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Dealing with a slow/non payer
Thread poster: Edward Potter

Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:06
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jul 24, 2004

I would like your opinions on dealing with a certain customer. I pretty much am handling the situation effectively but it is always good to bounce it off of my colleagues.

I have a customer who has been sending a reasonable amount of work for about 8 months now. They say that they have a lot more in the works. However, for one invoice they have been slow in paying. Their excuse is that they accidently asked for the translations and didn't really need them. After emails showing my annoyance and phone calls, they say they will pay half now and half later.

It is now four months after the invoice was issued. I basically had stopped providing services to them, giving stronger and stronger hints to pay. The guy who is in charge of the payment was "playing dumb" acting as if he did not understand my hints and acting as if he had not talked to his coworkers, to whom I had clearly expressed the reason why they are not getting any prompt service.

Well, I put it clearly with this guy (deadbeat?) since he was "playing dumb" and he threatens to drop me as a provider. I held my ground, and sure enough, he wrote me the e-mail saying he has found someone else. Of course he hasn't paid yet and now he is changing providers. He has insisted that his company is upstanding and always pays its bills.

There are other ins and outs in the situation but that is the basic situation.

Any comments?


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:36
English to Tamil
+ ...
Blue board and all the payment practices lists Jul 24, 2004

I am sure you would have given the same advice to any other member in a similar situation. If the money is considerable, go for collection agencies. But blue board it must be and name the contact person as well in the blue board entry.
Regards,
N.Raghavan


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alexandra123
Local time: 02:06
English to Spanish
+ ...
Do you have documents of proof...(read on) Jul 24, 2004

I can understand what you are feeling. I have had to take some bold measures myself sometimes to get paid by clients. I think it is a reall unfair thing to have you do the work, receive the finished translation, start benefiting form it and not pay or only pay a partial amount of what was originally agreed.

That brings me to my question. Do you have any sort of proof, a written or signed document stating what you had agreed on as far as fees or terms of payment or anything like that? Do you have some sort of paper trail that you can use to back you up with your client? I have gotten to the point where I have my clients sign a document in which they understand and agree to receiving half the work on the day that it is due and half the work againd full payment. That usually makes them be pretty punctual, because they want the whole thing at once.

What surprises me aobut the situation you are going thorugh is that, for some reason, you would not expenct that to happen in Spain. In some places here in latin america, it is common to see clients trying to get out of the responsibility of paying.

Anyway I just wanted to share the solution I have come to and the actioins I have had to take, that have worked for me becasue I have been faced with similar situations to yours.

Cheers and Good Luck,

Alexandra


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Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:06
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
More information Jul 24, 2004

Tayfun,

Thank you very much for your opinion.

This is a direct client. There were several small jobs coming in spurts. There were a total of four invoices. The first two smaller ones were paid promptly. The third somewhat larger one is the one not being paid. The fourth was the largest invoice and was paid after about 45 days after I called asking about the third one.

I got tougher with them when I saw red flags that I recognized:

1) They said they can't pay me until they get the money from the client.
2) They kept saying payment was imminent, then nothing.
3) The boss was extra friendly - too friendly - with me when he sent an e-mail asking for me to do more work, knowing very well I had already told his coworkers that I needed to get paid before continuing work.
4) I started receiving emails from different people asking for quotes and to do work, all supposedly "unaware" that I was demanding payment before doing more work. (I made them aware, diplomatically at first).
5) These people often asked for discounts and "freebies".
6) They finally *said* they would pay me half now, then the other half later.

These are all red flags for me and I do not feel as great of a loss as I might since this looks like it may be a dodgy client. The boss is starting to get annoyed with me, but my last couple of emails really weren't meant to make him feel comfy.

I am still attempting to salvage the client but if they can't pay their bills I will have to give up on them. I can't be wasting my time and losing sleep for this type of stuff.


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Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:06
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Amicable settlement Jul 24, 2004

Tayfun,

Well, I think the customer is a bit annoyed by now, though I would like to reach an amicable settlement. I feel really bad that I had to change my attitude but being delicate and nice simply was not getting any results.

Their real intention? I was not convinced, even though they replied to my emails and kept saying they would pay. Their ulterior motive easily could be they wanted me to get more work done before they paid the old invoice.

It may be too late to give him some of the leeway that you are talking about. I was prepared to work something out after stating my position clearly and showing my annoyance. The customer seems to think that I am unjustified in being annoyed and went to find someone else to do the current work he has.

I am afraid that there was going to be further payment problems and that it is better to stop working for him now than running up a big bill later and getting a rude awakening. I was not willing to take so much of a risk. Too bad, really.

Alexandra,

Thank you for your comments. Indeed, my customer is in the United States, which makes me especially annoyed. I am from the US and know that each time a US customer does something like this, just a tiny bit of credibility is taken from all of us. I hope that we never reach the point that one day everyone is extra-careful when doing business with US companies.


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xxxsarahl
Local time: 17:06
English to French
+ ...
You're better off without them Jul 25, 2004

Edward Potter wrote:
I am still attempting to salvage the client but if they can't pay their bills I will have to give up on them. I can't be wasting my time and losing sleep for this type of stuff.


Murphy's law always applies in this business. You should really get paid in full and cut your losses now, the situation can go nowhere but downhill with these people. Fortunately, there's a wealth of dependable clients out there.
I wouldn't worry too much about the image of the US either. Crooks are everywhere.
A foreigner who loves your country.


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Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:06
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Customer Jul 25, 2004

Sarah,

Thank you so much for your words of support. It is good to hear it from another person, that there are plenty of good reliable customers out there. I just want them to pay so we can be done with it. I am still open to salvaging the client but as each second ticks by, I am less and less interested.


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Catherine Bolton  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:06
Member (2002)
Italian to English
+ ...
Another comment Jul 25, 2004

Hi Edward,
I had a problem like this myself lately: a promise to pay, then nothing. By this time, there were TWO invoices that were overdue. After I called several times, the publisher (it was work for a magazine) admitted to cash flow problems and said that *maybe* they'd give me a down payment within a week.
I told them I'd let them know how much interest they owe me on late payment as soon as I talked to my attorney (and I actually did set an appointment).
BTW, unlike your customer, mine is in Italy so I have legislation to back me on that:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/enterprise/regulation/late_payments/

Anyway, after that phone call I e-mailed the publisher asking for confirmation of our conversation (since I needed this for my attorney). Guess what? Half the money was in my account the next day! Needless to say, I won't work for them again.

Getting back to your situation, what I find odd is the fact that your customer paid invoices 1, 2 and 4 but NOT 3. Sounds kind of fishy to me. It seems they want to pay you the smaller invoices to keep you happy -- and ensure your collaboration -- but don't want to fork over the bigger amount.
I'd pursue the money, of course, but I certainly wouldn't worry about losing a customer like that.
Catherine


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Orla Ryan  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 01:06
similar situation Jul 25, 2004

Hi Edward,

I have a similar situation at the moment. I am chasing payment on a good sized invoice (well about €750) for a job I did almost 2 months ago. I live in Ireland, the client is a private direct client (not a company, an individual) in the USA, so I'm not sure what the procedure is legally for chasing this up. He sent me an email a couple of days after the agreed deadline saying he had not received it, which was a total lie, because I met the deadline and the email did not bounce (I copied the mail to myself as well). On request I sent the job again. Then he mailed saying that he had not heard from me, since the end of May and had not received my work. (smelling some bovine waste here).

We had a written agreement where he promised to pay promptly on receipt of the translation and invoice. Now, I have sent the job at least 5 times by email. The e-mails have not bounced, they definitely have gone through to him.

I have left phone messages and even sent the job over by registered mail to the USA - no reply. I have sent emails asking him if he received the job and was satisfied with the work.
Yesterday I sent a request for payment. I will be sending a registered letter to the same effect this week. I really do not want to have to get lawyers involved, but what's a girl to do here?

It is a pity, because the assignment was quite enjoyable and up til then, I had a good and friendly relationship with the client. it is so frustrating.

Orla


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Jeremy Smith  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:06
French to English
+ ...
good riddance to them Jul 25, 2004

Hi Edward,

I believe you offered some words of encouragement in a recent thread I started on a similar topic (http://www.proz.com/topic/22858 ).

I think you're going about the right way to get your money.

I wouldn't worry too much about trying to keep their custom. I firmly believe that if somebody tries to do you wrong once, they'll try it again at some point in the future too.

My own problems with a French agency, as detailed in the abovementioned thread, might (fingers crossed) be solved. I've forced the owner of the agency in question to sign a six-month payment plan.

I also told him that I would never work for him again. He said he didn't understand why, and promised to pay upon receipt of any future translations. I just laughed, told him him I trust him about as far as I can throw him, went over the details of the payment plan he's signed and then put the phone down. The last payment I receive from them will be the last contact I intend to have with them.

[Edited at 2004-07-25 13:26]

[Edited at 2004-07-25 13:28]

[Edited at 2004-07-25 13:28]

[Edited at 2004-07-25 13:50]


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Bruce Popp  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:06
French to English
don't be sheepish Jul 25, 2004

Hi,

When trying to collect payment, I think, in general, one needs to go as far as one can to amicably collect the money. Send the translation again by registered mail (as Orla did), be polite, but persistent, but don't let it linger. The older the debt gets, the harder it will get to do something.

At some point (and there's a lot of intuition at this point) it becomes clear that this isn't working. Decide what you are willing to do to collect the money---send it to a collection agency, or an attorney?---and prepare a Final Demand for Payment or Mise en Demeure or whatever is appropriate for your customer's legal system and culture. That letter should say everything you might possibly conceive of doing---go for shock value---it should state clearly the total amount they have to pay and why that is the right amount (attach the PO and invoice), and it should give a clear deadline. Beyond collection action and lawyers, the letter can talk about contacting Chambers of Commerce, Better Business Bureaus, and "various Internet fora where translators report on client payment practices". Send the letter "registered mail, return receipt requested."

Now you hope they are so rattled by the letter that they decide to pay you.

Of course, if they don't pay, then you need to do what you decided you would do.

Good luck!

Bruce


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teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:06
English to Spanish
+ ...
A valuable lesson Jul 25, 2004

Ed, it really does bother me a lot to hear all these stories of unpaid invoices. I think most of us have one or more of these deadbeat clients in our past. It's one of the major disadvantages that free lancers face. I've had my share.

I live in the US, and we have an interpreters and translators association in my city. We meet once a month, and we regularly exchange information about clients who don't pay, keeping our own little "black list". I will not do any work for anyone on that list. There are A LOT of people in town, especially lawyers, who think that they don't have to pay you until their case is settled.

Now, I make them sign an "agreement" that I have drafted, stating my terms. For translations, it clearly says that payment is due upon receipt and it's not contingent upon third party billing, or anything else. For interpretation, it says that they need to cancel with at least 24 hours in advance, or they agree to pay a two hour cancellation fee. If they don't sign, I don't do the work. Now, let me make it clear, that there is more work than we can handle where I live, so this situation allows me to be selective. I bet I would be willing to take more risks, if that wasn't the case.

I agree completely with my other colleagues. This client of yours is trouble, and would continue to be trouble if you kept working for him. I feel sorry for the new translator that they hired in your place. He/she too will find out soon enough about their nasty tactics.

The person who suggested that you turn in only half of the document at the deadline, and the other half upon payment, maybe on to something. Once the client has the whole text, we lose all leverage to collect. And some of these unscrupulous people will bounce from translator to translator without ever paying a penny to anyone. How I wish there was a way to unmask these deadbeats and their nasty practices!

Keep the faith, there are good people out there too!


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Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:06
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Jul 25, 2004

To Teju and the rest,

Thank you very much for your excellent comments. Tomorrow (Monday) I will have to call the client to follow up on my email sent yesterday. From the recent behavior of the client, I will be prepared for some crappy arguments and indignation that I am not being so nice with him anymore.

I'll also be prepared to listen to what great clients he has (he has a couple of well-known multi-nationals) and that I am going to be missing out on a lot. The carrot being dangled is a couple of thousand dollars per month.

However, his behavior is convincing me that I don't want to risk it with him. I'll let someone else take the risk. I don't know who his new translation provider will be but I sincerely hope they do not end up getting ripped off.

Strength to the translation community.


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Pamela Brizzola  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 02:06
Member (2004)
English to Italian
+ ...
Don't be rude, but firm Jul 25, 2004

I agree with Catherine.

The same situation happened to me and, after three months asking for payment via e-mails and phone calls, I sent the very last e-mail saying that it was the last reminder before I passed the file to my attorney to recover payment.

I got paid 3 days after.

If you are from the US, I suppose you have a friend there who can ask a local attorney to send your client a formal letter.

It works almost all the times.

Good luck
Pam


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Tecpatl
France
Local time: 02:06
Spanish to French
+ ...
Enough is Enough Jul 28, 2004

I am tired of this kind of situation among interpreters and teachers too, I even found a bunch of gangsters who pretended to use me as a pimp for global corporations, I think our associations should start acting more as unions and less as golf clubs.

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