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How to Properly Name Your Freelance Project Invoices

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👋 Over 15,000 freelancers have found this article on Google. If you’re new here, welcome! I hope these business insights help you too. Matt

There’s a special moment during every project when you’ve finally finished your work and are eager to get paid. You log in to your invoicing or time-tracking software and generate the invoice. But before you hit send, you might have to name it.

Ugh. Really? So you start typing and end up with one of these:

  • {Project Name} 1st 25%
  • {Project Name} Second Installment
  • Final Payment for {Project Name}

You know you can probably do better, but it’s not a big deal and you’ve got more important things to do, right?

Not so fast!

On the surface, invoice naming conventions might seem trivial, but your clients care and you should too. Caring about the seemingly trivial aspects of your business (that other freelancers ignore) is what will set you apart in the eyes of your clients. You have to get the little things right.

And while it might be tempting to modify the name, invoice ID number, and due date, it’s important to understand how each of these fields are used and why they’re helpful for the client.

Why Invoice Names are Important

Invoice names provide clarity. It should be easy for the client to understand what they’re paying for. Remember, your client might be dealing with invoices from many vendors. They might even have an AP (accounts payable) team or department that is responsible for paying invoices.

Naming an invoice isn’t a daunting task. But by the time you’ve finished your work and are eager to get paid, the name of your invoice just doesn’t feel important.

But imagine you’re a client whose project is divided into 4 payments. It would be frustrating to receive 4 invoices with these names:

  • Logo Design 1st 25%
  • Payment #2 for Logo Design
  • Logo Design Invoice #3

This would be especially annoying if the client ever had to go back and search for these invoices in their email. What if they had to rename each one before archiving them because they’re more organized than you? That wouldn’t be a good experience for them.

If you don’t properly name your invoices, they might be difficult for your client to find. Psychologically, that associates paying your invoice with difficulty and frustration.

You should always be thinking about your freelancing business from the client’s perspective to ensure the decisions you’re making also make sense for them.

Use a Consistent Naming Format

Making a payment should be simple and effortless for your client. Consistent invoice names are an easy way to make your clients’ lives easier and keep your own freelance business organized.

Most invoicing software will automatically generate an invoice ID for you and QuickBooks Online doesn’t require an invoice name at all.

quickbooks online invoice screenshot
A sample invoice list from QuickBooks Online

The exact naming convention you use as long as it’s consistent for the same client. That means you can experiment over time and find what works best for you based on the types of projects you receive.

Make sure you never modify the invoice ID number. This is a unique number that every invoicing software will generate for you and it’s the primary way clients will reference your invoice.

If you’re generating your invoices manually, keep in mind that each one should always include a few key elements:

  • Your Name + Address
  • The Client’s Name + Address
  • Issue Date
  • Due Date
  • Subject (Invoice Name)
  • Invoice ID (Unique and typically a 3-4 digit number)
  • Breakdown / Line Item Details
  • Total Amount Due
  • Discounts Applied

Each invoice will likely be sent as a PDF or digitally via email, which means all the details above won’t be queried in a search. Not every element needs to be repeated in the subject line, but it’s important to include a few key details to make your invoice easy to search, find, and archive.

Again, the invoice ID is the most important component of your invoice from the client’s perspective.

Invoice Naming Conventions

The name of your invoice (that is, the subject name and/or the file name) should be a summary of the invoice details that make finding the invoice as simple as possible.

Keep in mind that the invoice name may be different than the subject of the invoice.

If the field you see in your invoice software is “Subject”, then this will appear as the title of the email and as the “subject” of the invoice.

If you don’t see a subject field in your invoice software, it will generate a default email subject and invoice name for you. In QuickBooks Online, this default subject is “Invoice 1234 from [Your Company Name]”.

If you need to write your own invoice name or subject, here are some naming patterns you can use:

Default (No Name or Subject)

If your invoicing software doesn’t allow you to enter a name or subject for the invoice, it will generate one by default. The format will likely be:

  • “Invoice XXXX from {Your Company Name}”
  • “Invoice 1141 from Matthew’s Design Co.”

By Phase

If you know exactly what phases you’re doing, name the project and the phase:

  • Invoice for {Project Name} Deposit
  • Invoice for {Project Name} Wireframes
  • Invoice for {Project Name} Visual Design
  • Invoice for {Project Name} Development
  • Invoice for {Project Name} Final Payment

By Month

If it’s an ongoing retainer where there’s no known end date or you’re doing a variety of work, use the date range as the invoice name:

  • Invoice for {Client Name} Web Design (06/01/23 – 06/30/23)
  • Invoice for {Client Name} Web Design (07/01/23 – 07/31/23)
  • Invoice for {Client Name} Web Design (08/01/23 – 08/31/23)

If it’s an ongoing retainer where you’re invoicing the same amount each month, include the month:

  • Monthly Invoice from [Your Company Name] (September)
  • Monthly Invoice from [Your Company Name] (October)
  • Monthly Invoice from [Your Company Name] (November)

By Invoice

If you know the exact number of invoices you’re sending, include the invoice number:

  • Invoice 1 of 2 – Matt Olpinski Web Design for {Project Name}
  • Invoice 2 of 2 – Matt Olpinski Web Design for {Project Name}

Your invoice names should always have a logical, predictable pattern for the same client. The payment schedule you establish with the client should help you determine the best naming conventions upfront.

This consistency will help you stay organized and keep your clients happy by making each invoice easy to search, find, sort, and archive. Again, the goal is to make your client’s life and your own life easier!

Time Tracking & Invoice Software

Early in my freelancing career, I used Harvest to track time, send invoices, and record income. It’s an elegant, yet powerful tool with a handy mobile companion app — and it’s an affordable alternative to QuickBooks Online. It even handles, expenses, fixed-price projects, teams, ongoing retainers, and advanced reporting.

screenshot of harvest app sign up page

Harvest is just $10 a month for unlimited people and unlimited projects. It’s perhaps my most used freelancing tool and after 6 years I’ve never needed a feature that it didn’t offer. If you sign up via the link below, you’ll get a 30-day free trial and $10 off your first month!

There’s also a free version if you work alone and only need two active projects at a time.

More Helpful Tips

Every time you send an invoice, you’re asking your clients for a significant amount of money. This is a critical (and memorable) moment in your relationship where that client has to watch hard-earned money leave their bank account.

If your invoice looks unprofessional or it’s difficult to find, your clients might think twice before hiring you again. Don’t give your clients any reason to think you might not be the perfect person for their project.

  • Strive for consistency when naming the invoices for each of your clients
  • Make your invoices easy to search, find, sort, print, and archive
  • Include key details such as dates, your name, project name, or invoice number
  • Think from your client’s perspective to make their life easier
  • Pay attention to the little things so you can stand out from the crowd

Last updated on March 7th, 2023

About Matt Olpinski
I've been freelancing since 2009 and have worked with over 100+ clients including some of the biggest brands in the world. I later started my own company Matthew’s Design Co. and now teaches 50,000+ freelancers each year how to succeed through my personal blog, newsletter, and community for freelancers.