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 What is a Proforma Invoice and How to Generate One?

kokou adzo

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A proforma invoice acts like a quote or estimate, allowing you to outline order details and secure payment upfront before taking on the risk of shipping. But if created improperly, a proforma invoice can cause massive headaches, delays, and lost profits.

In this article, you’ll learn everything about proforma invoices, from what they are to how to create them step-by-step. You’ll uncover the must-have details to include, avoid amateur mistakes, and use proforma invoices to smoothly process orders every time. 

Whether you’re a small e-commerce seller fulfilling your first orders or a seasoned export manager, this guide has you covered. By the end, you’ll confidently create proforma invoices that impress buyers and accelerate trade. So let’s get started!

TLDR; What is a Proforma Invoice and How to Generate One?

  • Proforma invoices are preliminary invoices that outline proposed order details before shipping
  • They are used in trade to define terms, secure payment, and speed customs
  • Proformas act as quotes, while final invoices bill for goods after delivery
  • Proformas require details like quantities, prices, delivery method, duties, and payment terms
  • Sellers use proforma invoices to reduce risk on export orders and get paid upfront
  • Buyers can review and confirm costs before finalizing the purchase
  • Proformas ultimately become final invoices once the shipment is sent

Proforma Invoices vs Standard Invoices

Proforma invoices function as price quotes, while final invoices document actual delivery and demand payment. Legally, proformas represent a contractual offer subject to buyer approval, while standard invoices act as proof of sale for goods received.

Proformas provide estimates pre-shipment to secure payments upfront through agreed terms. Standard invoices demand payment post-shipment for goods the buyer already received per those terms.

Proformas reduce risk through agreed terms but lack recourse if unpaid. Standard invoices prove fulfillment of pre-agreed terms with legal recourse if unpaid.

Together, proforma and standard invoices formally document sales start to finish while protecting both buyer and seller. You can find tons of proforma invoice templates available online. Whereas tools like the free invoice generator from Freshbooks help easily create standard invoices.

What is a Proforma Invoice?

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A proforma invoice is a preliminary invoice sent to buyers prior to shipment of goods or services. Unlike a regular invoice that demands payment, a proforma invoice outlines the details of an order to give the buyer time to confirm and arrange payment before the order ships.

Proforma invoices are commonly used in trade and export orders. They allow exporters to define the commercial details with a buyer and secure payment upfront before taking on the risks and logistics of shipping.

While a normal invoice is a bill requesting payment for items already delivered, a proforma invoice is more of a quote or estimate detailing what the seller intends to ship and the proposed costs if the buyer agrees. Think of it like an order form negotiated prior to production or delivery.

Once the buyer approves the proforma invoice and makes any desired changes, they will send payment based on the proforma details. The seller will then convert the proforma into a final commercial invoice and ship the goods.

Proforma invoices add clarity upfront for orders and protection for sellers requiring deposits. They also speed up the customs process since commercial details are established early. For these reasons, proforma invoices are standard practice for exports.

Key Details in a Proforma Invoice

A proforma invoice includes all relevant order, buyer, and commercial details to properly document the export transaction. Key details include:

  • Invoice number/ID for internal tracking
  • Supplier name, address, contact info
  • Buyer name, address, contact info
  • Fuller product descriptions
  • Exact quantities being shipped
  • Unit price for each item
  • Itemized list displaying costs
  • Payment terms and due dates
  • Currency of transaction
  • Incoterms stating buyer/seller responsibilities
  • Shipping method and delivery timeframe
  • Insurance and freight costs
  • Applicable taxes and duties
  • Total amount due from buyer
  • Expiration date of quotation
  • Signatures of buyer and seller


Proforma invoices help avoid surprises down the line by capturing all commercial aspects upfront in a formal quote. They allow both parties to confirm logistics like shipping costs, taxes, and expected delivery before payment.

Ensuring accurate details in the proforma also speeds up the final invoicing and customs process later. The buyer gains confidence by knowing exactly what they are paying for and when. Defining these specifics early is key.

Uses and Benefits of Proforma Invoices

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Proforma invoices offer several key benefits:

For trade: Proforma invoices allow exporters to define transactions, costs, terms, and responsibilities in writing beforehand. This reduces miscommunications or surprises when shipping.

For quoting/estimating: Proformas provide a formal quote outlining proposed prices and details. Buyers can confirm the scope and costs in writing rather than relying on informal discussions.

For securing payment: Sellers can require a deposit or prepayment based on the proforma prior to production. This ensures they don’t take on costs until payment is arranged.

For customs clearance: Detailed proforma invoices speed up customs processing in the buyer’s country. When customs officials know values and details upfront, they avoid shipment delays associated with under-declared values.

For property management: Proforma invoices allow property managers to provide tenants with a detailed estimate of costs before commencing work. This allows the tenant to review and approve projected expenses for maintenance, repairs, or renovations. Once the tenant signs off on the proforma invoice, the property manager has a commitment for payment and can confidently schedule the work. Proforma invoices reduce confusion by establishing a clear written record of the scope and cost of property management services. They also give tenants visibility into projected expenses for budgeting purposes

Proforma invoices also support buyers through clarity on costs, the flexibility to make changes before finalizing, and the ability to arrange financing or open letters of credit ahead of time. Overall, proforma invoices reduce risk and delays at every step.

Creating a Proforma Invoice

Creating a proforma invoice involves:

Gathering the needed details – Compile specifics on the buyer, products/services, quantities, costs, terms of sale, shipping method, delivery date, and taxes or duties.

Using an invoice template – Leverage a proforma template to ensure you capture all required fields and legal language. Many accounting programs or online invoicing tools provide templates.

Customizing template fields – Populate the template with your transaction details, commercial terms, calculations, and totals. Describe products clearly and define quantities, rates, and costs.

Reviewing before finalizing – Double check all commercial details, specifications, rates, and totals before sending to the buyer. Have someone else review also to catch any errors.

Consider numbering invoices and including term limits – Numbering invoices sequentially and including an expiration date prevents confusion and keeps proposals organized.

Overall, proforma invoices follow a straightforward process. The goal is ensuring complete and accurate details, a professional format, and prompt delivery to the buyer for their advance review and approval. With an organized approach and careful review, proforma invoices expedite the export sales process.

Sending and Receiving Payment

Once the proforma invoice is finalized, send it to the buyer promptly. Make clear their next step is to review all details and arrange payment by the terms stated.

After the buyer approves the proforma, they will send payment for the deposit or full amount outlined. Only once payment is received should the seller produce or ship the order.

Upon shipping the goods, the seller then sends the final commercial invoice billing for the items delivered based on the proforma agreement. The final invoice acts as the bill of sale after delivery.

Converting a Proforma Invoice to Final Invoice

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When converting a proforma to a final invoice, review for any necessary adjustments:

  • If actual shipping costs differed, update freight/insurance costs
  • If taxes or duties turned out higher, adjust totals accordingly
  • If quantities changed due to production, modify line items
  • If buyer requested alterations, apply any credits/changes


After incorporating any approved changes, convert the proforma to a final commercial invoice:

  • Update the title to “Invoice”
  • Mark it as original copy, not duplicate
  • Update any totals or rates if adjusted
  • Add invoice date and payment due date
  • Note “Invoice” replaces the proforma


With these steps, the proforma seamlessly becomes the final billing document.

Key Takeaways: What is a Proforma Invoice and How to Generate One?

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With great risk comes great reward. For exporters, proforma invoices are your key to unlocking those global rewards safely.

These preliminary “propose-forms” reduce risk upfront by aligning with buyers on costs, logistics, and payment before you fulfil large orders. No more last minute surprises or customs delays!

Now you’re equipped with a complete guide to creating impressive proforma invoices that position your business as an expert exporter. You know what details to define, mistakes to avoid, and steps to execute flawlessly. Most importantly, you understand exactly how proforma invoices protect profits and accelerate sales.

The world awaits. Your dream clients in far-flung corners of the globe await. Go capture those opportunities armed with your proforma invoice expertise. Smoothly finalize quotes, nail down deposits, speed through customs, and manage clients with confidence using these essential trade tools. Just remember – proformas first, profits next. Now go prosper in those markets! What are you waiting for?

 

Kokou Adzo is the editor and author of Startup.info. He is passionate about business and tech, and brings you the latest Startup news and information. He graduated from university of Siena (Italy) and Rennes (France) in Communications and Political Science with a Master's Degree. He manages the editorial operations at Startup.info.

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