Posted by: patenttranslator | July 29, 2010

When Do Translators Get Paid?

If you are an employee, you will get your paycheck every two weeks, always on the same day and you know exactly how much it will be. At least that is how it used to work when I was an employee, a long time ago. In Europe and in Japan, I was paid in cash, in America, somebody would come from the main office and hand me a check.

When I started translating as a freelancer more than 23 years ago, I was told that the common practice in the translation industry in America is payment in 30 days net. So that is what I have been putting on my invoices since 1987. How long does it really take before I get paid? Most of the time, it is pretty close to 30 days, usually 30 days and some change to allow some time for mailing and then depositing a check. However, some customers pay quite a bit sooner and some quite a bit later. I understand the payment terms of agencies in Europe and Japan are closer to 60 days, but I don’t really work for agencies there.

If I work for an individual who is completely unknown to me, I insist on being paid in advance. This does not happen very often, but it does happen a few times a year, although the amounts are usually quite small, a few hundred dollars at the most.

If I work for an individual who is known to me, usually a patent lawyer who is a sole practitioner and may be working out of his home just like I am, I still put 30 days net on my invoice, but often I get paid within a week or two. This is because patent lawyers often request a check for the cost of the translation from their client in advance and once they have the money, they pay me when they receive my translation.

I also work for several translation agencies, very small outfits, usually one or two people, who pay me within a week or two. In fact, I make an effort and try to fit work from these agencies into my schedule even if I am already working on other projects in order to revive my cash flow, which can be moribund at times, even if I am working most of the time.

The cash flow can kill you, as they say, because sometime you have to wait to get paid for 2 months or even longer. I understand, based on my own experience and based on what other translators are posting on discussion boards on the Internet, that there is a trend among larger and smaller translation agencies to extend the payment terms from 30 days to 60 days, which would mean in fact that translators would get paid in more than 2 months.

I have developed a nuanced strategy for coping with this unwelcome trend. If a major or a tiny agency offers payment in 60 days, I will not work for them. Since I mostly work for direct clients, this is not really a problem for me, although I did lose some agencies in this manner last year and this year.

If a patent law firm tries to extend the payment terms from 30 days to 60 days, I try to reason with them, if it is a small firm. Often, they do it because their client who sends them work has done it to them. In some cases, it may be their biggest client and they can’t really say no to them. I let the law firm know that I do need payment in 30 days and that if they cannot do that, I am now (or will soon) raise my rates to be compensated for the extra waiting time, usually by about 10 to 15 percent. If I can get a higher rate, and if most other clients pay still pay in about 1 month or sooner, I am still in good shape.

If it is a large patent law firm, it is often pointless to try to reason with them. They have their system in place, and that’s that. So I just raise my rate to them, if they now pay me in two months instead of 30 days net as they used to for years, when I am submitting  my cost estimate for the next project. They may or may not ask me why am I doing that, and I will explain what is happening if asked. Time is money, everybody knows that. Even a large patent law firm that has a seemingly inflexible accounting system in place may be suddenly accommodating to the needs of one translator if it means paying less for the same work. If they don’t ask, it means that my rate is too low and I should have raised it anyway. But I think it is a good idea to raise my rates to slow payers first.

Or they may just drop me as a supplier if their system is really inflexible. Which is fine with me. It’s a big world and there are other fish in the sea as the saying goes.

I should add that I also try to practice what I preach. I always pay translators who work for me within 30 days. If it is a relatively small amount and I have plenty of money in my account, I pay within a week or two. I always pay within 30 days even if it is a major amount (for me) and I have to borrow money in order to pay a translator. I do have access to money if I need to borrow some.

There was one guy to whom I did not pay several thousand dollars on time. He postponed the deadline twice. I had to call the client twice and apologize about the delay. Fortunately, time was not that important in this case. So I let this translator wait 60 days before I finally mailed the check and I never used him again, although he is a very good translator.


  1. […] In fact, the few agencies that I work for regularly pay me like this, which is why I work for them. Cash flow is the king in any business, including mine. And when I am acting as an agency myself, I try to pay quickly too. I can afford to do that because […]


  2. […] few months ago I wrote a blog called “When Do Translators Get Paid?” in which I came to the conclusion that it depends. It seems that there are no real standard payment […]


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