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PM says the agency paid, but can't prove, because she's new...
Thread poster: Annamaria Amik

Annamaria Amik  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:19
Romanian to English
+ ...
Feb 1, 2017

Dear colleagues,

I'm in a delicate situation with an old client. We've been collaborating for almost ten years. They send jobs of variable size every month. Sometimes they do look like paper-pushers between end client and translator, but basically they've been nice, the PMs are kind, and they are content. In ten years, we've had about 1000 projects together. Often they ask for small favors, which I am not refusing them.

They refuse to pay minimum rates, and often send tiny (one or two paragraph) jobs paid on the basis of actual wordcount - which wouldn't be a problem, if they just accepted one invoice at the end of the month. But they don't. They expect translators to issue one separate invoice for each job. Sometimes I didn't bill some of these tiny jobs, but offered them as pro bono help, because the administrative effort with a EUR 1 or 3 invoice would be unreasonably high for me. And even that wouldn't be too problematic, if their payment practices were transparent. But they are not. Often they pay one or two weeks late or even later, skip invoices and pay them only when reminded, pay several invoices without mentioning which ones are being paid. Payment is via Paypal, although we both are in EU countries. Obviously this situation is not caused by bad faith, but sloppiness or lack of discipline on their part and excessive trust on my part.

Since they are a long-standing client, I rarely chase the payments. Now I noticed they have a debt from 2014, consisting of several smaller invoices. From a legal point of view, this debt hasn't lapsed. Moreover, they are obliged by law to retain accounting documents for several years.

PM was kind enough to check in the PM system, and they say they paid on a certain date. But when I inquired about the transaction ID, she admitted that no such payment can be found in their Paypal records, and some of the payments they can no longer check (early 2014). Which might be true, but still, they could open the transaction details from the e-mail confirmation they received when they made the payment.

I inquired further, suggesting that they should check the actual accounting documents, for example the accounts payable sub-ledger could clearly show the date and number of the document by which they paid my invoices - or else the invoices would be reported as overdue and unpaid in their accounting! The sum is about EUR 250.

The PM's latest response was that sorry, all of them have been working there for less than two years (there's a lot of fluctuation there), and they can't check stuff before that date. Well, I haven't issued my invoices to the PMs, but to the company.

My question: how can you find a balance in this situation?


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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 20:19
Member
Italian to English
Chalk it up to experience and move on Feb 1, 2017

It sounds to me like they are not worth your time. These jobs are small, AND they expect you to issue an invoice for each? Pretty unreasonable. As for the money they owe you, keep chasing it by all means, and I hope you manage to get it back. That said, you really should have realised earlier and taken action sooner, and their disorganisation does not bode well. I would step up your search for more reliable clients and drop this one when you are able to.

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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 20:19
English to Croatian
+ ...
Not a good sign. Feb 1, 2017

Annamaria Amik wrote:
all of them have been working there for less than two years (there's a lot of fluctuation there)


This is a hallmark of bad agencies, not good ones. Chances are they are using interns for free work, then just replace them with a set of new ones.

I think Fiona gave you a good piece of advice, I second that one.


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Thayenga  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:19
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
Record storage Feb 1, 2017

If I'm not mistaken, business records must be kept for at least 10 years, in this case, until 2024. So "no records" is no excuse.

How they run the agency is basically their problem. Even if they use interns, the records must be kept and debts must be paid. Yes, even if they are invoices for 1 - 3 EUR jobs. (Which speaks for itself.)

Keep chasing the money they owe you. If they refuse to pay, you might hint to them that agencies, especially in Europe, must follow a good business conduct, and just "happen" to mention the IRS might be interested in conducting an audit.

Frankly, under these circumstances (invoices, favors, etc.) I think it's amazing that you keep/kept working with them.

Good luck in chasing your money.


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Christophe Delaunay  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 20:19
Member (2011)
Spanish to French
+ ...
No wonder Feb 1, 2017

I read your post in my email box and had already an answer in mind but then I saw that everything had already been said. Especially this one from Thayenga: " Frankly, under these circumstances (invoices, favors, etc.) I think it's amazing that you keep/kept working with them."

No wonder they're happy with you with all these bad practices you've accepted. You sure haven't been doing a favor to yourself or to the trade. Seems that time has come to stand up your ground more firmly.

Good luck!


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:19
Member (2004)
English to Italian
golly... Feb 1, 2017

Late payment, no payment, no minimum charge, single invoices for €1, no cumulative jobs... you've put up with all this for 10 years? You are brave...

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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 14:19
Member (2008)
French to English
My thoughts Feb 1, 2017

I have a client somewhat like that. You need to evaluate how safe it is to continue business with them and whether it's worth chasing the old invoices, considering that you let them lapse without following them up. Some clients just are disorganized. I think I would make that assessment and if I decided their business was worthwhile and safe, I would write off the old invoices and commit to more diligent follow-up. I now send out statements of account to certain clients on the last day of each month, which prevents such problems from happening. It also seems to dramatically shorten up the payment time for most clients.

Another of my clients has the no minimum charge policy, but they are otherwise a good client, so I just hold billing until the next job, then add it to it. It's relatively painless and I haven't had a problem with it.


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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Hope Feb 1, 2017

You can take it to the manager/owner and hope they take pity and pay you out of goodwill, or you can write it off and move on. You can't really expect them to go back that far for such a small amount - you've left it too late for that.

Either way you need to keep your finances more up to date!

(I would ditch the customer as well but that's another story.)


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Annamaria Amik  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:19
Romanian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Good faith and accuracy in accounting Feb 1, 2017

Chris S wrote:

You can take it to the manager/owner and hope they take pity and pay you out of goodwill, or you can write it off and move on. You can't really expect them to go back that far for such a small amount - you've left it too late for that.

Either way you need to keep your finances more up to date!

(I would ditch the customer as well but that's another story.)


Thanks all for the feedback. Of course, I do realize it's rather late - but still legal! - to chase payment. It's not a matter of not keeping my finances up to date - all my clients pay on time, and this agency does too, most of the time. I have very accurate records. I just willingly haven't chased this before, because a few unpaid invoices among the several hundreds they did pay seemed just lack of attention. I must chase this now for objective reasons, btw.

John Fossey wrote:

I have a client somewhat like that. You need to evaluate how safe it is to continue business with them and whether it's worth chasing the old invoices, considering that you let them lapse without following them up.


That's the thing: these invoices haven't lapsed legally!

This situation has occurred precisely because I tolerated their occasional lack of payment discipline, on a trust basis. I issue at least one hundred invoices to them per year - yes, come to think of it, I shouldn't and will no longer accept this, but most of the time, this effort seemed acceptable considering the income they generated.

The amount per se doesn't really matter - I'm not dependent on them, I squeezed their jobs in when my schedule allowed. What matters is that they have a legal obligation to keep their accounting documents (invoices, receipts, etc.) for at least five years. So no, I cannot accept the argument that "sorry, we can't look into this" - would they say that to tax inspectors, as well?



[Edited at 2017-02-01 13:23 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:19
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Where is the logic in this? Feb 1, 2017

Annamaria Amik wrote:
Since they are a long-standing client, I rarely chase the payments.

I just can't get my head round the logic of not chasing payments from long-standing clients, when such clients are the very backbone of a business. Of course, you tend not to send a reminder on payment date plus one day. You don't like to appear mercenary with good clients, so you might give them a week or two's grace before sending a polite reminder. But you don't just let them forget it for a couple of years, surely?

But then this isn't a good client, is it? It's just one that seems to have been getting it all their own way for a long time. It sounds as though it's an incredibly one-sided relationship, with you making all the compromises and them refusing to budge on anything at all. You're clearly remarkably tolerant and patient. Me, I'd have told them a long while ago that inter-EU payments are more efficient by wire transfer and that's how I want to receive the money - or I'd increase my rate to take into account the commission deducted by PayPal. As for hundreds of single invoices, I can't see why on earth they'd want to do that as it must cause them as much of a headache as it causes you. I'm glad none of my long-standing clients don't want them.

Now I noticed they have a debt from 2014, consisting of several smaller invoices.

Well, legally I'm sure you have every right to pursue it. And maybe as they've never gone out of their way to make your life easy, this is your chance to redress the balance a little. But even admitting to it makes the running of your own business look more than a bit haphazard. And makes your rates look a bit high, perhaps? I mean, they must think that if you can't be bothered to check up on payments received, the money can't be that important to you. I can see it encouraging them to become even less punctual in the future.


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Michael Newton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:19
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
What logic? Feb 1, 2017

Indeed, what is the logic of continuing to work for this client? Give them an LWA of 1 on the proz.com website and dump them!

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Jo Macdonald  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:19
Member (2005)
Italian to English
+ ...
Encourage agencies to be bad and they will be Feb 1, 2017

Sorry Annamaria but it sounds like you accepted them not paying your invoices for years so imo are actually encouraging them not to pay.

Just avoid agencies using strategies like this. Set yourself some good business rules and stick to them such as, min. fee, min. invoice, payment in 60 days, etc.

I'd just write this 2014 payment you didn't want off to experience.


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
A suggestion Feb 1, 2017

We're all disorganized sometimes, and it seems a shame to cut these people off if they've given you a thousand jobs - though you shouldn't be wasting your time issuing a hundred invoices a year.

Why not agree that you'll issue a new invoice for a notional amount representing approximately what they owe you?


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Alexandra Bourne  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:19
Spanish to English
+ ...
Customers get charged by agencies for minimum charge Feb 1, 2017

Annamaria,

I understand how managing the small invoices is cumbersome for you. However, I have seen this same situation at the other end of the spectrum.

I have worked as an employee (project manager/proofreader) for corporations who engage the services of LSPs, and I have seen that very rarely (or never) do the LSPs provide the end-customer (me) with a few words of pro-bono translations. Usually, even if a few words, they charge us the minimum fee (Which depending on the LSP is 150 to 250 words or a half hour minimum charge)

So if you do not charge the LSP for your services (albeit small), they still charge the end customer.

I have been told by an LSP, that they have to charge me the minimum word-count because they are also charged a minimum word-count rate by the translator. My suggestion is that you incorporate in your rates a "minimum charge fee" for the small projects that makes it worthwhile for you to do the invoice management of the small projects.

I hope you get this issue sorted out.

Alexandra


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:19
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Can you deduct it somehow? Feb 1, 2017

Annamaria Amik wrote:
The sum is about EUR 250.


So, that's EUR 250 in unpaid invoices. I'm sure we all get them. Can you somehow deduct some of that from your profit/income tax as a business expense?


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