Wait. Invoicing has language requirements?

Photo by Conor Luddy

This story is also available on Medium

As a freelancer, you kind of have to do and think of everything. My accountant is a great help, but it’s not always easy to ask the right questions. Certainly not when you’ve just made the jump into the world of freelancing (like me).

Invoicing scared me a little. The laws around it are quite strict, invoices MUST contain specific fields and words or they’re just not valid. Sure, if your customer still pays you, that’s great. But the tax man can issue fines if specific information is missing or incorrect.

As paranoid as I am, and wanting to make sure I didn’t make any huge mistakes during my first few months of freelancing, I checked and double checked all the requirements. And as I have both local and foreign customers, I ran into this annoying rule:

Your invoice must be written in the language of the area where your business resides.

However, for customers abroad, laws have recently changed, and English is acceptable (disclaimer: check your government website for the correct rules).

An example

When I am sending an invoice to Germany, I can use English. Great. But in Belgium (where I live and my business resides) we speak 3 languages: Dutch, French, and German. You’d be tempted to send an invoice in English to your customers in the French and German speaking parts, right? Well, no, to make sure your invoice is legal, it must be in Dutch. Sure, you can add a French copy, but the Dutch one is valid, the French isn’t.

Are you a British freelancer with a legal address in France
(or any other country, but do check local laws), doing business locally? . Make sure those invoices are in the local language, and not in English.

Invoicing apps

There are plenty of apps out there that take care of your invoicing. But with all these legal limitations, I decided I’d need a locally developed tool, as that would most likely guarantee the legal correctness of my invoices.

Teamleader looked promising, with lots of functionality, multi-language invoices, and even built-in support for correct taxing and phrasing (regarding VAT). But at 50 Euro per month (to get the invoicing, and a bunch of tools I would not use) I decided to look elsewhere (for now).

My accountant uses Yuki. It seems to be a pretty standard tool that everyone uses (in Belgium and Netherlands?), although I can’t say I’m a huge fan. Its visual and user experience design give me headaches (it’s been a while since I got vocally angry at an application). But it’s amazing feature-wise and does pretty much everything you need. Yep, also invoicing.

But what it generates… well. Your clients’ first reaction will be that an invoice from the 90s got lost and decades later reached their inbox.

My current love: Harvest

No feature bloat. Just time tracking and invoicing. Good looking invoices even! I first ignored Harvest due to its language limitations. Sure, it has a translation option that allows you to translate/rename every single label on your invoice, but there is no way to switch back and forth without needing to refill the complete Translations page on the Harvest website every time you need to switch languages.

But I found a way around that: this free Chrome plugin I threw together to solve my problems. Fill in your custom labels, save it. And repeat. As many versions of the labels as you like. It’s still not perfect. Between every invoice you send out you need to head back to the settings, load the labels you want, save, head back to invoices. But it beats having to type it all in again. And the biggest bonus: I can use Harvest for all my time tracking and invoicing needs <3

Yes, I’m aware other solutions exist. I sometimes just like to create things. The bonus of this plugin is that it’s not limited to specific languages, gives you more control, and different wording can even be used across languages.

It’s a temporary solution. I’ve already asked Harvest about this and they’ve jotted my feedback down. Fingers crossed! But in the mean time, if you’re a Harvest user, feel free to use the plugin.

Hope this information helps some of you out there. Do share your invoicing woes in the comments below! And .. happy invoicing!