How to fill out an invoice and what to include

Cory Shrecengost
May 2, 2022
minute read
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Are you a freelancer or small business owner? If so, you need to know how to write an invoice. An invoice is one of the most important documents you or your business will ever create. But if you’re just starting out, it’s difficult to know where to begin creating one.  

Done right, your invoice can act as both a sales contract and receipt. Once you’re confident with writing one, they can be a great tool for streamlining your processes. And can be used as a single point of contact, for easier payments with clients.

So, we’ve put together everything you need to know about how to write a professional, digital invoice—that way, you can get paid as quickly as possible.

What is an invoice and when is it required?

An invoice is a formal document you send to your client after they’ve purchased goods or services from you. Invoices act as both a means of requesting payment and recording the sale that’s taken place. Invoices declare in writing exactly what a client has purchased, the date they purchased it, and what they paid for it.

You’ll need to write an invoice whenever you need to collect a payment from a client or customer—and the sooner it’s sent out and returned, the sooner you get paid. It’s important to note that invoices are legally-binding if both parties have agreed to the sale, and because of this invoices are non-negotiable documents.

What to include on an invoice

Writing an invoice isn’t rocket science. Once you’ve learned the basic formula and know what to include—it’s easy.

Here's what to include on an invoice:

  • Your name or company name
  • Your contact information
  • Your customer’s company name and address
  • The date the goods or services were provided
  • The date of the invoice
  • A breakdown of costs that show prices, hours, or quantities of the goods and services delivered
  • A subtotal of net costs
  • Any discounts
  • Any additional tax
  • The total amount owed
  • The payment due date
  • The payment method

That might seem like a lot, but it’s all basic information that you should be able to compile fairly quickly. Here’s what a typical invoice looks like:

an image of an invoice template. The template outlines the necessary sections listed in the requirements above outlining how to write an invoice and what to include
an example of an invoice

Free invoice template
Create a free invoice in minutes and get paid faster with this free invoice template from Formswift by Dropbox
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How to structure and format your invoice

Now you know all the essential elements of an invoice, here’s how you can structure and format yours in a clear, professional way.

1. Include branding in the header

Branding your invoices is a great way to showcase your professionalism and build up your reputation. A company logo, distinct colors, and special fonts can all help you stand out and increase familiarity with your brand.

If you’re a freelancer, you might not have a logo, so your branding may be limited to just your name. Still, it’s worth putting your own personal spin on your invoices to set you apart from your competitors and make yourself memorable.

2. List your contact details and company

Next, you’ll need to add your company (or personal) name and any relevant contact information—like address and phone number—to the top of the document, so recipients always know exactly who sent the invoice.

It’s also good practice to do the same for the company you’re sending the invoice to, so they know the invoice is meant for them.

3. Add all relevant dates

Dates give your invoice context and provide a reference point if you have to chase down payments. The key dates you should include on any invoice are:

  • The date you sent the invoice
  • The date you rendered your goods and services
  • The date due date for payment

4. Include a breakdown of costs and totals

A breakdown of costs lets your customers understand exactly what they’re paying for. To do this, list the goods or services rendered, the quantity or time, your unit cost or rate, and the sum total of those goods or services.

Then you’ll need to calculate your totals. Here you’ll need to include:

  • The gross total—the total of all goods and services before any tax or discounts
  • Any tax
  • Any discounts
  • The net total to be paid—including any tax or discounts

Be accurate. A small mistake here can be costly—not just to your customers but also to your chances of repeat business—so check your figures and check again.

5. Set out how you want to be paid

Here, outline the best way for your customer to pay you what you are owed. Decide whether cash, card, direct bank payment, PayPal, or even crypto—is right for you.

Remember: Always list a time frame for when you expect payment to be delivered, so your customer is aware of their obligations.

6. Send your invoice with an accompanying email

It’s good practice to include a short, accompanying email to go along with your invoice. Then you can attach your invoice as a PDF—so important information can’t be edited or manipulated by whoever receives it.

In your email, write a clear subject line with your business name and ‘invoice’ included, so there’s no confusion around who the email is from or its purpose. Then, briefly explain the services you provided.

The downside to emailing your invoice is that it can still be hard to track its progress—you don’t know if they’ve received it, opened it, or initiated payment. Luckily, in the next section, we detail how you can make creating, sending, and tracking invoices much easier.

Best-practice tips for writing an invoice

In the past, invoices were paper-based. Physical, printed invoices were often mailed out to clients at the mercy of postal providers, with no easy way to track them. Today, nearly all invoices are sent digitally, which makes creating, tracking, and sending them much easier.

Here are a couple of tips so you can get the most out of your invoicing process.

An image of the Formswift from Dropbox invoice template where you can fill out fields line by line and generate a document
invoice template by Formswift from Dropbox

Use invoice templates

Document templates make it so you only need to prepare and format your invoices once, then you can fill them out and reuse them in seconds.

You just have to upload your document, add and save your formatting, and you’re done. Now, every time you need to send an invoice, you’ll already have done the heavy lifting.

FreshBooks and Invoicehome have some great, free invoice templates that you can use in Word, Google Sheets, or just as a PDF. Simply customize them with your own branding and then add them to your workflows.

Keep track of all your invoices in one place

If you or your business sends a high volume of invoices, keeping track of them can be a nightmare.

We recommend using a document management system to keep your invoices organized and accessible, so you can store and send them from one centralized place. Dropbox, for example, automatically syncs all of your documents and keeps them safely tucked away in the cloud for safekeeping.

Integrate invoices into your workflows

A great way to streamline your sales cycle is to connect your contract and invoicing process together. For example, billing and payment solution AdvicePay used to need multiple tools to send and sign contracts, documents, and invoices.

Now, using the Dropbox Sign API, when a user creates an invoice in AdvicePay, the system creates a contract and pulls the invoice amount and other key data fields into it automatically. As everything is in perfect sync, the company can manage contracts 50% faster, which makes for a greatly improved user experience all round.

Write invoices like a pro

Now you’ve got everything you need to create a professional invoice every time. Invoicing is just one part of an effective sales cycle, to fully improve your process, you've got to examine your whole sales process.

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