The moment you hand an invoice to a client is more than a business transaction. It is the finale, the ritual ending, and final step to the creative process involved in that individual project. It should be seen: as part of the creative process. Just like time tracking and project management, invoicing deserves the same intention as any other step in the creativity process.
However, invoicing clients from your creative agency can easily change from a daily task to a daily burden. No one likes to keep track of their hours strictly for payroll. Why is this? Why are creatives so turned off to this very necessary part of work life? Creative invoicing may be the answer to these tricky questions.
Working in the creative industry isn’t anything like working for a big corporation, particularly if you work for a local agency.
On the surface, they look alike: swivel office chairs, cubicles, post-it notes lying next the trash in a failed free-throw basketball attempt. The creative agency you work for is probably a lot prettier and has a keg in the break room, but you get it. Functionality is the idea behind the design for both places.
But it is the type of work that’s done in these places that creates the divide between creative work and office work. Both are project based, but creative work isn’t rooted in data, papers, files, and copies — in headspace. It begins with someone’s idea, and grows with the help of other people’s ideas, stale coffee, walkabouts the office, mid-shower epiphanies, and blank paper.
Creative work is collaborative: between you and your project team, you and your boss, you and the client whose work you are creating. This last relationship is the most important. As Kim Mickelson, Managing Principal of Bozell, says: the first step in a new project is to “peel the onion” or become “deeply entrenched” in the situation of the client. This is the starting point for all projects. You can’t take someone’s idea and run with it, you have to understand how the idea blossomed, then reframe it for strategic marketing.
Personal, full of collaboration, and mutual successes between the project manager and the client, but then, suddenly … the project ends, and … you have to bill them. No more waking dreams of innovation and beauty, no more cathartic work sessions, just plain old, functional, work. Just business.
The problem is that this moment, when you hand the invoice over (be it electronically or in mail or in person) it is a very important moment in the collaboration between you and the client. We’ll call it the point of sale, or POS. The POS marks the end of the project and the cessation of work, but also the agreement you made long before the project started. Being an agreement, you want every both parties to be happy.
But there is something in the nature of invoicing that is just kind of a bummer. Not only that, but it’s a total chore. Busy work. Not collaborative. Does not lend itself to feelings of success. Reminiscent of a lonely office water station.
As true as that may be, invoicing is incredibly important and vital to the success of your creative agency. Let’s explore way to redeem invoicing in modern office life.
For most, invoicing is a chore. So is the timetracking involved with invoicing. Especially when you are at your most creative, you don’t want to think about logging your hours.
However, unlike when you were a blossoming creative youth, your work is now part of a very important agreement. What you do is a service; your clients trust that you will deliver your best work and you trust the client will pay you an agreed amount. Don’t treat invoicing as an afterthought, like alright the project’s over, let’s try to figure out how much time we actually put into this thing.
Instead, invoicing should be seen as the very foundation of the project. It is the agreement of work in physical form, and that POS (the moment when the invoice is delivered to the client) should be treated with respect.
One quick solution to the doldrums of invoicing is design. Invoicing doesn’t have to be all business, you can show your creativity with it as well.
Show off your fun side with Evgeni Creative’s bold graphics.
Throw back to a simpler, more paper-filled time with an invoice like this one from Rob Brink.
Or, you could make the invoice into origami. Why not?
The customer is going to find a way to show you how thankful they are for your work. Put a little thought in their invoice can show them how thankful you are for their business.
Another way to beat the pain and awkwardness of invoicing is choosing a software, or device, that makes invoicing easier for you and your team. Remember earlier when we agreed that invoicing shouldn’t be an afterthought but instead the foundation of every project? Here at Bric we recognize this and place high priority on making timetracking and payroll easier for our users. That way, when it comes time to send out an invoice, it doesn’t take hours to collect the data on hours worked. The template is there for you. A list of other timetracking softwares can be found here.
The final step to keep in mind when invoicing clients is delivery. And it’s more than choosing from email, snail mail, and in person.
Feel good about the POS between you and your client and use these tools as reminders. Remember, you don’t work for the corporate world. It’s not all about staples, lunch breaks, and newsletters. You work for a creative agency. It’s about personality, collaboration, and uniqueness.
Next time you need to bill someone, impress with clients with your own creative invoicing ideas. Or use one of Bric’s Free Invoice Templates.