Dude, Where is My Money?

About two months ago, I was opening the mail when I realized I got a check from a client. The client is a trade magazine I’ve written for about once a month for almost two years. It’s not unusual to receive a check from them. What was unusual was that they didn’t owe me any money at time. I remember staring at the check like it was a trick before deciding that cashing it would be a mistake. 

First thing the next morning, I emailed my editor to report the money. A few hours later, I got an email back that said he was very sure that the payment was rightfully mine. I hung up and cashed the check because if he said he owed it, he owed it.

But the truth was I had no idea if that check was really mine or not.

My Non-Existent Invoicing System

Here is the part where I’d tell you about my invoicing system and how I developed it. Well, I never really developed it. From the very start of my full-time freelance career, I had monthly clients. The bulk of my income has always been from monthly invoices. Then I have between two and five one-offs each month.

Since I know exactly how much money those monthly clients are supposed to pay me, it’s easy to say “Ok. Client B sent me a check but Client A didn’t.” Ditto with those one-offs. My entire process is just making a PDF invoice and emailing it off. It’s an ok system…until it isn’t.

Flash forward to now and it’s just not working. That check wasn’t the first time I lost sight of where my money is coming from and when it’s supposed to be here. I once forgot to even invoice a client at all because I had so much going on. Fortunately, they were happy to pay for it the next month. But what if they weren’t? Here’s a joke I like to tell about the stupidity of that situation:

Q: What do you call a freelancer who forgets to invoice for their work?
A: A volunteer.

There Has to Be Something Better

Obviously, there has to be something better out there. There are so many options for freelancers and small businesses to keep up with their finances. Between PayPal and my bank statements, I have ways to keep track of what’s coming in. But I’d like to use something that incorporates an invoicing system so I know what I have out at any given time.

So I’ve decided to try out some new things in the next couple of months and find something that works for my business. I’d love to find something that worked within Gmail and Google Calendar when applicable, but that’s not strictly necessary. What is strictly necessary is an easy to use interface with customizable invoices. As long as I have that, I should be able to get the job done.

And if any of you have any suggestions for me to try, I’d love to hear them. Lay ‘em on me in the comments section below.

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Princess Jones

Princess Jones is the mad scientist behind Diary of a Mad Freelancer. For more talk about freelancing, writing, and selling yourself for a living, follow her on Twitter.

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11 Comments

  1. I just started using Harvest and I love it.
    Invoicing should be a “fun” part of my job (after all, it’s how I get PAID), but it’s always SUCH a drag.
    Harvest makes it quick and painless, AND it gives me a super easy and organized way to see all my outstanding invoices (and send friendly reminders to overdue accounts). It really puts my mind at ease.

    I’m also using it to track my hours against a project budget so I can try to keep better tabs on my profitability.

    Love to hear if you give it a try.
    :)
    Good luck!
    Suddenly Jamie recently posted..Lies about personal branding

    Reply
    • I’ve heard of Harvest. Thanks, Jamie. I’ll look into it.

      Reply
  2. I do my invoicing once a month (I try for the last day of the month but sometimes it’s as late as day 3 of the next month.) But here’s the secret: I track my bank accounts for my bookkeeper. So, on that spreadsheet, I also put an entry for each of the payments I’m expecting (I do this the same day I do my invoicing.). When my payments arrive, (I get a combo of real cheques and direct bank deposits) I just look at the list on my spreadsheet and move them to the “paid” category. As a result, by the end of the next month, I also have a list of the people who HAVEN’T paid. This system works really well for me. Email me daphne at publicationcoach dot com if you want more info.
    Daphne Gray-Grant recently posted..Particular attention to demonstrating surprise…

    Reply
    • Thank you, Daphne. I was thinking that I may be overthinking this. A simple spreadsheet might just work.

      Reply
  3. I use a simple Excel spreadsheet. I have one for booked business on which I track my fees, invoices, and payments. When a project is in process, it’s in blue ink. When I bill it, that information (date, invoice #, amount) is in red ink. When I’m paid, green. Then another spreadsheet tab has mileage (I’m pretty bad about that but I can go back and check with my calendar), and others I used to write down my hours for various projects. I use the Stopwatch on my iPhone to track how long I spend at a task then I transfer it to the spreadsheet. I print hard copies of my invoices and I actually bought a “PAID” stamp. When I receive a payment I record it in the spreadsheet, mark the invoice PAID, staple the check stub, and put it in a file. It’s old school but it works.
    Claire Wagner recently posted..Do you read your charity mail?

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  4. I recently switched to WePay.com. They don’t charge like Freshbooks, the fees are miniscule, AND best of all, they have a little widget you can put on your site to accept payment via credit card right there (and it doesn’t take you away from the site to a 3rd-party like PayPal does.) You can also customize their invoices with your logo and it only takes about 5 minutes to get started. Oh, and your clients don’t need to create an account to pay you, so you get paid fast. Since they save me $20/month over my previous solution, I’m pretty much all about them now. Hope this helps!

    Reply
  5. Freshbooks is really popular and super easy. I use it for my own business and one of my clients also uses it for his. They’ve recently added a recurring invoice function so you can set up your invoice once, and it sends it each month. I have not tested that (I don’t have cause to use it myself) but it sounds like just what you need.

    Reply
  6. I’m a fan of Freshbooks.com It does snail mail, email, auto reminders (and auto adds late fees for pain-in-the-butt clients!). Plus you can hook it up to PayPal. For over three clients it does cost $19.95 a month. But it’s money well spent, in my opinion. Oh, you can also use it to track expenses too and get profit/loss reports. Since it’s cloud-based, you can poke around with a free account for a while to figure out if it works for you. Just something else to throw at you while you’re trying to find a solution. :)
    Emily Suess recently posted..The Cover’s the Thing

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  7. Last year when I took my handy-dandy spreadsheet (that I was VERY proud of) to my accountant, she looked at me really funny. Then I had to explain to her what each entry was (I THOUGHT it was an easy system). After she figured out my mess (she stopped to look at me quizzically and shake her head at least 42 times) she suggested Wave Accounting. It’s free, and it’s easy. The invoices are customizable, and for monthly clients I have templates set up, or I keep a running invoice and add articles to it as I finish each one. Best of all, I can share my account with my accountant at the end of the year. It also connects to my business bank account, so when I pay a bill, it is automatically entered as an expense, and when I deposit a check, it will automatically pick that up, too.
    dava recently posted..Interview with Jennifer Mattern

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  8. I’m another HUGE fan of Harvest. The invoices are fully customizable, I don’t have an invoice or client limit, and it integrates with Outright to keep track of all of my income (I have my expense-tracking set up with Shoeboxed, which is also integrated with Outright, so my bookkeeping is almost fully automated). For $9.95 a month I think it’s a great dea.
    Natalia Sylvester recently posted..Notes On SXSW Eco: Making Sustainability Normal

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  9. I’ve been very happy with FreshBooks. It has worked flawlessly and they have great customer service.

    Reply

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  1. Online Invoicing with WePay.com: Approximately 1 Trillion Times Faster than a Pony | Diary of A Mad Freelancer - [...] while back on this very blog, Princess complained about her non-existent invoicing system. I recommended WePay.com – it’s truly …

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