Everything always depends on the circumstances, of course. If you don’t have any other work from customers who pay faster, then it may be best to put up with a wait of 60 days or longer, although the typical payment terms in the translation industry are 30 days.
I used to have a hard and fast rule not to accept work from translation agencies if they take significantly longer than 30 days to pay me for my work. But I recently changed this rule: I now offer to do the work if they prepay through the PayPal icon on my website. And to my surprise, agencies sometime do use this option, which means that I am paid before I even start working. In fact it should not be that surprising that this is what they feel they have to do when they’re in a pinch.
But I almost never refuse work for direct clients, mostly patent law firm, even if they take longer than 30 days to pay. Instead I just increase my rates to them and let them know why I am doing that.
Since large corporations think that they rule the world and that they can get away with anything (because they almost always can), if the accounting department of a big corporation decides to pay people like me in 45 or 60 days instead of the usual 30 days (and when they say 45 days, they really mean almost 60 anyway), that is what they will do and there is not much I can do about that.
I know that if I tell them that my rates go up, they will probably find another supplier. This is what happened to me with a large corporation recently. But before the company disappeared from my radar screen, it did send me one more batch of about a dozen Japanese patents for which I happily charged them the higher rate. It was my way of saying goodbye to them.
I think that little guys like me have a duty to fight back when a large corporation thinks that it can treat us like Chinese slave labor at Foxcon, the huge Chinese company where electronic products sold under the label of Apple, Dell, HP and other US corporations are manufactured at very low wages in extremely toxic environment. Foxcon workers protest by jumping to their death from the roof of their dormitory. I just raise my rates if I feel that I am being mistreated.
I am certainly replaceable, but I too can replace every customer, regardless of how big or small the company may be. It so happens that my skills are very much in demand and the world is full of potential customers. And small companies are usually much easier to work for because they are not as predatory as large corporations.
Smaller firms are also much more flexible. When I protested last year to a small patent law firm about having to wait too long for my money, their accounting department replied that they pay in 60 days. “Please don’t hesitate to call us if you have any questions”. Bean counters always end their e-mails with this nonsensical sentence. Questions about what? I know that 60 days means 2 months.
So I replied that that’s OK with me, but given that I have to wait that long, I will have to charge them a higher rate on every new job.
The lawyer of the firm who was filing patents based on my excellent translations called me within an hour, we had a nice chat, and in the end the firm agreed to pay me in 30 days and I agreed to continue working at my lower rates.
Based on my experience, the chances that I will lose late-paying customers if I raise my rates to them are about 50/50. But even if I do lose them, that really means that I will be left only with customers who pay on time.
I think that this really makes a lot of sense in the long run, even if it means that I have to replace some old customers by new clients.
Since client attrition over time is to some extent unavoidable in any case, it is better to have mostly clients who mostly pay on time, and to let go of those who take too long to pay.