When I started working at Blinksale as a social media manager, I honestly didn’t know what an invoice was. I’d never sent one and never received one. I knew it had something to do with getting paid, but what exactly? Now, six years later, I am president of Blinksale (cue the theme song to The Jeffersons), and I think about invoicing every day. I think about ways to make it easier for freelancers and small businesses to send invoices and for customers to pay them. A great invoice excites me in ways I never thought a financial document could. But for all the innovations I’ve seen, learned, and developed along the way, there’s one that stands out above the rest — and you don’t need fancy software or financial know-how to do it.
Just say thank you.
Considering how simple it is, I’m amazed how many people forget to do it — or don’t think of doing it at all. People have relegated invoicing to the realm of “nitty-gritty” business practice. Like lines of code being passed back and forth between computers, rather than a document being sent and received by real people. While an invoice is a down-to-business document, invoicing is something much more: It’s customer service. Make this switch in your mind, and saying thank you will feel a lot more natural. Which is good, because saying thank you pays off.
You’ve probably heard that just writing the words “thank you” on the bottom of your invoice can increase your chances of getting paid by as much as 5 percent. But that’s old news, and most invoicing templates automatically include such language. What I’m talking about is taking your thank-youing to the next level: Sending a thank-you note after the invoice has been paid — and including some token of appreciation. A gift. A gift card. A trinket. Something that lets your client know you actually are thankful.
Sending a thank-you card after you receive payment greatly increases your chances of getting repeat business, which makes it the most cost-effective work a freelancer or small business can do. And I’ve seen it work from both sides: as someone who sends invoices and someone who gets them. When I follow up with a thank-you note and an Amazon gift card, I get repeat business. When a vendor I’ve hired follows up with a thank-you note, I’m pretty darn likely to give them my business again. I practically have to.
Why It Works
In Robert B. Cialdini’s super important (and kind of unnerving) book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he tells a story about a professor who tried a simple experiment with Christmas cards:
A few years ago, a university professor tried a little experiment. He sent Christmas cards to a sample of perfect strangers. Although he expected some reaction, the response he received was amazing — holiday cards addressed to him came pouring back from the people who had never met nor heard of him.
What’s going on here? The professor’s little experiment revealed something very deep about the way our minds work — and how so many of our emotions and behaviors are mechanistic. We are hardly aware of them, and yet they influence almost every decision we make — whether it be about to whom we should send Christmas cards or to whom we should send business. “By virtue of the reciprocity rule, then, we are obligated to the future repayment of favors, gifts, invitations, and the like,” Cialdini writes. “So typical is it for indebtedness to accompany the receipt of such things that a term like ‘much obliged’ has become a synonym for ‘thank you’….”
By thanking your customers with a note and a gift, you are obliging them to future business. Like I said, it’s a little unnerving, but that’s only because of how true it is and how often it works.
Your follow-up thank-you notes can be the simplest things in the world. It doesn’t take much to surprise and delight your client when they aren’t expecting anything in the first place. Still, if thinking of cool gifts for your clients shuts down your brain (it shuts down mine sometimes too), here are some things that have worked well for me in the past.
In San Diego there’s this company called Cookies Tonight that delivers warm cookies and cold milk. When they walk into our office, everyone’s eyes get huge. Because people love cookies. But more importantly, they love people who send them cookies. The great thing about sending cookies is that for a few seconds, everyone in the office — not just your contact — will be talking about you.
Guaranteed not to disappoint and it doesn’t require postage. Plus, you’re helping Amazon grow even larger, which will be looked upon favorably when they inevitably rule the free world. I’ve seen a lot of people recommend sending your client a “thoughtful book,” but I’d suggest sticking to a gift card unless you’re 100 percent sure it’s a book she wants to read. Sending a book feels more like homework than a gift. It’s more like taking 10 hours from someone instead of giving $10. Let your client pick her own book.
Toys. Deep down, every client secretly wants a mini drone. Just make sure they’re the type of client who is willing to admit it.
Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with a simple note of thanks sans gift. Handwritten, if possible. And it’s fine to be as direct as possible: “Thank you for your business! Hope to work with you again soon!” Boom. That’s done at least 90 percent of the work that a mini drone would do. Because, when it comes to follow-up thank-yous, it really is all about the gesture.
The power of reciprocity is strong. And so is the power of a follow-up thank-you. Try incorporating this one invoicing trick and see if your clients don’t come back again and again.
P.S. In addition to Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, check out Gary Vaynerchuk’s The Thank You Economy. Both books are well worth your time.