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Poll: Have you encountered any non-payment issues throughout the course of your career?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

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Dec 2, 2015

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Have you encountered any non-payment issues throughout the course of your career?".

This poll was originally submitted by Daniel Harcz. View the poll results »



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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 07:25
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
3 (in 30 years) Dec 2, 2015

1 recent and the other two solved some years ago after my lawyer's intervention.

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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
A few - but we've always prevailed Dec 2, 2015

If anyone is looking for advice here, go in early and go in hard. The people who shout the loudest are the ones who get heard. Do not accept their excuses. Do not worry about upsetting them. Be calm but firm and take no prisoners. If necessary, be so annoying that they'll pay just to get you off their back.

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Julian Holmes  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 15:25
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
Yes, a few times Dec 2, 2015

Go in quick and hard!

Arm yourself with a pit bull of lawyer who has a nasty bite. Avoid long-protracted negotiations and nip the problem in the bid quickly to avoid prolonged hassle and anguish.

After that, the miscreant will be less likely to rub you or anyone else up the wrong way. Once bitten, twice shy!


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:25
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
A few times in 25 years Dec 2, 2015

A couple of times, after having paid regularly for a year or more and being entirely pleasant to work with, the agencies went into liquidation without warning only a few days after sending me an order. The directors, at least, must have known the company was in difficulty but that didn't deter them from continuing to order work - not just from me but from many others. In such cases, there is nothing the translator can do. We're merely "unsecured creditors" and come at the bottom of the list when the defunct company's assets (if any) are distributed.
In another case, the person just disappeared off the planet. No reply to phone calls, emails or post. She was subsequently banned from posting jobs here.
It seems extraordinary to me, but it is legal (in the UK at any rate) for a company to go bankrupt and then open up again at the same address under a new name. Some companies do this repeatedly and are called "phoenix companies".
As well as doing all the "due diligence" before accepting a new client, the best defence a translator has is to set a credit limit for each client and not allow them to owe you more than a certain amount before you accept any further work. You don't have to tell them you've set a credit limit or how much it is - unless you want to. That way, if they do suddenly go into liquidation or disappear, at least there's a limit on what you'll lose.


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Catherine De Crignis  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:25
Member (2012)
English to French
+ ...
Good point! Dec 2, 2015

Jenny Forbes wrote:
the best defence a translator has is to set a credit limit for each client and not allow them to owe you more than a certain amount before you accept any further work. You don't have to tell them you've set a credit limit or how much it is - unless you want to. That way, if they do suddenly go into liquidation or disappear, at least there's a limit on what you'll lose.


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Yetta J Bogarde  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 08:25
Member (2012)
English to Danish
+ ...
Yes, twice Dec 2, 2015

And it's sooo annoying, because it was 'only' a few hundred dollars and would cost more to hire legal assistance.

The advice in above posts is excellent - and don't forget to use the Blue Board.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 03:25
English to Portuguese
+ ...
It takes one 'ghost' client... Dec 2, 2015

... for you to learn a lesson on due diligence.

I had one, her name was Claudia Smith, her translation agency was T4U.com. No, moderators, no need to delete this message, because they don't exist, they were ghosts. Her request was rush, rush, rush, so I was rather lenient on due diligence. She provided two phone numbers, which later I ascertained to be prepaid "burners" from BT, London area code, probably floundering on the bottom of the Thames (this was before SIM cards) ever since.

After that, I set a credit limit for new clients, something in the USD 50~100 range, depending on the exchange rate.

If the cost estimate is above that, I tell them that we must share the risk, since some people change their minds while work is under way, so I require a 50% up-front advance to start working on it.

This splits them into two groups:
a) those who vanish into thin air, like Claudia (above) did as soon as I delivered her job; and
b) those who rush in asking for my bank details so they can deposit that half immediately to get me started.


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Alberto Montpellier  Identity Verified
Cuba
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...

MODERATOR
Exactly. Go quick and hard. Dec 2, 2015

Chris S wrote:

If anyone is looking for advice here, go in early and go in hard. The people who shout the loudest are the ones who get heard. Do not accept their excuses. Do not worry about upsetting them. Be calm but firm and take no prisoners. If necessary, be so annoying that they'll pay just to get you off their back.



It's the surest way to get it done.
I have faced only one seriously delayed payment through these years, but then I haven't been a freelancer for so long, so I guess it's not that representative. I gave them hell till they paid me.

Curiously, my first client (also one of my best) on the very first freelance job I did faced some issues transferring the money from her bank account to Paypal to then pay me, so the payment was delayed for like 7 or 8 days. She was so apologetic and had given me such a fair treatment and transparence all along the project, that she seemed to me like an honest person, so I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt even if I was holding my breath and sweating for this. Turns out she was good for it and we've had a very good relationship all this time, so sometimes depending on your gut instinct (and the amount involved ) it might be healthy to cut them some slack at least once.


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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:25
Member
English to French
frighteningly common, or lack of luck? Dec 2, 2015

Jenny Forbes wrote:
..A couple of times, after having paid regularly for a year or more and being entirely pleasant to work with, the agencies went into liquidation without warning only a few days after sending me an order. The directors, at least, must have known the company was in difficulty but that didn't deter them from continuing to order work - not just from me but from many others. In such cases, there is nothing the translator can do. We're merely "unsecured creditors" and come at the bottom of the list when the defunct company's assets (if any) are distributed....

Two bankruptcies here too in 2001 and 2010, both from French agencies I had worked with for some time. With 3200 euros of unpaid invoices in the first case, I even flew from Morocco to Paris, to their premises, and then to their bank, where I made a racket. I was given the details of the people dealing with the liquidation, sent my bills and then waited a few years to ascertain that I would get nothing.
The boss reopened an agency a few years later in Paris, I contacted him to try to find an arrangement with his new company, but of course it didn't work out and ended with threats from both sides. They even adapted the keywords of their agency entry in a directory to try to redirect searches to them instead of me (and another translator who likely lived in the South-west of France).

Although I haven't figured out how I could have avoided this, I learnt a lesson: no more "60 days end of month" payment terms, and quick reaction whenever a payment is delayed.

Perhaps thanks to that, I lost "only" EUR1500 in the second case. But I was in the middle of moving out to another country, and I sent my invoice many weeks after delivery. This delay has possibly cost me a lot...

A credit limit is a good idea in theory, but hardly achievable in practice unless customers pay on delivery. Any translator can deliver a few kiloeuros to the same agency for a large project or several jobs in the month, and capping invoice amounts to reduce the damage in case of non-payment would in my case increase the risk of decreasing my turnover.

Apart from that, some (minor) underpayment issues with intermediary banks, hidden taxes from exotic countries, low exchange rates have led me to charge only in my base currency and quote more to prospective agencies in other continents, with a minimum amount of several hundreds of euros on any first job to dilute any bank and other hidden charges.

Philippe


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:25
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
2 bankruptcies in a total of 20 years is all Dec 2, 2015

Certainly I've had "issues" with others, but I assume the poll is referring to situations where you never do get paid. With my "won't pay" clients over the years (a handful), each has been made to pay. I took one through the courts, prepared a European payment order for another, and informed one end client of their infringement of my copyright.

On second thoughts, there was €12.50 that I preferred to walk away from than have any further dealings with the client. That actually left me feeling quite relieved - there are worse things in life than not being paid.

There's nothing you can do to prevent a client going into liquidation though; you can only make sure they don't owe you too much. I lost about €400 in each bankruptcy. It hurt each time but it wasn't a killer.

@ Philippe: Do you really find that you can't cap the credit you allow clients? I very much doubt if they have the same trouble capping the credit they afford their own clients. Surely if you're doing good work for them, and they're earning money on each and every job you do, they'll be willing to clear their outstanding debts if you insist on it before accepting more work. Have you tried suggesting it?

I also smiled when I read that you have a policy of quoting "a minimum amount of several hundreds of euros on any first job to dilute any bank and other hidden charges." I can understand totally where you're coming from, but I normally think more in terms of a maximum that I'll allow a new client to owe me. If you aren't sure you'll ever see any of it (especially with the identity thefts going around nowadays), it had better be a smaller rather than a larger amount that's at risk.


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Yaotl Altan  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 01:25
Member (2006)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Few Dec 2, 2015

Less than 1% of my projects in these 15 years.

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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:25
Member
English to French
No more than 2 bankruptcies, anyone? Dec 2, 2015

Sheila Wilson wrote:
It hurt each time but it wasn't a killer.

Indeed. But it's only money, after all. I'd be more worried if my hands were nipped by a farming machine.
Do you really find that you can't cap the credit you allow clients? I very much doubt if they have the same trouble capping the credit they afford their own clients. Surely if you're doing good work for them, and they're earning money on each and every job you do, they'll be willing to clear their outstanding debts if you insist on it before accepting more work. Have you tried suggesting it?

I haven't tried, because I like to issue invoices with a lot of digits! More seriously, my current core of agencies have been around for long enough to believe that the risk of them folding is low (Kodak is a counter-example). As none of them are big names, they all pay at "30 days end of month" or earlier, and I NEVER have to chase payments. It's still a long time to get paid, but from what I've seen, it is not so bad among agencies.
I also smiled when I read that you have a policy of quoting "a minimum amount of several hundreds of euros on any first job to dilute any bank and other hidden charges." I can understand totally where you're coming from, but I normally think more in terms of a maximum that I'll allow a new client to owe me. If you aren't sure you'll ever see any of it (especially with the identity thefts going around nowadays), it had better be a smaller rather than a larger amount that's at risk.

It sounds a bit silly indeed, and I'd certainly follow your approach if financial transactions were more transparent. If I work with an agency in the US for instance, I never ever know beforehand how much I will get, although I exactly know how much I charge. Besides, a one-off 50-euro job offers a very limited perspective of the agency's behaviour, abilities and business practices in case they contact you later for a larger, worthwhile project. Therefore you wouldn't have much more insight about how to proceed with the offer. At least starting with a serious order gives me more cues as to whether I should drop the case or be accommodating at the next contact if any.
And I won't set up a new customer in my TO3000 for a one-off 2-digit invoice.
I am also VERY cautious when it comes to prospects. If I don't feel certain the job and subsequent payment will go smoothly, I ask payment in advance, which usually ends the discussion!

Philippe


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Mario Freitas  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 03:25
Member (2014)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
I had a few Dec 2, 2015

But I learned how to assess the client upon the first contact, search the Blue Board and the blacklists, and evaluate some aspects, such as an e-mail from an agency with a "xxx.co.uk" url and the url that sends the e-mail is in India or China (very common), addresses with PO Boxes instead of street addresses, e-mails that say "Hi" or "Dear Translator" and don't mention your name, e-mails @gmail, @outlook, @hotmail, etc., and many other factors that allowed me to have zero payment issues in the past three years, except some delays and reminders, of course, but those are routine.

[Edited at 2015-12-02 21:12 GMT]


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