Posted by: patenttranslator | May 21, 2012

I Need Your Translation Today But Don’t Expect Me To Pay You On Time

About seven weeks ago I received a phone call on a Monday afternoon from a translation agency that I did not hear from for 6 years, although I used to work for them quite often when I still used to work quite often for translation agencies. It was a project manager who was looking for a suitable victim for a rush translation job, a couple of French diplomas that had to be delivered that day. The problem was, the project manager promised on Friday delivery for Monday but then she forgot to place the job.

“Would you be able to help me?” she asked me with tension and some hope, both audible in her voice. I don’t like deadlines on the same day, even for short translations, because I usually have something else to do, not to mention that I also have my own life to live, but I sometime like to help out people if they have a problem that I can solve. So I delivered my translation about an hour and half later at my usual rate, and received thanks for my prompt delivery via e-mail.

Seven weeks later, I am still waiting for my remuneration for that particular rush job, a whopping 98 dollars and 20 cents. When translators do favors to translation agencies, it is very much a one way street. Next time I will ask for a considerably higher rate if these people call me again, and I will probably accept the job only if they prepay.

Last weekend I read bitter comments of an interpreter on a discussion group online about a major US law firm who owes him many thousands of dollars for work that should have been paid for months ago.

American law firms will sign agreements to pay in 30 days, but they never honor these agreements, said the interpreter who lives in another country. He also said that from now on he would not accept work from US law firms. And he named the law firm in question.

Because the name of the law firm rang a bell, I looked at my files and I remembered that one Saturday evening four years ago I received a phone call from a young lawyer from the very same law firm who called me about an urgent translation.

She said she needed an urgent translation of a German patent for Monday morning because she wanted to impress her boss. Although I was planning on going to the beach on Sunday, instead of soaking up the rays, jumping merrily against the indefatigable waves of the Atlantic and reading my mystery novel on my beach chair, I was sitting on my butt behind the computer the whole Sunday, working on that German patent. I hope her boss was impressed.

When I did not receive the payment from the law firm after a month, I tried to call the lawyer, but I could never get past her secretary who helpfully offered to take a message because she did not know anything about anything. The lawyer never called me back and I could not get an answer from the accounting department either without a confirmation of my claim from the elusive young associate. So I had to wait.

I see in my files that the law firm did pay me in 7 weeks, although my invoice clearly stated the payment term of 30 days net.

It was no accident that taxpayers in this and other countries were asked to bail out major banks a few years ago after the banks and other financial institution ran into major troubles as their fraudulent get rich quick schemes were unraveling. Anybody who follows the news can clearly see that they will ask make us pay up again soon when they come back for more of the same.

This is pretty much the way of life now: people who have no money are forced to bail out corrupt companies that are too big to fail when things start falling apart as they always do in the end. And translators who don’t have any money either are forced to give corporations big and small interest free loans as they have to wait to be paid for their work, often for months. That is just the flip side of the same coin.

There is a Czech idiom dating back to Austria-Hungary:”Na chudý lidi musí bejt přísnost!“, which would translate into English as “You’ve got to be strict with poor people”. It means that it is OK when important people kick around little people who are too small to matter. Kick them when they’re down, they’re used to it.

That was the operating principle in the old “ramshackle” Austro-Hungarian empire, just before it collapsed about a hundred years ago when it could not be bailed out anymore by the little people.

For some reason, I seem to be thinking about things like that a lot these days.


I e-mailed a PAST DUE INVOICE reminder to the project manager today with big fat letters WTF??!!!?? next to the due date.

It worked. The owner of the agency sent me the following e-mail:

Dear Steve:

Your invoice will be taken care of right away. Interesting way to do business! Please only send your accounting questions with that style to me directly. My co-workers do not need to be exposed to that. Thank you.

There is not a single word of apology in her e-mail, which means that this was no oversight. They expect me to put my life on hold and deliver my translation right away, and then they will take months to pay.

They definitely needed to be exposed to the way I do business. Except that I will not do business with them anymore.

All I did was used three letters in the English alphabet to express how angry I was. I was rude on purpose.

But these people are beyond rude without intending to be rude. Their attitude to translators is that of a slave owner to a slave. You can’t be rude to a slave, can you?

Once I receive the princely sum of 98 dollars and 20 cents from them, for which I am still waiting, their file will go into a file cabinet that is bulging with translation agencies that I will not work for anymore.


  1. Enjoyed your post very much, Steve, as I always do. And your experience does ring a bell–what am I saying, not just one bell, hundreds of them…

    Also wanted to point out that the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed not 200 years but less than 100 years ago, in 1918, that is (remember, Czechoslovakia constituted itself as an independent country on October 28, / 28 října 1918).

    But that won’t solve our payment problems, will it?


  2. Thanks, Volkmar.

    I can fake all these languages and I can’t count to 200.

    I have to fix it now.


  3. Thanks for the post Steve! Had a similar problem with an agency just recently. They paid almost a month later than they should have for a very small job. Somehow some agencies tend to think that small jobs don’t need to paid promptly, but they always expect prompt work from us. 😦


  4. Agencies always get paid for personal document when the client receives the translation.

    And then they let the translator wait for months.

    This really shows the depth of their arrogance.


  5. A translator should always have both a standard rate and a special rate for rush jobs. That was the very first piece of advice I received from the first translator who hired me a freelance collaborator. Having different rates won’t make them pay any faster, but at least the wait will be a bit easier to accept for translators.


  6. Absolutely. And I do have a regular rate and a rush rate.

    I was doing that woman a special favor by not charging more since she forgot about that job, she did not charge the client for rush.

    And she repaid me by not paying me according to my payment terms (30 days), although she got paid by the client when she gave her the translation of course.

    As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.


  7. Which is why idealists end up being cynics. Hope dies hard in the human breast; idealism even harder. There’s an old saying that one dares not use anymore, but that fits nevertheless: “No tickie, no laundry.”

    As for the collapsing Austro-Hungarian empire, the old saying about the little people explains why lots of oppressed Bohemians ended up in Iowa City’s Goosetown. They found out they didn’t have to lie there and take it.


  8. I used to be an idealist, now I am a realist.

    The Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed a long time ago, but Austria is doing fine, and so is Hungary and Bohemia.

    It is only when empires have collapsed that people living in them realize that they did not need the empire for anything.


  9. Steve, I used to say “No money, no honey.”

    Clients ask us to do rush jobs, because they need the jobs done. They shall pay for it. However, some agencies pay later than agreed. (Thank God that they do pay!) In that case, they shall pay the interests as well. If they don’t, stay away from them.

    I don’t have any other ideas of how else we can deal with such clients than abiding to “no money, no honey.”


  10. How do you calculate the interest?

    And how do you enforce it?


  11. Ah, good qestion, Steve.

    By the end of last year, one client wanted me to do a job which exceeded his credit at mine. (I assign each client a credit for risk management. In case a client eventually does not pay, I would lose just that much and nothing more. But that client would be out forever.) I told the vendor manager that the last payment is due since half a month. They shall be me right a way. The answer was: You have to wait till the end of the month, because we have changed our payment term from one month to two months EOM. So, I declined the coming job.

    On the next day, the VM wrote me telling me that they could make an exception and pay me right a way. But she wrote, this is a one-time exception, I shall not make it a regularity for it is there corporate policy to pay 2 months EOM. My answer: “It’s all right that your company has your corporate policy, but I have my private policy and I decide not to work under such a condition. You may send me my account receivable right away. But I am not going to work on the next project unless you agree that you are going to pay me n.n0 € per standard line instead of 0.nn € per word with the 2 months EOM payment term.”

    The VM protested that it is a raise of 30% and she would have to ask the end client if they agree with the raise. She warned me that the end client has been satisfied with my work, but they have other good collaborators who may replace me.

    I did not respond. You guess what the outcome is. The end client sent an OK while the branch office of the end client called me and asked me what was going on, so that the LSP complaint about me. I explained the issue and the PO with the new rate came in 4 days later while the amount due paid to my account in 7 days. (Well, it was only 8 days ealier than their corporate policy of changed payment term and it was still the old rate, that is without an interest surcharge.)

    What was the interest rate? At that time, it was 30% calculated against the old rate and the exchange rate between Euro and our currency. It is now about 25~27%.

    How do I enforce it? The end client happens to know me and the branch office in Taiwan keeps good communication with me. The LSP inbetween shall earn what is fair to them and the end client knows it. Besides, they have a credit at mine which shall not be exceeded. Anything in excess shall be paid immediately or I just don’t work on the projects from the LSP. They may try with other translators, but they would have big problem with the end client. So, I am still working “with” the LSP.

    I guess, this is the only way to ensure that some clients behave themselves. Do you happen to know that “Leuschel” means “little people,” something like “Leutchen” in German. I am just one of thos little people who does less and less (wenjer und wenjer). I don’t like to be pushed around. I choose to run if the terms are humiliating me. Righ, Steve. Let the system collapses, so that we can live better. We shall work “with” them, not “for” them. We work for ourselves. No money, no honey.


  12. Good work, Weniger Leutchen!

    I am just curious, in what language combination was this job and what was the subject?


    • It was manuals from German into Chinese.

      Thanks for the music video!


  13. By the way, the 2 music videos this time are good choice. The 5 year old Tiffany Koo performs fantastically well. And I like Joe Dassin all the time. His “Et si tu n´existais pas” has been my earworm since I first heard.


  14. 1. Tiffany Koo, who lives in California, is now 9 years old and she plays really well now, you can see several videos of her on Youtube.

    2. I thought that would be the language combination. It must be hard to find people who can do that from German and who have the experience that you have.

    When they need you, they need you and you can pretty much dictate your conditions, within reason, as long as they know that you are prepared to walk away from the job.


  15. Thank you, Steve, for another interesting post.

    I made the mistake of accepting a translation job (not a rush job, thankfully) from an agency I worked for before, and I really should have known better.

    First of all, they no longer accept invoices. Instead, you need to log into their fancy new accounting software and fill in all sorts of information. Next, after waiting 6 or 7 weeks for my payment (which was marked as “approved” in the system) I sent my contact person a reminder only to be told that he didn’t know anything about invoicing and asked me to contact the accounting department directly. The accounting department then sent me a polite and matter-of-fact answer stating standard payment terms were 60 days. I don’t recall signing up for 60 days, and my invoice and payment terms always state 30 days.

    When the two months were up, they contacted me ASKING FOR MY PAYMENT INFORMATION. Now, a) I worked for them before (i.e. they had my payment information), and b) I filled in all that bs in their online accounting system already (i.e. they definitely had my payment information). So I filled in yet another form which I had to email back to the accounting person (so much for the fancy accounting software). To top it all off, on that form they offered check or wire transfer as possible payment methods (not even Paypal, but I digress). So as the spoilt European that I am I thought to myself, oh, wire transfer, that’ll be nice because then I won’t have to drive to the bank to deposit the check. A few days later I finally received the wire transfer–only to be deducted $12 from my bank in “wire transfer fees”.

    I have been focusing on acquiring direct clients and moving away from agencies as much as possible over the last 12 months, and I decided against my better judgment to accept this agency job. Well, this is definitely it. In my experience, the smaller the company the better their payment terms (though not always: I have a small business owner customer whom I had to chase for months), and agencies seem to be the worst of the bunch. I wonder how they even justify their payment terms. One agency I no longer work for “offers” 90 days net. I have outsourced quite a bit of work, and paying my contractors on time (usually within days of completing a project) has always been very high up on my list, even if I had to pay out of pocket while waiting for my own payment.


  16. Oh, I meant to ask: I have received a number of enquiries about French documents (birth certificates, college diplomas, etc) but had to turn them down because the clients needed a certified/notarized translation for some official purpose. I know there is no such thing as a sworn translator here in the U.S., but how do you get around that? Did you create your own stamp and/or blurb (“I hereby certify that the above translation is accurate, complete, and in accordance etc. etc.”)? Would love to hear your thoughts.


    • Yes,of course, I have my certifying statement. Have been doing it like this for 25 years. I can send you a sample but you can just create one for your purposes. I also have a circular embossing stamp that I ordered at Office Depot years ago. It says “OFFICIAL TRANSLATION” and it looks very impressive.

      The important thing is that your certification needs to be printed on your stationary. I charge 35 dollars for that whether it is a personal document or a patent. If they want it notarized, I tell them that it’s another 50 dollars. They usually don’t insist on notarization, but if they do, you can just go to your bank and they will notarize your statement for free.


      • Steve, $50 for notarization? Here in Washington State the maximum (and minimum!) is only $10. Does your state madate the $50 or are you free to charge whatever you want?

        By the way, we do the same thing: We put a Certification Statement on each translation which lists all our qualifications and certifications, plus our custom-made stamp to look “official.”


      • I tell potential clients that it would take $50 to have my certifying statement notarized, at which point they usually say that my certification, which is only $35, is all they need.

        It they insist, I go to my bank, have my signature certified there and charge the client 50 bucks.

        Only government agencies insist on notarization, and I do charge them 50 dollars. I really charge it for my time because I have to leave my office and drive to my bank.


  17. “First of all, they no longer accept invoices.”

    Your mistake was accepting the job, just like you said. If they don’t accept invoices, that would make it difficult to use my “WTF???!!!” method which has been working for me wonderfully so far.

    I usually get paid right away once I use this method and I get rid of a client that I don’t want anymore at the same time.

    Can you name this agency? If you don’t want to do that here, could you send me a private e-mail with this information.


  18. Thank you for that. I tried to get something notarized at my bank a few months back and they couldn’t do it, saying “Well, we can’t notarize this translation because how do we know what the original says?”. Or do they just notarize your blurb i.e. confirm your identity?

    (I will send you an email about the agency)


  19. Well, then they are total morons who are not even qualified to have the stamp of a notary public.

    All they do when they notarize your document is verifying your signature on your certification. They should know that. Your average ninth grader knows that.

    They should also know that they are supposed to be nice to clients if they want to keep them. Your average first grader knows that.


  20. Hi, I enjoyed your post very much. It seems to be that some agencies see the translator as a very important character when required and once they’ve got the translation done, that magic (and respect) fades away. It is such a bleak practice to use and abuse. I loved your line saying “these people are beyond rude without intending to be rude”. They are shocked when reactions steming from their attitudes arise. Thanks! From Mexico, @gravitaniamex, Verónica.


  21. Thanks for commenting, gravitanimex.

    How did you come up with that name?


  22. […] technical translation Managing Terminology for Translation Using Translation Environment Tools I Need Your Translation Today But Don’t Expect Me To Pay You On Time Resume padding in the translation industry. Fraud or business as usual? The Politics of Language […]


  23. I like your style I must say. Will try the WTF??-Reminder one of those days! Sometimes being rude is the only way forward, unfortunately. I live in Spain a few months per year, and I can tell you it is very much the case here. But people have an incredible tolerance to being insulted…


  24. “But people have an incredible tolerance to being insulted…”

    So do many translators.


  25. Steve,

    Loved your post! WTF??? Loved it! The owner was full of bs not wishing the coworkers to be exposed to that.

    I wonder how all this started with translators. I only see it in this industry, where you spend years studying in school and yet people are not eager to compensate you for a job well done. What is that about? People pay their hairdresser without a word or question, why does this happen in the translation industry? Are translators so gullible? What happened to their self esteem and respect? Why do not so educated people get away with it and translators suffer this way? Something has got to change with that dynamic. It is rather a pity.


    • What you can do, Zoe44, is tell the agency that you will accept a job from them again only if they prepay because they were late with their last payment.

      I do it sometime.

      The agency I am mentioning in the article wanted me to do another job for them a couple of months later, but I told them that I will not work for them any more.

      I don’t need clients like that.

      But most translators can’t do that because they are dependent on agencies, while an agency can easily replace a translator by another one.


      • I see, Thank you.
        Pre-paying should be the new thing in translations. I hope it picks up sooner rather than later. Agencies do not fly that way, unfortunately. Some direct clients would, though, so there is hope for that.
        Hope you enjoy more days at the beach!


  26. Popular wisdom has it that if you are hitting yourself over the head with a stick, chances are you will quit when it hurts badly enough. Griping is no help at all (alternately, uh t’all).

    If a job is big money, ask for a percent as a deposit. If it’s small,nd the agency is new to you, do the job and see how they treat you. As for comparing translators to beauticians, you have the choice of patronizing them or not, depending on their skill and cost. It’s up to you.

    Please don’t say you want government regulation of the translation industry. OMG!!!


    • I don’t want the gubmint to regulate me.

      But I do want them to make hedge fund managers and the mitts of this country pay the same percentage of their income in taxes as I do.

      Although I do know that it’s going to happen only after the next storming of the Bastille.


  27. Hi all

    Well all the stories are not even amazing. These are almost daily experiences translators have to endure. So, being a small idiot as i am, and living in Colombia, (I am an American but married to a Colombian) I just contacted a group of collectors. I don´t know who they are in the USA and don´t want to know. but an agency which owed me over 1000 dollars, and played with me, was very eager to pay when it was contacted by these guys.
    In my life philosophy if someone simply cheats you, there is no limit to the actions he should receive. I don´t like to be a victim, yet I don´t want to mess up my hands with any act. so the people i don´t know
    dotheir job very well. I sell the invoice to a Colombian in Bogota, get my money, and they collect 500 percent or more. The agency does not want to pay? Well even superman can be intimidated…They don´t act violently, but no one wants to lose their car, equipment, be blocked from conducting business, that will cause them to lose many fold more. No one can do anything against this, Not even the police because they break no law, at least not in a way that can be preoven. But they are intimidating… really…
    And yes that agency paid eventually over 5000 instead of 1000.

    I call it the Mafia Way, which is far better than any collection agency or court decision that you can even wipe with it, because the paper is too hard. And if anyone thinks this is not nice, well, not paying for somone´s labor is very much not nice either… so between the two niceties, i prefer to be paid and not to be nice to people who are not nice to me……

    A. Paz


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