Avoiding clients dodging payments - advice/thoughts appreciated
Thread poster: Rebecca Elder

Rebecca Elder  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:14
Member (2017)
French to English
+ ...
Jan 12

Hello, so I'm sure we've all been burned before by clients happily accepting your work and then going mysteriously silent when it comes to payment. I know the legal actions I can take when such a situation arises but I'm currently trying to implement new preventative measures in order to avoid this headache and would really appreciate your thoughts on potential strategies.

1. Asking for a % of invoice before beginning work
- Clients aren't always expecting this/happy to proceed, especially if it's a new client who doesn't know your standard of work

2. Watermarking translations - same principle as photographers
- Implementing a kind of watermark system which allows client to review work but isn't removed until payment is received to avoid work being stolen/used for free

Any other thoughts/strategies you've found successful? Would appreciate any input. Thanks!


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:14
French to English
Strategies to reduce risk of non-payment Jan 12

Rebecca Elder wrote:

1. Asking for a % of invoice before beginning work
- Clients aren't always expecting this/happy to proceed, especially if it's a new client who doesn't know your standard of work



Which is precisely the reason you require payment on account. 30% is fairly standard. Clients don't always like to do this, but for the very same reaons, they should be able to understand: you dont know them either. Indeed, unwillingness to do so suggests that they perhaps unwittingly wish to retain the possibility to hold you hostage with late or non-payment if they are not happy with the quality of what you provide. The difference is, that once they've ordered the work and you supply it, you have fulfilled your part of the contract and so they have to fulfil theirs and pay up. It is actually as simple as that. In theory. The bottom line is that if they are not willing to risk 30% of the value, why should you be willing to risk 100%?



2. Watermarking translations - same principle as photographers
- Implementing a kind of watermark system which allows client to review work but isn't removed until payment is received to avoid work being stolen/used for free



Excellent idea!



[Edited at 2018-01-12 12:27 GMT]


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 08:14
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Refine your olfactory sense for rats Jan 12

If you read enough about scamming translation clients (plenty on the Proz forum and the Blue Board), you'll learn to smell a rat before you let them notice that you have cheese. There are many telltale signs.

One of them involves learning to read between the lines of the Blue Board. Keep in mind that ten entries from translators who did a $5-10 job each and were paid COD weigh TEN times as much as one entry from a translator who did a $5,000 job for them, and had to move heaven and earth to get paid half of it three months after the agreed due date. Some rogue players have an enviable BB score.

Rebecca Elder wrote:
1. Asking for a % of invoice before beginning work
- Clients aren't always expecting this/happy to proceed, especially if it's a new client who doesn't know your standard of work


This will seldom work with translation agencies or direct-client companies.
However it does work with individual clients, if you sell the idea properly.
I have had success using the contemporary buzzword TO SHARE.
You are right in assuming that we know as much about their credit as they do about our translation ability. The odds of them not paying are about the same as the translator's merely shoving it thru Google Translate and delivering its raw output. Quite frankly, I've seen a lot of human translation that was actually worse than Google's free online alternative.

So I tell them that I must SHARE the risk, by requiring 50% up front.
I keep a threshold of BRL 500 (~USD 167). If the entire job will cost less than that, I'll take the risk alone (and I tell them that).
If there is more $ at stake, I require half of it paid in advance, so that we SHARE the risk EQUALLY.
This is so blatantly fair, that so far nobody ever tried to negotiate a smaller advance.
Prospective scammers scram immediately, I never hear from them again.
Honest injuns ask for my bank details.

Rebecca Elder wrote:
2. Watermarking translations - same principle as photographers
- Implementing a kind of watermark system which allows client to review work but isn't removed until payment is received to avoid work being stolen/used for free


If the individual client has any sensible reason why two payments for one job is not acceptable, one solution is to "deliver" a copy of the translation with all chars a-e-i-o equally replaced with an asterisk. This works for PT and EN, probably wouldn't work for PL, which scarcely uses vowels. After a few trials, I discovered that by NOT replacing "u", there will be enough left for anyone to notice that the text HAS been translated, however the labor to play Hangman there will be equivalent to re-translating from scratch.

Watermarks? Here in Brazil, I'm often required by subsidiaries of foreign companies to translate and DTP or produce the local version of "worldwide distribution"-type originals. So I've developed skills in removing watermarks, decrypting copy-protected DVDs, cracking PDF files locked with passwords, etc. It's relatively easy, once you learn the tricks.


Regarding translation agencies, you'll have to learn to smell a rat. Start paying attention to oversize first jobs, unusually short turnaround requests, and, most of all, overly extended payment terms. The latter means that they don't have the cash to pay you immediately, and that they are counting on possibly unpredictable events to have it in the future.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:14
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Risk management procedures Jan 12

Rebecca Elder wrote:
I'm currently trying to implement new preventative measures

1. Asking for a % of invoice before beginning work
- Clients aren't always expecting this/happy to proceed, especially if it's a new client who doesn't know your standard of work

2. Watermarking translations - same principle as photographers
- Implementing a kind of watermark system which allows client to review work but isn't removed until payment is received to avoid work being stolen/used for free

Both are helpful when dealing with private individuals, who totally expect to pay a deposit and are more than happy to pay immediately on receiving proof that you've done the work. It's useful for us to have some sort of measures in place for them as all we can get from them is a postal address and a promise to pay - not always good enough! Having said that, I've never been scammed by an individual on the (all too frequent) occasions when I've failed to implement my own procedures (touching wood as I type ).

But when dealing with B2B transactions, as I'm sure most of us do most of the time, there's nothing to replace due diligence before agreeing to do any work. Why work with clients when you think there's a reasonable chance of being scammed? Why not check them out thoroughly and then take a small risk if everything seems fine? AFAIK, it's perfectly normal for B2B clients to "have an account" with their suppliers, meaning they expect 30 days or so to pay. Treating them like untrustworthy private individuals risks making a freelancer look like an amateur "homeworker" rather than a respected business partner, IMHO.

I go though some or all of the following steps to avoid being scammed into losing more than a relatively small amount:
1. Check that the client exists: postal address seems reasonable on Google Earth; listed in their country's register of companies; company and contact names check out in searches.
2. If they contacted you, check that it isn't a case of hijacked identity: search for all the names, email addresses, etc. along with the word "scam"; find a different email address or phone number and contact them, or contact them via their ProZ.com or other profile, just to make sure it's them.
3. Check their reputation (always) and their financial situation (if it's a large project).
4. Tie down all the contractual details, getting everything in writing and agreed between the two parties before you accept the job: invoicing name and address (so you can sue them if necessary - an email address will NOT do!); job scope (how much work for how much money); terms (payment method, deadline and currency, and who's responsible for paying commission, etc.).
5. Engage them in at least one exchange of emails to discuss the details of your relationship. This is particularly important if you're happy to accept their standard T&C, meaning that #4 largely gets skipped. 99% of the risk can be avoided by only accepting work from people who are giving you the right vibes. If the client seems "off" at the start, it isn't likely to be a happy relationship!
6. Accept only a small(ish) job and ask for payment to be processed before you do a second one. If everything goes well, you can relax a little and risk a little more (but do bear in mind that a client may be more obliging at the start of a relationship, before slipping into bad habits).

Personally, as the years have gone by I've come to rely more and more on #5, while never skipping #4. You do get a "nose" for a problem relationship. I vary the amount of risk I'm prepared to take according to the vibes I'm getting, which means I do occasionally go out on a limb and accept a fairly large job from, say, a start-up or a self-publishing author if it seems right. When all's said and done, if you can't accept any risk at all you shouldn't be in business !

I don't believe being scammed is an inevitability, even today. I've twice lost money due to bankrupt clients (a total of €800), but that's all. I did have to sue one and came close to it for another, but they both paid in the end .


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