What payment terms are translators putting on their invoices these days?
As far as I know, here in United States, “30 days net” has been the most commonly used payment term for several decades in the translation business, or the translation industry or whatever you want to call it, at least when one deals mostly with translation agencies.
But there are some agencies who pay much faster, and quite a few that will let you wait for your money about 2 months or more. The same can be said about direct clients as well.
At this point I work only for a few agencies, but 2 agencies sending me work regularly pay me within a few days, which is why I find it difficult to say no when they have a job for me even if I am quite busy at the moment.
One is a mini agency, or rather an individual who has been sending me work for about 20 years. He pays when he receives my translation. Period. Even if the tab is several thousand dollars. I don’t know how he does it, and I don’t really care. But when he calls or e-mails, I go out of my way to fit his job in if at all possible.
Another agency that pays me within a few days must be quite big, and they seem to be doing all kinds of things in addition to translating. They pay every two weeks, which means that I usually have to wait for my money no more than about 10 days. Does that mean that other types of agencies, for example employment agencies, pay much faster than translation agencies?
I don’t know, but I think it is likely.
So it is not really true that “30 days net” is the norm when it comes to how long freelancers have to wait for their money. There is no norm. Everything depends on what kind of client you are dealing with.
I still usually put on my invoice “30 days net” if I am billing a translation agency or a patent law firm that has been sending me work for many years because I don’t think that it is a good idea to change payment terms out of the blue. About half of the patent law firms pay me within 30 days or slightly sooner, the rest of them take about 6 weeks, some 7 weeks.
Because a month is a really long time to wait for your money, as of this year I started putting “21 days” on invoices for patent law firms that I never worked for before. Some of these newly acquired customers do pay within 3 weeks, especially patent law firms abroad. Some take 4 to 6 weeks, regardless of what is on my invoice, especially law firms in US and Canada.
After I delivered my first translation of a Japanese patent about a year ago to a new customer in Australia, the lawyer who received it called to tell me how pleased he was with the translation. He told me that they were not happy with the previous supplier and that they would have more work for me. But after I politely reminded the law firm’s accounting department that 30 days was up that, they responded by saying that “payment terms of 3 months are not unusual”. So I patiently waited for my money for 3 long months and never worked for them again.
As I said, there is no norm and everything depends on what client I am dealing with.
It has been my experience that with notable exceptions, the worst customers or customers who let me wait forever for that check are large corporate enterprises. Which is why a law firm that has hundreds or thousands of lawyers is not my ideal type of customer.
As far as I can tell, an ideal customer for me is an individual such as a sole practitioner, or a small to medium-sized patent law firm with just a few lawyers in it. The fewer people there are in such an enterprise, the more accountability one can usually expect from them, and vice versa.
I will end this post with an example of how shabbily I was treated as a beginning translator by a translation agency that was sending me a steady stream of Japanese patents about 25 years ago. At one point, I was owed well over three thousand dollars by the agency, (which would make it well over five thousand in today’s money taking into account inflation), for several invoices which were about between 5 to 7 weeks old.
So I called them. There was no Internet back then, they were sending me patents for translation by Federal Express and I was sending my translations printed on paper back the same way. I used to always deal with a very nice coordinator there, her name was Lidia and I really liked her.
When Lidia called the owner, he told me that the check was sent about 10 days ago. “But I have not received it”, I replied timidly. The man started yelling at me, his voice booming into my ear in my telephone receiver: “What are you insinuating?”, he said. This was the first time that somebody accused me of insinuating something. And the last time. So, trying to keep my cool, I said that I was not insinuating anything, that I just needed to get paid to pay my bills.
After the irate owner calmed down some, he said he that would check with his bank and call back. And he did. As the check obviously did not clear the bank, he told me that he would have to cancel the check, send a new one to me, this time by Federal Express, and that the bank cancellation fee and that the Federal Express fee would be subtracted from the new check.
So I agreed as I did have bills to pay, and I received the check next day by Federal Express.
A few days later, a check with the missing payment, presumably the one that I was “insinuating” I had not received, mysteriously turned up in my mail. The postmark on the envelope was about two weeks old, but since it was printed on the company’s postal machine, there was no way for me to determine when was the check really mailed.
A few days later, Lidia called with the cheerful news that she had more patents for me to translate. She seemed genuinely surprised when I told her that I would never work for her company again because I kind of did not like too much the way I was treated by her boss.
This particular translation agency owner died some time ago, but the agency is still around, and as far as I can tell, they are still looking for beginning translators who charge low rates as I did a quarter century ago (their appeals to zombie translators found their way into my mailbox as nobody at the agency knows who I am and Lidia is running her own agency now).
It makes me feel very good when I see that this translation agency’s Google ranking is quite a bit lower than mine. When I type into a search engine certain key words, namely those that I know customers who are looking for the kind of translations that I provide are using, my website usually comes up among the first listings on page 1, while this company’s website is usually on page 2 on Google and on other search engines.
25 years later, I still haven’t gotten over it.
I still hate this company.
Hatred is not a good thing … but it is what it is.
This morning I found out from a new direct client that my bid for a translation project was accepted by this new client over the bid of the translation agency that mistreated me long time ago as mentioned in the second part of this post although their bid was lower.
Don’t ask me how I did it, I would disclose a trade secret only under extreme torture, on the point of dying.
Since I have not really given any thought to this particular translation agency for the last 25 years until I wrote this post yesterday, to me this is clear evidence of what Karl Jung describes in his theory of synchronicity.
Or it could be the result of what John Lennon calls “Instant Karma”:
“Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right in the face” ….
It took 25 years for this particular instance of Instant Karma to manifest itself, but then again, 25 years is less than an instant in the grand, cosmic scheme of things.