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Pulling my hair out over payment. Your advice please.
Thread poster: roguestate

roguestate
Local time: 01:17
Swedish to English
+ ...
May 10, 2013

I've been working closely with an agency for 3 years now, and they were a glimmering example to most, if not all, other agencies out there.

I built up an extremely good relationship with the PM over this period, and still do (which hurts all the more), she is absolute magic: we got to understand each other so well, that our e-mail communications concerning work required the absolute minimum unless, on the rarest of occasions, I had to clarify something with the end-client. All queries were dealt with promptly, as were the payments that generally adhered to a 30 day term, but often appeared sooner, though seldom if ever later - a week overdue was unheard of.

I took to this work/payment regime like a duck to water, and consequently gave this agency priority if there were conflicting jobs (from others) that I really could not squeeze in. I would take a job, be asked when I'd deliver and that was that. PM was/is extremely happy with my work, and was confident and glad that a deal of her considerable duties could be offloaded. To be fair, PM had a tremendous workload both with client-translator-client interlocutor and office administration & preparation of payments for approval etc. and never appeared to break a sweat or get crotchety. She is still as sweet and efficient as on day one. PM also has her own agency on the side, to boot. Needless to say, I did work for that too.

However, I was notified in autumn that a new pair of hands would lighten PM's load by taking care of all payments, and that I'd have a dedicated e-mail address where I should send my invoices & (ominously) direct any payment issues. So you would think that matters would become more efficient than they had been in the past? With tears in my eyes, I too must crack a grin here, because payments just never appeared on their own, and had to be solicited - which I could now do with the spanking new, dedicated address. Seconds later, I received an auto-reply thanking me for my invoice/assuring me that my query would be addressed within the next 48 hours. Needless to say, the latter was NEVER the case.

So what do you do? You cobble together another e-mail, and receive an auto-reply in seconds. Problem solved perhaps in a surrealistic Spanish film, but this is my income here. So when we get past the 40 days marker, I break the news gently to PM on Skype. Oh no problem, "safe pair of new hands" was ill and PM will get the payment sorted immediately. So this was an aberration, I hear you ask?

Things got steadily worse in December as we barreled our way towards the holidays, and I was saved only by a job that I delivered in late Nov. for the PM's agency - which came in time to keep the boat afloat for the festivities and hosting friends over the holidays. Soon after New Year, we broke the 50 day barrier, efficiently, with a series of auto-replies.

Now you should note that this trajectory gets steadily worse, 53 day barrier broken in Feb. and only saved once again by a job for the PM's agency, where I've previously been informed that I can receive payment sooner than normal. This was pure luck as these jobs are few and far between, but when they come they tend to be decent in size. March sees us breezing effortlessly past 55 days, and another IM to the PM, who is justifiably annoyed, while announcing that she'll have a word with "safe pair of hands", as I was convinced she was a phantom.

PM kept to her word, as usual, and this could be evidenced in the first ever response to the polite reminder that I had sent two days before the due date of the latest invoice. I confess to being pleasantly surprised when reading "Thank you for the reminder!" - well you would, wouldn't you? This was 16 April.

PM is away on holiday and will be back middle of next week, and we are on 53 day mark on a Friday. That's 3 weeks wasted - where I could have seen to a host of matters - including a doctor's referral for a small operation, that requires travel and booking.

It would break my heart to write a scathing report on BB, as it would be patently unfair to PM; but, on the other hand, why should I have to ask others for credit and favours - as I've had to do over the past few months. I cannot budget, plan ahead or say definitively to my creditors when I'll settle with them. I also have to renew my passport that expired in Dec. and due to the protracted payment schedule, have been without ID if any kind soul wished to wire me some money through WU, or for any other reason. The good news on that front is that UK passports now get renewed in the UK at €170, and not in Madrid at €200 as was the case when I checked in Dec.

I live in a small community and I'm quite pissed off as always appearing skint, when I shouldn't have to be; I'm certainly better off than many of the locals as I've been bankrolling 1 friend regularly and 2 others on occasion.

I can't even afford a lottery ticket now.


 

Emma Goldsmith  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:17
Member (2010)
Spanish to English
Don't put all your eggs ... May 10, 2013

I'm sorry to hear of your payment problems.

I have two pieces of advice:
- As freelancers we need to have a little nest egg to fall back on if payments fail or are delayed. Put a little by whenever you can.
- Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Don't rely on one agency for more than 30% of your income. It can be hard when things are going well with one particular agency and they "glimmer", as you say.

And, yes, I would warn others through the BB. You can say that there's a fantastic PM (mention her name) but that payments are getting increasingly delayed.

My two cents (or eggs).


 

Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:17
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Pick up the phone May 10, 2013

Here are a couple of things that might be useful:

1. Pick up the phone and speak to the person in charge of payment. While your disappointment is perfectly justified, it is probably much more efficient to speak little and let him/her explain. Get a firm promise for a prompt payment (within 48 hours at latest). Tell him/her that you will follow up with an email that you expect to get a prompt reply to. Keep the ball in your court by saying that you will phone him/her or his/her boss to confirm safe receipt of the payment - or lack thereof - within 5 business days.

2. Follow up with a brief email, specifying the promised payment date and that you would get back to him/her within 5 business days with confirmation.

3. If payment is received, acknowledge it. If it is not, follow up with a phone call. Up to you to decide whether you phone him/her or the boss.

4. If other projects arrive in the meantime from your PM, mention that again, you are facing payment issues, and as she was so helpful in the past, you will send her the details. Then send an email to the person in charge of payment, keeping the whole communication in step 2, and add your PM as CC.

5. If it payment delays happen again in the future, make sure to start on day 31. Picking up the phone for the second time can be very efficient. Emails can be conveniently ignored for a long time - phone calls much less so.

Best,
Attila


 

roguestate
Local time: 01:17
Swedish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Nest-egg :-) May 10, 2013

Thanks Emma, I am on course with creating a cushion again, after a moving disaster in 2011, where I had to wait 4 and a half months to get online again - despite taking meticulous measures for a seamless crossover. I jest not!

This ate €4000, that I never needed nor touched till I opted to be lured by another phone company (who had no support on the ground) but had free calls abroad, and leaving the BT equivalent who run all the lines.

I'm on good terms with them all, and I've learnt my lesson to stay with them and not rock the boat.


 

roguestate
Local time: 01:17
Swedish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Done all those things........that's why I'm pulling my hair out May 10, 2013

You can't talk to the person in charge of payment, in fact I don't even know where she is, how long she works in a month, whether she checks her e-mail daily or weekly. She is effectively behind a firewall that spits out auto-replies. Don't you think that I've tried.

The Feb / March episode was "transacted" via PM, and get this, she insisted that PM tell me that payment had been sent the previous week and it must be MY bank that was at fault. As you'll remember, I asked PM to wire me her agency's payment. It was Wednesday & I received PM's payment on Friday. "Safe pair of hands" sent me the money the following week. How many firm promises? I even asked PM to supply me with the bank transaction number, so that I could give my bank a slapping, since she claimed that they were at fault, n'est-ce pas? "Thanks PM, but the bank requires the transaction number in order to chase up the money."

All "Safe pair of hands" gave her was my name, a/c no., an implausible date (10 days before the mail), and the amount.

I am no longer on speaking terms with the boss since Feb/March because he got pissed off with me asking for my money that was 3 weeks late. That's what really annoys me, you are considered impudent when asking for YOUR money, when you had the good grace to provide a 30 day term in the first place.

2. Follow up with a brief email, specifying the promised payment date and that you would get back to him/her within 5 business days with confirmation.

And get another auto-reply? If only auto-replies were Bitcoins.........

I thought that putting the deadline for payment in big, bold, red font, first time that I've done this, would do the trick.

[Edited at 2013-05-10 11:58 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-05-10 11:58 GMT]


 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 16:17
Member (2008)
French to English
Warning signals May 10, 2013

Don't forget that payment practice is a measure of a company's health. When a company is in good financial health, all is well, payment is on time, problems resolved, etc. When payment times begin to extend - for ANY reason - it's an indicator that all is not well with the company. This isn't to say that a corporate fatality is in view - many companies will go through a period of difficulty and then the measure of the company's success is whether (or not) they are able to pull out of the difficulty.

But beware - the writing may be on the wall. You need to set clear policies that you will not allow payment to go beyond a certain length or amount owed rise above a certain level. Meanwhile you need to protect yourself by diversifying your clientele - as a previous poster said, 30% of your business is the absolute maximum you should allow any one client to have of your overall business, in fact I would have said 20%.


 

roguestate
Local time: 01:17
Swedish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I gave it some thought too :-) May 10, 2013

John Fossey wrote:

Don't forget that payment practice is a measure of a company's health. When a company is in good financial health, all is well, payment is on time, problems resolved, etc. When payment times begin to extend - for ANY reason - it's an indicator that all is not well with the company. This isn't to say that a corporate fatality is in view - many companies will go through a period of difficulty and then the measure of the company's success is whether (or not) they are able to pull out of the difficulty.

But beware - the writing may be on the wall. You need to set clear policies that you will not allow payment to go beyond a certain length or amount owed rise above a certain level. Meanwhile you need to protect yourself by diversifying your clientele - as a previous poster said, 30% of your business is the absolute maximum you should allow any one client to have of your overall business, in fact I would have said 20%.


Well John, that's the first thing that went through my mind - and I've had time to weigh up all sorts of possibilities:

This company has 4 other branches on two or three other continents, and if these are run with the same frugal overheads as here in EU, you can hardly call the operation top-heavy. I have no reason to suspect that this is not the case. Boss is constantly flying around the world raking up new business (when we were on speaking terms, I caught him all over the place via Skype). I know this because I draft the legal contracts for the new clients myself - gratis I may add. And impressive they are too, I must add.

Now factor in the frugality of overheads and business model, plus the generous terms that he uses as bait to trawl custom - it appears, and this is the crux, that he is unwilling to stand/entertain the temporary expense (possibly max. 7 days) between outlay to freelancers and client receipts.

Even though I've been translating on-off since the late 80s, I've only been doing this internet lark since 2003 and I remember one of the first lessons here on Proz? that as a freelancer, you are effectively commissioned by the agency - and the agency alone is responsible for your compensation, regardless of whether their end-client pays them or not.

This episode tells me that he and others are gently (or not) nudging freelancers into accepting increasingly injurious terms in order to trawl clients, while minimising his own liabilty; the translators' neo-liberal "CDS", if you will, and we are left holding junk bonds.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:17
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Spend some time getting new clients May 10, 2013

You seem to have (almost?) all your income coming from just two agencies, who are to some degree linked. Can you imagine the problem you will have if this main agency goes under? It quite likely has cash-flow problems already, otherwise, why would it be risking its reputation in this way? And it will possibly take the PM's agency with it, or at least that agency will be in real trouble and have problems of its own. How are you going to survive if/when this happens? Not only will it take with it every penny (or cent) you are already owed, you'll also struggle terribly for months afterwards, leading you to accept any job, for any rate, just to survive.

That's a hypothesis: it may never happen, and the results probably won't be exactly as I describe them. But you really are risking a lot being so dependent on 1-2 clients.

As for the current client, it seems that you've been accepting payment more than 10 days late on a monthly basis for over six months now, with the situation deteriorating. This client now clearly thinks it's perfectly OK not to pay until invoice date + 55-60 days. You've as good as told the client that it's acceptable, even if you aren't very happy about it. You reinforce the practice every time you accept work from them.


 

Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:17
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Get the necessary contact details May 10, 2013

roguestate wrote:

You can't talk to the person in charge of payment, in fact I don't even know where she is, how long she works in a month, whether she checks her e-mail daily or weekly. She is effectively behind a firewall that spits out auto-replies. Don't you think that I've tried.


Your PM's absence is a good opportunity to set this straight. You need to be able to communicate with that person, so ask your PM for his/her phone number. There is no reason they should withhold it.

Attila


 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 03:47
English to Hindi
+ ...
I have had something like this happen to me too May 10, 2013

Everything was fine till I was working with the main person in an agency until he got additional help as his business expanded. The help may have been a great help to him, but as far I was concerned, the payment which earlier used to come with clockwork precision on the due date, began to slip up. Writing reminders to the help was no help. Only emails to the main person produced any results, and often these emails were intercepted by the help.

Eventually I had to bring down this agency in my list of preferred clients, and I now do only occasional work for it, and I have replaced it with more reliable customers.

Fortunately I was not financially too dependent on this agency, so I did not experience any trauma because of the delayed payments, but it was irksome alright.

Spreading your bet is the only thing that can provide financial security, and of course something to fall back on on a rainy day.


 

roguestate
Local time: 01:17
Swedish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
You are perfectly right there May 10, 2013

Sheila Wilson wrote:

You seem to have (almost?) all your income coming from just two agencies, who are to some degree linked. Can you imagine the problem you will have if this main agency goes under? It quite likely has cash-flow problems already, otherwise, why would it be risking its reputation in this way? And it will possibly take the PM's agency with it, or at least that agency will be in real trouble and have problems of its own. How are you going to survive if/when this happens? Not only will it take with it every penny (or cent) you are already owed, you'll also struggle terribly for months afterwards, leading you to accept any job, for any rate, just to survive.

That's a hypothesis: it may never happen, and the results probably won't be exactly as I describe them. But you really are risking a lot being so dependent on 1-2 clients.

As for the current client, it seems that you've been accepting payment more than 10 days late on a monthly basis for over six months now, with the situation deteriorating. This client now clearly thinks it's perfectly OK not to pay until invoice date + 55-60 days. You've as good as told the client that it's acceptable, even if you aren't very happy about it. You reinforce the practice every time you accept work from them.


However, I do have some 8-10 others that pop their heads out on occasion & a crappy NY outfit that badgers me all the time. They were OK until New Years 2009 when they had an evident managerial pow-wow and would no longer entertain the heretofore $ 0.17/word rate that I'd enjoyed for previous 3-4 years. I noticed a generalised change in business model across the board where a translator would be commissioned for a risible fee, then a good ex-translator sought for proofreading at an equally risible rate (per word - which for p/r is a no-no) in order to provide the client with a display of the excellent talent that they have on tap.

All too often I find myself rewriting the damn thing, instead of inserting a semi-colon and deleting a space.

I have 5 languages to translate into English, and I did a 6th for PM when she absolutely didn't want to lose the client (it went very wellicon_smile.gif , but I wish I knew how to generate more Scandinavian custom, since German is well & truly saturated and Greek is just far too much trouble nowadays with texts reflecting "Governmental Decision # of 2011".

Any tips, Shiela?

You are right about me being in trouble apropos this payment, but it was a nice little earner for 9 days straight work - little sleep & lots of coffee. One of those every month and I'd be laughing and bi-monthly I would be extremely happy. I'll get the money, but I wish that the vexatious thought of delayed payment was not lurking in the back of my mind when I'm busy with the next job - it takes the sheen off performance.


 

roguestate
Local time: 01:17
Swedish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, in theory you are right May 10, 2013

Attila Piróth wrote:

roguestate wrote:

You can't talk to the person in charge of payment, in fact I don't even know where she is, how long she works in a month, whether she checks her e-mail daily or weekly. She is effectively behind a firewall that spits out auto-replies. Don't you think that I've tried.


Your PM's absence is a good opportunity to set this straight. You need to be able to communicate with that person, so ask your PM for his/her phone number. There is no reason they should withhold it.

Attila



PM's abroad on holiday (I think that I know where) and I really don't want to bother her, since it will make no effective difference to my financial status quo here and now.

It's the wasted past 3 weeks that really gets me spinning in a vortex of fury.


 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 16:17
Member (2008)
French to English
Financial warning May 10, 2013

roguestate wrote:

Well John, that's the first thing that went through my mind - and I've had time to weigh up all sorts of possibilities:

This company has 4 other branches on two or three other continents, and if these are run with the same frugal overheads as here in EU, you can hardly call the operation top-heavy. I have no reason to suspect that this is not the case. Boss is constantly flying around the world raking up new business (when we were on speaking terms, I caught him all over the place via Skype). I know this because I draft the legal contracts for the new clients myself - gratis I may add. And impressive they are too, I must add.

Now factor in the frugality of overheads and business model, plus the generous terms that he uses as bait to trawl custom - it appears, and this is the crux, that he is unwilling to stand/entertain the temporary expense (possibly max. 7 days) between outlay to freelancers and client receipts.

Even though I've been translating on-off since the late 80s, I've only been doing this internet lark since 2003 and I remember one of the first lessons here on Proz? that as a freelancer, you are effectively commissioned by the agency - and the agency alone is responsible for your compensation, regardless of whether their end-client pays them or not.

This episode tells me that he and others are gently (or not) nudging freelancers into accepting increasingly injurious terms in order to trawl clients, while minimising his own liabilty; the translators' neo-liberal "CDS", if you will, and we are left holding junk bonds.


Regardless of how high-flying or frugal a company may appear to be, a change in practice for the worse is an alarm bell. In fact, there is a warning in what you say that this company is offering generous terms to their clients but now not so good terms to their suppliers (translators). What this says is that their cash flow position has worsened. This is a financial problem - the attitude problem is secondary and merely a symptom of the root cause. Best to heed the warning.


 

roguestate
Local time: 01:17
Swedish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks to both you & Shiela May 10, 2013

Thanks a lot your comments, you have both given me plenty to mull over and you've helped make my mind up how to address the issue.

I'll set up a stall in the square and sell Bitcoins, now that piracy is out of vogue.

[Edited at 2013-05-10 16:34 GMT]


 

George Hopkins
Local time: 00:17
Swedish to English
Pressure May 10, 2013

Remind the agency that the translation is your property until paid for.

Notify the agency that you are about to inform the end client that the translation is your property until you have been paid.


 
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