There's no way I can justify my salary level, but I'm learning to live with it. - Drew Carey
Billing for your services is truly an art. An art that poses difficulty to many professionals. A post today over at copyblogger.com offered advice on how to price freelance work and Small Business Labs posted about working for equity. Getting paid is an important topic for people.
An "attorney's time is his stock and trade," asnoted. One thing that good lawyers can teach other professionals is the art of billing. I am not talking about over billing or unscrupulous practices. But, providing a bill to your client that makes them want to pay the bill or feel proud to pay the bill. They feel compelled to pay your invoice because it is "right" and they got value from your service and the invoice reflects that value in a concise manner. For most of my career I was a terrible biller. Billing was an administrative chore to get off of my desk.
Then, I became a business owner. David Maister in TRUE Professionalism states:
Clients are intelligent people and, because they usually employ more than one provider, they can easily recognize differences in quality, cost, service and attitude. They can, and do, move their business around quickly and reward efficiency promptly.
I learned how true this was. Your invoice is your opportunity to extol the virtue of using your service. If you purposefully minimize the bill to keep business, it will be reflected in your attitude and you will lose business. If you over bill for rote work and maximize the bill, you will not be rewarded for efficiency. The art is the ability to maximize value – not, money.
Let me offer some billing tips (at no charge) for the small business professional:
- Whenever possible enclose a personally signed letter with a one or two paragraph description of your service and enclose a self-addressed stamped return envelope. If the project is long-term, use invoicing as an opportunity to update the client.
- Always use descriptive billing entries. Avoid codes unless required by the client and, in most systems, you can still use descriptive billing. Spell check.
- Keep track of all time. But, do not charge for all time. Include descriptive "no charge" entries.
- Do not add ridiculous interest charges and late fees for past due balances. In most cases these charges are never enforced and often violate consumer laws. They also drive away clients.
- In the final bill, include a summary of the project in a well-written letter enclosed with the invoice. Enclose before and after pictures or screen shots, if applicable. I often go through the initial complaint and damage demand and then summarize the result. Remind the client why you were hired.
What billing tips would you share?