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5 Common Invoicing Mistakes. Don’t Do These Things.

You’ve done the work. You’ve maintained a good relationship with your client. And now the project is all wrapped up except for one little thing: The Invoice. Invoicing a client should be the easiest thing in the world. But when it’s done badly, the invoice can derail everything. Bad invoicing not only delays payment (sometimes forever), it can also hurt your relationship with a client (which could end up costing you even more).

Invoices are touchy subjects. They’re often awkward and potentially explosive. So here are five common mistakes people make when sending an invoice. Don’t do these things.

1. Don’t Forget Your Payment Information

There’s nothing obvious about how your clients should pay you. They don’t know how much to pay, when to pay, or even how to pay. You have to lay it all out for them. Nevertheless, for some reason it’s easy to forget to include payment information on your invoice. Basic stuff like “Please make your check out to [Name]” or “Please send your check to [address].” This info is especially important to include if you’re requesting an atypical type of payment, such as electronic funds transfer. Don’t let your payment end up in the wrong place, and don’t give your clients another excuse to put off sending your payment just because they didn’t know where to mail it. Make sure your invoice includes your payment information.

2. Don’t Neglect Keeping Records

I get it. You’re creative. You’re a free spirit. You’re proud of your messy drafting table. And I also get that there’s nothing fun about keeping organized records of your invoices. But look, you really need to do it. Keeping bad records — or worse, not keeping any records at all — could really haunt you should you ever find yourself in a dispute with a client or — worse — the U.S. Government. More than just keeping you out of trouble, though, keeping good records will help you stay on top of which invoices are paid and which are still outstanding, so you can make sure you’re receiving all the money you’re owed. There are plenty of great invoicing apps out there that can make organizing your invoices a lot easier. I run one called Blinksale. But whatever system you use, just make sure you have a system. Once you get started, it’s really not so bad.

3. Don’t Forget to Follow Up

Following up on invoices is the best way to make sure they get paid. Not only does it remind your clients they owe you money, but it also allows you to eliminate any excuses they might have for not paying you. Like you forgot to include your payment information on the invoice.

4. Don’t Include Surprises

Surprises are for birthday parties. So unless it’s a surprise discount or a surprise coupon for free cupcakes, keep surprises off your invoices. If you put in more hours on a project than you expected, tell your client over the phone or in an email. Don’t tell them on the invoice. Clients don’t like that. They get mad. When your client sees the bottom line on the invoice, they should think, Yeah, that sounds about right.

5. Don’t Wait to Send Your Invoice

It’s easy to put off invoicing. After all, it can be a little tedious and a little stressful. You have to double-check everything, proofread it, and then hover your cursor over the Send button for 10 to 15 seconds until you finally click it. But putting off invoicing is a big mistake. Not only are you going to have to wait even longer to get paid (after all, the payment clock doesn’t start running until your client receives the invoice), but you’re also sending your client a negative message that goes something like this: Hey, I’m obviously not that worried about this invoice, so you shouldn’t be either. Take as much time as you need to pay me. Who cares? This is another situation where invoicing software can really help you out and make the job a lot more convenient. Whatever program you use, though, try your best to invoice quickly. Immediately, if at all possible.

Do yourself a favor and don’t do any of these five things. A little practice, a little patience — you’ll get the hang of invoicing in no time.

Announcing the New Blinksale Referral Program

We’re excited to announce the new Blinksale referral program, which makes it easy for our awesome Blinksale users to use Blinksale for free just by referring their friends.

Here’s how it works: Every Blinksale user has been given a unique link to spread throughout the world as they see fit. Email it to your friends. Tweet your followers. Post it to Facebook. Then every time someone uses your link to sign up for a paid account after their free trial, you’ll get one month of free Blinksale.

It’s as easy as that.

We’ve even built a little online dashboard to help you keep track of how many free months of Blinksale you’re racking up.

To get your personalized link, go to the settings section of your account. If you don’t have an account, start your free trial today.

What Can You Charge a Client For?

You hear over and over again that freelancers shouldn’t be afraid to charge what they’re worth. But it can be equally confusing for freelancers to know what they should charge for. That extra, hour-long phone call to clarify project details, that new software you need for a particular job, the time you spend emailing back and forth — is that all fair game? Or are you expected to absorb those costs yourself? When I originally started freelancing before spending my days on Blinksale, I had no idea. I felt my way through it, which led to some pretty awkward situations. To help you avoid some awkward situations of your own, here are a few things I’ve learned.

  1. Be reasonable

The truth is, you can charge your client for anything you want. You can charge them for every minute you’re on the phone with them, every email you send, every mile you drive. There aren’t rules about these things. And there aren’t very many standards either, beyond just being reasonable. That said, what is reasonable? I think it’s reasonable to charge your client for any expense unique to a particular project. For example, if you are to do freelance work, you’d be totally right to charge clients for a Basecamp subscription if you’re only using Basecamp for that project. I tell my client this up front, and they see it on their invoice. If I needed to buy special supplies for the project — even something as simple as pencils and graph paper — I would charge the client for that, too. Any expense above and beyond your normal overhead is reasonable to charge for.

  1. It’s all about setting expectations

Like all relationships, client relationships are all about expectations. Disputes are rarely about what you’ve charged for, but rather what your client expected you to charge for. So just make sure your client understands up front how you operate. Agree upon expected expenses beforehand, and make sure it’s all in your contract. If you’re going to bill them for every phone call, make sure that’s in the contract before you invoice them $25 for a 10-minute conversation.

  1. Be willing to pay for learning experiences

When you first start freelancing, you pretty much don’t know anything. A lot of unexpected expenses present themselves, and you often feel underpaid. That’s okay. My advice is to not consider these losses, but instead to consider them learning experiences. Use what you’ve learned to make your next project or client engagement that much better and that much more profitable. If you revise your client’s bottom line as you go, just because you didn’t know any better, not only will you look like an amateur, but you’ll also infuriate your client. There is value in making mistakes. Learn from them, and do better next time.

  1. Eat some costs

If you’re unsure whether an expense should be billed to the client, just don’t do it. While, yes, it’s important to get paid what you’re worth, customer service is pretty important, too. When you can give your client an incredible experience, the money you will make from repeat business and word-of-mouth marketing will far out-value any nitpicky expenses you absorb on a project. Sure, it might be reasonable to bill a client for those miles you drove to and from their office, but it will also make you look like a tool.

  1. Put it all on the invoice

My accountant used to work for the IRS. He’s audited everyone from Enron to freelancers. His advice to me early on was very simple: Just be honest. Don’t hide anything. Ever. The same thing goes for invoicing your clients. Even if you’ve decided to be as nitpicky as humanly possible, make sure your nitpickiness is reflected on your invoice. Your client should know exactly what they’re paying for and what they’re getting. Better to have them balk than for them to find out later you pulled a fast one.

Deciding what to bill for is one of those tricky gray areas of running a business. Everyone does it a little bit different. But my point is, don’t be afraid to charge your client for more than just your time. Don’t be afraid to communicate these expenses to them up front and then to include these as line items on their invoice. Be reasonable, be honest, be generous, and you’ll do fine.

Smart Moves: Ideal Cities for Freelancers

One of the best parts of freelancing is having the freedom to work when you want and, maybe more importantly, where you want. And we’re not just talking about coffee shop versus living room. You have the freedom to work anywhere in the world. So how do you choose? While the Internet has no doubt made the world smaller than ever before, there are still some distinct advantages to freelancing in certain cities.

If you are thinking about relocating, here are several factors to consider. And then check out the infographic below for some cool charts and graphs.

Number of Other Freelancers

Find out how many people in your prospective city are currently making a living as freelancers. Don’t think of them as your competition. Think of them as your pilot balloons. If a high number of freelancers are making it in a city, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to make it work too. Additionally, a thriving freelance population offers some huge benefits once you’ve relocated: a community, group health plans, coworking spaces and — very important — networking. A community of fellow freelancers might just become your biggest source of referrals.

Affordability of Housing

Finding an affordable city can be just as important as finding a thriving one. After all, it’s no use moving to a “better city” if you end up pouring most of your income into your living expenses. A low cost of living could offer you the freedom you’re looking for so you don’t end up working seven days a week just to make rent.

Unemployment Rate

A city’s unemployment rate will give you a good indication of its overall financial health. Look for low unemployment rates (8 percent or lower). A city full of thriving businesses means there will be plenty of need for freelancers. Plenty of work for you.

Health Insurance

For freelancers, healthcare is often a big complication and an even bigger expense. But what some freelancers don’t realize is that healthcare premiums can vary wildly from state to state. A $300/month plan on one side of the country could be a $150/month plan on the other. Check out this interactive map to see how healthcare premiums differ around the country.

Income Tax

Don’t forget about income tax — especially if you’re currently living in a state without it (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Wyoming). Move to a city like Los Angeles and you could be looking at an income tax rate as high as 13.3 percent. While it might not be a game changer, income tax should definitely be a consideration when deciding where to set up your home base.

Keep these factors in mind as you consider relocating, and you might just find yourself in a city you can thrive in — a city that offers all the freedom and excitement that drew you to freelancing in the first place. To see which cities rank high in all of these attributes, see the infographic below:


Avoid the Freelance Stupor: 4 Tips for Motivation

It’s amazing how much you can get done in a 40-hour week. It’s also amazing how little you can get done. The difference between killing it during the workweek and letting the workweek kill you often comes down to not efficiency, but motivation. If you’ve found yourself slipping into that all-too-familiar freelance stupor, here are four things you might try to recover your tenacity.

Play to Your Strengths

There’s nothing worse for one’s motivation than doing work you’re bad at. Not only does this work naturally take you longer (because you’re so bad at it), but doing too much of it can affect your happiness, and thus your motivation.

In his book Flow, psychologist (and impressively surnamed) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (MEE-hy CHEEK-sent-mə-HY-ee) found that the happiest people in the world are those who are frequently challenged while doing tasks they are good at doing. Mihaly calls this flow, and the people who can get into a state of flow most often not only have more successful careers, but they also have the best lives.

So what gets you into flow? If you’re not sure, try a simple test: Pay attention to those activities that cause you to lose track of time when you’re doing them. If two hours of work fly by, you were most likely in a state of flow. Take note of that activity and try to incorporate more of it into your daily routine.

Stay Creatively Fueled

It can be hard to stay creatively fueled when you’re a freelancer. Mostly because you’re spending large parts of your day alone. On your couch. In your jammies. When you don’t have that Hey! Check this out! inspiration that happens naturally in an office setting, you can sometimes go days without seeing anything that’s even remotely inspiring. And as your inspiration tank gets low, so does your motivation.

Make a point to spend 15 minutes every day seeking out something that truly speaks to you — whether it’s the latest Vimeo Staff Pick or a decade-old David Foster Wallace essay. Fill your tank.

Stay Physically Fueled

Speaking of fuel, how’s your diet these days? What you’re eating could be affecting your motivation more than you think. An article in the Harvard Business Review notes:

Not all foods are processed by our bodies at the same rate. Some foods, like pasta, bread, cereal and soda, release their glucose quickly, leading to a burst of energy followed by a slump. Others, like high fat meals (think cheeseburgers and BLTs) provide more sustained energy, but require our digestive system to work harder, reducing oxygen levels in the brain and making us groggy.

They suggest keeping a few things in mind while choosing foods that will keep you motivated: (1) Choose your meals before you get hungry (you’ll make better decisions), (2) Eat small meals throughout the day (to keep your blood sugar stable), and (3) Keep healthy snacks within arm’s reach (suggestions: almonds and protein bars).

Put On Grown-Up Clothes

Oh, and as for sitting on your couch in your jammies: maybe don’t do that. Dr. Karen Pine, a professor of psychology, has this to say about jammies:

When we put on an item of clothing it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment. A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it’s “professional work attire” or “relaxing weekend wear,” so when we put it on we prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning.

In other words, jammies = stupor.

Even if you don’t plan on leaving home, try putting on some honest-to-goodness work clothes tomorrow and see if they don’t make you want to sit up a little straighter, check your punctuation a little more often, and get things done.

If you’ve found yourself in a stupor lately, don’t worry. Stupors are common — especially amongst freelancers. Some might even say it’s a mark of the trade. And curing it could be as simple as a bowl of almonds and a button-up shirt. NOW BACK TO WORK!