Better Translating–Part IX: Get people to pay you

People love writing about this topic; after all, we’re all in in for the money. No-one can claim they are still having that much fun doing translations after a couple of years in the business. All things considered, translating is quite a boring, solitary exercise, whichever way you look at it. BUT… it gives you a certain freedom which only freelance work can provide (the ability to travel when you want, the lack of a superior etc.) which more than compensates for these obvious disadvantages. And it usually pays well, too. Even if you don’t always manage to negotiate your desired rate, if a job is reasonably well-paid, you will still earn more in an hour than most people in a whole morning.

So how should you go about getting the money off your clients? Here’s a few things you should consider:


  1. In the initial email, be as clear as possible.

There is a certain temptation NOT to mention the money too much in the initial email correspondence, and to refuse to mention exact payment terms to the client, just because you’re too embarrassed to bring up the topic, and you don’t want to make it look like you’re only after the money, and for a whole lot of other reasons, especially if you’re a young translator and you’re new in the business.

However, if you are not clear about your terms in the beginning, it becomes much more of a hassle afterwards. A client is simply not very willing to discuss payment details after the work has been completed, not necessarily because they don’t intend to pay you, but because it is no longer an urgency for them and they’re already deep into something else. That’s just the way business goes. Paying people is simply the last thing on an agenda when there’s a lot going on.

Here’s how I do it: At the end of the “quote” email (the one where you tell the client how much damage you’re going to do to their budget), include a whole paragraph (3 or 4 sentences) about how you would like to get paid. Here’s an example:

“Payment has to be completed on the same day the text is delivered. Payment options include PayPal, wire transfer, and credit card. All payment details are included in the invoice issued together with the translated text”

You see, this block of text, for example, does not sound overly aggressive and still it includes all the necessary information. By accepting your quote, the client implicitly accepts these terms. You have it in writing and everything is reasonably clear before you even start. Not all clients will read your emails thoroughly, but you can always remind them later just by saying that “we’ve already agreed on this in out initial email correspondence” or something along those lines.


2. Don’t bother with formal quotes.

Sometimes, people will demand a “formal quote”, which is supposed to be some kind of document which looks a bit like an invoice and includes your company details etc. I regard this as a waste of time. If you’re a serious freelance translator, you’re probably working on another project already, and you will barely have enough time to answer all your emails. I have often refused to issue formal quotes, and it has never been the reason for my not getting a job. Again, it depends on how you say it. Try something like this:

“Hi, I am sorry but we don’t do “formal quotes”. We regard email correspondence as perfectly valid for official quotes and to be honest, we are always extremely busy so we try to keep paperwork to a minimum. Please just treat the previous email as a formal quote. Thanks!”

Your clients are after the best service and the best price, so don’t be shy about telling them what you think. They will accept your offer based on these simple metrics and not based on your skills as your own personal secretary.


3. Payment terms: NOW, please!

I have had many a discussion about this particular point with colleagues, but let me get this off my chest. Ask for the money immediately after the delivery. Or if possible, before! General business practice this is not, but, hey, it works for me! It the initial email, clients are informed (see point 1) that they have to pay me immediately on delivery. When the translation is done, I send them an email saying that (a) the translation project is finished, and (b) they have to pay right now in order to receive the document. I include wire transfer and PayPal/credit card as payment options (more about that later) and demand proof of payment to be emailed to me. Most banks include an option to send a confirmation email about a transfer to the beneficiary, so it is usually not a problem for the client to send you proof of payment. Sometimes, a client might insist that it is impossible for them to process the payment right now, because they are out of the office or for whatever reason, but then it’s still up to you… You can either trust the client and send the text anyway, or you can insist that if you don’t get paid, the text will not be sent. As translation projects are usually rather urgent, this leaves them with no option. Even if the client is well pissed off at you by now, it would take them much longer to find someone else to do the job (plus potential legal trouble with you).


All in all, if you’re running a translation business, however small it may be, getting people to pay you on time is essential for your peace of mind and for the proper functioning of your business. It is important to be as straightforward as possible about this, and find the right tone when you bring up the subject.


What are your experiences with good, bad, and non-payers? Which payment methods do you use? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

  1. zoe4711 said:

    This is a great method to do business and you are absolutely right in doing so, but do the clients come back with this method? I mean, most companies send out payments every 30-60 days, that is how they roll. Are you talking about individual clients?

    Also, I am wondering why is it in this industry that clients do not want to pay the amount issued. They pay the hairdresser the price they are asking for as well as all the other stuff in their life but where did this idea come from in the translation industry that you can pay next to nothing for the expertise of a translation? After all, you spent years in school accumulating knowledge. The hairdresser did not. Yet, people have no problem paying them and with us there is usually a negotiation. How did this arise, I wonder because I only see it in this industry. It is like there is no respect or something for our expertise. Don’t translators have any self esteem or respect?

    I would like some clarification on this, if you would please and I thank you very much!

  2. As you said, very well, people only show respect for you if you respect yourself, so if we sell ourselves cheap, people treat us the same way they treat cheap service providers. If we demand respect we get it, if we don’t, we don’t.

    Do clients come back? Yes, they do, but once we have worked together a couple of times, and there is kind of an ongoing collaboration, I normally propose payment at the end of each month, of all the jobs of the month. That way I don’t need to send so many invoices and it’s easier for the client. But by the time there is some mutual trust, if you know what I mean. Even then, the payment terms are still great. Everything is paid at the end of the same month, it’s way better than a 30- or 60-day payment period. Companies don’t mind, they have someone pay all invoices at the end of the month, and it’s very little hassle for them, that’s what counts.

    But NEVER send anything to a NEW client before they’ve paid you.

    I hope that clarifies the way I work, and propose that we all do, a bit for you, and I’ll be happy to hear from you or the other readers with more questions or alternative ways of doing it.

    • zoe4711 said:

      Yes, I have a question pertaining to this. I am glad you have a payment first policy but is this for new or continuing clients? Most have never heard of this method, and they won’t go along with it. They would rather continue to do things as before. How can this method be implemented with the older companies, or they can’t? Direct clients ate no problem.

  3. It is for new clients, existing clients continue with the existing payment scheme, but they are not a problem are they, as they are trusted clients who you will have known for a while. As for agencies, it is of course not possible to enforce the system on them, but the whole point of being in the translation business is trying to avoid them, anyway.

  4. zoe4711 said:

    Hey, you work very well. I commend you for that.

    Some translators do projects for free, with the hope of attracting new business, but time and energy are wasted, at least the way I see it. Some of us really cannot afford that. We need to use out time and expend energy in ways that we bring in revenue.

    I do not know why I am writing to you today. I just wandered over here. You have a blog and thus are open to discussions.

    Translation is the only flexible job I can do now while in school. Well, at least I think it is. I am just wondering, if people want to hire the best of the best, then why are the documents I am proofreading of such low quality? If companies want to hire these stars, then where are they? It is more of a myth. And they get paid for it, too. Are specialized translators so easy to find? Does everyone go to graduate school? I think not, yet with agencies you are treated as a number and I disagree wth that.


  5. Jónico said:

    What a luxury where you live. In Spain no corporate client pays immediately. Payment periods are 90-180 days (yes, it’s common to have to wait 6 months to get paid). In fact , it’s so awful that the banks have invented a new financial product: your client company sends a copy of your invoice to the bank; the bank sends you a letter saying their order to pay is at 180 days BUT they will “advance” you the payment for a price: usually between 5-10% of the total. If the translator retaliates by adding 5-10% onto his billing rate, the most likely scenario is that you will not be given the job.
    If you try to establish early payment bonuses (late payment penalties but with a positive spin) you won’t be given the job either.

    • Hi John, thanks for your comment. I do actually have quite a few clients from Spain, and I have seen the payment scheme which you are talking about. In one case, I have simply refused their payment scheme, and insisted on payment at the end of the month. They got back to me eventually saying that their accounts department (They seem to be an exceptional company for Spanish standards considering that their departments actually seem to talk to each other!) had agreed to my terms under the condition that I deduct 1% off my invoice!! 1%! I accepted gladly and asked whether it was so that the accounts department could have a coffee at my expense. But I agree that in Spain, it can be harder than elsewhere. As far as your client with the 180 days is concerned, I could think of many possible answers to that, none of which are printable though…

  6. zoe4711 said:

    Had an incident this past weekend. I just do not understand why agencies refuse to pay you for the work you put in, last minute, saving their ass, yet they fight you tooth and nail for the hours. There is no rhyme or reason to this and I can’t wrap my head around it. Why don’t they do it themselves instead of bothering you then? They should be ashamed, but that is the problem, they are not. Instead of being glad, they pound you with their crap. So, why do I even get upset?

    Ha, glad I came here again! I feel mush better! Thank you for this blog!

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