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Invoicing Web 2.0 Style: A Quick Guide to Your Options

Invoicing Web 2.0 Style: A Quick Guide to Your Options

Invoicing 2.0

    Invoicing is a part of every self-employed or freelancing individual’s life. Many of us are still using clunky old Word templates and those strange antiques known as printers—but why go to all the hassle, when there are so many web applications that offer reliable and efficient alternatives?

    Digital invoices eliminate so much time and hassle that it’s unbelievable. Eliminating the need to go to the post box and send off an invoice gives you ten more minutes to spend reading Lifehack, or even ten minutes to do something productive!

    PayPal – For the Minimalists

    Every PayPal account has access to a feature called Request Money. It allows you to quickly fill in the recipient’s email address, the amount of money you need, the email subject and an optional note. This is probably the simplest and quickest way I know of to send an invoice.

    PayPal does provide an invoice feature, which can also be accessed under the Request Money tab – it only takes slightly longer to fill out since you have to provide invoice details and itemize everything. I suggest sticking with the invoicing tool over PayPal’s Request Money tool unless you’re familiar with the recipient and know they’re fine with being billed that way.

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    Blinksale

    Blinksale is a common choice for online invoicing, and it’s what I (and most of the Lifehack team) use personally. Blinksale is a full-featured choice that far surpasses PayPal’s simple minimalism—unless minimalism is what you want.

    For some, the attraction of Blinksale over PayPal is the greater control over the look and feel of your invoice. You can use Blinksale’s fantastic templates or even code your own if you’ve got a good handle on CSS.

    Another great benefit of Blinksale is its integration with other popular services. You can import your contacts straight from Basecamp, and it’s easy to receive your payments with PayPal—just tell Blinksale your PayPal address in your account settings, and it’s a matter of ticking a box on each invoice you send out. Blinksale has every organizational tool I’ve ever wanted for my invoices.

    Unfortunately, Blinksale’s not free. There’s a free version, but it does limit you to 3 invoices per month, and there’s no secure data encryption or option to send invoices as PDFs until you start shelling out. Still, the prices are quite reasonable for the variety of features offered.

    Zoho Invoice

    Zoho Invoice is another option. I can only really suggest this one if you use the Zoho suite of online applications; the free version does five invoices a month, but doesn’t offer multicurrency support. Since I’m an Australian who does work in America too, this was an instant no for me. I realize that it’s perfectly reasonable to charge for a feature like that, but I’ll never pay for a web service like this without first giving it a trial run.

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    If you have had a good experience with Zoho Invoice, let us know in the comments—it does look like a promising option, especially for Americans working only in American dollars.

    Update: Siva from Zoho says they do provide multicurrency support – they just need to update their account comparison chart. Thanks, Siva!

    FreshBooks

    FreshBooks seems to be quite a popular option, with the tagline painless billing. The distinguishing feature of this application is its time tracking features, which make it easier to track your hours and turn them into a dollar figure at the end of the job.

    FreshBooks’ free option may be more suitable to some people than Blinksale’s: you can send unlimited invoices, send invoices with your logo on them, import and export data, and it comes with the SSL encryption that Blinksale lacks (plus firewall protection and data backups). The downside to the free account is that you can only manage three clients and it only allows one member of staff to access it; if you’re a freelancer with two or three regular clients, this may be the perfect choice for you.

    Invotrak

    Like PayPal, the appeal of Invotrak is that it doesn’t cost a thing. Invotrak doesn’t have the full range of options that Blinksale, Freshbooks or Zoho offer, so it’s good if you just want a simple and digital way to manage invoices. If you are an American with clients overseas, or work with overseas clients from any country, you may want to skip Invotrak as it doesn’t offer multicurrency support.

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    Update: Ryan from Invotrak tells us that they’ve recently implemented multicurrency support in the free version. Thanks, Ryan.

    A Few Related Apps

    Sending and receiving invoices gets to be a pretty confusing business if you try to balance everything in your head. These web tools aren’t for invoicing but they will help you track and control your money.

    Wesabe allows you to track all your income and expenses (and more)—invoicing clients or paying invoices becomes much simpler if you can see where all your money is going and coming from.

    XE is a great tool for currency conversions—it calculates based on up-to-the-minute rates, so if you’re like me and don’t have a single client in your own country, it’s a very useful tool.

    Some Quick Tips on Invoicing

    Without knowing how to deal with invoices effectively, these tools aren’t going to save as much time as they could. How do you make them really effective? I’ve got a couple of short and sweet tips that have proved useful for me.

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    File incoming invoices immediately

    Every time you receive an invoice, file it—don’t just leave the email (or snail mail) sitting around to get lost; it’s so much quicker to track your expenses or do tax deductions when you keep invoices meticulously organized.

    Keep a calendar of outgoing invoices or even use one of the above tools to set up an automatic invoicing schedule. Nothing’s worse than missing an invoice and realizing that you’ll have to go the week without food.

    Keep a template if you don’t use these tools; if you’re creating invoices from scratch each time, then you’ve just found an extra thirty minutes in your week you can make more productive. Even if you do use these tools, keep an up-to-date template on your hard drive—you never know when they will inconveniently go down for maintenance or even go bust.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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