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Invoices Please

The importance and benefits of submitting invoices on timeI'm sure there's not one

I'm sure there's not one among us that hasn't been a few days late turning in an invoice. I get it. We live the Spartan life of long work days, late night load-outs, dead cell phone batteries, napping in cars, changing in bathrooms and scavenging kraft services for the last snickers bar. After all, we have to bring this rig in before midnight, load the truck, power nap on the bus and do this all over again 100 miles down the road.

And maybe you just want to get home early to wash your hair... whatever.

Regardless of why you're too busy to turn in your invoices on time, that procrastination has a real effect on the business people surrounding you - and ultimately that effect will cascade back on you. When you jeopardize someone's ability to run their own business effectively and efficiently, then they will simply elect not to work with you. And if enough people drop you, well then, you get the picture.

How Do Late Invoices Impact Your Clients

First, let's remind our freelance community that the guys cutting them the checks... that is the producers, gear houses, production companies, what have you... they are your clients. How some freelancers offer such horrible service, yet the labor coordinators receive so much grief, it's amazing. But back to the point, if you are like me, once upon a time I would think, "Damn, why are they so mad I haven't invoiced them yet - why are they so impatient about paying me. You'd think they'd be grateful, since they get to hold onto the money longer."

Well, actually that's not how it works. Fact is, until producers get all their invoices in, they can't prepare their final bill to the end-client. And the end-client will start their payment clocks upon receipt of that final invoice. So if we hold up final billing for a couple of weeks, it could be 2 months before the producer receives final payment and is able to pay out his vendors.

But that's not the only negative effect. Frankly, a producer will only wait so long for your invoice, because you're not the only vendor he has to pay. When we don't send him an invoice, thereby forcing him to invoice based on his best guess or estimation of what your final fee is, then if he's wrong and the client pays based on the wrong amount, you have less chance to getting paid the correct amount because the producer has less chance to modifying his number once it's started through the corporate accounts payable maze.

Some Useful Tips

But again, I understand the challenges, because I live the stagehand life as well. But living the life alongside you, I also know, we're not ALWAYS that busy. There are plenty of times throughout your schedule when we're in Stand by moments. Here are some best practices to help you, help them, help you.

Prepare In Advance

Instead of waiting until the following morning or the end of the night, prepare the invoice during the last day of the call, perhaps during show or during lunch. That way, at the end of the night, all you really need to do is plug in the time out and you're ready to submit. It should only take you a couple minutes, so if you can't finish your invoice template during a working lunch, then you need a better invoice format.

Send It Early

I know a tech that always sends his invoice on the morning of the load-out. His rationale is, we always know roughly how long the out is going to be, and if you're working against a mini, then you know the number of hours you'll get paid, regardless of the end time. So he prepares his invoice in the morning and sends it off long before the load-out starts. On the rare occasion that the times are longer than what he invoiced for, he makes the easy call to the producer or labor coordinators and simply say's "Disregard my last." The invoice is already formatted, so he updates and resubmits.

Accounting Software

Using a simple, but powerful accounting package can dramatically improve your accuracy, efficiency and even your profitability and revenue opportunities. Some popular ones are Quickbooks and FreshBooks. But you can use most any package you're familiar with. Just be consistent.

Keep Them Simple

I've seen some crazy complex invoices that calculate all the variables, cross references against other records, collects, reinvests, loses... it can be a mess. One of the best things you can do for yourself is keep your invoice simple. For the most part, all the client needs is:

  • Today's Date

  • Event Date

  • Event Location

  • Show Name

  • Your Hours

  • Your Pay Rate

  • Today's Date

  • Unique Invoice (we'll inform you of it)

Hire A Service

If it's still too hard for you to get your invoices out on time, consider hiring a bookkeeping business. They aren't that cheap, but I suspect you're more than making up for the mean of his words. But better to pick up the guys without guns facing off with the guys with guns.

Long and short of it, if your clients have you set up as Net 5, Net 15 or even Net 30. That clock starts running the day you submit your invoice and it's accepted. It is really unfair to call 3 days after the show, having not even sent or confirmed your hours worked and start demanding pay. I really hope this helps you understand the issues behind invoicing - and look forward to seeing you on the campus soon.

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