Would you like personality with your invoice?

Part of my work is making custom changes to invoice and purchase order templates, for clients who use Saasu (the online accounting application). Sometimes there’s a need to add a new field or modify a layout for a particular customer, or perhaps as a result of internal business reporting requirements. After months of thinking about changing my own accounting templates, I have finally revised my quotation and invoice. They’re not perfect but it’s certainly an improvement!

My key motivations for change were to create a closer alignment with my business branding and to improve usability. “Usability?” you might say. Yes! We probably don’t think of our invoices as something we need to critique using the same measures as, say, our website or shopfront. But they are an important business touch point and can create a negative perception if done poorly.

The invoice is your last contact with your client, and it should share the attention to detail, branding and style of your other elements. — Kat Neville

Elements of the invoice experience

Usability

A couple of months ago I was asked to send through my ABN, by someone who had received my invoice. It was the first time I had been asked for it. My ABN had always been at the top of my invoice, but about six months ago I moved it to the footer as part of some layout changes. Although it was still a valid invoice, I had actually decreased the usability because it was now in a smaller font and removed from the main content area.

Tone and personality

Imagine for a moment that your invoice has a personality. What tone of voice does it have? Is it polite, friendly and professional or perhaps standoffish, abrupt and a little rude? More importantly, would you want to do business with it? Assess your other business touch points in the same manner to see if any need attention.

User confidence

Have you ever received an invoice and you didn’t feel confident about it, for any of these reasons:

  • it wasn’t clear how you should pay and you had to contact the payee for clarification
  • the invoice description didn’t seem correct
  • there were lots of spelling and grammatical errors (which speaks negatively about quality and undermines trust)
  • it took a long time to find the invoice number (or worse, you didn’t find one!)
  • it wasn’t clear whether tax was applicable

Every one of these issues can be easily resolved. If any resonate with you, it could mean as little as an hour or two of your time changing settings in your accounting software. Have a look at the different templates available for invoices, purchase orders etc. to find one that matches your requirements. You may decide to use different templates with slight variances between them; for example some clients may require information that you don’t want to include in your standard format. If you can’t find what you need, contact the customer support team for your software to see if there are third-party themes or if there are service providers available to help you customise an existing one.

If you generate invoices using a spreadsheet or word processing application, adding formulas or layout changes could make all the difference by reducing the chance of errors. In particular, using bold and increasing the font size for the most critical fields (such as invoice number and remittance advice) can make a powerful difference.

If professional advice is needed for your business’s legal and financial obligations, perhaps consider engaging an accountant or legal advisor, particularly if you are new to operating your own business. Your local council might also be a great connection to community business initiatives and/or professional services.


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