Did you know that voiceover is a business? Not just something you do, but something you structure and manage? To make a living from it, you have to do a little, gulp, administrative work. That includes billing clients. So, how do we, as creative people who hate getting our hands dirty with something as prosaic as bookkeeping and accounting, manage to bill our clients so that we have some hope of making money from our efforts? Answer: we set up solid billing practices and then stick to them so that we can be effective and efficient with our time, and spend more of it doing the creative stuff.
No billing policy you put in place will give you grief if you’re guided by a few basic goals:
- Make it as easy as possible for the client to pay;
- Stay organized;
- Always be polite;
- Expect to be paid for your services.
First, always invoice your clients. You’re a business. An email saying: “this is how much you owe me” just doesn’t have the same umph as an invoice with your business name, tax ID, billing address and ways to pay you. I never send any job without an invoice. The invoice includes the billing terms (i.e., “due upon receipt”) and always includes a written notice that I retain copyright, and there is no permissible use of the voice over work until I get paid in full. The main point here though is to bill clients while the job is fresh and on their minds, like upon delivery.
I also want to make it as easy as possible for a client to pay. I have all my contact information, the name of the payee for checks and PayPal email address on the invoice. I send all invoices by email in PDF form and the email may include my PayPal link. When I worked at law firms in my past life, any invoice I received by email got my immediate attention by way of a forwarded email to bookkeeping, which fast-tracked the invoice. In the last two years, I’ve only mailed one invoice (saves stamps, trees and time).
Even then, things can get screwed up. A great client recently flipped the numbers in my address and a check took a while to get here as a result. Generally, a late payment is really just an overworked bookkeeper or some clerical error, so you want to be nice about collecting—but try not to be too apologetic about reminding someone that they owe you money. Be thankful but not submissive. You’re a professional who deserves to get paid for her services. Just be matter-of-fact. It’s just another task. To it and close that tab.
I very often see payments the same day I email an invoice. Clients like to close their tabs as well. I do accept checks from frequent corporate clients, and even from new clients if it’s a relatively small job. Payments by check can take 15 and 30 days, but also avoid PayPal and credit card processing fees. I haven’t had to waive any fees in my time as a voice talent (or ever). It could happen, but in general, I get paid timely. I do tend to trust my gut and avoid potential clients who give me a bad vibe, or who simply have unverifiable contact information, like only a free Gmail or Hotmail email account. Seriously, why would anyone conduct business with someone who can’t provide business contact information?
If getting paid fast is essential for you, another option is to include both payment incentives and disincentives on your invoices: (1) discounts for early payments and (2) late fees for anything over 30 days, respectively. Even corporate clients like to save money wherever they can.
My company does charge late fees. Some time ago, a monthly client hired a management company that insisted on having invoices sent by mail, through the post office. I informed them that I would be happy to comply with their request, but would have to add a $10 processing fee on each invoice. I absolutely wanted to accommodate them, but since it’s our policy and practice to manage all our accounting digitally, then it’s our option to charge for any task that’s outside our usual administrative workflow. In other words, if they wanted an extra service, they should expect an extra charge for that service. We still have that client, and we continue to email all our invoices to the management company since everyone agreed that the additional $10 fee should be avoided (and we were able to avoid the added administrative task so that we could get on with more creative work).
We are all entitled to be compensated for special services a client requests from us, and to do so without apology. As service providers, our time is our trade. Just like banks charge for checks or wire transfers or even for the privilege of holding our money, we can charge late fees and processing fees.
Billing is the tedious but very necessary part of having a voice over business. The trick is to streamline and automate the process as much as possible so that we don’t have to give it too much thought or effort.
How To Streamline and Automate Billing
- Use timekeeping software – you need this only if you have clients you bill by the hour. We actually use Microsoft Access for that. We created reports and queries to add date, total time and a description of the task. At the end of each month, we PDF billing details for that client and attach that PDF to the invoice.
- Use billing software – We use Quickbooks to generate our invoices. We set up invoice templates with our logo, address, phone number, and payment methods. Each client company has its own payment terms. Quickbooks also tracks our expenses. Every time we make a purchase, we generate a PDF copy of a business receipt. That gets entered to Quickbooks every month. This helps us generate reports at tax time. We never miss an expense this way. Quickbooks also helps you track when you receive a payment from a client. If they paid through PayPal, you can also enter a corresponding merchants fee (a business expense) for that Payment.
- Use only business accounts for business transactions – sure we have personal credit cards, bank accounts and online shopping accounts, but we never use those for business transactions. We maintain business credit cards, banking, and online shopping accounts. This makes tracking expenses easier, and there’s never a chance of co-mingling personal and business transactions.
- Use email templates – I send the same emails over and over again every month and to different clients. If I find myself typing the same paragraphs repeatedly, I create an email template or Outlook quick parts that turns what I typed into reusable text blocks. Sure, I can be funny and personal in the email, but I can also be efficient. Quick parts also help you avoid being rude when sending a past due notice. When you’re calm, cool and collected, just type something like this and use it to request a follow-up on the past due invoice. Remember, 90% of the time late payments are just oversights. No one’s out to get you:
- Hi, [Client]. Hope you’re doing well. Our accounts show an unpaid invoice for you, a copy of which is attached. If your records indicate you’ve already paid the invoice, please provide details so that we can try to figure out where the transaction fell through. If not, please let us know the payment status when you have a chance. Thank you!All the best…
- Use your calendar – we mostly bill our clients monthly. We send invoices around the 3rd but no later than the 5th of every month for the previous month’s services. This makes it easy to track billing cycles and overdue payments because, when we invoice, we can also see any open invoices. But, if you send an invoice when you deliver a project on random days, you really need to diary your calendar for a reminder so that you can follow up if you haven’t received the payment. Calendars aren’t just for appointments. We use it to schedule administrative tasks, to remind us when we need to renew hosting, SSL certificates, file annual reports with the Division of Corporations, pay our taxes. Never keep something on your mind when the computer can do a better job of reminding you.
You’ll be able to develop more and better methods into your own workflow. Just remember that your goal is to make the administrative tasks as effortless as possible. And no, hiring someone else to do it isn’t as effective. If you’re paying someone by the hour to do your accounting, they have little incentive to streamline a process that makes them more money. Streamline first. Hire later. The end.