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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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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