How to create an invoice: Everything businesses need to know

Invoicing
Invoicing

Stripe Invoicing is a global invoicing software platform built to save you time and get you paid faster. Create an invoice and send it to your customers in minutes – no code required.

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  1. Introduction
  2. What is an invoice?
  3. What are invoices used for?
  4. How to create an invoice: Required information
  5. How to create an invoice: Best practices
  6. Can Stripe create invoices?

From fledgling startups to established corporations, dealing with invoices is an integral aspect of running a business. Effective invoicing can streamline cash flow, increase efficiency and foster stronger relationships with clients. But it's not as simple as sending a document with a payment request: invoicing involves a careful balance of precise information delivery, professional presentation and timing.

Crafting an invoice is an opportunity to present information in a streamlined and transparent way that minimises the chance of confusion, potential disputes and late payments. Businesses can use invoices as a tool to improve customer retention by providing a seamless, professional experience that leaves a positive impression on clients.

Below, we'll break down the process of creating effective, clear and professional invoices. This includes understanding the essential components of an invoice, using design and branding to your advantage, selecting the right invoicing software and implementing systems to speed up payment. By optimising your invoice-creation process, you're laying the foundations for more efficient and reliable financial operations.

What's in this article?

  • What is an invoice?
  • What are invoices used for?
  • How to create an invoice: Required information
  • How to create an invoice: Best practices
  • Can Stripe create invoices?

What is an invoice?

An invoice is a formal, time-stamped document that a seller issues to a buyer. In it, the seller records a business transaction that has taken place. This commercial document lists the goods or services that the seller has provided and indicates the payment that the buyer owes. From the seller's perspective, an invoice provides an official record of the sale, and it forms an integral part of the business's financial accounts by serving as evidence of income.

In addition to serving as a request for payment, an invoice plays an important role in managing and tracking business revenue. It helps businesses maintain accurate financial records, manage their cash flow and track income for tax purposes. Invoices can also help businesses to identify trends, monitor client purchasing habits and forecast future revenue. From the buyer's perspective, invoices are used to verify purchases, reconcile financial accounts and support claims for tax deductions.

What are invoices used for?

Businesses use invoices for a variety of purposes. Here are some examples:

  • Requesting payment
    An invoice is, in essence, a bill. It tells a client or customer how much they owe for goods or services that they've received.

  • Record-keeping
    Invoices provide a record of sales for both the seller and the buyer, which is important for maintaining accurate financial records and managing cash flow.

  • Tracking sales
    Invoices help businesses to track their sales and understand their revenue sources. Businesses can use this information to monitor their performance and make informed decisions.

  • Tax preparation
    For both the seller and the buyer, invoices are important in preparing tax returns. They serve as proof of income for the seller and proof of expenses for the buyer.

  • Legal protection
    In the event of a dispute or audit, invoices act as a legal record of the transaction, providing evidence of what was sold, how much was charged and when the transaction occurred.

  • Accounts receivable management
    Invoices are a tool for managing accounts receivable. By tracking which invoices have been paid and which are outstanding, a business can manage its cash flow more effectively.

  • Client communication
    Invoices are also a means of communication, providing clients with detailed information about their purchase, including the price, quantity and description of goods or services.

The main function of an invoice is to record business transactions, help manage finances, facilitate communication and ensure legal compliance.

How to create an invoice: Required information

Creating an invoice involves gathering several key pieces of information and organising them into a structured format. Here are the essential details that belong in an invoice:

  • Seller's information: this includes the business name, address, contact details and any other relevant information, such as the VAT number or business identification number. For a sole proprietor, this would consist of their name and contact details.

  • Buyer's information: this should include the client's or customer's name, address and contact information. When the buyer is a business, the invoice should list its business name and address.

  • Invoice number: each invoice should have a unique identifier or invoice number. This can be sequential or based on date, or it can follow any other system that suits the business.

  • Date: this should be the date that the invoice is issued.

  • Products or services: this should outline a detailed description of the products or services provided. For goods, this could include the type, quantity, cost per unit and line total. For services, it might include the service type, the rate (hourly, daily etc.), the number of hours or days, and the line total.

  • Costs: clearly list the costs of each item or service, including the unit cost and the total cost for that line item.

  • Subtotal: the subtotal is the total cost before any additional charges, discounts or taxes are applied.

  • Discounts (if any): if any discounts have been applied to the transaction, make sure that these are listed.

  • Taxes: calculate and list any applicable taxes. Make sure that you indicate the type of tax and the rate.

  • Delivery or additional charges (if any): if there are any additional charges, such as delivery or handling fees, make sure that these are added.

  • Total amount: this is the final amount due, including all charges, taxes and discounts.

  • Payment terms: the invoice should clearly state the terms of payment, such as the due date and acceptable payment methods.

  • Notes (optional): this includes any additional notes or comments from the seller.

Depending on your geographic location and industry, specific legal requirements may apply with regard to what you need to include on an invoice. In certain industries, businesses might need to include more specialised information, such as an hourly breakdown for billable work in a service business, or the weight and dimensions of products in a goods-based business. The type of business and the nature of the transaction can significantly influence when and how an invoice is created and delivered.

Here's a breakdown of how different business situations can affect invoices:

  • Service-based businesses
    For businesses offering services, such as consulting or freelancing businesses, it's common to invoice upon completion of the work – sometimes referred to as "invoicing in arrears". For example, a graphic designer might issue an invoice after finalising a logo design. In certain cases, such as for ongoing services, it might be appropriate to send periodic invoices (monthly, quarterly etc.), stating the services provided during that period.

  • Product-based businesses
    Businesses that sell physical goods usually issue an invoice at the point of sale or when an order is confirmed. For instance, a clothing shop would send an invoice upon purchase, whereas an e-commerce business would typically send an invoice once the customer's order has been processed.

  • Progress billing
    For larger projects that span extended periods, such as construction or customised software development, businesses often use progress billing. This means that they issue invoices at various project milestones or stages of completion. Progress billing helps with cash flow, while also keeping the client informed about the progress and associated costs.

  • Recurring billing
    For subscription-based services, such as gym memberships or software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscriptions, businesses typically send invoices on a regular cycle (monthly, quarterly, annually etc.). This type of invoicing reflects the recurring nature of the service.

  • Up-front payment
    In certain situations, especially when dealing with bespoke products or when the customer's credit is uncertain, an up-front payment may be necessary. Here, a business would issue an invoice detailing the advance payment required before delivering the goods or performing the services.

  • Retainer model
    Businesses such as law firms or PR agencies often operate on a retainer model, where the client pays a regular, pre-determined fee. In this case, the business would issue an invoice using a pre-arranged schedule, showing how the fee has been allocated (such as hours worked), along with any additional costs beyond the retainer.

In all of the above cases, it's important for businesses to communicate clearly about payment expectations, ensure prompt invoicing and follow up for payment when appropriate.

How to create an invoice: Best practices

Creating and managing invoices is a fundamental component of revenue generation and cash-flow management. Employing strategic best practices here can result in expedited payments, reduced payment-related queries and stronger client relationships. Here are best practices for businesses:

  • Use a professional layout
    Your invoice should look professional and be easy for your client to read, reflecting the high quality of your brand and service. Consistency in layout lends professionalism while also helping your clients to locate key information quickly, which in turn facilitates faster payment. Using an invoice template or specialised software can simplify this process by ensuring that every bill you send maintains your professional standard.

  • Include all necessary information
    Ensure that your invoice contains every important detail, including your business name and address, the description of goods or services, and the total amount due. Make sure that you also incorporate your tax ID if it's required by law.

  • Itemise your services or products
    Take time to detail each service or product provided, including its associated cost. An itemised invoice eliminates any ambiguity about what you're billing your client for, reinforcing trust and making disputes less likely.

  • Clarify payment terms
    Your payment terms should be clear to recipients, including specifics such as the due date and the different payment methods that you accept. If you charge penalties for late payments, make sure that you state this up front.

  • Use unique invoice numbers
    Ensure that each invoice has its own invoice number. This numbering system simplifies invoice management and can be important in the event of disputes or audits, enabling you to track and retrieve the right document easily.

  • Deliver promptly
    Send your invoices promptly. The earlier your client receives the invoice, the more likely they are to settle the payment early. This can have a positive impact on your cash flow and financial planning.

  • Follow up
    Be proactive in following up on unpaid invoices. Reminding your clients politely when a payment is due or overdue keeps the transaction on their radar and signals your professionalism. This step (and others) can be automated with a tech-powered solution such as Stripe Invoicing, which we'll discuss in more detail below.

  • Keep records
    Make it a habit to maintain a meticulous record of all invoices issued and payments received. These records serve as an excellent reference for tracking payments and following up on overdue invoices, and they are indispensable for financial management, audits and tax obligations. Working with a comprehensive payment and billing provider such as Stripe can reduce the complexity and workflow associated with maintaining financial records.

  • Use digital tools
    Make technology work for you by using invoicing software or digital platforms. These solutions – including those offered by Stripe – can automate several aspects of the invoicing process, such as creating recurring invoices, sending follow-up reminders and maintaining digital records. This can save you valuable time and reduce the chance of human error.

  • Personalise your invoices
    When appropriate, consider adding a personalised note or a simple thank you to your client for their business. This small, personal touch can help build a strong, positive business relationship that lasts beyond the transaction.

  • Make it easy to pay
    Simplify the payment process to facilitate timely payments. Offering multiple payment methods and enabling online payments can make it more convenient for clients to settle their invoices – which helps you receive payments faster.

Can Stripe create invoices?

Yes, Stripe can create and manage invoices. Stripe enables businesses to bill customers with one-off or recurring invoices, and customers can pay directly through a link included in the invoice via a solution called Stripe Invoicing.

Stripe Invoicing includes customisable options, automatic reconciliation of payments and flexible billing frequencies for recurring payments. It also provides detailed reporting and tracking features, making it easier for businesses to manage their finances.

Here's more about what Invoicing can offer businesses:

  • Efficiency and speed
    Stripe Invoicing is designed for rapid invoice creation and payment. Stripe's advanced features and APIs enable the automation of accounts receivable, which streamlines the entire process from invoice creation to payment reconciliation. Stripe's tools for automatic tax calculation further facilitate accuracy and compliance across the scope of your business's financial operations.

  • Flexibility and customisation
    Stripe enables a high level of customisation for its invoices. From adding line items, discounts and tax rates, to customising the invoice appearance to match your brand, this flexibility caters to many business requirements and use cases. Stripe also supports both one-off and recurring payments, which provides businesses with more flexibility to align invoicing with their business model.

  • Global reach and scalability
    With support for several global payment methods, in addition to multiple languages and currencies, Invoicing can scale with your business as it grows and expands into new markets. It's designed to meet your needs, regardless of business size or complexity.

  • Improved payment rates
    The majority of Stripe's invoices are paid within 24 hours, due largely to customers' ability to choose from a variety of payment methods – not forgetting the invoice reminders feature, which can help to reduce the occurrence of unpaid invoices.

  • Integration and compatibility
    Stripe Invoicing integrates easily with most businesses' existing workflows. It provides real-time synchronisation with popular accounting systems and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, while also allowing for data import via Stripe's Reports API. These capabilities can make managing financial records significantly easier and ensure that your invoicing system works seamlessly with your broader financial environment.

  • Financial control and oversight
    Stripe's Dashboard provides clear, detailed reports that help businesses to monitor outstanding invoices, track payments and prioritise collection efforts. This level of oversight contributes to a clearer understanding of a company's financial health and can be beneficial for financial management.

These capabilities allow businesses to take a more strategic approach to invoice management, making the process less burdensome while enhancing financial operations.

To learn more about Stripe Invoicing, speak to an expert to get started.

The content in this article is for general information and education purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Stripe does not warrant or guarantee the accurateness, completeness, adequacy, or currency of the information in the article. You should seek the advice of a competent attorney or accountant licensed to practice in your jurisdiction for advice on your particular situation.

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