How should I have dealt with a possible late payment?
Thread poster: Michael Talu

Michael Talu  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:50
Member (2012)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Sep 19, 2011

I'm quite new to Proz and have just completed my first translation actually. Upon completion of the translation I didn't hear from them for about two days, so I emailed them asking when they were going to pay me. They got back to me and said two months. I thought this was ridiculous but I didn't do anything initially because I didn't know how to respond.

A couple of days later I read through a few forums and found the agency on the blueboard as well (Something I should have done before even starting any jobs with them) and found out that two other people had complained about late payments- and one person hadn't been paid until 18 months after completing a job.

So with this i decided to reply to them and tell them I wasn't happy that it would take two months to pay me, and I'd like to be paid in exactly one months time or I'd report them to the blue board. He got back to me almost immediately with an email that said quite simply 'is this a threat?'. This annoyed me and I told him that no, it wasn't a threat, but that I'd seen his blueboard record which didn't exactly scream trustworthiness, so I wanted assurance from him that he would pay within one months time. He got back to me insisting on two months, but since I'd read on one of the forums that once you give a dealine, you should stick with it, I told him I was sticking by one month.

He then told me it was standard company procedure to pay clients in two months time. I gave him a negative review on blueboard.

I kind of feel like I've acted wrongly, but it still seems wrong to me to pay 2 months after completing a job even though I hadn't agreed to those terms (I just assumed I would be paid when i sent the invoice). Does anyone think I acted too rashly though, what could i have done differently?


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Jenn Mercer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:50
Member (2009)
French to English
Agree on terms in advance Sep 19, 2011

A payment is not late until it has failed to arrive by the agreed upon date. If you fail to agree upon this date in advance, you put yourself in a difficult position. I agree that 60 days is too long, and in fact, declined an agency just this morning for that reason. However, you have already done the work. If the date arrives without payment (and perhaps a few days for margin), send a polite reminder. If you do not receive a response or payment, THEN you start sending out the angry emails, calling the client directly, and adding the appropriate entry to the BlueBoard. For now, your only real option is to not work with that client again.

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matt robinson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:50
Member (2010)
Spanish to English
Agree with Jenn Sep 19, 2011

It's hard at first. You don't want to sound inexperienced and ask lots of questions, or make demands which may seem unreasonable, but some people will exploit this lack of experience.
Find out everything in advance relating to every job and get it in writing. This includes payment terms, expectations WRT the translation format, delivery date, everything you can think of. This will in most cases protect you from disappointment and let the PM know you are serious about your work.

As regards to payment periods, what is normal varies from client to client. I have regular clients who pay the next day (really!), and others who pay after 45-60 days. While I prefer the former I am prepared to work with the latter, and the decision was mine, the terms agreed before the work was undertaken.


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gad
United States
Local time: 07:50
Member
French to English
I agree with Jenn Sep 19, 2011

You should set up the payment terms before the job. It's best to get a PO whenever possible, though some don't use individual PO's. The time to dispute payment terms is before beginning the work. If after the job is completed there is this type of difference in payment terms, I would accept it but then refuse to work with the agency ever again. Also, I always wait before giving an agency any kind of low rating on the Blue Board. They might just get mad and never pay, for one thing. Plus, in your case, they technically are not late since the terms were not clear.

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:50
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
There goes that learning curve again! ;-) Sep 19, 2011

Hello Michael,

I'm sorry that things have gone so badly with your first translation. You've done the right thing now by looking through other forum threads here and consulting the BB. Prepare yourself for next time, but bear in mind that neither side has the right to demand terms - they are open to negotiation and either party can cancel (before the work is done, of course) if no agreement can be reached.

Jenn Mercer wrote:
A payment is not late until it has failed to arrive by the agreed upon date. If you fail to agree upon this date in advance, you put yourself in a difficult position. I agree that 60 days is too long, and in fact, declined an agency just this morning for that reason.


I, too, refuse to accept terms of over 30 days though unfortunately I think that, for a translator in my pairs at least, demanding payment by return would make for very lean times. In your case, Michael, I'm afraid you implicitly agreed to their terms and I can sympathise in a way with the company if you have reported them as non-payers just a week after submitting the translation.

However, you have already done the work. If the date arrives without payment (and perhaps a few days for margin), send a polite reminder.


Yes, all you can do is wait for the (implicitly) agreed last payment date, then send a standard reminder if necessary - you will find templates on the web.

If you do not receive a response or payment, THEN you start sending out the angry emails, calling the client directly, and adding the appropriate entry to the BlueBoard.


I don't entirely agree with you here, Jenn. I try never to let anger seep into my contact with clients, and for this reason I often write an email then leave it for at least half an hour so I can take the anger out of it before sending it. Anger is a personal response and, while I like to have a personal relationship with good clients, I become more and more formal and impersonal with clients who try to exploit me. The second reminder can be just as polite yet cold, impersonal and very firm - no anger, no threats, just a statement that you will have no alternative but to initiate recovery procedures through the courts if payment is not received by xx/xx/xx (7-14 days hence, normally). In France, this second one is sent by recorded delivery to the company's head office - I'm not sure what is normally done in the UK.

As for contacting the end client directly, I would be extremely careful here as you could well breach the terms of your contract with the agency (again, you have probably implicitly agreed to abide by this).

But I do agree that this would be the time to warn the rest of us that this company may be having cash-flow problems or trying to diddle translators.

For now, your only real option is to not work with that client again.


Hmm... I doubt whether you will have the satisfaction of turning down this particular agency's next job, Michael. Of course, you should still get paid for the work you have done and I hope there is no problem with that at the end of the 2 months. I doubt very much they will pay even one day in advance of the limit now.

Sheila


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Michael Talu  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:50
Member (2012)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Well, I guess i'm in the wrong here then... Sep 19, 2011

Thanks for all the replies, I guess I've got my answer although it's not what I wanted to hear hehe. I think there's a way to remove Blueboard comments as long as both parties consent, so I will do that as a way of apologising, since by not agreeing on the terms at the beginning I seem to be in the wrong here.

I'm not that worried about whether or not I get paid actually, I was just convinced that the agency was just using the two month period to postpone the payment for as long as possible and then eventually not pay at all. So with the Blueboard comment I just wanted to warn other potential translators that they're not trustworthy. But obviously to get confirmation of that I'd need to wait two months. I think they definitely profited from my lack of experience, here, won't be making that mistake again!


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Emma Goldsmith  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:50
Member (2010)
Spanish to English
Date of payment Sep 19, 2011

You might be interested to learn that payments in Spain are often 30, 60 or even 90 days after receipt of invoice. It's up to you whether you want to work under these terms, but you absolutely must ask about terms of payment before you start a job. It's not fair on the agency to say you don't agree with their terms after you have delivered your work.

The Blueboard is to warn other translators about non-paying agencies and other problems. IMO it shouldn't be used to complain about low rates / long payment dates when these should have been agreed in advance.

Good luck in your career. You've learnt a lot today and things can only get better!


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Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:50
Dutch to English
+ ...
Yes, always look at the Blue Board Sep 19, 2011

before anything! If there are lots of ones and twos on there, forget working for them. It hasn't brought us bad luck up till now. (touching wood now)

Also, if it doesn't matter to you what the payment terms are, just see and wait. Mostly agencies send a contract for your first job anyway which mentions their payment terms. Most reputable ones that do pay have not really ridiculous payment terms.

And then, if you do not agree, better leave the translation. If they send you a PO and you do the job, you have implicitly agreed with their payment terms, so you can't go back on that, not even if there are none on there.

And then, certainly do not annoy them. After all, at the other end is someone who can make life difficult for you if you annoy him/her. Let's face it, for a payment of even 500 EUR you're not going to spend 500 on a lawyer or a bailiff, are you?

Two months is quite ridiculous, but never ever ever demand anything, because there are a lot more fish in the sea to con than you. Just bear it, see and wait and they don't deliver, don't work for them again. 2 months is fine, if you know and if they pay on time (although I admit it is quite long, but great for planning in advance).


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Paula Gordon  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:50
Bosnian to English
+ ...
make a template for your replies Sep 19, 2011

Michael,
As you are just starting out, it might be helpful for you to make a template reply that you can use to answer inquiries.
Give yourself "fields" that you can fill in based on the job, and perhaps that way you won't forget(!) to mention payment terms, such as currency, manner of payment, and payment schedule.

For instance:
Dear XXX,
Thank you for your inquiry.
Based on my review of the document(s) [describe documents -- content, length], I can deliver by [date/time], in [format], for [price -- per word, or flat fee, whatever you decide].

The above delivery date is based on confirmation and receipt of a purchase order by [deadline -- you need confirmation before you can start, and if you don't get that for three days, how will you deliver in two days?].

My terms are payment by [check, PayPal, whatever], in [currency], within [#] days of receipt of invoice.

I look forward to your confirmation,
etc.

At the very least, you're giving the client a chance to clarify the terms of the assignment, and that is a good thing.

You say
I'm not that worried about whether or not I get paid actually,


Really?! If you are going into business, this would be one of the major concerns for sustainability.

Hope this is helpful.


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Jenn Mercer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:50
Member (2009)
French to English
clarification Sep 19, 2011

Sheila Wilson wrote:

...
I don't entirely agree with you here, Jenn. I try never to let anger seep into my contact with clients, and for this reason I often write an email then leave it for at least half an hour so I can take the anger out of it before sending it. Anger is a personal response and, while I like to have a personal relationship with good clients, I become more and more formal and impersonal with clients who try to exploit me. The second reminder can be just as polite yet cold, impersonal and very firm - no anger, no threats, just a statement that you will have no alternative but to initiate recovery procedures through the courts if payment is not received by xx/xx/xx (7-14 days hence, normally). In France, this second one is sent by recorded delivery to the company's head office - I'm not sure what is normally done in the UK.

As for contacting the end client directly, I would be extremely careful here as you could well breach the terms of your contract with the agency (again, you have probably implicitly agreed to abide by this).

But I do agree that this would be the time to warn the rest of us that this company may be having cash-flow problems or trying to diddle translators.

...

Sheila


Sheila,

You are right, I spoke poorly here. While there may be anger behind the email, the message itself should always be polite. That being said, I have taken to calling an agency (my client) directly several times a week until I got paid. I started calling around the 3rd or 4th unanswered email and while I was polite, I made it clear that I did require payment. I am in the U.S. and the amount was enough that I would have handed it over to a collections agency if the invoice had gone unpaid. Small claims court would also have been an option. Thankfully this was never an issue. I agree that I would never call an end client directly as this violates all kinds of standards of confidentiality and basic professionalism.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:50
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Really good advice from Paula, IMO Sep 20, 2011

Although I don't use a template, that email structure was remarkably similar to the ones I send. The only other item, for a new client only, would be that I need their full postal address and VAT no (if applicable) for the invoice.

I must say that I, too, was disturbed to see that a budding professional translator was not interested in the money - and saying so on a public forum! That might attract a new clientèle.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:50
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
With Jenn Sep 20, 2011

You failed to clarify the basics in advance, and now there is nothing you can do about it.

May I recommend you to check and consider this Wiki.proz.com page about qualification of new customers and the first steps when faced with a new customer?


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