Saturday, 12 April 2014

Invoices For Animators

One of the essential skills needed by animators and digital artists is the ability to get paid on time. As a freelancer, you need to know how to invoice a client.

Invoicing, like most life skills, is obvious when you know how, but confusing when you don't.

The basic ingredients are: your name and address, your contact details, your bank details, today's date, the invoice number (start with no 1), the amount owed, and your payment terms (generally 2 weeks to a month)

Below is brief summary of how to get it right.

Passion Pictures
My First Invoice
The first time I did a freelance job for an independent production co was back in the late 1980s.

The job was a breakfast cereal commercial for Passion Pictures. Today, Passion is one of London's leading independent film-makers, then it was a fledgling start-up in Soho. I was very inexperienced, and trying not to show it.

Andrew Ruhemann, who founded Passion, asked me to prepare an invoice for the work I had done. An invoice? What was that? I had no idea what one even looked like. Too embarrassed to ask (I was doing my best to look like a pro), I ended up producing a hand written bill on a scrap of paper that would have put a plumber to shame.

You can do better. Below is a suggested template for a sample invoice. It includes all the vital information that should be on an invoice. This includes:
  1. A heading at the top, saying "Invoice"
  2. Your name, your own brand, or your company name (if you have a company). If you don't have a company, you can put your own name or simply a trading name, which can be anything. "Awesome Animation", "Garage Films" - or whatever. A trading name is just that - the name you trade under.
  3. Invoice Number. These should be sequential. Begin at number 1 and start counting.
  4. Today's date.
  5. Your terms. These are usually "payment due within 14 days" or thereabouts.
  6. Supplier name and address - that's you, the supplier of services
  7. Client name and address - that's the person or company you are invoicing.
  8. Description. This is a description of the services you have done. Be as specific as you can.
  9. Amount owed. This is the price for the job. This should be agreed with the client in advance. Clients don't like nasty surprises. You won't need to charge VAT yet (unless you turn over more than £75,000 a year) so you can leave that at zero.
  10. Your bank details. Without this you won't get paid.

When to invoice
Invoices are sent after the job is complete (although, on a big job, you might request a payment up front). Always make sure you double-check every invoice before you send it out. Nothing is more embarrassing than getting it wrong - and clients will not appreciate it.

How long to wait to get paid
How long should you wait for payment before chasing up your invoice? The answer is: not less than 4 weeks. Chasing clients after a few days or even a week or two is bad manners, whatever the payment terms on your invoice. Most companies tend to do their accounts once a month, so anything less than that and you will simply be outside the payment cycle.  Generally, for bigger companies, you may have to wait even longer. Be patient! Everyone pays in the end.

(Editor's note: for more information on finding work in the animation business, read our post on how to find a job in the animation industry, and check out our post about what not to do at a job interview. Also see our post on starting your own small animation business, and see how we are helping our students find work through our film co-operative Nano Films.  Take a look at how can help you find a job, and read our piece about how to survive as a freelance animator. Also, find out what Cinesite look for in a student's demo reel.)


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  2. If your turn over more than £75,000 a year? Do you have to charge VAT if all of your clients are overseas?

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