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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 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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