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:
- 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.