Expert Advice: How To Invoice A Client

- - Expert Advice

By Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine

I have to admit that one of the most satisfying parts of producing a shoot is when I compile an invoice and every dollar and cent is perfectly accounted for. That’s partially because it proves I did a great job and made sure the project stayed within budget, but it’s also satisfying because I have a habit of being overly organized. That mentality extends to invoices, and I wouldn’t think of sending a client a document that was in any way incomprehensible.

From a photographer’s perspective, I know compiling an invoice isn’t as satisfying as receiving payment or seeing your images on a billboard or in a magazine. However, a client will most definitely appreciate the neatly organized paperwork, and it’s these sorts of mannerisms that might just make them want to hire you again. There is of course no right or wrong way to compile an invoice … wait, strike that … what I mean to say is that there is no right or wrong format for an invoice, as long as it’s clear and easy to understand.

Since every project is different, the information included in the invoice and its presentation can dramatically scale up or down. Sometimes a client will require receipts for all of your expenses, but other times you might be working on a bid or for a flat project fee where you don’t need to show receipts for anything. The latter of the two of course makes for a simpler invoice. Sometimes you may also have receipts within receipts. For instance, it’s ideal to present receipts for all “meals” together, but your assistant might include a copy of a receipt for a coffee on their invoice to you along with an invoice for their time, which you then need to pass along to the agency. So, while each project will be billed on a case-by-case basis, you should simply do your best to organize everything appropriately, which might mean setting invoicing requirements for the subcontractors you hire. Also, always be sure to keep the original copies of your receipts for absolutely everything you buy for a shoot, whether you plan to charge your client for it or not.

The following is an example of an invoice that I feel is straightforward, clean and easy to comprehend:

The first page of the invoice acts as a summary of all fees and expenses, and also notes the advance payment received as well as the final balance due. All of the following pages are either invoices or scanned receipts to justify the expenses. When estimating the project before the shoot, you might consider including items such as “shoot processing for client review” and “selects processed for reproduction” as expenses rather than fees since you might ultimately outsource retouching, and because it helps to potentially increase the amount of an advance (if you’re only permitted to receive an advance on expenses). However, since we do not need to include a receipt or invoice to justify these items, I’ve included them in the “fees” section at the top. Organizing it this way makes it clear that the pages following the front of the invoice are to justify the expenses only.

You’ll see that each receipt/invoice used to justify the expenses is formatted differently (because they all come from different vendors) and it’s therefore important to add uniformity to make them easier to digest. That’s why on each page I use Adobe Acrobat Pro to add a title to the upper left hand corner, then circle the total and note the total again on the bottom right corner. The titles help to clarify which line item on the invoice the page corresponds to, and while adding the total at the bottom may seem redundant, it helps to summarize pages where there may be multiple receipts (like for meals).

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I also use Adobe Acrobat Pro to create PDFs of each invoice/receipt and to compile the final invoicing packet by merging all of the PDFs into one file. To create a page of receipts (for meals in this instance), I lay the receipts down on a flatbed scanner and set the preferences on my computer to automatically save a PDF. You might try to use your phone to take a picture of your receipts (or even take photos of your receipts with a DSLR), but the quality of the images you’ll receive from a flatbed scanner will be well worth the investment, and prices for scanners have dropped dramatically over the past few years.

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Sometimes you might not be able to get a receipt for an expense (like a tip for a bellman or charges for mileage) but you’ll still want to be reimbursed. In these instances we use the petty cash log below to document these expenses.

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As I mentioned previously, the scale of your production will determine the formatting and length of your invoice. For instance, an invoice I recently submitted for a large production had 30 pages dedicated to wardrobe styling alone. In cases like this, it may make sense to have cover pages for each section (to correspond to the line items on the invoice) rather than just adding section titles to each page.

No matter how you format an invoice, you just need to be organized and present everything in a manner that is easy to comprehend. If you take a few extra minutes to create a well-formatted invoice, you’ll save the time and energy you’ll otherwise spend going back and forth with your client to justify your fees and expenses. In the end, it should help you receive payment faster, and will make your client (and their accounting department) enjoy working with you.

If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating, producing or invoicing a project, please give us a call at (610) 260-0200. We’re available to help with any and all pricing and negotiating needs—from small stock sales to big ad campaigns

Wonderful Machine

There Are 5 Comments On This Article.

  1. I used to scan my receipts as you indicate. But then I found a fantastic app for my iPad/iPhone called Biz Xpense Tracker. It allows you to photograph receipts and then add the details (merchant, amount, tip, category, etc.). I try and add receipts as I go. You then can output a report with attached pages of corresponding receipts numbered to match the line items.

    I don’t use this for my final bill, but rather as the backup for the expenses portion and then plug those numbers into the final bill. I’ve started asking all crew to use this app so that everyone’s expense reports are similarly formatted. Really great expense tool.

  2. Hi, thanks for the info, these article are always great.

    I’d like to see how you reference photos that have been licensed in the invoice/contract. I include my license info in the invoice but i’d be interested to see your thoughts on best practises for making a record (for the client and your own records) of which photos have been licensed from a shoot. I haven’t been able to come up with an elegant solution myself.

  3. Wondering about mark-up on the expenses? Is that worked in? Mark-up is part of doing business, after all.