Respond to Invoice Queries Without the PanicBy Georgina Laidlaw
So you’ve done a great job for your client, worked your fingers to the bone, delivered an outstanding project that you’re proud of, gained signoff—as well as praise—from your client, and … then you get a call questioning your invoice.
It’s easy to be offended when a client questions your invoice. But it shouldn’t be too hard to justify or explain your costings—provided you take the basic time management, quoting, and tracking steps.
First of all, though, it’s important to remember that all your clients have the right to ask for more information about your invoices. Try to think of those questions as an opportunity to clarify the fabulous value you’ve provided to them, and you’ll be less likely to feel as if the questions are an interrogation, and the outcome’s necessarily bad.
1. Track All Your Time
When I began freelancing full-time, I decided to use a very basic, free tracking tool (it’s 1daylater—it offers some great paid features too) so that I’d always be able to account for my time—even the time I couldn’t charge for.
This way, I always have a complete record of the work I’ve done for each client. And if they start getting shirty about an expense, I can send them a full justification for that cost, as well as a list of any hours or tasks I haven’t charged for if that’s required.
2. Provide Detailed Invoices
For the simple freelance jobs I used to complete, I’d provide a one-line explanation for the whole job. These days, I break everything down so that each invoice corresponds with the tasks I set out in the original project quote. This allows my clients to compare the hours worked against the hours I quoted—something I’m always happy for them to do.
If need be, I’ll break the tasks down further, or itemize them on the basis of the days I spent on each one. This way, my clients can work out how much different aspects of certain projects cost them—something that can be really helpful for ongoing clients, or those who want to know what sort of return they’re getting on their investment in my expertise.
3. Explain Your Invoices
Each time I send an invoice, I’ll highlight anything I want the client to know about it. For example, if some aspect of the job has taken longer than forecast, I’ll point that out, and explain why. Similarly, if I’ve saved time somewhere, I’ll highlight that area and explain why. In both cases, I’ll explain what the time usage might mean for the rest of the project or budget.
This is a good way to help manage client expectations, and ensure that they understand where the project—and the project budget—is at. It also shows that you’re open and honest about your invoicing, and that you’re happy to discuss your charges.
The best part is that it gives you an opportunity to highlight your successes: if the client loves the project, and you’ve done it in 80% of the quoted time, don’t hesitate to point that out.
4. Be Prepared to Discuss
If you’ve taken each of the three steps above, you’ll definitely be prepared to discuss your invoices with clients who question them.
I’ve found that answering invoicing questions on the fly can be a bit fraught, so if a client calls to discuss an invoice, I usually call them back once I have the invoice and my time tracking for the job up on my monitor. Once I’ve reviewed the quotes, invoices, and tracked time, in the comfort of my own, quiet office, I’m usually in the right headspace to go through the invoice with the client and answer any questions they have.
What steps do you take to preempt client questions about your invoices? And how do you justify your costs and expenses when those kinds of questions crop up?