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Show me the money September 2, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

No, this is not another post about clients who are late payers. This is about my dismay with some of our colleagues who wait weeks to send their invoice. I simply don’t understand that – especially in light of slow-paying agencies. Why wait a couple weeks to send an invoice and then wait another 4-8 weeks to get paid? That makes no sense to me. I send clients my invoice either with the job or no later than the next day. Chances are too great that I will get busy and/or forget to send an invoice entirely.

I forgot to invoice one client for a year until I was writing the invoice for another project manager and noticed I hadn’t been paid – and hadn’t ever written the invoice! One time was enough for me! I’ve been vigilant ever since. Our project managers and agencies are too busy to send reminders, so I can’t even imagine the number of invoices that simply don’t get submitted.

I subcontracted a job a few weeks ago and had to send a reminder this morning to my colleague, who claimed she has been busy with work and family and thanked me for the reminder. I have to regularly remind another colleague to send me invoices. She’s also constantly complaining about money problems.

The following example is drastic, but I swear it is true. I used to work with a guy in Germany who would wait months to invoice our company. His invoices were then quite large, covering practically full-time employment for 4 to 5 months at a time. The company wasn’t happy about it either, because they had to shell out a huge amount all at once instead of spreading it over the regular time frame. I have no idea how he managed to pay his rent and eat in the meantime.

I know many of our colleagues wait until they have a slow day to invoice. This just doesn’t make sense. First of all, the need for translations keeps growing, and we keep getting busier and busier. You may find yourself issuing tons of invoice at the end of the month to cover all the translations you did that month. This doesn’t make much fiscal sense. You want to spread your payments evenly – not all at once – to cover your cash flow. If you wait too long you may find yourself out of needed capital to pay your mortgage/rent, buy groceries, pay for gas, etc.

If your invoicing process takes up so much time that you need to spend more than 5 minutes to generate an invoice and enter it into your accounting system, you need a new system!!


1. MT - September 2, 2008

Our excuse for late invoicing, which occasionally happens, is that we’ve got kids and work at home, and sometimes an invoice just takes a lower priority once the translation deadline per se has been met. Being home and available to the kids is part of the reason we are self-employed, in fact.

Since most agencies have a two-week check cycle, we have found if you wait 7 days to invoice (when you don’t have a deadline looming and the kids are out or napping) you typically won’t see any delay in payment than if you invoice on day of delivery. But obviously if cash flow is an issue, one does need to invoice sooner.

That said, I’m glad the school year is starting again soon. 🙂

2. Janice Fargo - September 2, 2008

One problem with invoicing is that every single client has their own custom invoicing system. Some have Web interfaces, of which some are quite good and some are bizarre and labyrinthine; some require you to invoice the PM, some require you to send a separate e-mail directly to accounts payable, etc. Some agencies have just a PO number, others have a PO and a WO number. Some require you to specify the name of the file or “project name.” My invoices are automatically generated in a flash after I enter the job number information, but it can take 5-10 minutes to comply with myriad invoicing and submission requirements on the agency end…

3. jillsommer - September 2, 2008

@MT – Waiting 7 days isn’t a big deal. Waiting 2-3 (or more) weeks is. I agree – it all depends on your client’s billing cycle. But whichever system you choose has to ensure that no invoices are forgotten. The chances of forgetting to bill for a minimum job that took ten or fifteen minutes is too great if I personally wait a few days. 🙂

@Janice – Guess I’m lucky and have old-fashioned clients. Only one of my clients has a Web interface for invoices. I use an Excel spreadsheet (one for each tax quarter) and copy or write the job info with all the pertinent information (PO number, file info, word rate, etc.) on the worksheet as soon as I accept the job. Once the job is finished I enter the final word count, copy the worksheet into a new Excel file, save the file and then convert it to a PDF, which I then send to the accounting department’s or project manager’s e-mail address (I have my client’s specified e-mail addresses saved in my e-mail address book with the alias “invoice@clientsname.com”). As soon as I send the invoice I then enter it into MS Money as a new deposit and specify the due date.

I tried using Translation Office 3000 and gave up because I found it to be too cumbersome. The idea of creating a project and then a job ticket for a simple job was just too time-consuming.

This is what works for me. Everyone has their own preferences. This post is specifically for those breaking into the profession who have never been taught how or when to invoice. I’d love to hear how everyone else does it.

4. Riccardo - September 2, 2008

The reason is lack of time: I handle invoicing for the work done by my three partners and I that means about up to a few hundred line items and 30 to 50 invoices a month. Invoicing for me is at least two full days of work per month, and when there are deadlines looming (which, this year, has been all of the time), accounting gets short shrift. Bear in mind that for most customer I do cumulative invoices at the end of the month… I don’t want even to think what it would be like if I had to invoice every single project separately.

5. Sarah Dillon - September 2, 2008

Great post Jill, and some really useful and interesting comments too. I had a little eureka moment when I read how you manage your workflow by the way. My comment got a little long so I made it into a post on my blog – http://www.dillonslattery.com/2008/09/making-sure-you-get-paid-part-ii.html

All the best


6. Ryan Ginstrom - September 3, 2008

Most of my clients close at the end of the month, or on the 20th of each month. I invoice all my jobs for that month at closing. This is easier for me and for them.

I keep track of my jobs with a very simple system. When I get a job request, I create a task in Outlook from the email. Then when I deliver the job, I add “Invoice” to the title of the task, and change the deadline to the invoice date. It’s worked for me so far.

I also tried TO 3000, but it had too many shortcomings for me. We need a better project-management program for freelance translators — maybe I’ll make one some day.

7. Abigail - September 3, 2008

I bill new and irregular customers as soon as the job is done, almost always in the same e-mail as the job. Large-volume, regular customers are sent bills on the final day of each month – they and I prefer it that way. As most of them are located in Germany and very prompt payers, this means that I can do just one wire transfer each month, thereby saving on bank fees as an added bonus.

8. jillsommer - September 3, 2008

@Ryan – It would be wonderful if you could develop one! I would definitely buy it.

@Everyone – I bill two of my customers monthly, but everyone else is billed as soon as possible. If business gets so busy that it takes a day for you to invoice, it makes more sense to hire someone to do the bookkeeping part-time (and then it would make sense to only bill once or twice a month). That is time that you are kept from earning money translating.

9. billflo - September 4, 2008

Hi all,

we offer a free application called billFLO that you guys might find useful. Its a streamlined billing system for small businesses that allows you to create a pdf invoice and email it very quickly. You just type in your customers name on the invoice and get started. It remembers your customers names and if you send similar invoices you can clone an invoice and make the small changes you need. billflo also reminds you when an invoice is overdue. Oh and did I already mention that its free!

Feel free to check it out at http://www.billflo.com or contact me directly if you have any questions – billflo_ian@anoowa.com

Good luck!!
Ian Sweeney

10. Dondu N. Raghavan - September 9, 2008

As far as I am concerned, my invoice as prepared by the dependable PractiCount & Invoice is emailed along with the translation. This software retains my details as well as the concerned client’s details. All I have to fill up are: Invoice No., Payment due date, Job Description as well as the name of the Project Manager. Since as a rule, I charge by the target file word count, the preparation of the invoice is without any complications.

I add my payment conditions relevant to the concerned work and there you are. Since this is a computer generated invoice, I add the note that it does not carry my signature. If the client’s accountant is not satisfied, I always send a paper cash bill duly signed and incorporating the details of the Practicount invoice. But it is in another form and all the details are entered by hand. Its preparation takes hardly five minutes and then I courier it.

Waiting a few days for preparing the invoice is just not done as far as I am concerned.

By the way, I came across your blog from a Proz post. See: http://www.proz.com/forum/money_matters/114824-05_a_word_translator_needs_your_help.html

I find your blog quite interesting and have added it to my blog list lest I should miss any of your forthcoming posts.

N. Raghavan

11. jillsommer - September 9, 2008

Thanks for letting me know about the mention on ProZ. I was wondering why my viewership was up today. I’m glad you enjoy the blog!

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