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How to Protect Your Payments with a Solid Invoice and an E Signature

Lauren Bonk

Here you are, can you believe it? You’ve successfully submitted a project proposal or estimate, sealed the deal with a traditional contract or E Signature, and put in all the work. You’re now ready to invoice a client for your job well done.

If you’re new to freelancing, this is a milestone moment. You’re definitely excited to get paid, and you’re probably pretty nervous about whether or not you’re actually going to get paid.

Even if you’re an old pro in the freelancing world, the invoicing stage is still critical. A poorly-constructed invoice could become the small-but-powerful obstacle standing in the way of you getting paid on time.

Example Time:

We’re going to visit an imaginary entrepreneur named Stan.

(Hi, Stan.)

Stan here has entered the world of customized artisanal soap-making. This soap is no ordinary soap, either. Stan personally talks to his customers about skin-types, scents, and oils, so that he can create the perfect bar. His process transforms a soap purchase into something far more than a simple shopping experience.

Stan has just finished his first commissioned batch of sudsy goodness. A sample piece has been sent out, and the customer is more than satisfied. It’s time to send an invoice.

Because Stan has chosen a trade that requires extended processing time and somewhat-expensive materials, he needs to be methodical about his supply inventory and expenses.

Basically, he needs to get paid on time in order to ensure that orders get completed efficiently.
So, what are some steps he can take to make sure the bubble doesn’t burst on this soapy endeavor?

1. Determine Your Ideal Timeline

How quickly do you need to get paid in order to avoid financial stress?

Stan’s soap, once made, takes three weeks to mature before it’s usable, which means that he needs to be able to start manufacturing as soon as an order comes in. He can’t afford to spend 30 days waiting for pay.

It’s important to be realistic but firm in these situations. No, it’s not realistic to expect payment in 24 hours… but 10 days? 15? Absolutely.

After determining your payment timeline, be sure to include a specific due date in your invoice. This eliminates any guesswork for the client and makes the date easier to remember. “December 6th” sounds a lot more solid than “Net 10 Days.”

2. Itemize everything.

The last thing you want to do is waste time answering questions about charges.

Be explicit about project details and charges, and don’t spring any surprises on your clients. If the project increases in scope and work, talk to the client before things get out of hand, and alter your contract or project agreement to reflect those changes.

When Stan sends out his invoice, he’ll include cost of supplies, time spent manufacturing and packaging, shipping costs, and the initial consult. Communication takes time, and if that communication is an integral part of your services, you deserve to be paid for it.

3. Make it easy to get paid.

Always include available methods of payment in your invoice. If you accept Paypal, make sure your client knows how to find you. If checks are your preferred method of payment, include an appropriate mailing address. If you accept credit or debit cards, include a link to your payment platform so that your clients can pay you quickly.

4. Create a clean, memorable invoice.

Your invoicing options are quite extensive, and many of those options provide the chance to customize your invoice… but don’t go crazy. Adding a logo looks professional and put-together, but adding your business’ logo, and a green border, and a special curly font for the item descriptions, and a funny quote in the memo area… does not.

Include your branding in your invoicing if you can, but keep it free from clutter, and make the important information prominent and easy-to-read.

5. Streamline and protect your process.

I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times, but I’m going to say it again:

Do NOT skip the contract.

According to the Freelancers Union, 44% of its freelancers have reported issues with getting paid for their work. 44% is not a small amount, and suggests that there’s a healthy chance that anyone can find themselves in an uncomfortable payment situation. So how do you avoid one of those situations?

Get as many signatures as possible. Create a contract and get it signed.

When you send an invoice, it’s a good idea to get a signature on that as well, to ensure that the client understands and agrees with the charged amount.

These signatures are important, and can help protect you should an unpaid invoice result in a lawsuit.

Back to Stan.

Stan’s customer is from a neighboring state, as are the new inquiries he’s receiving. He wants to make sure he’s protected, but also wants to avoid the tedious print/sign/scan/email process, and has no interest in mailing a contract to a customer and waiting for a signature.

This is where an E Signature comes in pretty handy.

If you haven’t read any of our previous posts on the subject, an E Signature is a legally binding electronic signature that can be attached to a digital document, which protects both parties as well as saving everybody on time and postage.

If you have read our previous posts, you’ll know that we are the creators of WP E Signature, which is a plugin that allows you to sign documents within your WordPress Website. We’ve recently teamed up with Sprout Invoices by adding a WP E Signature extension to their WordPress invoice plugin.

This add-on will allow you to invoice your clients and get those invoices signed, all within the comfort of your own website.

Basically, what we’re trying to say is…

Protect yourself. Protect your business. Protect your cashflow.

Regardless of which tools you use to send out invoices or get documents signed, you’ve got to be thorough and clear with your clients and customers. Hiding or leaving out costs until the last minute will only result in wasted time, headaches… and lots of un-shipped soap.

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