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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-48 Hours

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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-48 Hours

48 Hours (actually, 40-and-a-half)


What can you do when a client does not send payment, or does not send enough payment? This is a dilemma many of us face. Here are some suggestions for handling the problem effectively, based on a recent exchange on the Business Practices Education mailing list. Many thanks to Virginia Pérez-Santalla, Beatriz Bonnet, Dorothee Racette, Gabe Bokor, Ute Kegel, and Kim Vitray. Click ATA Business Practices Education discussion list to join.

Monday, 2:23 PM

About six months ago an agency hired me for a two-day interpreting assignment. On the first day, the company said they would need me for two additional days, and called the agency to request my services. I had already received a purchase order from the agency for the first two days, and that same afternoon I received a revised purchase order including the additional two days. Two months passed and the agency still had not paid me, despite numerous inquiries. When I finally did receive a check from them it was only for two days rather than four. I immediately contacted them and explained that the check was not payment in full. Their response was that the project manager had quit, and they had no record of the two additional days. Luckily I had a copy of the revised purchase order and sent it back right away. This was more than two weeks ago and I haven't heard from them. More than six months have passed since the assignment: What do you think my next steps should be? I have already told them (in the hope that it would provoke some reaction) that I wouldn't want to have to resort to harsher measures.
— V.P.S.

Monday, 2:55 PM

I would go to the highest possible level in the agency, if you haven't done so already, and explain your situation to that person before taking any harsher action. Perhaps this matter hasn't yet been taken high enough, and no one lower down knows how to handle it. At many agencies a problem can be fixed if the right people are aware of it.
— B.B.

Monday, 4:34 PM

Those who engage in such practices (assuming it is not simple oversight) should be aware that thanks to the Internet, translators today are no longer defenseless. I once got good results with a (not very thinly) veiled threat to share my story with "the online translator community." If you do need to post such a message, you can protect yourself against threats of legal action with wording such as "If you are considering doing business with XX, you may want to talk to me." That way the information becomes available only to those who are interested.
— G.B.

Monday, 5:06 PM

Here is another trick that has worked very well: If your email to the chief executive officer fails to yield the desired results, send (or say you will send) a message containing all your correspondence with the agency so far, to show them that you have an exact timeline of the events. It demonstrates to them that you are equipped to take further steps if necessary.
— U.K.

Tuesday, 9:39 AM

This is more or less exactly how I think such a situation should be handled. It is much more effective in terms of the translator actually getting paid than either complaining or resorting to "blacklists." If every translator did this every time it happened, it would eventually happen far less often (or such companies would go out of business sooner). Forthright communication and the free market will always be our best tools.
— K.V.

Tuesday, 6:05 PM

All's well that ends well! On Monday afternoon I sent a message to the chief executive officer along with the famous purchase order. I mentioned-very diplomatically, of course!-that I would not want to have to resort to other measures and that I had a complete record of all correspondence. I just now received a call from the agency, with the explanation that the original project manager had not submitted my full invoice for payment. The chief executive officer has approved payment and it will go out tomorrow.
— V.P.S.

Thursday, 3:54 PM

I received the check by FedEx today! And they lived happily ever after ...
— V.P.S.


Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: June 2006, p 35