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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 January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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