"I translated 10,000 words for a really well-known translation agency, but they haven’t paid me!"
We often receive emails containing comments similar to this one. Also, translation-related forums are full of questions about unpaid translation assignments and similar queries.
Most freelance translators work from their homes - often on a full time basis - and their only income is made from what they translate, so we really don’t need to stress how terrifying it can be to not receive a payment on time.
I want this to be a practical text, so here are some brief tips that can help translators to deal with unpaid translations.
1. Check to make sure that the problem is not on your side:
A. From my personal experience, I can tell you that more than half of the invoices translators send out are erroneous. A project manager can be managing 10 different assignments at a time, and he/she will generally not have time to check your invoice carefully immediately after you have submitted it. Have you calculated taxes correctly? Did you include your bank information? Is the branch name spelled correctly? Did you also add your Paypal address just in case they don’t send bank transfers to your country?
B. Are you sure that the client has received your invoice? Call him two days before the expected payment date, and double check to confirm that you will be receiving your payment by the deadline.
C. Did the client include the payment date in their purchase order (PO)? When working with a particular client for the first time, this must be checked.
2. Take precautions:
Freelance translators NEED to work to make a living, that’s obvious. But sometimes that need leads them to accepting assignments they should have rejected. The below were my golden rules when I was working as a translator:
NEVER accept a translation from a client who only owns a website but does not specify where they are based.
NEVER accept a translation without checking that particular client’s payment record in any translation Blacklist, Proz, or somewhere similar.
NEVER accept 100,000 word assignments from clients you’ve never heard of. If so, ask them for a 25% advance. If the client really wants to work with you, they will pay you. If not, instead of taking risks you can always use your time to find other companies.
NEVER accept to be paid after the client receives the payment from the end client. Make it clear that as far as you’re concerned, there is NO CLIENT OTHER THAN THE ONE PAYING YOU THE MONEY. If you received a PO from Mr. X, then, Mr. X must pay you the full fee in time no matter what happens with his/her client.
3. THE CLIENT DID NOT PAY ME!
Take a deep breath of fresh air, relax, call your client, and politely ask the reason you were not paid. It is very common for translators to start shouting at the client the day after the expected payment, but then it turns out that the bank account info was wrong, or the translation was delivered after the deadline or something like that. Blaming a client without first asking what’s going is the shortest path to not receiving further assignments.
Also, when a client doesn’t pay you but apologizes, offer them the option of paying in two or three installments. Business is business: Try to get your money no matter what the conditions; receiving your payment little by little is still receiving your payment.
4. THE CLIENT IS A SCAMMER
Well, the Internet is full of them, and working as a freelance translator the possibilities of being offered a scam assignment someday are of about 99.9%.
If you are scammed, report it to any Blacklist and post it in forums, including a link to the scammer as well. Also, if you think that the client is not simply in financial trouble, but did not intend to pay from the very beginning, then report it and file a complaint to the Internet Crime Complaint Center if your client is based in the U.S.A or if you live there http://www.ic3.gov
If you want to avoid payment delays, just professionalize, updating your invoicing standards and creating some very strict job acceptance rules.
After 5 or 6 years in the business, you should be able to “feel” when a client is trustworthy or not.