An American Editor

January 23, 2013

The Business of Editing: Thinking About Invoices

Have you given much thought to your invoice form and what it says about you?

It seems like an odd question, but it really is a basic business question. The ramifications of how your invoice presents you are several, not the least of which is how you are viewed by clients when it comes to payment terms.

Some companies require freelancers to fill out and sign an “invoice” form. They do this for several reasons. First, it ensures that the information the company needs to pay the freelancer is all there and easily accessible. Second, it acts as reinforcement for the idea that the invoicer really is a freelancer and not an employee in disguise in contravention of IRS rules. Third, and perhaps most importantly to a freelancer, it acts as a way to classify a freelancer and thus apply payment terms.

Have you ever noticed that companies often ignore your payment terms: Your invoice says payable on receipt but you are paid in 30 or 45 days. Your invoice says payable in 30 days yet payment may take 60 days. Good luck trying to impose a penalty for late payment. In the battle of wills between publisher and freelancer, it is the publisher who holds all the cards, except if the publisher doesn’t pay at all.

(I have always found it interesting that a publisher feels free to ignore the payment terms and to ignore any late charges on invoices that a freelancer submits, but should the freelancer buy a book from the publisher and not pay on time, the publisher will hound the freelancer to death for both payment and any publisher-imposed late fees.)

What brings this to mind were recent discussions I had with colleagues who were complaining about how a publisher unilaterally extended the time to pay their invoices, yet that same publisher continues to pay me within the 15-day payment term my invoices set.

The primary reason for this difference in treatment is how the publisher views my business. I am viewed as business vendor, not as a freelancer.

This difference in view extends not just to how I am paid, but also to how clients treat me. For example, one client who insists that freelancers complete a publisher-provided invoice form and sign it, accepts my invoices as I print them and without my signature.

Another publisher sends files in which the figure and table callouts are highlighted and instructs freelancers to not delete the highlighting — but that does not apply to me. (In this instance, it doesn’t apply for at least two reasons. First, the publisher doesn’t view me the same as it views other freelancers. Second, I spent some time explaining to the publisher how I rely on EditTools while editing to increase consistency and accuracy and sent a sample file showing the highlighting EditTools inserts in action. I then explained that I could either leave all the highlighting or remove all the highlighting, their choice. The publisher chose removal. What is important is that the publisher did not immediately dismiss me by telling me to do it the publisher’s way or find work elsewhere. Instead, the publisher held a business-to-business discussion with me and saw and understood the value in the way I work.)

My point is that I have spent many years cultivating the view that I am a business, not a freelancer. Too many “clients” (both actual and prospective) view freelance editors as something other than a “real” business. I used to hear clients refer to freelance editors as part-timers and as people for whom this is a “vacation income.” I don’t hear that anymore but the attitude hasn’t changed.

Colleagues have told me that they get calls from clients who see no reason why the freelancer can’t do a job on a rush basis over the weekend at the same price as they would do it leisurely during the business week. Even when they try to explain that they are a business and that they can’t just drop everything, especially without additional compensation, the message doesn’t get through.

The solution to the problem is complex, not simple, but it begins with how we present ourselves and how we insist on being perceived. To my mind, it begins — but does not end — with the invoice. When your invoice asks that checks be made payable to Jane Doe and includes your Social Security number, you are feeding the image that this is a casual secondary source of income for you. Yes, I know and you know, and maybe even the inhouse editor knows this isn’t true, but accounts payable and the company as a company doesn’t see it that way.

If the invoice instead gives a business name, a name that makes it clear that the check will require depositing into a business checking account, and an employer identification number rather than a Social Security number, that anonymous accounts payable clerk is likely to begin to view you differently.

I think it also matters how the invoice is presented. I know that when I receive an invoice from someone that is just a Word or Excel document I think “not very professional,” especially if everything is in a bland Times New Roman font. Your invoice should be a “designed” form into which you enter data, and printed in PDF if sent electronically (color is not needed and even best avoided; it is layout that matters). I understand that the information will be the same, but information is not what we are talking about — presentation is important in establishing credentials as a business.

We’ve had these types of discussion before. For years I noted that to be treated as a business you must act like a business. Years ago, that began with the way you answered your telephone, which either lent credence to your being a business or to your editing being “vacation income.” Today, when so little is done by telephone, it is important that the material that a client sees conveys the image of a business. The image begins, I think, with the most important item we send a client — the invoice for our work (perhaps equally important are your e-mail address and e-mail signature: not having your own business name domain sends the wrong message, which is a discussion for another day).

Remember that the people who make the decision on how fast you will be paid are not the people who evaluate your editing skill. They are far removed from the editing process and make decisions about you based on things they see that are unrelated to your editing skills. Consequently, you need to create a professional image on paper, beginning — but not ending — with your invoice.

9 Comments »

  1. Thanks for a helpful blog. I have been wondering about the “best” way to do invoices for a while. I have been using an Excel form for mine, but a recent client wanted his invoice in a different form, basically in letter format saying what he owed. I didn’t think his form was any better or worse than mine and it didn’t bother me (except for my having to redo the doc). I was wondering if there was a template that would look more professional. I do have an EIN but I hadn’t been putting that or my SS# on my invoices. Suggestions?

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    Comment by janarzooman — January 23, 2013 @ 7:54 am | Reply

    • There are many templates available and they can be found by binging/googling, for example, excel invoice templates. I simply designed my own in QuickBooks. My invoices all include my EIN number, which clients need for tax forms. I never get the 1099 forms, however, because the clients view me as a business and do not send 1099s to businesses as opposed to individuals.

      In the case of the client wanting the invoice in a different form, I always decline and tell them that invoices are generated by my accounting program and I cannot take the time or the effort to create a special invoice for them in the absence of charging them a fee. I also tell them that my minimum fee is $x for it. I look at it this way: General Motors isn’t going to create a special invoice form for me, so why should I create one for a client. I’m just a smaller business, but I am a business.

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      Comment by americaneditor — January 23, 2013 @ 8:20 am | Reply

      • Thanks. I actually did create mine in Excel, using a template I found in a google search. It is OK, but I think I’m ready for a better version.
        I am liking more and more all the suggestions about no longer using “freelance” to describe my work.

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        Comment by Jan Arzooman — January 28, 2013 @ 9:18 am | Reply

  2. Rich, I agree with everything you’ve said. I wish more editors would discard the title “freelance editor” and proclaim their specialty instead–academic editor, journal editor, medical editor, fiction editor, etc. For too many presses, “freelance” is synonymous with “part-time,” “not a real job,” “just earning extra money,” and the presses prioritize their accounts payable accordingly. I’ve used an EIN for several years, but I only adopted a business name, set up a website, and redesigned my invoices a little more than a year ago. I wish I could say with certainty that my more professional presentation has changed the way presses view my business. I know in at least one case the change has had the opposite effect. When I told the managing editor of my favorite but most late-paying paying client that I hoped the change would help her accounting department pay more promptly (generally 6 or 8 weeks), she told me that in fact they did try to pay FREELANCERS more promptly than they do business vendors. After a moment of stunned silence, I realized that I needed to decide if the work I receive from my favorite but most late-paying client is worth retaining. Breaking up is hard to do . . . when you’re a freelancer. When you’re a business, it’s not nearly as difficult.

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    Comment by Patti Bower — January 23, 2013 @ 10:34 am | Reply

  3. Thanks for this post, Rich. I pride myself on the image I present, but after reading this post I realized that my invoices weren’t up to scratch. I’ve now redesigned a more professional template in Excel that will be converted to PDF prior to emailing the client. I’m really pleased with the results. Not only does the template look far more professional but the conversion to PDF is a good security measure, too. I’d used Word files until now but the Excel template has allowed me to embed the necessary formulae to take all the faffing around out of workings-out. Frankly, I can’t understand why I didn’t do this years ago! Cheers for the nudge.

    I tried out the various templates that MS Office includes and I googled a few, too, but in the end I ended up designing my own. It was much simpler and ensured I could organize the layout of images and text in a way that was appropriate to my own business needs.

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    Comment by Louise Harnby | Proofreader — January 23, 2013 @ 3:48 pm | Reply

  4. This article is RIGHT ON! For one thing, the term, “freelancer” is a poor one to use as it may be one that others see as not being a business. What each of you are is known as an “independent contractor” i.e a business that offers like services to many clients/customer/businesses. Better yet, be an LLC and register your business as such. (If you need help in organizing your business, go to SCORE in your area for free confidential help)

    As an IC or vendor you are a “part time employee” to each of your customers/clients v as an employee you were a full time vendor of your talents, knowledge, etc. With the latter you know where and when the paycheck is coming from; from the former, you do not. In reality, you are asking each one to “hire me” or they are wanting to hire you.

    As to what or how to present your business and the services you provide (better known as a brochure and/or web site), when you go to write it, write it as if the person who will be reading it is your “unpaid” salesperson and the information has to be logical to others at others’ level of understanding about your business. Do not assume that because the are publishers or other types of businesses that have employed editors in the past that they understand how your business operated.

    When you are selling b2b, you need to establish “Terms & Conditions of Sale” which states your fee schedule, terms, etc. When you do this you are showing that you are, indeed, a business.

    Alan J. Zell
    Consultant, speaker, author of “Elements of Selling”

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    Comment by Alan J. Zell — January 23, 2013 @ 4:51 pm | Reply

  5. […] a previous article I discussed invoices and the importance of a professional look for them (The Business of Editing: Thinking About Invoices). A professional-looking invoice that establishes you as a business is only part of the solution to […]

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    Pingback by The Business of Editing: Domains & E-mail « An American Editor — January 28, 2013 @ 4:01 am | Reply

  6. […] The Business of Editing: Thinking About Invoices, I gave one reason: I like to have the terms of my invoices honored, not dismissed. Dealing with […]

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    Pingback by The Business of Editing: Why a Company? « An American Editor — January 30, 2013 @ 4:03 am | Reply

  7. […] The Business of Editing: Thinking About Invoices […]

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    Pingback by It’s Fundamental & Professional, Too | An American Editor — May 13, 2015 @ 4:00 am | Reply


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