Each studio has their own accounting and operations process, that (hopefully) relies on tried and true methods that continue to get them work. Invoices demand a certain amount of auto piloting, with everything from Microsoft Excel to project management software such as CreativePro Office, Project Bubble, and Solo to help along the way. I surveyed half a dozen designers, and each of them took a different approach.
Before moving to Solo project management, Kevin Brindley would go to great lengths to make a visual statement on paper. Brindley explains, "I had a hand-lettered typeface in my identity. I used to print the invoices out on recycled paper, leave them flat, stuff inside a 9x12 envelope, and affix a custom mailing label for sending to the client. It cost a little more per invoice, but made a huge impression with my clients. They always knew when my invoices arrived and it seemed like that approach helped keep my invoices from getting lost in their paperwork. It used to garner some positive comments from clients."
A common denominator among all invoices is a unified look and feel. Designers know that a brand identity has to extend to and through all of their visual elements, be they digital, print, and/or environmental. version_industries applies their typography, colors, and writing style such as their signature use of underscores, across every piece of collateral.
Another common trait among invoices is the ability to itemize processes. In some cases, the client will accept a single flat rate stated clearly and singularly on the invoice. But in other cases, they may require a breakdown of hours, tasks, and steps. Matt Fangman's client, the University of Texas, insisted on breaking out the numbers to service, quantity, and rate.
In terms of management, Fangman doesn't rely on a project management tool, but creates his invoices using InDesign. He then exports them as a PDF for emailing to the client so they can get a check in the mail. But checks are just one way for clients to make payments. Joshua Mauldin, of Invisible Interface, goes so far as to specify that clients can wire him payments, which is listed first and foremost on the back of his invoice.
Mauldin, Invisible Interface's founder, insists on project management and invoicing systems like Billings. He explains, "I started using Billings because it was more efficient than Excel or Numbers. It offered customized templates, so I only had to fill in a few variables. It also lets me know what payments were due when, who was overdue and let me run all kinds of helpful reports on earnings. The iPhone app was helpful if I ever worked on site, I could track my hours there, too."
Between InDesign, Excel, PDFs, and online systems like Billings, designers have a lot to pick and choose from. But no matter what invoicing system you go with, make sure it all adds up for you and your clients.