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Where have all the good clients gone… August 7, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas, Random musings.

I just booted yet another client. Am I unreasonable to expect payment within the stipulated payment terms? It isn’t like I am hurting for clients, but if I keep booting a client a month due to their atrocious payment terms I won’t have too many clients left. Don’t get me wrong, I get contacted by new agencies just about every day, but I am leery to work with new agencies – especially if they are not listed on Payment Practices or the Zahlungspraxis listserv. I keep meaning to subscribe to the TCR (Translator Client Review) List. These are all good sources of finding reputable agencies.

What happened to agencies who pay on time and within 30 days? At this point I am beginning to think they are an urban myth. If I deliver a job on time (or even early) I would like to be paid for that job within 30-45 days. Is that such an unreasonable expectation? I honestly don’t think so. If I’m wrong, please let me know in the comments!

This particular client owes me $1,400.00 in overdue invoices (one invoice being 38 days late). They merged with another agency about 8 months ago, and their payment practices have gone straight downhill ever since. They changed their payment terms to “submit the invoice by the 7th of the month and payment will be made by the end of the month. Otherwise you will have to wait until the end of the next month” – essentially almost 60 days if you miss the 7th of the month deadline.

The e-mail I received from Accounts Payable today acknowledged that they overlooked two of my invoices, which were submitted 1-2 weeks before the submission deadline for this payment period and that they would be paying them with the next payment – in another 30 days!!! What kind of crap is that? I send monthly invoices to two clients because they are my best clients and faithfully pay within 30-45 days as promised. I am not willing to do that for every Tom, Dick and Harry agency, and that is essentially what this agency expects if they only pay invoices once a month.

And what about agencies that nickel and dime us to death with repetition discounts and lower and lower rates? Another German translator just wrote to the GLD list about an agency that went from paying 25% for 100% matches and repetitions to 10%. The Trados rule has been 30/60/90. When do we stop accepting this kind of treatment? One of my friends is seriously considering cleaning houses instead of translating, and she wouldn’t be taking a pay cut! If agencies don’t start standing up to their clients’ unreasonable deadlines and unreasonable price expectations they may find that there will be fewer translators out there to rely on. The vacation time dearth that is raging at the moment should be proof enough. I was contacted by four new agencies yesterday trying to place a translation, and two of them admitted that they were having a tough time placing it. Imagine what would happen when well-trained translators decide to become secretaries or get a full-time job instead of having to deal with the aggravation of negotiating price with every single job request. One of my fellow Kent State graduates (Class of ’95) just got offered a $90,000 a year job without the company blinking at her request or trying to negotiate her down. At this point I am still very happy being a freelance translator, but it makes you think…

In the meantime, I guess I will be going on a search for new clients that pay well at the end of the month (a Fall Kick-off as it were) and dreaming of landing my own $90,000 a year job. New agencies with a good reputation are welcome to contact me at any time.



1. Masked Translator - August 7, 2008

There are a lot of agencies that pay on time; keep looking! I can understand a 45-day payment period when agencies have that; it means that they may have a 30-day payment period with their own clients and that they want to hold onto the money for two weeks before paying the vendors. This is not an unreasonable business practice. However, what I don’t like are agencies that say 45 days but really don’t pay for 50-60 days. (Funny how the ATA requires us to take ethics courses but it doesn’t require member agencies to pledge to ethical payment practices…)

However, 30 days is the industry standard, and the most reputable agencies do pay within that time frame.

I work for two agencies that pay within 14 days, so that kind of vendor-friendliness does exist, too. I had a third one that paid in 14 days, but then they switched to 45 days and now I don’t see the advantage to working for them any more so I ditched them.

And remember: that $90,000-a-year job means less scheduling flexibility, a longer commute, and nincompoop coworkers, bosses, and annual reviews… 🙂

2. Sonja - August 7, 2008

…and that they would be paying them with the next payment – in another 30 days!!!

I would insist they pay me immediately without any more delay. It is clearly their fault that they “overlooked” your invoices and it should go without saying that they correct their mistake.

3. Abigail - August 7, 2008

One of the many reasons that 95% of my customers are end clients. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I’ve never had anyone “lose” my invoice or take longer than 45 days to pay. In fact, my largest client often pays within 5 days of receiving my invoice. Can’t beat that!

4. Ryan Ginstrom - August 7, 2008

If the agency doesn’t meet its own payment terms, it’s inexcusable. Make sure you get paid before they know they’re dumped, but you knew that. 🙂

However, in Japan longer payment terms are the norm. Pretty standard with my agency clients is close at the end of the month, then pay on the first two months later. (so you deliver on August 1 and get paid on October 1).

The situation with direct clients in Japan is usually even worse. They usually have an “acceptance inspection” period where they basically sit on your translation for a month or so, then they pay you 2 to 3 months after that…

Once you get the income stream coming it’s not so bad. You get paid every month, it’s just for work you did a couple-to-few months back.

I have a few clients who pay within 30 days — all of them are either expats or located overseas.

5. Mago - August 7, 2008

What Abigail said. Direct clients all the way. One client sometimes pays in minutes. (Not a large client, though, so I’m not in competition with the 5 days cited above.)

6. jillsommer - August 7, 2008

Thanks for the encouragement, everyone! I was so frustrated I decided to take the day off, walked away from the computer, and visited my niece, who broke her femur on Tuesday. Yes, there are advantages to being freelance…

I will definitely start looking for some direct clients. I have preferred to work with agencies because then I don’t have to deal with clients, but at this point I think I’ll welcome it. I’ve been meaning to send my resume to Saeco for months now…

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