Hey, I got such good/quick advice here last time I posted (see below) that I thought I'd ask another question. It has to do with another job, my first freelance job essentially, anyhow it was all pretty casual and it's done now. But the guy just said "send me an invoice" - is there a set format for an invoice? What does one look like?
I don't think there is, but they all share the obvious elements in common: what was done and where/when, how long it took, what the rate was, any additional charges or expenses, any rebates etc. and the grand total and the due date for payment, plus any terms.
A little trick you might employ is to offer a "prompt payment" discount if paid within say 15 days. Many government clients, and some corporate ones, have a rule that any bills that give discounts for early/prompt payment get processed first/faster. For someone on short margins, fast, reliable payment may be worth the "giveaway" on the discount.
Terms since I was a boy were 2/10 net 30. Many, many places will try to stiff you with net 90 and more, you tell them if they want interest-free loans, they should call a bank, but you want your money as contracted, or late fees will be charged, and collection procedures will go into effect. Of course, the best guarantee for prompt payment is to retain the finished product until payment. You will be surprised at how well this circumvents the "well, it's our universal policy to take 100 days to pay a bill, it's just the way accounting is set up".
"I'm not allowed to be a chump. That's how MY accounting is set up".
Call it a luxury of being fairly successful, but several years ago I stopped doing business with companies who take too long to pay their bills. If I've got to worry, why have them as a client?
Big downside to 2%/10 discounts is too many people pay at 30, 45 or 60 and still take the discount anyway. Similarly, charging interest typically gets ignored. What are you going to do about it? Risk alienating a client over a very minor fraction of the work they've just given you?
Common sense, but... at the start of any relationship simply state the terms under which you expect to be paid. (We have it as a clause in our contract.) Then if the reality is too far out of synch with what you originally requested, bring it up with them.
Funny thing about all of this is that the people who always seem to have the biggest last minute "Oh, my God -- drop everything" emergencies also tend to be the ones who can't quite seem to get an invoice approved and paid in a reasonable time. Funny thing, huh?
I'd have to agree with everything that Nick said (though I think not doing business with people who drive you insane is good maintenance of your mental health, not just a sign of success...)
The problem with video/media production types of services is that most of us are relatively small businesses. We all want relatively large businesses as clients because that's where the higher volume work should logically be...
The problem is that if you want to be in small business and get paid for every hour and get paid on time (sometimes on the spot...), you need to be a plumber. When water is flooding the family room downstream from the commode, it seems pretty easy to get that big deposit and promise to give back any funds that end up unused...if only sales videos and television commercials were like that...
Bottom line is that in any business relationship between a small business and a large business, the large business ends up pretty much calling the shots through decree or default. Generally we actually get paid in a far more timely manner from our smaller clients than our largest ones.
We no longer give a quick pay discount for all the reasons Nick described and I can't remember the last time we bothered to try to collect any interest. If we get to that point we're typically just trying to recover the invoiced fees...
...as far as just beginning to invoice...in this business you'll have to resolve yourself to the fact that you'll probably have to chase people to get paid as a freelancer as that just seems like the way it goes.
Kolb Syverson Communications
Creative Cow Host
2004, 2005 NAB Post Production Conference Premiere Pro Technical Chair
Author, "The Easy Guide to Premiere Pro" http://www.focalpress.com
"Premiere Pro Fast Track DVD Series" http://www.classondemand.net
Most word processing and "Works"-type programs have invoice sample templates available to fill in the blanks
Simple form, Your Name, address, phone; Client's Name, address; job date(s), work performed; hours worked or
Day/half-day depending on arrangement with client; rate per above units; total.
Don't print your Social Security number on an invoice form. If a client needs it for issuing you a 1099, provide it to them
at their office. I've always added "Net 30" but, as noted earlier, it usually is treated as a fun suggestion.
Seems like the worst slow-pay offenders, for me at least, have been either very large companies that make tons of money, or,
agencies/production companies who do work for those just mentioned, and say they can't pay me until MegaCorp pays them.
I also find it useful to have the contracts signed by someone who actually has the authority to cut the check, instead of some intermediary. A lot of times the martinet client that has made your life purgatory is not even TGTSTC (The Guy That Signs The Check). TGTSTC is the final arbiter for every creative and financial decision, only their word is truly gospel.
you can really get caught up in a paper trail that equates to unbillable time but could save you butt. For out of town clients the lengthy version is this: they call, I send an estimate/quote (your established price), they send a purchase order number (their committment to pay), (ya do the work) send an invoice based on the PO#. Still may take 30 days to get paid, but you have recourse. Your invoice can be basic as already stated, but with an acccounting program like Quickbooks, all this is easy to create and track past due stuff and create monthly statements, etc. And if you're going to email invoices, be very clear that they should pay from what you email. Most take it that its a copy and will wait for a hard copy. And there is a difference between an estimate and a quote( although i'm not an attorney): estimates are open for revision, quote is a fixed price.
I know another post said not to include your SS#, but I try to head off the 60-90 day issue by sending a completed W-9 Taxpayer ID form with my invoices (get it here http://tinyurl.com/bskds) This way, at 30 days you don't get a letter stating you need to provide it, and then they pay in another 30 days. The latest delay I have (from a regular client no less) is to fill out a vendor profile, just another way to delay things.
May sound pessimistic, sorry. 99% of my business dealings are smooth and painless, you just need to be professional and establish a good groundwork from the start. If they see you as a pushover, you get paid last and they treat you as an amateur. The squeaky (but polite) wheel gets the oil. As stated in many other threads, its all about relationships - deliver a good product, they want to keep you as much as you want to keep them.