Non-payment by an individual
Thread poster: Gudrun Wolfrath

Gudrun Wolfrath  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:09
English to German
+ ...
Aug 5, 2016

I have done a certified translation (birth certificate, apostille, history) for a woman living in Munich. The agreement foresees that I send the invoice to her, she pays the amount due, and I send her the translation by post (and email).

After sending her the invoice she seems to have disappeared.
The sum amounts to about 100 EUR (incl. VAT).

I can't make a BB entry as she has not received the documents, but I would like to make this known.
I am a member of the "Unacceptable Translation Rates Naming & Shaming Group". So this would be my first "resort". Do you know similar fora?
Thanks for your help.

PS: Things have changed meanwhile, she's willing to pay.

[Bearbeitet am 2016-08-05 11:20 GMT]


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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 04:09
Member (2008)
French to English
Payment in advance Aug 5, 2016

When I have done work for an individual I have always asked for payment in advance. It's virtually impossible to collect from a non-paying individual, especially if you don't have absolute proof of identity. It's also virtually impossible to determine ahead of time whether an individual is a good credit risk or not.

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Gudrun Wolfrath  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:09
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you, John. Aug 5, 2016

Yes, you cann never be sure.

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:09
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Probably of marginal value Aug 5, 2016

Of course you want to do everything possible, but it does sound as though she isn't a regular translation client, so it won't damage her in the slightest. I can't see why you can't use the BB though - she commissioned the work.

Have you sent a final demand yet? I'd definitely do that. Send it registered post and get a copy of her signature back. It should be firm about legal action soon. Make it sound very legal, maybe quoting bits of law and court names etc.

Consider also the possibility that her email address could have stopped working etc.


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:09
French to English
Time scale Aug 5, 2016

There are a number of things to go through before "going public" with it.
Reminder, final demand etc. .
Then there is the purely practical side of things.

You may well ask for payment in full upfront. If she does not pay, then you do not provide the work :
- the reality is, that you have already done the work

You can only start getting firm about payment of an invoice if a service has been provided :
- as your agreement is formed on the basis of payment upfront, that means no payment, no service provided

As no work has been provided, she is probably perfectly entitled to say she has change dher mind, in which case you just have to accept the loss.
Also, and this is the voice of experience speaking, 100€ is just not worth cahsing up, as it costs more in time and energy than it's worth.
It's a fact of (business) life which I abhor, but which I do my best to avoid.

I think there is a strong chance that the legal and the practical aspects may actually be one and the same : no service provided, no possibility of requiring payment. The client can simply say she changed her mind. The original idea being that you do the work, then send her the invoice and she pays before you send the work, probably changes nothing. The fact is, I suspect, that unless she gets the work, you may not have much of a case.

That begs the question then of considering that as you have done th work anyway, it's already "lost". But you can turn this to your advantage.
The work has been done anyway. Now you can send it to the client, with the invoice (recorded delivery). That way you have indeed provided a service for which you can require payment. THEN, you probably have a much stronger case to claim payment. Also, providing the work enables you to demonstrate that you are in possession of the the originals or copies thereof, that were in fact provided in the first place, not for fun, but as you had been required to translate them.

P.S. Ah, she's willing to pay? So much the better.!

[Edited at 2016-08-05 13:42 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-08-05 13:43 GMT]


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Gudrun Wolfrath  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:09
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks a lot, Sheila and Nikki. Aug 5, 2016

Please read my PS: She is willing to pay now.
But I will keep your advice in mind for the future, thanks.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:09
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Glad to hear you'll be paid Aug 5, 2016

Interesting thread - with a happy ending - and great insight from Nikki.

I've never done the work then sent an invoice without producing proof of that work, but neither had I really seen the disadvantages. I normally ask private individuals for payment in advance (part or full). If I forget, then I send the invoice plus the work as a scanned PDF bearing a diagonal watermark and in read-only mode. It's the best I can manage with my limited IT abilities. I then send the "normal" file after payment.

I'm also very reluctant to start naming and shaming before things have totally deteriorated. In my 20+ years of freelancing I've come across so many personal and business disasters. You really never do know when you're going to go under the proverbial bus. Even if it isn't a terminal problem of that type, people's priorities can change overnight due to a problem at their end, and that translation and its payment can suddenly seem very unimportant. So I like to cover every angle before publicly embarrassing myself and/or others.


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 02:09
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Different experience Aug 5, 2016

My experience is a little different than that of most responders above. I translate a lot of personal documents for private clients. I send them the certified translation with the invoice by mail and I give them 30 days to pay. Many do so right away, others a few weeks later, some initially forget but pay after I send a reminder. It is very rare that they do not pay, even after a reminder. I can only recall 2 or 3 cases over all the years I'm doing this. That is disappointing, of course, but I would rather take that loss than lose my trust in people (and many clients tell me that they appreciate it).

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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 04:09
Member (2008)
French to English
Identity Aug 5, 2016

Tina Vonhof wrote:

I send them the certified translation with the invoice by mail ...


The key here is you know their address. The problem with dealing with individuals is always identity. When I have a contractor work on my house, they will often leave a bill to be paid later. But they know who I am and where to come and get me if I don't pay. With our profession business is often transacted over the internet or by email, and identity is frequently difficult.


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Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:09
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Payment in advance Aug 5, 2016

I also ask for payment up front from individuals before the work is even started. Actually I even charged my own accountant up front once because he was commissioning the work on behalf of one of his other clients and I was a little concerned that if something went wrong, he wouldn't pay because the work wasn't actually for him, and his client would abscond without ever paying and without me being able to hunt them down. (and the last thing I need is for things to go sour between me and my accountant!)

As yet I have never had a client refuse to pay in advance when asked.


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Gudrun Wolfrath  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:09
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you all for your valuable input Aug 5, 2016

I'll read it again over the weekend.

In this case I would have had two things going for me: living in the same city and knowing the exact address. Then again, I am not a stalker.

[Bearbeitet am 2016-08-05 16:32 GMT]


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:09
French to English
Payment in advance Aug 6, 2016

In fact, thinking about it, from where you stand as the one providing the service, you were in a halfway-house situation.
The idea of payment in advance is just that; if you really want to work on a payment in advance basis, then make sure you get paid before starting the work at all.

That is not always practical though, but it would have avoided the situation you (almost) found yourself in: no payment, the work done and a client who (had given signs of having) changed her mind.

If you do the work and send it with the invoice, the work is done, payment is due. And to all intents and purposes, it actually represents the real situation in the case you describe.


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Gudrun Wolfrath  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:09
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks. Aug 6, 2016

Problem is: I know the exact amount only after doing the translation. But I explain my method of calculating (a fixed price per line based on the German text) before starting the work.
Most of the times people pay on delivery (they come to my office).

You raised many good issues to consider.


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Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 03:09
German to English
+ ...
Since I do a lot of this kind of work for individuals Aug 6, 2016

First thing - I always give the exact amount that they will be paying before starting the translation. Individuals are often nervous about this kind of work because it is a new experience for them, and they are entrusting part of their lives to an absolute stranger who is also an individual rather than a company. Anything that creates security and reassurance is a plus. For the same reason I walk them through the process before beginning, and let them see an electronic copy before the final version is printed out. You can get a definite fee for these documents, which are never electronic, by scanning them as PDF and creating a conversion through Adobe Reader (it is a paid service for a low annual fee). For small documents you can have a flat rate fee.

I have never yet have a non-payment issue from individuals in 25 years - only from a translation company, and a colleague. In the case of certified translations, they need the hard copy so if you also don't release the hard copy until receiving payment, then you will always get paid. But I haven't found it necessary to be that strict to date.

SEASONAL: We're in the middle of the holiday season. I've had two translations (hard copies) sitting in my outbox for two weeks. One client popped up today to say he's been on holidays; the other is still awol but I figure at some point he'll come collect the translation he commissioned because obviously he needs it.

Translation companies / agencies are always in a rush because they compete with each other and "fast" is one of their selling points. My end clients are often surprised at how quickly the work gets done, and I have to remind me that they are not part of that fast spinning hamster wheel. That means that unless they have an emergency they are often in less of a hurry all round.


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