So, you’re new to being a video freelancer, but you’re already landing some gigs in the production world. Maybe you’re a makeup artist, maybe you’re a grip, perhaps you are just starting out as a 1st assistant camera; whatever your skills, if you are a freelancer you will be working for many different companies in any given week. This can be great for networking, and can lead to future jobs with any of the companies where you’ve been hired already. Once the job is complete, you will likely want to get paid, and the only way to do that, if you aren’t getting cash on-site, is to invoice the company. So let’s get into it and figure out how to get you paid.
Prep your w9
Whenever you do work for a company if they pay you more than $599.00, they are responsible for reporting you as a 1099 vendor to the taxman. In order to do this, they need some basic information from you. This info must come from a IRS form w9. This form is something that companies are required to collect from all 1099 vendors, and you are no exception. Anytime you work for a company, it’s worthwhile to send them your w9 with your invoice so that they will have all the info they need to pay you, and to report your income to the government.
The best move is to download a blank w9 here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw9.pdf
Each year in January (or if you move to a new home), fill this form out digitally and save it to your computer. Then whenever you work with a new company, send this form along with your invoice. Generally, it’s a good idea to password protect this document since it does contain your SSN. Just make sure to send the PW along with it when you email it out.
Prep your Invoice
Now that you have your w9 filled out, it’s time to prep your invoice. There are many sites online that allow you to create invoices for free. Invoicely (https://invoicely.com/) is a free site that allows you to create invoices and even track when you get paid. If you are working a lot, for many different companies, I can’t recommend using an invoice tracker enough. Sometimes companies won’t pay for 30-60 days after the shoot date, so it can be hard to remember exactly who paid you what. This is where it’s incredibly helpful to have a database of your invoices so you can easily see what invoices have been paid, and which are still outstanding.
If you prefer to make the invoice yourself, there are many templates for MS Word or Pages that you can use to create an invoice. You can even make an invoice from scratch, you just need to be sure to include the following six pieces of information on every invoice you send:
- “Invoice From” Your full name and mailing address: First and foremost, you need the company you are invoicing to know who you are and where to send the check. Remember, often the person paying the bills will have no idea who you are.
- “Invoice To” The full name and address of the company you are billing: Just write who hired you and their street address.
- “Date”: This is the date you are invoicing them. This should be the day the work was completed.
- “Invoice Number”: Give your invoice a unique number so you, and the company you are billing, can refer to a specific invoice without confusion. It’s not unusual to send multiple invoices to a company for multiple gigs, an invoice number will help you stay organized.
- “Terms”: This is an important one. Whenever you book a gig, make sure to ask about how/when payment is handled. Then make sure the Terms listed on your invoice match what was previously discussed. A few common options for this field are:
- Due on Receipt – Invoice is due once the company receives it.
- NET15 – Invoice is due 15 days from the date listed.
- NET30 – Invoice is due 30 days from the date listed.
- 50% Deposit Due – A deposit of 50% of the total invoice is due. Use this term if you book a gig that will pay a deposit before the shoot date, and make sure to send this invoice before the shoot.
- “Service Provided / Rate / Total Cost”: This is where you will write out the exact service you provided on set, how many days you did it, what your day rate is, and the total. Here are two examples:
1st AC – “Bruce Needs his Money” pilot production – 3 Days @ $450/day – $1,350.
Makeup Artist – Corporate Interview Shoot – 2 Days @ $550/day – $1,100.
It’s important to be as specific as possible with this information, because remember, the person paying you may not be the person who booked you.
So there you have it, a document with the above six pieces of data is all you need to create an invoice. Once you have the document ready, send it AND your w9 to the company that hired you, and always ask them to verify that they received your invoice and w9. This is also a good time to ask them if they have any questions for you. Now you are ready to get paid, just sit back, relax, and watch the money roll in.
Oh, and one last thing, here are a few random quick-tips to ensure your invoice doesn’t get ignored:
- Send your invoice as a separate document, preferably a PDF. Don’t just send your invoice as text in an email.
- Follow up when your invoice is due. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be paid for your work, it’s always ok to politely follow up about any late invoices.
- Get a clear idea of the expectation for payment when you are booked, don’t wait until the end.
- If payment terms were never discussed, put the payment terms YOU want on your invoice (ideally “due on receipt”). The worst that could happen is the company will push back. The best that could happen is they pay you according to your terms.
- Make sure the data on your invoice is 100% accurate. Check your address, Check your name. Check your services and prices. Then send the invoice off.
- Make a big deal if your address changes. If you have worked with a company before and you recently moved, write that on your invoice too, in big letters at the top, and call is out in your email as well.
If you make a proper invoice, and follow the tips listed above, you will be getting paid in no-time, you’ll look like a professional, and you will be able to easily reference your invoices to see who has paid, and who hasn’t. Make these habits a part of your regular work, and it will become second nature to invoice like a pro. Then you can spend your time focusing on your trade and not worrying about getting paid.