FREELANCE, but not HELPLESS: Deal with non-paying clients

January 22, 2014
FREELANCE, but not HELPLESS: Deal with non-paying clients

The majority of clients who use translation services pay for their translation work in a timely fashion. However, as a translator you may come across the occasional client who either pays you late or who won’t pay at all. In those situations, it is important to know how you should proceed with demanding payment for your services. 

Was there a legitimate reason my client didn't pay? 

Legitimate reason no. 1:  The client was unhappy with the translation that you provided.
Solution: It is important to negotiate the next steps. You have the option to put further work into the translation or to offer a reduced fee for the work. 

Legitimate reason no. 2: Some clients may forget to pay their bills before going on holiday or may just be disorganised and pay late. Be sure to understand any factors such as these if you can, as they will influence the tone of your communications with the client. 
Solution: If he is just forgetful but intending to pay eventually, you may still wish to work with him on future jobs, so think about that when deciding on the tone you intend to take. 

Non-paying clients: OK, he isn't going to pay.

Sadly, some clients will just not pay for the translation work that you have provided them with and may cease to communicate with you. In that case:
1. Follow your usual processes for chasing payment. 
2. In some countries, you can charge interest to the client after a certain period of non-payment has elapsed. 
3. Many countries also offer legal advice services to individuals and small businesses that are having trouble with non-paying clients, so have a look on the internet to find out what support is on offer in your area. 
4. You may find template letters that you can send to the non-payer in order to warn them of the legal consequences of non-payment. If the client still doesn’t pay…
5. You should have the option to pursue legal action. This can be a time-consuming and costly process, so consider it carefully. For most translators, the decision to pursue legal action will depend entirely on the value of the invoice that has not been paid – is it worth the time it will take you to follow the legal process?

An alternative approach – using social media

Professional translator Signe Rixen suggests an alternative approach to legal action:
“It can at times prove very efficient to post a note on their LinkedIn profile or profile in other social media. Companies are usually not very keen on having publicity suggesting that they are bad payers or not serious.”
Of course, if you choose to take such a course of action, be sure that what you state is entirely factual – you don’t want to find yourself the subject of a libel case! 

Tips to avoid non-paying clients in the first place

There are a couple of steps that you can take to try and avoid working for non-paying clients: 
Ask for an upfront payment for all new clients. This can be a percentage of your final fee or a fixed amount, depending on your business model. By only working for clients who have paid something upfront, you know that at least some income is guaranteed from the job, even if the final payment becomes an issue. 

Ensure that you have a signed agreement in place with each client for whom you undertake translation work. This can be in a standardised format that is tweaked for each new client. Having this agreement in place provides you with a clear written statement that outlines your costs and your expected payment terms. Should any dispute over payment occur, this document will help you to pursue formal action to ensure you receive payment. 

Have you ever had to deal with a non-paying client? What did you do about it and did the client eventually pay? Share your experience via the comment box.