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“Complicated and time-consuming”. Two of the most common words I hear when talking to our users – a mix of freelancers, entrepreneurs and small business owners –  about invoicing. Though it’s a vital document for getting paid, 67% of people still get their invoicing wrong.

Another issue  that often comes up is to do with design. Excel invoice templates are pretty limited when it comes to creative expression, which is a key part of any brand or business identity.

With all this in mind I’ve put together a quick guide on everything freelancers need to know about invoicing: What are the legal requirements for invoices in the UK? What information do they need to include? What’s the ideal layout? And what alternatives are there to Excel?

What does the law say about invoices?

Here’s the official guidelines on what UK law says about invoicing (taken straight from the government’s website, GOV.UK).

Image 1 invoicing UK

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You’ll note that the strict letter of the law requires only people or businesses that are VAT registered to create invoices for their customers (which includes keeping a copy of all invoices issued, subsequently cancelled or even issued by mistake).

If you’re not VAT registered, it’s also a good idea to issue invoices and keep a record of everything. This will save you time, it will improve your audit trail, and will help whenever you need to follow up on a late payment.

What should invoices include?

Obvious as it sounds the first thing you need to do is make it crystal clear that the document you’re sending is, in fact, an invoice. It is a legal requirement to have the word “INVOICE” clearly visible on all your invoices. Traditionally it goes in the top right in big, bold lettering.

There are a further nine points on the checklist that every legally compliant invoice needs to include:

Image 2 invoicing freelancer

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This checklist applies whatever type of business you have. More specifically, if you’re a sole trader your invoices must include your own name, and any business name you use. If you’re working as a limited company you need to include your full company name on your invoices (word for word as it shows on your certificate of incorporation).  

It’s a legal requirement to number all your invoices. But this doesn’t mean that you have to start with “Invoice 00001” (and thus make it obvious to your customer that they’re one of your first clients). You can start your invoice numbering with whatever number you want. But whatever you choose, keep your numbering sequential.

How do you get the layout right?

The law covers the WHAT, but it’s not so helpful when it comes to the HOW. Here are four steps you need to follow when it comes to invoice layout:

  1. Saul Bass felt the point of a logo was to “symbolise and summarise”. It should represent what your business is all about. So make sure you give it pride of place.
  2. It’s common practice to put your customer’s details in the top left, just under your logo. Make everything clear and legible, especially the person it’s addressed to.
  3. Most of the information on an invoice is pretty bland and repetitive. You can always add a personalised thank you message to your client. It shows you value them. You can even add a discount code in here, to encourage repeat orders.
  4. Clarity, clarity and CLARITY. I really can’t stress this one enough. The number one reason people query invoices is because they don’t know what they’re being charged for. Itemise everything on the list and add a description with more detail, if needed.
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Photo: Invoice via Zervant

Is there more to invoice design than Excel?

This is a formal document, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add a little creativity. Here are a few examples of invoices that offer a little more than the straightforward template. Take a look and get inspired!

First up I’ve chosen this bold, bright invoice template by BGG Design Studio. I like it as injects a bit of colour into the invoice, and helps the document stand out. Yet it doesn’t go overboard, and still manages to look smart and professional.

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Another design that stands out is this one by Didi C. It includes a lot of detail and information, yet is easy to read. Note that the logo is also one of the first things that catches your eye. Saul Bass would be proud!

invoice design 99designs

This design by Torgeir Hjetland and Ludvig Bruneau Rossow certainly won’t be suitable for all your clients, but I felt it was worth a mention just for sheer originality.

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Hopefully this quick guide has given you a good overview of the basics. Invoicing can be hard to get right, but it’s certainly not impossible. Just remember that the better you invoice, the quicker you’ll get paid! If you’ve got any questions then please use the comments section below. Look forward to hearing from you!

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This article was written by John Hills, UK Marketing Manager at ZervantZervant make online invoicing software for freelancers and entrepreneurs all over Europe. It’s designed to help make getting paid quick and easy. As well as spreading the word about Zervant John enjoys collecting vinyl, running marathons and playing bass.