Several ways to never face payment term change (well, extension) as a freelance translator.

12 Dec

Today I am going to speak about a very unpleasant situation when your client changes payment terms arbitrarily. I will also share my experience when dealing with this situation. I feel I’m forced to write this post, since I have come across the problem recently (for details see last paragraphs of the post).

First of all, I would like to say that any translator sooner or later is literally destined to face the problem. Your client may be a top-notch translation agency, with all 5s on the Blue Board. This also may be a direct client of yours you have been “serving” for several years now (this is a rare case though). Anyway, any serious professional was going to stay there for more than a year needs to have some info on how to prevent this situation from happening.

First of all, you have to screen your clients rigorously and thoughtfully. This is the first step you have to take when you are contacted by prospects. I would strongly recommend you not to take gmail.com or similar emails seriously. You may of course answer them, but it is highly improbable that this will end in any lucrative cooperation. The thing is that people can claim whatever they like and/or want using this free-of-charge-instant–registration-instant-access email address. In this case you’ll have to take the words at face value. A very bad start.

Once you get an email from people who once bothered to pay for a website, you can start negotiating terms and conditions. In case this is a translation agency, see their rating at, say, proz.com, or numerous Linkedin groups discussing translation agencies payment practices. There you can also see comments about the rates these agencies pay to translators. My experience is that the most “generous” agencies are located in Europe and North America, while agencies from China or India tend to use price as the main differentiator/competitive advantage, which means that the latter are constantly searching for cheaper translators. By the way, since the price they offer is rather attractive, they can win a lot of voluminous projects (thousands of pages, for instance). Usually low rates paid to translators are accompanied by longer waiting time for your payment and more frequent cases of non-payment.

Please do not forget  about such thing as an upfront payment. This is a very good indicator that the client is a serious one. Sad but true: upfront payment is a very rare case.

A formal contract/PO/confirmation email are a must when you start cooperating with a new client. There you have to indicate the price, payment terms, scope of work, etc.

A good indicator is the name and position of the person you are speaking to. Serious clients don’t hide their identities.

In my case the agency that changed payment terms arbitrarily seemed to be a very reputable company, with a separate website, good rating, friendly PMs, etc. The problem occurred when I contacted their accountant for more details about my payment shortly after the end of the project. She unilaterally extended the agreed payment term. The thing is that I had agreed the initial (=shorter) payment term with the CEO of the company. There was an apparent miscommunication (I believe) between those two positions. But who cares! In a friendly manner I reminded the accountant about my position and the written statements of her CEO. The result was that I was paid on time. Moreover, I am now aware of actual payment term of this company, which is far from acceptable; I don’t think I will take future projects from them. I believe they have lost a loyal professional always ready to go an extra mile. Yes, this is a two-way street – without professionals they won’t make money.

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