My calculator tells me that a year has 52.177 weeks and an average month with 30 days has 4.285 weeks in it. But as every freelance translator who puts the customary payment term of “30 days net” on an invoice knows, we are usually lucky when we get paid in 5 or 6 weeks – those are the clients who we consider to pay more or less on time. I noticed that up to 8 weeks is quite common these days too, regardless of what is on my invoice.
The accounting term “30 days net” these days often means that after we have extended credit at no cost to a client for 30 days, the client will start thinking in about 30 days about whether it is time already to start thinking about whether and how to pay us. This means that according to the accounting calendar of many, although not all, companies who use our services, there are about 7 weeks in 30 days, based on the following mathematical formula which is frequently used for accounting purposes in North America and elsewhere:
7 days x 7 weeks = 30 days (Formula 1)
Is there anything that we can do about it?
Well, it depends on who our customers are, how badly we need the business of customers who happen to be slow payers, and how badly they need us.
1. The slowest payers are usually large corporations. Large corporations know that they can get away with just about anything these days, so their accounting departments see no need to respect the terms of a “vendor’s” invoice.
However, this is not always true because even large corporations employ individuals who will sometime respect the terms on your invoice. So it all depends on whether we can establish a good personal relationship with a decent person who may be working for a large company, and for how long such a person can survive in the corporate culture.
2. The fastest payers are usually very small operations. A tiny translation agency that has been sending me work since 1994 pays its translators immediately. I don’t know how the guy does it, but I find it very hard to say no to him, regardless of how busy I am, which is obviously why he pays so fast.
He is often under a lot of pressure to find very quickly translators who can meet pretty crazy deadlines, and he prefers to work with people that he know quite well since this is the best way to stay out of trouble when you are a translation agency. But of course, some very small operations will behave even worse than a huge corporation. So it all depends again on the character of the person who runs a small translation agency or company.
3. Private individuals usually don’t mind prepaying their orders. If it is a small amount, I make them prepay the entire cost through my PayPal account. If it is a larger amount, I usually ask for 50% in advance and the rest just prior to delivery of the translation. If somebody has a problem with this, I think that there is a very good chance that such a person would not pay at all.
It is not difficult to find a reason to refuse to pay for a translation once you already have the translation.
4. Medium-sized companies are usually somewhat flexible. I remember several occasions when the response from a small law firm to my past-due invoice reminder after 30 days was “we pay in 45 days and, unfortunately, we cannot change the accounting system that we have in place”. But when I responded by saying that I have a system in place too, and based on my system, unfortunately, I have to increase my rate first to customers who take longer than 30 days to pay ….. the firm was able to accommodate me, while a large corporation would not do that.
My reasoning for the necessary increase in the cost of my service can be expressed by Formula 2 below:
If 7 days x 7 weeks = 30 days, then the cost = regular rate + x percent,
(wherein x is a coefficient from 10 to 30 percent). (Formula 2)
So it all depends not only on how badly I need their business, but also on how badly they need my services. Once the customer gets used to my translations, a medium or small law will usually find a way to pay me a little bit faster, at least for a while, before the accounting department reverts again to the old conversion of 30 days into weeks expressed by Formula (1) above.
It was Ovid who said in Epistulae Ex Ponto: “Gutta cavat lapidem non vi, sed saepe cadendo” (a water drop hollows a stone not by force, but by falling often).
If most translators accept the logic of my Formula (1), without applying Formula (2) to compensate for the obvious mathematical inaccuracy of Formula (1), “30 days net” will usually equal about 50 days.
I think that what is in fact happening in the market is that the customers are aware that there are two tiers of translators: some will accept the implications of Formula (1) without a protest. In the present economic situation probably quite a few.
And some will try to apply a version of my Formula (2) in response to the faulty logic of Formula (1). I don’t know how many people will dare to do that, but I do know that once many drops have hollowed out even the hardest stone, there is a hole it and nobody can do anything about it.