Running a small business is not for the faint of heart. Counter to the myth of instant success, it takes years of patient trial and error to build up a successful practice. Among the factors that generate this success is the willingness and ability to tackle unpleasant tasks. For many creative professionals, anything to do with numbers, accounting and billing is particularly hard to focus on. "I always picked the fun tasks," says Peter, who tried to run his own business as a graphic designer years ago and ultimately accepted a full-time job with an agency. "I would set aside chores such as invoicing or taxes because that was hard."
If you find yourself postponing accounting tasks because they are too confusing or no fun, you need a more manageable system to ensure your long-term success.
Here are a few suggestions for improving your handling of unpleasant financial tasks:
- Make sure to immediately record important info on all completed orders in a spreadsheet (download a FREE Invoice template here). Doing so not only cuts down on the hassle of pulling together the necessary information from past emails and handwritten notes, but also makes sure you don't forget to bill change requests. The spreadsheet should simply show who ordered what and when, how many units were involved and which rates applied. Keep this record in an easily accessible place so you don't waste any time looking for it (so that "couldn't find it" can't become another reason for procrastinating).
- Don't wait for a large number of invoices to accumulate. Not only are you hurting yourself financially, but many clients can't stand overdue invoices, which distort financial reporting and introduce guesswork into their own accounts. Being organized therefore ensures faster payment AND a better spot in the vendor ranking list.If you're putting off the monthly billing chore from the 1st of the month to the 15th, it may be easier to invoice twice a month.
- Designate one day/afternoon a week your Business Day, when you take care of all necessary business chores. On that day, get the unpleasant tasks out of the way first ("eat the frog") and give yourself a reward for successfully completing Business Day items.
- Cut out unnecessary steps. There is nothing more tedious and time-consuming than copying or rewriting addresses and other billing info. Save past invoices in a dedicated folder for each client, so they are easy to find and update. Create a ready-made form (for example, from templates in Word or Excel) and reuse it to cut down on duplicated work steps.
Finally, it is helpful to understand the obstacles that prevent you from getting invoices out on time. After all, "being busy" probably does not prevent you from getting a myriad of other things done. Some people feel awkward about demanding payment, but wouldn't hesitate to spend evening or weekend hours on their client projects. Others are unsure whether their rates are in line with their performance. The resulting lack of confidence may be the real culprit behind tardy billing - a worry you can safely discard to request the payment you've earned.