Freelance Writing: Creating an Invoice for Dummies

This is for a freelancing blog carnival, and also because someone may have the same problem I did, which is not knowing anything about working for yourself.

I did not intend to start earning money for my writing. This situation is not one that many people fall into; usually you have to go looking for work first. But someone liked the writing on my blog (the writing for fantasy/science-fiction, such as my Kindlelicious reviews, or my thoughts on the Hugo nominees for best novel, and such). And so I got to write for money for Tor.com.

I didn’t have trouble with the writing to a specific word count, or at least, not real trouble. I manage to get in a couple reviews per month and maybe a blog post or two—and I have plans starting tomorrow to put my weekend morning time to use. Unlike in other areas of my life, I have no problems with being edited or rewriting my pieces. In fact, I welcome editorial input.

So all in all, no big deal for me.

Except for one thing.

I didn’t know how to prepare an invoice.

Stop laughing. I’m pretty new to the whole work-for-yourself thing.

Some googling found me a bunch of invoicing software that cost you money, sometimes serious money. I could definitely imagine using such a professional, or at least holistic, system if my bread and butter was really freelancing and I needed to keep track of multiple clients; but it’s not. At the same time—well, I didn’t know what invoices should look like.

So this is how I created an invoice for free. (Thanks to Torie Atkinson who helped me with the details!)

  1. Open Office. Free and nowadays even has a native Mac version. It’s got a lot of features, not the least of which is that in its word-processing documents it can embed tables with spreadsheet properties, like adding stuff and taking percentages.

  2. Download template extensions for the word processor until you find one with invoice templates that you like. Some templates already come with OpenOffice itself. Many invoices end up under “Other Business Documents.”

  3. Once you’ve found a template that you like, create a new document from the template, edit its various fields (first name/last name, address, phone, whatever) and then save it as a template. Now you have a personalized template for your invoices. (And this is why I’ve forgotten the original invoice template I used.)

  4. Create a new document from that template, and fill in your stuff. Things that you need (and if your template doesn’t provide them, you should add them somewhere):

    • Your name in big letters prominently at the top, followed by your address, phone, and email.
    • Possibly a logo at the top, but as long as your name is very visible, a logo isn’t necessary.
    • The date sent for the invoice. Also should be prominent.
    • ATTN: [Name of the person] that you’re sending the invoice to (like your editor).
    • Name of their company and company address.
    • Invoice number, also prominent. Vital for their filing purposes and yours. I currently use a 3-letter code followed by a number.
    • Date range of service. Could be one day; in my case, it’s a range (first day of month, last day of month).
    • And of course, the table of expenses.
  5. Many invoices work on the “quantity” and then “price per item” and multiply-them level, which doesn’t work for most writing (not even the writing that pays you a certain amount per word) because every article is unique. Usually. So the fields I use are:

    • Date (of the specific article; for me, the date is when they publish it)
    • Description (title of the article; I also include the article type in the parlance the company uses, like “Blog Post” and “Review”)
    • Quantity/Unit Price (if one flat fee per article, just the “$[price]”; if the article is paid by the word, then “[word count] @ $[price per word]”
    • Total ($[total])
  6. If you know how to spreadsheet stuff, you can modify the table such that there’s a subtotal, a tax that percentages off the subtotal, and then the final total. Or you just enter them in by hand if you don’t know how, but I suggest learning how.

  7. Very important: before or after the table, “Please make payment to [your name].”

  8. Page numbers in “Page [page number] of [page count]” format. This is somewhat important even if your invoices are just one page, and doubly important if for some reason your invoice stretches multiple pages.

  9. Save the invoice document (obviously) in a folder devoted to invoices and save that folder to some encrypted data store somewhere, or a USB key. Back it up.

  10. If you email your invoices, export your document as a PDF. This is nice, since PDFs don’t get changed and email is instantaneous, modulo technical problems.

    Print invoice if you send off by snail mail.

I haven’t run into the “what do you do if they don’t pay you” problem because Tor rocks the house, but there are templates even for that.

Moral of the story: OpenOffice rocks and is free and is cross-platform even for Linux and you should use it.

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