What do your invoices look like?

At my last quarterly HTG 11 meeting in January, a few of us within the group exchanged information on what our invoices to clients looked like. Our own invoices were pretty much like many within the IT industry – they featured single lines saying things like “IT Managed Services”, “IT Consultancy” and so on.

Before the meeting I suspected that we were missing a trick with our current invoice template, and that suspicion was soon confirmed when my drinks so well I’d swear he was British HTG 11 facilitator and “Mr Virtualisation” Dave Sobel of Evolvetech in Washington, DC shared that his companies invoices were nowhere near as bland – in fact Evolvetech invoices were positively used as an excuse to demonstrate value to the client – listing every service his company undertook for that client, sometimes on many pages.

So one of my personal To-Do’s coming out of that HTG 11 Quarterly Meeting was to re-vamp our recurring Invoices to clients to greater demonstrate the value of the service we delivered.

In between that HTG 11 meeting and my implementing that new Invoice template, I  received a call from a client. They wanted to meet with us and talk about cutting costs. The recession is hitting hard everywhere, and if you’re a business owner who has not received a call along these lines yourself – expect one soon.

The meeting was set for this week, and before then at the start of the month we sent out our new client invoices as usual – only they now ran to three pages listing every job we do for the clients flat fee each month rather than the previous one-line entries.

I met with that client today and the discussion over cost cutting went roughly like this. Client – “Explain to us again what we’re paying for each month”. Me – “Ok, here’s your last monthly invoice, let’s go through it a line at a time” (I produce new style invoice listing all services we undertake for clients flat monthly fee). Five minutes of client listening later. Client – “Wow. That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. Thanks”. The client then said they didn’t want to change anything about their current service, and furthermore went on to engage me in a conversation about three other pieces of work they’d like us to quote on.

I think that counts as a result doesn’t it? 🙂

I suspect that if we’d implemented our new invoice 30 days earlier still, the client wouldn’t have even called the meeting at all. Think about it – if you’re looking to cut costs, do you investigate the invoice with 30+ items of value assigned to a cost, or do you continue looking through the pile for a one line item with high value?

What else can you do to spruce up your invoices? Well, we also put payment instructions on the bottom of every invoice (make it easy for some administrator at your client to do their job, and you’ll get paid quicker) and we’re just about to implement a referral scheme which will include a call to action to the company accountant on every invoice on how he can reduce his bill by referring us new clients himself.

If you work in a business where you invoice for your time rather than flat-fee, perhaps make sure to include not only details of the time spent on the job, but what the problem was and how you resolved it too. Over communicate to the client to demonstrate value.

So before your client picks up the ‘phone to you to ask for that meeting on how to cut costs, make sure your invoices accurately demonstrate the value you deliver to them – and at worst you’ll be making them think twice about calling you to haggle about cost!


2 Responses to “What do your invoices look like?”

  1. 1 Paul February 16, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Recently been through a similar exersize.Implementing a PSA system which integrates with your accounts system can automate this whole process for you. I am using a combination of AutoTask and Quickbooks Pro 2008.Investment in these two products has massively boosted revenues and provides a level of detail to the customer that they have never before seen.

  2. 2 Richard February 18, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Paul – good point. Packages such as AutoTask and Connectwise will help you do this automatically, but there\’s nothing stopping those of us who are still manually raising invoices from making sure we use the same techniques.

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