Posted by: patenttranslator | January 8, 2014

There is no point in working for people who are not the kind of people you want to work for


I will cut a lot of slack to a direct client because, to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, direct clients are different from agencies …. they pay more. They can basically treat me any way they want and I am unlikely to protest … as long as they keep paying me about twice as much as what an agency is typically paying.

But I do not have a whole lot of patience with translation agencies. Here is a recent exchange of e-mails between Mad Patent Translator and a translation agency. The exchange ensued when I dared to ask the agency about an invoice which was at that point almost a month past due.


(The last name of the agency coordinator and accounting department person omitted).

1. My initial e-mail from me to them:

Subject: Past Due Invoice No. xxxx from Steve Vitek

Dear Ms. C.:

Based on my records, no payment has been received so far for the attached invoice.

Could you please let me know when will I receive the payment?


2. Their first response:

Hi Steve,
I have forwarded your message to

They will follow up with you asap.
Thanks and best regards,

3. The response of their accounting person next day, about 20 hours later:

Sorry Steve,
We had no record of this.
It is being processed for payment.

4. My response to John from accounting:

You had no record of an invoice for a translation that you received and confirmed?
How is that possible?


5. John’s response was very brief:

That is correct. Accounting had no record of the invoice.

6. So I said:

So how do I know that I will get paid next time if I work for you again when my invoice never even makes it to your accounting department?


And John from accounting said:

Always send your invoices to

7. So I said:

It is probably safer not to work for your company.


8. To which Kristin said:


I looked back to my files for November.
The translation was rec’d on the 14th.
There were omissions in the file that were not corrected and rec’d until the 18th.
The invoice was rec’d on the 14th.

I failed to forward the invoice to accounting immediately.
I didn’t forward it to accounting immediately on the 14th because of errors/omissions in the file.

I apologize for not forwarding the invoice.  I was never my intention to “not pay Steve” it was an oversight.

Steve apologized for errors/omissions.  I assume he didn’t mean to send a file with omissions.
John has said the check will go out Saturday.

I think everything is back in place.
Thank you and kind regards,


9. To which I said the following:

“I didn’t forward it to accounting immediately on the 14th because of errors/omissions in the file.”

Oh, I see.

So it’s basically all my fault. That’s why your agency is being so extremely polite about a past-due invoice.

Next time, if I make a typo or skip a few words (“errors/omissions”) while trying to decipher the gibberish and abbreviations of some doctor, I might not get paid at all.

Good to know.


10. And here is the last response from Kristin:

Hi Steve,

I am sorry you are taking things this way.
I have apologized for not forwarding the invoice right away. Sorry.
John is paying the invoice and the check is going out on Saturday.
That is all that can be done at this point.

Thank you for your professionalism.
Best regards,


Instead of continuing the back and forth with the agency, which was making me more and more furious, I decided to put the e-mails in a block post, while preserving the anonymity of the translation agency.

All they had to do was to say, Steve, we’re sorry, we somehow overlooked your invoice, it will be mailed in a few days … and everything would be peachy. That is how a normal, decent person would react. That is how I would react if I forgot to pay a translator.

But instead they just treated me like a piece of garbage because that is how they normally treat all translators.

“Thank you for your professionalism”? What the hell does that mean? I suppose it means that I am “a professional” if I don’t mind waiting for the payment 2 months instead 1 month, which is a very long time already.

I am pretty sure that they will call on me again because these translations are part of an effort to gather medical data about certain types of patients, and this was the third translation from the same source that they sent me so far over a period of a couple of years.

It is not that easy to find a translator who can do this kind of work, although, of course, it can be done. I am not irreplaceable, although I am not nearly as easily replaceable as a translation agency.

What do you think, should I continue working for them?

They are so damn arrogant …. that they don’t even realize how arrogant they are! They think that what they are doing is perfectly normal and acceptable and Mad Patent Translator is being irrational again.



  1. Sorry Steve, I had to laugh, not at you of course. So typical. And the very reason why I have stopped working for agencies altogether. But you are the master of your decisions.


    • I know you were laughing at me too, Nadine.

      But it’s OK.

      If I can make people laugh, I have not lived my life in vain.


  2. Sounds more like poor organization skills than intentional abuse, but I agree that the appropriate response would have been a short apology (not an implied tua culpa) and quick handling of the payment. The excuses and the “we have no record” nonsense are ludicrous when the communication breakdown is entirely internal.

    Perhaps you could give everyone a break in this case by smiling, forgiving them and celebrating the new year with another rate increase 🙂


    • Tua culpa was explicit, not just implied.

      I don’t like how they treat me.

      Unless I’m really desperate when they ask me to this again next time, I will turn them down.

      In the long run it makes much more sense to work only for people who treat people like people (I sound like Barbara Streisand again).


  3. Should you continue working for them?
    Well, if you depend on them for the lox on your bagel (or whatever it is that you like) and cream cheese is not enough or if you really need lox and you can’t get the lox from anywhere else, continue working for them; otherwise forget them.


  4. No, I don’t depend on them. I only do this medical job for them every once in a while.

    So I think your answer is: No, you should not continue working for them.


  5. Apart from being perhaps a bit too brief in their responses to you, I really don’t see why you got so upset that you felt the need to say 7. I would have done the same as Kirstin. Until a job is done and dusted, I wouldn’t send the invoice on to accounts either. It’s just a method of working, one logical step leads to another. And they even provided you with the accounts email for next time (many agencies I work for have this practice).


  6. I beg to disagree, Nicky.

    The job was done and dusted.

    It’s not my fault that she asked me about a typo and a missing line (4 words under a picture in small font) only 4 days later and then forget to process the invoice.

    And the fact that she is now calling it “errors and omissions” shows clearly who I am dealing with.

    I am dealing with people that I don’t want to and don’t have to deal with.


  7. The project manager was trying to cover herself by shifting the blame to
    you, even though the “errors and omissions” described are exactly what the
    agency is paid to catch, it’s their job and why we charge them less than
    direct clients. She should have just admitted that she was busy and forgot
    to send your invoice to accounting. That does happen and the normal response is to apologize and get accounting to speed up payment. When I see a pattern
    like this, I mark the agency with a note to myself to always inquire about
    the invoice right away rather than giving them some leeway. I also impose a
    late charge for future invoices if necessary, or shorten the due date. One
    German company drives me insane – they want discounts but if you don’t peck
    at them constantly they will wait for more than two months to pay (my terms
    are normally 30 days). I finally put them on 10 days, which meant I got the
    money in 30 days at least… Very nice project managers, but accounting
    deliberately drags their feet on payment (they’re infamous on the net for
    this, so it’s not just me). Anyway – there are intermediate steps that can
    be taken, such as not being quick to give discounts or to accept short
    deadlines or impose late charges, raise fees to compensate for aggravation, etc. unless you really can’t stand them at


  8. Thank you, Cathy, very good advice, both for beginners and sometime clueless old timers such as myself.


  9. What I don’t understand is why you are working for agencies after translating for 30 years. Who else does this?


  10. Only 27 years.

    I will stop working for them in another 3 years.


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