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How invoicing can be an exercise in gratitude

Preparing invoices is torturous. It stretches each limb of my patience until the joints pop and I pass out. But it’s an opportunity to practice being thankful.

I hate preparing my invoices. It’s torturous. It stretches each limb of my patience until the joints pop and I pass out from tedium.

Often I’ve already done the work, and it’s time for my clients to reward me with a shower of money. This should be something to celebrate.

So, why do I find such suffering in invoicing?

Maybe it’s because I’ve already done the work. I’ve already moved on. I find that I’m more motivated to prepare invoices in advance of doing the work rather than retrospectively.

Alternatively, it’s because it can be weeks until I see the money. I know that there are some clients I’ll need to chase to get them to pay. Also, I can never be 100% certain that every client will pay.

Then there are all the little necessary details that I must include on an invoice for it to be a legally binding contract. The name and address of my client, description and breakdown of what I did, the quantity of any services, payment terms, subtotals, VAT amount, a unique invoice number, date and the total. Urgh!

It could be these hassles and doubts that makes invoicing so insufferable.

I’m not alone in feeling like this toward invoicing. Many business owners feel the same. That’s why it was one of the most frequently demanded requests of me when I worked as a virtual assistant.

As a virtual assistant (VA), I knew plenty of other VAs. I could have sadistically passed along the preparation of my invoices to one of them. However, they may also hate preparing their invoices and once again pass it along to another VA. A continuous passing of the invoice baton until eventually, someone caves in and creates their invoices, breaking the chain.

I imagine a world where we don’t need invoices. Instead, I would call my client,

“Hi Jeff, it’s David, this month you own me, £900. Can you put it in my bank account?”

“Sure, no problem mate, I’ll do it now. Have a great day”, Jeff chirps.

And that’s it. It is done and dusted — money in my account.

In this world, no accountants want to know where every penny of my income comes from. There is no government wanting to know how much money I made and how much tax I must pay.

However, this world does not exist, and I don’t want to torture someone else with preparing my invoices.

I could automate some of the invoice preparation with accounting software. But I have different pricing structures across various projects. I couldn’t wholly avoid manually preparing the invoices.

I didn’t have hundreds of clients, and although it’s a mind-numbing task, I sat down each month for a torturous hour to prepare my invoices. I complained only to my dog.

A few years ago, a horde of new clients came my way, and although more clients is a great thing to deal with, my invoicing troubles sored.

If I wanted to be paid, I must invoice these clients. I desperately needed to find a way to handle this.

I was reading AJ Jacobs’ book, Thanks A Thousand. It’s his telling of his travels around the world thanking everyone responsible for making his morning cup of coffee. And I mean everyone!

From the barista Chung that served him the coffee, to the farmers that grow the coffee beans. The metalworkers that shape the steel into tractor parts for the farmer to use and the company that makes the insecticide to keep the bugs of the beans. He thanked over a thousand people for each playing their part in making his morning coffee.

AJ’s story inspired me to think differently about invoicing. Perhaps I could use the time while preparing my invoices to practice gratitude. It was a simple reframing of the task in my head… it might work.

Professor Robert Emmons of UC Davis, a leading researcher on gratitude, proposes two stages of processing gratitude:

1. Affirm the good; and
2. Credit others for bringing it about

Now while I prepare my invoices I consider these two stages – I affirm that I have money coming in (which is the good thing) and that this is only possible because I have clients that give me work to do (others are responsible for this good thing).

I’m also grateful that I have skills that benefit others and that they’re paying me. Moreover, I think about how much my business and skills have evolved.

I found that this exercise in gratitude has reached other areas of my life. I’m much more grateful for everything that I’m lucky to have.

By David P. MacGregor

Living and working the good life in France with my wife and dog.