Payment problems

I have a client who I like working with, but I’ve always had to send reminders to get paid. My payment terms are 30 days from day of invoice, unless otherwise agreed. A couple of weeks ago he called to offer me another job. This is how the conversation went:
Client: "I’ve got this new project for you if you’re interested."
Me: "Thanks, but I’m very concerned about the fact that I have several outstanding invoices for you."
Client: "Ah."
Me: "I don’t really want to have to remind you to pay every single invoice."
Client: "Ah."
Me: "If I provide a service that you’re happy with, I expect to be paid in time and this hasn’t happened with you, so I’m not sure I want to keep working with you."
Client: "It’s just that I’ve got this 15,000 words project for X (a big company) and I thought you’d be interested."
Me: "Well look, if you pay me all my outstanding invoices and promise you’ll pay me on time from now on, we might be able to work together."
I was determined to stop working with him, but the project he was offering me was very interesting and he sounded genuinely sorry about the outstanding invoices, which he did pay the day after our conversation; I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this job, hopefully, I won’t have any more problems.
This episode illustrates one of the unpleasant aspects of my job; the administrative side of it, the invoices, the problems with clients, the difficult decisions to make about who’s trustworthy, who’s just disorganised and who’s a crook. I’ve been very lucky and so far, all my invoices have been paid, if a bit late for some of them. The best way to avoid getting conned is to check a potential client’s payment record before accepting a job, thanks to lists like Transpayment, Payment Practices and Translator Client Review. These are incredibly useful tools, an example of how the Internet can allow translators to help each other to weed out unscrupulous people.
It is important to keep track of the reminders you send, of the phone calls you make, letters you send, etc. to try and get paid. If all these fall on deaf ears, the best way to proceed is to take the client to the Small Claims court in the UK by filling in this N1 form. I only ever threatened one client to take them to the small claims court and got paid immediately. For a suit to be successful, you have to be able to prove that you did the job, so you need to produce a Purchase Order and copies of e-mails and the translation in question. I never start a job without asking for a PO first so I can prove that there was an agreement between my client and me. For clients outside the UK, I’m not sure how I would proceed, but I’ll keep you posted if I ever need to find out!

By | 2016-10-18T15:51:42+00:00 October 22nd, 2004|Freelance Translation|4 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Jean October 22, 2004 at 12:09 pm

    I think you have the balance absolutely right here, Celine. Since this client did pay you the next day, seems a reasonable risk to take on the new work. If he hadn’t, I’d be seriously worried and reluctant to do the new job, however interesting.
    I have a client who’s always a bad payer, but usually does pay within 3 or 4 months, now it’s 5, and I shall threaten small claims court if it hits 6. I know these people and, if I do, I think it very likely they will pay me but take offence and never give me work again. Harsh facts of life. Have to draw the line somewhere. I like the work these bad payers give me, but I just don’t think being a doormat leads anywhere positive.

  2. céline October 22, 2004 at 12:32 pm

    It is very difficult to know where to draw line, but you’re right, it’s got to be done, or you get taken advantage of. 4 or 5 months is beyond that line, I think…

  3. language hat October 23, 2004 at 2:02 am

    Thanks for this post — I have a feeling it’s going to be useful to me…

  4. Jim in Rennes December 1, 2004 at 12:19 pm

    This seems to be the lot of the translator. I’m always struck by the irony of how urgent our deadlines seem to be, compared with the laid-back attitude that meets our invoices.
    I have one agency that pays on the 15th of the month, 60 days after the end of the month in which the invoice is received. And don’t get me started on the Government.

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