometimes a little patience is necessary; it is very rare that someone is deliberately trying to avoid paying, and giving the benefit of the doubt is probably the best way forward. Some direct customers prefer to get the payment out of the way as soon as they receive the document. Thanking people for paying early, or repeatedly on time, shows that you appreciate their efficiency and would be happy to work with them again.
Finally, to avoid confusion and complete the record-keeping procedure, I like to mark down each payment on my “Summary of Projects” sheet, and file all paid invoices in a separate place from the others. This seems tedious, but in this matter organisation is essential. In those very busy times when projects are flying towards you quicker than you can comfortably handle them all, it is easy to forget to take these steps. And however much you enjoy the work, you deserve to be paid for it. When creating, storing, updating and sending invoices, a methodical approach means that no payments are forgotten.