How to Get Started Using an Invoicing Application

(and why you should...)

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Whether your business is large or small, digital or physical, every business should have an invoicing process and system. Rather than waiting until your computer is filled with file after file after file of invoices, quotes, or proposals–why not start off in a smarter way? Even better, a paperless way.

It was about two years into consulting with clients before I switched over to a cloud-based invoicing application. Before that, I had been creating individual documents and using an invoice template on my Mac. Although it was somewhat organized, always placing proposal documents and contracts within each project's folder, it eventually became monotonous. If I needed a client document or invoice to re-send, I had to dig back into a project's folder. Moreover, if I didn't label something properly–it just took even more time to find. Not only did it take up extra time (that I wasn't being paid for), I was also having to keep track of edits made to my invoice or proposal templates and making additional file formats (like .pdfs) since everything I created was in Pages (which doesn't work with Window's users). Not to mention, I was printing them out and writing PAID in red ink just to keep me straight on what had been paid and what hadn't. 

Chaos!

Not only does this system have no way keeping track of your invoices and letting you know what has been paid on time, it demands space on your computer. Having an invoicing system can improve organization and help you create a more professional consistency with billing and compiling proposals. You don't have to have a fancy template or have a bunch of customization options–a clean-cut invoice or proposal will make you look professional and maintain the emphasis on the important stuff: paying the bill.

Setting up and establishing an invoicing system early on in your business will help you work smarter, save time, and impress your clients. It get's better. There's also this really neat option that comes with most accounting or invoicing applications: say hello to analytics! How great would it be to visually "see" what you've made on invoicing versus expenses? Seeing numbers on paper does not take the cake like getting to see charts and graphs that visually measure your invoices, bills, or expenses in real time. Not only does it help you stay on top of everything, but it will help you plan your month, quarter, or the year more accurately. Finding an invoice will no longer turn into a scavenger hunt; and with cloud-based storage, you can access your invoices from anywhere, anytime. Need to print? Just download a PDF. 

MAKING THE CHANGE
There are so many great invoicing and accounting apps these days, but choosing one comes down to two things:

 1) interface / usability
2) features (that specifically benefit your business)

Even if you don't wish to go 100% paperless, you can adjust your billing process to fit your needs while still getting the benefits of a system with a tad bit of automation; not to mention, simplifying your template design. At first, I was wrapped up in how "plain" the invoice template design was on my app. However, after creating a few, having a simple invoice with just the important stuff on there (i.e. logo, phone number, address) is refreshing and easier on the eyes. Being a creative person it's easy to get wrapped up in the look of a document layout, but with invoicing consider giving yourself and break and go with something simple. On the opposite end of the spectrum, not having enough white space (and too much text) will make it harder for clients to pick-out information. If a client loses an invoice, re-sending it will be a breeze. Did someone say automatic number generator? Yes please! No more looking back at past invoices to find out what number you last left off.

Working "smarter" is about using time-saving apps and creating a process *one time* that is efficient for everyone. You can create this atmosphere for your business by setting up an invoicing system that is geared toward your needs while still staying thoughtful toward your customers. The biggest reason to setup and establish a consistent process is: money. No matter how organized you get, staying on top of that loose invoice could be crucial. Having bills stack up and not realizing they're taking over your income can be devastating. Choose an invoicing system that has analytics, even the simplest analytic charts will do. Now that I have been using my own invoicing app, my time spent on invoices is down to 5-8 minutes and getting to glance at my monthly income from the invoices collected is satisfying.

Sometimes these invoicing apps do more than just "invoicing". Apps like 17hats is a "one stop shop" for managing your businesses' billing, proposals, and on boarding process. Hiveage can also generate proposals and help you collect payments online.

Considering take the leap to Cloud-based invoicing? Here are some features to look for and some tips on how to use them:

- Trackable invoices and proposals
Don't let that client sneak away! Sending an invoice right from the application allows you to track views so that you know that excuse "I never got it" ain't true!

- Track time
Some invoice applications have timers or at least slots for inserting time so that you can bill them properly. Allowing clients to see exactly how much time you spent on hourly billed jobs will make you look transparent.

- Reoccurring bills or expenses
I ignored this feature on my invoicing application for some time, but don't do this! All you have to do is fill it out once and it will continue to mark the expense as often as it's due. Using this feature is critical to track your own bills and to assist the analytics in adjusting your income stats.

- Downloadable PDFs
Maybe you never print out your invoices, or maybe you never even download them but having the option for your clients to print the PDF version of an invoice is always a plus.

- Proposal milestones
Having a section to insert a milestone on a proposal will come in handy when setting up a timeline for a project. I've noticed this feature is not offered in every invoicing app  (including my own) and I wish it was. Be sure to keep this in mind if it is critical for your proposals.

- Customized message
Writing a customized message or adjusting the default copy that is attached to your invoice or proposal will enable you to insert a little personality into automation. Use it!

Try applications for a test-run. Continue to ask yourself: does the interface/usability work for me? Do I have the right features that specifically benefit my needs?

You are all set. Get started by poking around these invoicing apps:

Harvest
Cushion
Pancake
Solo by Thrive (geared more toward UK friends)
Hiveage
17Hats
MarketCircle (native Mac app)
Invoice Ninja

 

hey there! hope this post was helpful to you.I'm mel and i'm a marketing designer–I can help you manage your branded content, marketing, and digital space so you can focus on organizing your systems (like invoicing!) and your customers. I work with businesses and nonprofits on an affordable and flexible basis. want to work together? Click here >>