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Updated Oct 30, 2023

10 Critical Elements of Professional Invoices

A clear, thorough invoice could be the difference between your business getting paid and your invoice being ignored.

Megan Totka, Community Member
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An invoice is not a binding legal document. However, invoices are a crucial part of your accounts receivable process, which helps you collect money for the products and services you sell and provide. 

The invoice template you choose must be professional and easy to understand. Its clarity directly affects when – and on what terms – you receive payment. We’ll highlight 10 best practices for creating professional invoices and share critical elements of invoices your customers will notice and respond to promptly.

The critical elements when creating a small business invoice

According to the AP Automation Tracker 2022 report, 49 percent of U.S. business invoices go on to become overdue. Late payments create cash flow problems and disrupt the accounts payable process, so minimizing them is crucial. 

A clear, professional invoice can grab your customers’ attention and make prompt payment more likely. Here are 10 critical elements to include in your invoices for the best results. 

1. Include a standout header in your invoice. 

While clearly labeling your invoice seems obvious, it’s a critical invoicing element. Ensure you label the document as an invoice in its header so your customer knows precisely what it is. Use a bold, large font to grab your customer’s attention. 

Labeling the document makes it crystal clear that it’s an invoice and that the dollar amount listed is what the customer owes. Businesses typically send out multiple documents along with the invoice; when the invoice doesn’t clearly state what it is, it might get tossed aside or thrown away and go unpaid.

2. Include your company’s information on your invoices.

Small business invoices must include your business’s legal name, street address, email address, phone number and (if applicable) fax number. Ensure all information is listed at the top and bottom of the invoice. 

Double-check that all your information is accurate in case the customer must contact you to pay with a credit card by phone, email you with questions or mail a check to your business address. Incorrect information will make you look unprofessional and make receiving payment more challenging.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right accounting and invoice-generating software for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

3. Include your customer’s name and contact information on the invoice.

Ensure the customer’s name and title are clear and spelled correctly on your invoice. Include the customer’s contact information on the invoice with their email and physical addresses. If you don’t include their information, they may discard the document.

4. Include the invoice’s sent date and due date.

In addition to your company’s information, you must include the date the invoice was issued and the payment due date. Make this information crystal clear. Additionally, let them know the new total they will owe if they pay after the due date if you must add on interest or late fees. 

Clear and accurate dates will help if there’s any confusion about when an item was sold or services were rendered. Businesses must sometimes look back and confirm service dates and product shipment dates.

TipBottom line
When charging a late fee or interest on an unpaid invoice, ensure the original contract clearly outlines that these charges may be assessed. It should also state the timeline and note if there's a grace period.

5. Include an invoice number on your invoice.

Numbering invoices is another way to help you get paid on time. An invoice number serves as a transaction’s unique identifier. The invoice number is the second-most-important element after the amount due. 

You can assign each invoice a number in various ways, including chronologically. Numbered invoices make searching for and retrieving documents much more straightforward. You’ll be able to check customer queries quickly and identify which transactions weren’t paid.

6. Include a breakdown of products and services provided on the invoice.

Your invoice must include a section that breaks down the bill for the customer. This breakdown can be as specific or generic as you prefer as long as it’s easy for the customer to understand. 

Include the following in your breakdown:

  • Name of the good or service provided
  • Date the good or service was provided
  • Rate charged for the good or service provided
  • Quantity of the good or service provided

Consider adding a section to elaborate on item descriptions or provide additional information to explain what’s listed on the invoice. For example, you can include additional materials purchased to complete a job or additional hours an employee worked.

7. Include transaction terms on the invoice.

Including payment terms on the invoice is critical. Payment terms depend on your industry, preference and customer relationship. For example, you may require payment upon the receipt of an invoice or extend 30-day or 60-day payment terms. It’s also vital to clearly state what the penalties and fees will be if the terms are not met. 

List available payment methods so your customer understands their payment options. For example, in addition to accepting credit card payments or checks, you may also accept credit card payments with PayPal, allow Venmo payments or accept Apple Pay. Simplifying the payment process and including various convenient payment methods can increase customer retention and satisfaction. 

Did You Know?Did you know
You can also create and send invoices with PayPal with a business account using PayPal's Commerce platform.

8. Include itemized fees on your invoices.

If there are handling fees, taxes for purchased goods or any other money the customer must pay, list each fee as a separate line item. This way, customers will fully understand the charges. Itemizing fees also helps when your business must apply various payments to different budgets to ensure your books balance.

9. Include the total amount of money due on your invoice.

While it may seem obvious, the most crucial part of an invoice is the money the customer owes your business. Ensure you clearly state the total amount owed, including taxes. Display it prominently on the invoice in bold next to the label “Total” or “Total due” to ensure your customer knows what they must pay. Don’t make them hunt for the amount they owe.

10. Include customer notes on your invoices.

While the above items are essential, including a message field is also a good idea. A message field is a great place to write a brief note to the customer and thank them for their business. Showing customers you value them can enhance customer loyalty, so taking every opportunity to thank them is essential. You can also use this field to reference the project, explain any unique elements and include incentives for early or prompt payment.

FYIDid you know
Incorporate SMS for business into your invoicing process. For example, issue text reminders when an invoice is due, and expand your payment options to include SMS payments.

Designing professional invoices 

While your invoices should include critical elements, it’s also essential to pay attention to their design. To help you visualize a clear, professional, straightforward invoice, here’s an example generated from Wave Financial – an excellent free accounting software solution with stellar invoicing features: 

When designing your business’s invoice, consider the following invoice design best practices: 

1. Your invoice should reflect your brand. 

Like everything you send, your invoice reflects your brand and helps tell your brand’s story. Keep the following elements in mind:

  • All invoices should include your logo at the top. 
  • If they’re printed in color, use your corporate identity’s color scheme in the invoice header. 
  • Write customer notes in your brand’s voice. 
  • Keep your brand identity consistent with other customer-facing communications.

2. Make your invoice easy to read.

Keep readability in mind when designing your invoices. Consider the following tips: 

  • Use signature fonts only if they’re easy to read. 
  • Avoid script fonts or those with too much embellishment in favor of clear fonts. 
  • Ensure the font size isn’t too small.
  • Stick to one font for the invoice body (your logo and headers can be in a different font).
  • Include plenty of white space for readability (you can always add another page if necessary).
  • Print the main invoice portion – where you detail charges – in black. 
  • Minimize the use of bold, all capital letters and italics.
  • Avoid abbreviations and jargon in your line item descriptions so the client understands all charges.

3. Make it easy to pay the invoice.

If you offer an online payment option, include a link or QR code (or both) on your invoice. The extra convenience may prompt some customers to pay when they get the invoice instead of putting it off until someone can cut and mail a check.

Did You Know?Did you know
If your invoicing efforts are top-notch but customers aren't paying, it may be time to consider the debt collection process.

Invoicing software and resources

The best accounting and invoice-generating software effortlessly creates optimized, professional invoices. These and additional resources take the guesswork out of invoicing. Consider the following solutions to help take your invoicing to the next level: 

  • FreshBooks: FreshBooks is an excellent small business accounting solution with impressive invoicing features, including automation. Its website also offers free invoice templates to download into Word, Excel, Adobe PDF, Google Sheets or Google Docs. Read our in-depth review of FreshBooks for more information.
  • Sage Business Cloud Accounting: Sage Business Cloud Accounting is a cloud-based solution that lets you automate invoicing. Its website also provides free access to invoice templates. To learn more, check out our review of Sage Business Cloud Accounting.
  • Wave: Wave Financial offers free invoicing and accounting software, and its website provides an array of free invoice templates. Send invoices through the Wave website, or download them into Word, Excel, Adobe, Google Docs or Google Sheets. Its online service lets you create invoices, set alerts and reminders, and process payments. (Wave alternatives are also worth checking out.)
  • QuickBooks Online: QuickBooks includes invoicing in its accounting toolbox, allowing small businesses to create invoices and accept payments for a low monthly price. Invoices are customizable; you can send batch and recurring invoices, track invoice status, and send payment reminders. For more details, read our complete review of QuickBooks Online.
  • Zoho Books: Zoho Books is an online accounting solution with tools that let you create, send, and track invoices and collect payments. Read our Zoho Books review to learn more.
  • Microsoft: Microsoft makes invoicing easier for business owners by offering free invoice templates on the Office website. With several templates to choose from for Word and Excel, business owners can create custom invoices.
  • Invoice Ninja: Invoice Ninja offers a free tier of its invoicing software with some of the features other vendors charge for. Invoice Ninja was built with freelancers and small businesses in mind, enabling them to easily create and send invoices and accept payments.

Jennifer Dublino contributed to this article. 

Megan Totka, Community Member
Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.
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