Whether you’ve just come into the field or you’re a seasoned interpreter, invoicing can be confusing. For many educational interpreters, the process can feel chaotic and awkward. That’s because it is. Nobody really enjoys it and if you meet an interpreter who says they do, they’ve probably misheard the question.
Invoicing doesn’t have to be the bane of your existence. If you start with a strong system, you will thank yourself later. One of the biggest problems people come to Flamingo Interpreting with is a messed up back end system to bill for and track their work. Whether you’re in the process of creating your first invoice or in the middle of a huge mess, you can use this guide to get on track.
First, Build the Foundation
It all starts with the bill itself, you’ll create everything else around how you choose to bill people. Use the questions below to get started creating your first invoice. Write down the answers and keep them handy for drafting up the document. You can also refer to template sites to get a feel of how invoices look in various industries for more context, but everything you need to get started is below.
Now, Create The Document
- When do I want to get paid? 30 days? 60 days?
- How much should I charge someone who is late?
- Note that this can fluctuate depending on the client. This doesn’t have to be static. Don’t forget, you’re the boss of the business and you decide how to work with your people.
- How do you want to be known to your clients?
- Professionally, I go by ‘Grey’ so that’s what I use. If there is ever an off chance I might have an issue with the checks, I clarify with my W9 that all checks are written to my full name. This can be especially important for trans* colleagues who are in the process of a name change. If you have a concern about payment, address it. Otherwise, your invoice can be a great place to really cement to clients who you are.
- Where do you want physical payments sent?
- Will you offer additional payment options?
- Will you offer a discount to clients who pay early?
- Some freelancers choose to offer was called a NET30, else 15% which means they would charge an additional 15% late fee if the payment does not arrive within 30 days. The reverse is also true if you offered a NET30, NET15 less 2%. This means the invoice must be paid within 30 days (regardless of business days). However, clients choosing to send payment within 15 days can pay just 98% of the total due as they are receiving a 2% discount for being timely.
- Will you require a deposit on certain jobs?
- Since my entrance to the field, I’ve required a deposit of 50% for any gig over $5,000 that started and would complete within two weeks. This is because I can bill every two weeks but if I am billing for that high of an amount on a new client, I need money coming in. I also would need a guarantee that in the event of cancellation, I have a retainer fee secured for my time while I fill my schedule with new last minute gigs.
- What kind of branding speaks to you? What will speak to your clients?
- My first invoices read like a menu created on a typewriter. They were clear, succinct and easy to read. I much prefer a simple, classic style but I often wished for more color. I had very light pink invoices at one point that people often liked but I was concerned that anyone scouring our website would think it was too feminine to be considered for more male dominated gigs. Looking back, this was not my proudest choice but I learned that it didn’t really matter in the end.
- How do you want to send them? Are you going to use a system like HoneyBook? Will you send them via email and track them in another database?
- While I like systems like HoneyBook, as a new business owner I made my own to save the money. It takes a little more time which admittedly also costs money but I much prefer the experience of entering them into the database by hand. It helps me remember the work, the deal and also to bill with intention.
If you’re using a system like HoneyBook, Intuit or Wave, you’ll be prompted to fill in all of this information as you move through their process. I’ll be breaking down the specifics of creating an invoice on your own in a word processing or spreadsheet application.
Tim Smith, one of our contributing authors wrote an article about these systems called “I Tried All of the Latest Payment Services So You Don’t Have To.” It’s a great read if you’re shopping around!
Pick your format of branding that really speaks to you. For this article, I’m using the standard format provided by the Pages app on Apple products.
Fill in your information in the title line. In this example, Jackson Porter will be sending an invoice to Karen Cooper who works at Cinedign. Be sure to include your contact information as it’s critical that any accounts payable person in a corporation can reach you in a timely manner. When interpreters ask me why urgency matters I like to remind them that some people take two week vacations for Memorial Day and finalize invoices before they leave on the preceding Friday.
Included in your contact information should be the address you wrote down for where to send the physical payments.
You’ll fill in the client information with each new client. This is rarely static so saving the document as a template before filling that in will save you time in the long run.
Fill in your terms.
As you can see in the example, the terms are clearly laid out at the top. However, you can edit the bottom to include your terms. I personally prefer to place a single small line at the very bottom of the document after my name.
I would typically write something simple like this:
NET30, else 15%
Additional Payment Options
Some interpreters love getting paid with credit cards. I’m not the biggest fan unless you have a deal with a credit card processor. Using memberships like FoundersCard can actually save you the cost of fees on payments up to 20k in my experience. If you are one of those interpreters who would prefer to give your clients the option, you can include that information in the bottom either with a clickable like to the payment form or a phrase like “credit card payments accepted upon request”.
If you were to bill for a 5k job and you took a $2500 deposit you would still bill but would add a like like this:
xx project deposit paid 3/1/22 … -$2500
This is the same process for discounts you might be offering. If you’ve decided to only charge a client $50 but your full rate is $80, you’d need to charge $80 but add a line for a $30 discount (with whatever reason you want to include if needed). This is important for a variety of reasons.
Filling in the Bill
Be absolutely certain your numbers are correct. You should check your invoices three times for accuracy. First, when you create it. Second, when you export the document and a third time when you attach it to the email.
You’ll need to fill in a project description and/or job number if it’s with an agency. Flamingo Interpreting uses Gig numbers. They all follow the same system G0000. Without that number, the accounts payable department can’t pinpoint the gig easily. Be sure to include this information with any agency you would with to ensure any hold up on payment isn’t your own doing.
Once you’ve filled that in, you’ll complete the hours section and rate if you have a column for it followed by the total for that specific gig. That is a subtotal. Your subtotals should not be added until you place a number in the total line. Which means if you have 3 gigs for $100 each every subtotal like should read $100 instead of 100, 200, 300…
In the example above, there is a subtotal section and a 00.00 below it. This is built for interpreters who will be offering discounts, which would go on the 00.00 line. It’s also a place to add a late fee if necessary as every time you add a late fee you’ll need to resubmit an updated invoice.
I always leave a note at the bottom of my invoices. I like to personalize whenever I have time. It’s usually something to this effect: It was a real pleasure to work with your team on this project. It was very interesting to learn what the Spaceship300 actually does. I hope to partner with you in the future! Please don’t hesitate with any questions! Thanks.
You can make it as personal as you want but a word of caution… I’ve seen interpreters add things like “Thanks for being such a bad bitch about the calendar kerfuffle. LOL. See you next time!”
eh, maybe don’t. Regardless of how well you know the client, always imagine the CEO reading it over their shoulder in a meeting. Keep it light but not too casual and ask your friends who don’t know anything about the industry to read your first few so you get an idea of where it becomes too stiff. The goal is to solidify relationships, not alienate potential long term partners.
Save The Template
You’ll be using this document again and again so make sure you have a fresh blank copy to use as a template.
Number your invoices
Ensure that you start a numbering system from whatever number you want. Some people choose to use the year and then a number system. If I were following a yearly numbering system the first invoice of 2021 would be numbered 2101 then 2102, 2103 etc…
I personally prefer starting from 0000. It certainly can seem like it’s your first time if you start with number one, but everyone started with a first invoice. It’s up to you if you’re comfortable with other people putting that together.
DO NOT start a new numbering series with each new client. If you have 10 clients and each of their first invoice is 0001, you’ll have 10 of the same title on your computer and in your database. This is a rookie mistake that so many new interpreters make. It will cause so much more headache and virtually no benefit. Think long game.
When sending your invoices they should always be in .pdf. I don’t care what other agencies have told you. They’re incorrect. Sending your invoice in .pdf is a sure way to ensure the other party won’t adjust it and pay an incorrect amount. If you’ve made a mistake, they should send it back for you to revise. If you use the rule of three, you shouldn’t need to make any revisions as you’ve had multiple opportunities to catch a mistake.
Whenever possible, personalize them. If you know the person handling the invoice, attach their name. It helps solidify a long term relationship and can reduce any confusion should the wrong person pull it from a communal inbox.
Track Them Diligently
I track all of mine in Airtable. You can purchase the freelance template I use here. I use it to keep track of all my income and expenses but also to export to my accountant every year in doing my taxes. It’s a quick easy way to stay on top of timelines and ensure you’re not scrambling during “hell week” when you have to input all of your information into a brand new spreadsheet.
For other common questions, check out this article we wrote about the process of invoicing.
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