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You can’t get paid if you don’t invoice October 13, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.
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I know I touched on this subject back in August in my post entitled Operating as a business. It is so important to act like a business as a translator. As I said back then, “…we aren’t translating for the fun of it – or at least we shouldn’t be. I don’t know about you, but I have rent to pay, groceries to buy, a dog to feed, and bills that need to be paid. I am not in the business of working for free. I am absolutely aghast at some of my colleagues’ business practices.”

This morning I wrote one of my oldest and dearest clients to remind him that he hadn’t paid my last invoice. I usually have to remind him and then he pays it right away or responds that he transferred the money the day before (and is always telling the truth).  It isn’t a big deal. I know he’s good for it. This time I waited a little longer to remind him (about 10 days), but it turns out that he didn’t have the invoice. I checked my out box, and it turns out I had failed to send it to him (not so surprising – it was a very chaotic time for me and I was “urlaubsreif” – in desperate need of a vacation).

When I wrote to apologize, I asked whether he had wondered where the invoice was since it was a big one for part two of a very big job. His response was:

Ach, ich hab mir abgewöhnt, mir um die Rechnungsfristen Gedanken zu machen. Eine Übersetzerin hat mal 14 Monate über 6000 Euro nicht abgerechnet, trotz mehrfacher Aufforderung. Ein anderer hat für ca. 2500 auch 9 Monate gebraucht … Irgendwann wundert einen nichts mehr. 🙂

A dirty translation of this is: “I’ve gotten out of the habit of thinking about invoice intervals. One [female] translator didn’t invoice over 6000 euros for 14 months, despite numerous requests. Another translator needed 9 months [to bill] approximately 2500. At some point nothing surprises you anymore.”
Wow, I guess some of our colleagues *are* translating for the fun of it…
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, because I received an invoice from one of my subcontractors just the other day for work done in August. I’m going to say this again because it bears repeating – YOU CAN’T GET PAID IF YOU DON’T INVOICE. No wonder why some agencies have instituted policies saying they will not accept invoices for work not invoiced after a certain time (six months? a year?).

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Comments»

1. Terena Bell - October 13, 2010

I’m just amazed that the Germans have a word for “in need of vacation.”

Jill (@bonnjill) - October 13, 2010

The Germans take their four weeks of vacation every year VERY seriously 😉

2. Angela - October 13, 2010

I always wonder how these people eat! Perhaps they are very lucky and do not need that money for bills…

In that respect, I guess it’s good that I do need that money because I never forget to invoice at the end of the month, and I never forget to make sure a client has paid!

3. Kevin Lossner - October 13, 2010

Four weeks? Up to six weeks in some staff jobs. I think I used to get five and a half.

I don’t think it’s so much a matter of working for fun as it is the difficulty of juggling many simultaneous tasks sometimes when one’s infrastructure poses an additional burden. In particular, tasks which deviate from the routine are easy to put off. With the online system I use now, I usually get invoices out the same day, because all the information is already in the system, but there is one invoice for which I need to make some complex amendments involving research in old e-mail dating back to before I switched workflows (to add descriptions, the amounts are not in dispute), and I have been putting that off for ages.

Some of us are natural procrastinators. But sometimes the processes are in need of improvement, or if all else fails we need a assistant with big boots to kick us in the backside.

4. Fabio - October 13, 2010

Hi Jill,

I agree with Kevin that it may not be just a matter of working for fun. People may just be overwhelmed with the many tasks involved in running a translation business. But you won’t find “invoice procrastination” here in my office. 🙂 The first thing I do after checking the translation and preparing the document to be sent is writing the invoice, a task that usually takes less than 5 minutes.

Sometimes, when I am really in a rush and have to do another job immediately after completing the first one, I tell the client I will send the invoice later the same day or the following day, which I never fail to do.

By the way, have you tried Translation Office 3000? It’s great for organization and reminders. They currently have a TGB with a 50% discount for translators who are registered at ProZ.com (see the link on my blog’s right column), but you can just download it and try it out for 30 days before deciding if you really need it. I’ve been meaning to write a review of TO3000 for my blog, but haven’t had the time yet. Another tool that may be useful for project management is TOM (Translator’s Office Manager), but I didn’t like its interface.

Oh, and about the German’s 4-week vacation, it’s often 6 weeks, isn’t it? Sometimes split in 2 or 3 periods dissolved throughout the year. I complained the other day on Twitter that Germany slumbers during summer, and that’s precisely because of the German’s extended summer vacations. I don’t mind people enjoying themselves and going to see the world, but I do mind that they don’t leave deputies or delegate tasks while they’re away. I can’t possibly be understanding when people say an invoice didn’t get paid because someone was on vacation. I mean, really?

5. Melissa - October 13, 2010

I have almost forgotten to send invoices or think I already sent one. Thanks for the reminder 🙂 After all the agencies certainly aren’t going to remind us!!

Karl Hansen - October 21, 2010

Depends on the agency in question. If I forget to invoice my Japanese client at the end of each month, they will write and tell me which items I should invoice, how much for each item, and that I should do it ASAP! They will also complain if I forget an item on the monthly invoice! 🙂

Sometimes I wish all my clients were Japanese…

6. Melissa - October 13, 2010

After all the agencies are certainly not going to remind us!

7. Abigail Dahlberg - October 13, 2010

And I thought I was bad waiting 10 days to send an invoice because my printer had broken and the client insisted on a hard copy! Unless it’s a large job I have to admit that I typically wait until the end of the month to send all of my invoices together. I bought a Translation Office 3000 licence earlier in the year and just need to set aside some time to familiarise myself with its options.

Oh, and not to boast, but my in-house job offered eight weeks of paid vacation (not including all of the various public holidays that they have in southern Germany).

8. Caitilin Walsh - October 14, 2010

And do remember that clients want you to invoice promptly–it can really wreak havoc on their cash flow if you let things pile up for months and send a biggie through their system.

It’s not just kind to yourself and your cash flow, it’s professional!

9. alexeames - October 14, 2010

Ideally the invoice should be sent as a PDF with the job files. Then you know that if they received the job, they received the invoice. :)It’s also hyper-efficient. But reality may not often match up to the ideal. 😦

OK, some dinosaurs might want a paper invoice, but most people seem to accept PDFs these days.

I’ve got a copy of TO3000, must review it some time soon.

RobinB - October 15, 2010

German tax law still requires a paper invoice unless both sides use a digital signature mechanism that’s specifically approved by the German government’s IT security agency. So although German clients may be happy with a PDF (which they can then print), technically they’re perfectly entitled to demand a paper invoice before authorising payment, unless of course they’re already using an approved online invoicing system (in which case you still need to print a copy for your own tax documentation purposes if you’re resident in Germany).

Also, I *don’t* think it’s necessarily a good idea to send your invoice together with the job. Direct clients may think you’re desperate for the money, and agencies – at least the good ones – will often expect you to wait till they’ve revised your translation (i.e. if you’ve screwed, they’ll expect a discount).

Horses for courses…

10. Barbara Dylla - October 18, 2010

Maybe some outfits continue to work with certain translators because of the lack of invoicing .. ha ha (just a random thought that went through my head as I read the above comments). Or they figure they got a freebie (a nice one at 6,000 Euros!).

I always invoice right away or once I make sure the client has finished asking all their nitpicky questions. I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten to invoice a client, but if I had it would’ve been my fault, be it because of an oversight, overwork or overmess. It’s nice of a client to request an invoice, probably a sign of a good organization or a good relationship.

My pet peeve is still those clients who take longer than 30 days to pay. I’ve decided on a “work-to-rule” approach with one client in particular. I’m tired of reminding them every time… so now I send my work just before it’s due. I’m sure they haven’t connected the dots yet. I will talk to my contact in due course though.

P.S. agree with Caitilinn Walsh (“it’s not just kind to yourself and your cash flow, it’s also professional”)

11. Kate Lambert - October 20, 2010

I invoice at the end of the month and set aside time for it in my schedule. At the same time I put the figures in a spreadsheet keeping track of monthly sales (for 12 years now) and do my business accounts for the month. It does mean I’m giving more credit on jobs that were completed at the start of the month but I tend to do a lot of small jobs for the same clients and it’s much less time consuming to invoice them all together. I like having one day a month when I’m concentrating on the finances.

Also all my Scandinavian agencies pay on the dot of 30 days so my cashflow is pretty regular and I’ll know how much I’ll be getting in for us to live on in two months’ time. And it’s easier to spot and chase any late payers if all your invoices are due on the same day.


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