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Her company provides small business owners with bookkeeping, business advisory, and marketing services. She’s also a QuickBooks Advanced Certified ProAdvisor who has issued and received thousands upon thousands of invoices.
Nowadays, she says she can sense how long a small business has been open, and how experienced they are just by looking at their invoice.
For example, “If you're using accounting software, it numbers invoices consecutively, so it tells me how many invoices you’ve ever issued. Don’t start with a zero or one. Any four-digit number is a good place to start,” she says.
We asked Jacqueline for the most common invoice mistakes she sees, and how a small business owner can resolve them.
Problem 1: Invoices with missing items
Right off the bat, Jacqueline has noticed, “A lot of business owners don't know what belongs on an invoice, nor where it belongs on the invoice.”
Here are the 11 essential elements every invoice should include:
- Header: Place your business name or the name of your company at the top of the invoice. Make it clearly visible and easily identifiable. Include your business address, phone number, email address, a vendor number if one has been assigned to you, and your website so that the recipient can easily reach you for any inquiries.
- Invoice number: Assign a unique identification number to each invoice for easy tracking and reference. Place it prominently on the invoice. State the date when the invoice is issued.
- Due date: Clearly indicate the date by which the payment is due. This allows the recipient to know when the payment is expected.
- Customer information: Include the name and mailing address of the customer or client you're invoicing.
- Itemized list of goods or services: Each line item should provide a detailed description of the goods or services sold. Include the unit price, quantities, hours worked (if applicable), rates, and any applicable item codes.
- Subtotal: Calculate the subtotal for each line item by multiplying the unit price by the quantity.
- Discounts: If any discounts apply, clearly state the discount amount or percentage.
- Taxes or other additional charges: If applicable, clearly state any taxes or fees that need to be paid. Specify the type of tax (e.g., sales tax, VAT) and the applicable rate.
- Total: Sum up all the subtotals, discounts and taxes to calculate the total amount due.
- Payment details: Specify the accepted payment methods (e.g., check, credit card, bank transfer) and provide any relevant payment instructions. If you accept bank transfers, provide your bank name, account number, and routing information.
- Footer: Include any additional information or terms, such as late payment penalties, return policies, or specific instructions for the customer. Restate your contact information, including your email address and phone number.
If you’re looking for help, Jacqueline says, “There are so many software options providing free invoicing.” Her favorite is QuickBooks Online. “They've been doing it since the dawn of time and there's nothing that they don't cover!”
Problem 2: Unprofessional presentation
Even if you have all the right items on your invoice, the way those items are presented is important.
Use a clear and organized layout–with consistent fonts, font sizes, and formatting– professional branding, like your business logo or colors.
“I've seen people who have literally screenshotted receipts with a scribbled name on the side and called it an invoice. I've also had people who have handwritten invoices and submitted them. When I receive handwritten invoices I call the business, because it makes me question its legitimacy.”
Jacqueline also stresses the need for clear and concise language to describe the goods or services provided. She says a professional invoice:
- Avoids technical jargon or complex terminology
- Has been proofread to eliminate grammatical or spelling errors
- Maintains a polite and respectful tone
Problem 3: Calculation Errors
Calculation errors on invoices are surprisingly common, Jacqueline says. Every calculation is critical, so if you omit line items, apply taxes incorrectly, or miscalculate subtotals, the final invoice will be incorrect.
To avoid these mistakes, she says use accounting software or invoicing tools that automate calculations. Tools such as QuickBooks Online, Xero, and FreshBooks will even convert currencies and units of measure that you may forget about when you are dealing with international clients or suppliers.
She says software is not only more efficient with greater accuracy, it will streamline your record keeping because it maintains a centralized database of all your invoices. That makes it easier to organize, search, and track invoices for future reference.
Accounting software also speeds up other routine tasks like expense tracking, bank reconciliation, and financial reporting.
Problem 4: Unclear instructions for payment and non-payment
Jacqueline says small business owners should pay special attention to the payment instructions they provide on invoices. “I value people who say to me, here are three ways to pay me: ACH, wire transfer, and credit card portal. Your invoice is a reflection of your brand so make it easy and pleasant to pay you.”
An invoice should also include the due date. It is common to request that invoices be paid “net 30” or 30 days from the date of the invoice or “net 15”, 15 days from the invoice date. For some customers, it might also make sense to require that payment is due upon receipt. Your company's cash flow needs should determine payment terms, and you should set these terms in your contract with your customer so they are aware of and agree to your terms ahead of time.
“On-time payment is the hallmark of a good customer relationship. So if you're not getting paid, or the customer didn't meet your terms and conditions, you need to draw a line. A bad customer is as good as no customer so to speak.”
While Jacqueline says you can consider offering incentives for early payments, she strongly encourages your invoice to have clear language about late payment penalties to encourage timely payments. “I have clients who charge a percentage fee for late payment. My advice is to make it easy and give your clients one flat number.”
Problem 5: Inefficient communications before and after invoice
Jacqueline says if you own a business, you can’t be shy. “If this is your first invoice and you have questions, you need to call your customer’s accounting department and say how should I present my invoice to you? Where should I send it?”
You want to make sure your invoice goes to the right person and that you know how to reach that person directly. Keep in mind, the larger the company, the more likely that the person who placed the order is not the person paying your invoice.
Your invoice should also provide multiple ways for the customer to contact you. “If you send an unclear invoice, then your customer’s accounts department has to contact you. They need your email, phone, or a designated contact person listed on your invoice.”
If an invoice is overdue, send a friendly payment reminder to your customer. The reminder, which Jacqueline suggests you send three to five days after the due date, can be a polite email reminding them of the outstanding invoice, the due date, and any consequences for late payment. Include a copy of the original invoice for reference.
If the first payment reminder does not result in a response or payment, escalate the follow-up. This may involve sending a more formal letter or email.
Jacqueline’s advice is to document all communication and keep a record of follow-up efforts. She says, “Exhaust all reasonable options for amicable resolution before involving a collections agency, or seeking legal advice.”
Invoicing is a crucial part of managing a small business, and small mistakes can affect timely payment and cash flow.
As Jacqueline sees it, “A lot of business owners who fail by the three to five-year mark don't understand that they have to be maniacal about their numbers in order to be successful. It's not about how great you are at your core skill set that you're selling, it comes down to cash flow, and that starts with strong invoicing practices.”
Save time with customized invoices right in your Novo app, and offer clients more ways to pay — invoices with an option to pay by card are paid on time or early 2.5x more often than those without.
Novo Platform Inc. strives to provide accurate information but cannot guarantee that this content is correct, complete, or up-to-date. This page is for informational purposes only and is not financial or legal advice nor an endorsement of any third-party products or services. All products and services are presented without warranty. Novo Platform Inc. does not provide any financial or legal advice, and you should consult your own financial, legal, or tax advisors.
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