Making Money, Not Starvation: Part 1

Invoices and Getting Paid


So last night a bunch of animation folks squeezed into Flaming Medusa Studios to talk about art business stuff for 2 hours. I shall attempt to recap what was said for those who couldn’t make it.  I expect after this is done it will be a pretty handy post for anyone who is starting freelancing. David Hartz (animator, fire sculptor, and professor of animation at UC Blue Ash) was also awesome enough to come and he was very helpful with providing his insight as well.

And we begin. I have been hanging out with lawyers a little so let me also say that I am not a CPA or MBA or Lawyer so this is just based on my experience, but I’m no expert. I’m just telling you what I do.


Invoices are important.

If you are working as a freelancer or independent contractor (same thing) on a project you must give the client an invoice in order to get paid.  You don’t get automatic paychecks if you’re a freelancer like you would as an employee.

I have had artists not send me invoices, even after I asked, which is weird because I don’t understand the point of not wanting to get paid after doing work. So always send an invoice.

Your invoice needs:

– your name and/or company name if there is one and phone number and email address and mailing address

-clients name and contact info (so you have it handy for yourself) and phone number and mailing address

-the date that you’re submitting the invoice (because you and they will need to remember that, so you can tell if a payment is late)

-If there is a job number that the client has given you, include that. (it helps them track their expenses)

– A description of the services you provided and how much they cost (which should have been already agreed upon in your proposal process, so this number should never be a surprise to a client)

-A total that is due

– the time frame during which you expect to receive payment back. A common time frame is within 30 days.  Some companies are going for 45 days or even 60 days, which sucks.  You need to discuss this with your client before you start work. You can make this any amount of time you want, it should have been specified in your proposal before as well. When you work with megaclients, they tend to hold onto your money for longer and longer, just fyi

This sample invoice is silly but it follows what an invoice should actually include: Information that you and the client need, it’s designed simply so it won’t waste ink when printed out.

boba fett invoice
it also has an invoice number which is a number you can use for yourself (or not) to keep track of the invoice. This is helpful if you have a bunch of stuff going on at a time or multiple invoices out to a client, so you can refer to the number instead of being like “you know that one invoice I sent in-between the other 3? That’s the one that’s late”.

A common question was, should you itemize your invoice or just plonk the amount due on there?  It depends on how you want to do it. You can do it either way, I plonk the number on there but David Hartz says he itemizes it. I would say if you’re working hourly for someone you should itemize so they feel that you’re being transparent and so they understand how your time was being used.

You always need to keep a copy if the invoice for yourself so you can refer to it to see if a payment is overdue- you have the handy clients’ info on it so you can call them if you need to without searching for the number.  Invoices also help you keep track of how much money you’ve made throughout the year which you need to know for tax time- and as a freelancer no one is responsible for keeping track of that but you!

getting paid

The first payment you get from a client should always be a check, or maybe Paypal. Checks are preferred for a reason. Paypal is a written record of a payment and it has some protection built in for the client, but I still prefer checks when possible because they have protection built in for me.

A check is not only a handy way to get sent money, it also has valuable info on it.  It has your client’s name and address (2) the name of their bank (8) and their bank account number (9).  This happens to be the same info you would need to take them to small claims court if they end up jilting you in the end! Hurrah checks!

Make a photocopy of your clients’ check before you deposit it so you have that info in case things go south.

Accepting cash or other forms of payment that don’t leave a paper trail is a bad idea because that creates room for misunderstandings, forgetting, or deceit. For example:

Client :”Oh I gave you x in cash remember I paid you already”
You: “No you only gave me half”
C: “No I paid you the whole thing I remember this many bills, remember?”
You: “I wish I had made you pay me with a check because I don’t like how this is going…”

Stay tuned for Part 2 about Proposals and how to not get your art stolen without getting paid!

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