Receiving payments from direct clients
Thread poster: Arthur Barros

Arthur Barros
Brazil
English to Portuguese
Apr 18, 2016

I worked for agencies or companies since the beginning of my career as a translator.

Last week I came across my first direct client. It was a rewarding experience. We exchanged a few emails after I told him the translation was done, and he said something along the lines of "I trust your work" and paid without hesitation, even before I sent him the translation.

However, I imagine this is the best possible scenario. It got me thinking, how does one properly charge a direct client without it becoming awkward? (For example, asking them to pay before you send the translation, while they ask you to send the translation first).

I'm unexperienced in this kind of thing, because I have always worked for agencies who handled the payment.

I imagine I would have to make the direct client sign some kind of clause, but I have no idea how to go about it.

My question is, if you're a translator who deals with direct clients frequently, what is your method for charging them safely? Is it before or after the translation is sent? Do you use any kind of payment processor, to make the transaction safer?

Sorry for the long post and thanks in advance.


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:17
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Dodgy Apr 19, 2016

Arthur Barros wrote:

.....he said something along the lines of "I trust your work" and paid without hesitation, even before I sent him the translation.


Very dodgy. Are you sure you know this person very well and trust them? There have been frequent discussions in these forums about translators being used to recycle money.

I would be very suspicious about anyone who tried to pay money into my bank account before I had done any work for them.

On this occasion your client may only have paid in the correct amount but the precedent has been established that he can do this.

I suggest you politely advise him/her that for tax and accounting reasons, he should not pay you until he has actually received your invoice.

[Edited at 2016-04-19 09:40 GMT]


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:17
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Direct client or agency - not a vast amount of difference Apr 19, 2016

Arthur Barros wrote:
how does one properly charge a direct client without it becoming awkward? (For example, asking them to pay before you send the translation, while they ask you to send the translation first).

There's absolutely no call for awkwardness. You're running a business; they want to buy what you're selling. I treat agencies and direct business clients in pretty much the same way, as they are both B2B transactions, but then I don't have much to do with those agencies who "do everything for you", a.k.a. taking away your rights to run your business in your own way and treating you like an employee without the perks of an employment contracticon_smile.gif. I rarely ask for an advance unless the first job is a very large one - and I don't normally allow that much risk. I check them out as fully as I can, or as fully as I see fit, and then give them 30 days' credit terms. That's the normal B2B arrangement for many transactions around the world and it's always worked for me.

However, direct clients who are commissioning work as private individuals (business to consumer transactions - B2C) are rather different. They can be difficult to sue; they have no reputation to uphold; and anyway, they're used to paying up front. It's wise to ask for at least a percentage of the full cost before you start work. But Tom's warning is valid - if they are too anxious to pay then be very wary, and if they send too much then DO NOT under any circumstances accept it. You will more than likely find it has zero value; any money you refund will actually leave you out of pocket; and you could actually be charged with money laundering or even financing terrorism.

I imagine I would have to make the direct client sign some kind of clause, but I have no idea how to go about it.

There's no more and no less reason to do this with a direct client than with an agency. I never ask my clients (of either type) to sign anything, and very few of the agencies I work with ask for a signature on a service agreement. There are quite often NDAs to sign but they would come from the client anyway. I personally always consider myself bound by the normal terms of an NDA even if one doesn't exist. What's really important is to put your terms down in black and white and get their explicit acceptance before you do the first job. And for every job, get their authorisation to proceed. This has to be formal at the start of a relationship but can reduce to "Can you do this?"; "Sure, I'll deliver on Monday". All the paperwork can be used in court to prove that this was a contractual relationship and your client agreed to your work in return for payment.

Do you use any kind of payment processor, to make the transaction safer?

I like to be reasonably sure that things will go well even before I accept the translation. Sorting out the mess later on when the client doesn't pay is (a) time-consuming and (b) costly. AFAIK, there is no payment processor that guarantees anything, at least not one that allows you to keep 100% of your hard-earned fee.


 

Jennifer Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:17
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Send him your invoice Apr 19, 2016

I don't think that there's NECESSARILY anything "dodgy" about Arthur's direct client paying the correct amount so promptly. If the amount paid had been more than the amount due there would be cause for caution, of course.
As I see it, Arthur should send his invoice to the client anyway, for good order's sake, perhaps mentioning that, for any future work, he does not expect payment until the translation has been delivered.
I have occasionally been paid in advance by a new client for whom I haven't worked before, sending my invoice with the translation. As far as I know, there wasn't anything "dodgy" about the transaction.


 

Andrea Muller  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:17
English to German
+ ...
Depends on whether client is a business or an individual Apr 19, 2016

I use a different approach for individuals and business clients/organisations.

One-off clients who just want some certificates translated receive their invoice in advance and have to pay me before I start working on their documents, via BACS. Once they have the translation, there would be very little incentive for them to pay me and the amounts involved are usually too small to chase them up.

My only other direct clients at the moment are law firms and they receive their invoice together with the translation. I would do the same with any other business client, after doing some basic checks on them, as I assume they want to maintain their good reputation or they might need to use a translator again some time in the future.

I have never translated any non-personal documents for an individual. I would be suspicious if I was offered this kind of task, because of the association with overpayment scams.

I don't make direct clients sign any clauses, but I send them a copy of my Terms of Business.


 

Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:17
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
50% up front first time Apr 19, 2016

It all depends on who it is.

If it is an individual who needs their short university transcript translated, I'll charge them when they pick it up. If they are not local I'll need a the full amount transferred or paypaled first.

If it is a relatively unknown company, it will be 50% up front the first couple of times, especially if it is a big job. If it is a small job, I can chance it maybe.

If it is a mega-company that everyone knows, I bow down and tell them that their wish is my command.

[Edited at 2016-04-19 18:04 GMT]


 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 10:17
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
They (almost) always pay Apr 20, 2016

I get a lot of documents to translate from direct clients. I don't make them sign anything, their confirmation by email is sufficient. Some want to pay right away but I always ask them to wait till they have received the translation and my invoice. Very occasionally I may have to remind someone that the 30 day term has passed and then they are usually very apologetic. In my experience people are generally honest and it is very rare that they don't pay. You are more likely to have trouble with agencies than with private clients.

 

Arthur Barros
Brazil
English to Portuguese
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you all for the valuable information! Apr 20, 2016

Tom in London wrote:
Very dodgy. Are you sure you know this person very well and trust them? There have been frequent discussions in these forums about translators being used to recycle money.


It didn't seem to be any kind of scam, but I confess that this possibility didn't occur to me at all at the moment. I'll definitely keep that in mind.

Sheila Wilson wrote:
I don't have much to do with those agencies who "do everything for you", a.k.a. taking away your rights to run your business in your own way and treating you like an employee without the perks of an employment contract.


Getting rid of the employee mentality is still a process I'm going through, to be honest. Which is one of the reasons why working for my first direct client felt like a great accomplishment. But after reading all the replies in here, I have to say that I wasn't nearly as careful as I should have been! I guess it's so much involved that one can only grasp how the whole thing works through trial and error.

Andrea Muller wrote:
One-off clients who just want some certificates translated receive their invoice in advance and have to pay me before I start working on their documents, via BACS. Once they have the translation, there would be very little incentive for them to pay me and the amounts involved are usually too small to chase them up.


Duly noted. That was basically what went through my mind, because it wasn't a large volume of work.

Tina Vonhof wrote:
In my experience people are generally honest and it is very rare that they don't pay. You are more likely to have trouble with agencies than with private clients.


That's good (and reassuring) to know. As for agencies, I didn't have problems with them so far, but I've read some sinister stories from translators.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:17
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
You can only do so much to prepare yourself Apr 20, 2016

Arthur Barros wrote:
after reading all the replies in here, I have to say that I wasn't nearly as careful as I should have been! I guess it's so much involved that one can only grasp how the whole thing works through trial and error.

I'm sure we've all made mistakes in the past on our way to becoming "old hands". The thing is to avoid major problems that are too costly. I've never failed to get paid by clients who are still in business (I couldn't do anything about two bankruptciesicon_frown.gif). But I have had to spend time chasing clients when I could have been working for new ones. It's a continual process of weeding out poor payers and getting a bit wiser each time. And if you're anything like me, you'll still take chances now and again - once I've done some checks I like to trust people until they give me reason not to. Just remember, if it goes pear-shaped, that you went into it with your eyes openicon_smile.gif. That means that it's essential not to let anyone pressure you into taking risks you're not happy with.


 

Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 11:17
German to English
+ ...
generally the most reliable, and also nothing dodgy Apr 21, 2016

End clients have proven to be the most reliable and easiest to work with. They do not try to impose their procedures or their schedules or their (sometimes iffy) proofreaders, so that I can do my job well and efficiently. The "man off the street" needs some guidance if he has never used a translator before. End clients tend to pay immediately, or before receiving the work, or even ahead of time. There is nothing dodgy about this. I think in many transactions these days you are expected to pay ahead of time, so they do it here. Think of when you order something from Amazon. You place the order, then they start the procedure for delivering the goods.

When I deal with an individual who has never had a translation done by me I proceed as follows:
I ask to see the entire document, and what the purpose is of the translation. I the give my full fee, and tell them that if they agree to that fee and turnaround time, that is our contract - if they refuse, then that ends it. I tell them how we will work: I do the translation, they get to see a preview where they can comment or ask questions. This gives them some control so they don't feel they have handed something precious over to an absolute stranger. Most of these translations are certified and so need a stamped hard copy. Without payment there is no hard copy so that mitigates some of the risk. But on occasion I have sent the hard copy by mail before payment simply due to a time factor. I have not ever been unpaid by an individual.


 

Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Various Apr 21, 2016

Prepayment isn't necessarily dodgy. It's mostly when it's for a larger amount than the one agreed the alarm bells should ring, as that's a common scam.

Anyway, being resident in Germany, I've decided simply not to deal with consumers because of Germany's crazy 'Abmahnung' law, which entitles anyone to send a business a bill for 'legal advice', typically €800-€1500, if they find the slightest mistake in a website's mandatory legal yada-yada. There is a brief explanation of the racket here: http://makesyoulocal.com/take-care-in-germany-it-is-expensive-to-make-mistakes/ .

It is not necessary that the one invoicing for mistakes has had any dealings with the business or suffered any loss. This has led to scores of bounty-hunting solicitor firms being set up for the sole purpose of hunting down business owners who forgot a comma in the T&Cs and scamming them - legally. As the EU and Germany keep adding to the requirements for the already burdensome legal yada-yada and changing the existing parts, website owners need to pay solicitors to ensure all the legal stuff is perfect.

I found it simpler just to dump consumers and mention on my website that it is not intended for anyone in Germany.

But also in other countries, one needs to be aware that when dealing with consumers, the whole set of consumer laws and rights apply, so in the EU, for example, if the translator hasn't given the consumer all the right legal incantations up front, the consumer could legally demand his money back within the 14-day withdrawal period, even if the translation has already been supplied.

Of course, the stereotype German would defend this crazy law and ask “but if ze law says zat zere must be a comma zere, zen vy did you not put a comma zere?” But I doubt that stereotype holds true today.


 


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