What to Do When You Don’t Get Paid
This post was originally published on The Translation Guy. It is reposted with permission.
Got a Client Who Didn’t Pay You and Now They Won’t Answer Your Emails? What Are Your Options?
A few years ago, I was a freelance translator translating mainly from English and Spanish into Portuguese. I quite enjoyed the freedom of working from home (pyjamas) and making my own schedule. Online recruiting platforms were my main source of clients and I was keen to make some good cash and get a return on investment from my university degree.
This eagerness wasn’t bad at all. It made me work hard and do my best in all my projects. On the other hand, I may have overlooked an important aspect of the freelance business: customer qualification.
You see, not all customers are good customers, because, in short, some don’t want to pay. They may have different reasons for not paying you, but in the end, if you provided a good service and you didn’t get paid, then you’re in the situation I was in. Before we go through your options, let’s talk a bit about customer qualification.
In the real estate business, as well as qualifying the sellers and the real estate itself, agents also qualify the buyers (some don’t, but they should). Agents try to evaluate the buyer’s profile and see if they’re fit to purchase what they want. For example, if you earn minimum wage and you want to buy a 2M€ condo in the centre of Lisbon, your real estate agent would probably discourage you from doing so. They would tell you that you’ll have problems getting a loan from the bank and that, even if you managed to do so, you would have problems paying it back and the bank would probably end up taking your house.
When it comes to the translation market, there are also ways to qualify your customers. In this case, qualifying customers basically means trying to find out if they are legit companies and if anyone else has had problems with them. Here are a few things you can do:
What Kind of Client Are We Talking About?
Is it a translation company? Is the end-client a company or an individual? If your client is a company, that makes your life much easier because it will make the following steps easier to accomplish. If your client is an individual, bear in mind that he or she could just disappear once the job is done, so you may want to ask for a percentage of the fee before starting the job.
Pay Attention to the Way They Communicate.
How did the potential translation client get in touch with you? Did they send you a message through a platform or email you directly? Either way, understand who you’ve spoken to. Are they a project manager? Account manager? HR? Do they have an email signature? Does the email signature have a phone number you can call and ask a few questions about the job? If so, then you’re on the right path to getting paid. In short, try to eliminate potential scams and verify the authenticity and quality of the company you’re talking to.
Take a Look at Your Customer’s Website.
If your potential customer is a company, a good way to find out if they are reliable is by taking a look at their website. Try to look for signs that things were done in a hurry, like bad translations, broken links, fake phone numbers, fake addresses, etc.
Call the Office.
If you’re really suspicious of the authenticity of your client, you can always enable Sherlock mode and call their office. If they answer the phone in a professional manner, you may receive your payment once the work is done. If the number doesn’t exist, then you should be wary – they may not be serious, or they may be about to scam you.
Google the Client.
Google can be your friend here. Try googling the client’s company name with the keywords “payment”, “didn’t pay” or “scam” and see what pops up. You may not be the first person that the client has refused to pay.
Research the Client on Several Platforms.
Don’t stop at a google search. Try searching for evidence of non-payment on ProZ or other platforms. Start where you got your client from. You can also go to the client’s social network profiles (Google Business, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and see if there are any comments about payment issues.
Ask Around in Translator’s Groups.
If you’re a translator, you may be part of some translator community. The most common ones are Facebook Groups. Perhaps you could ask if any of your colleagues have had any problems with this particular client.
And Still… I Didn’t Get Paid.
No matter how careful you are, eventually a client will try to avoid paying you. Sometimes payment will be very delayed and sometimes you won’t get paid at all. The main reasons for clients not paying you are:
- Bureaucracy – If your client is a big company, the payment may go through several departments before it reaches your wallet. On its trip down department river, the payment may be lost or, even worse, the person who assigned you the work may not have the authorisation to do so. In that case, the chain of command will break, and your payment won’t be processed. If this happens, you’re in for a ride on the legal carrousel.
- Bankruptcy – Even though a company may appear healthy in their communication, their bank records may say otherwise. If this is the case, you’re in trouble.
- End-client didn’t pay – Some companies will wait for their end-clients to pay them before they pay their service providers. That’s why you usually have to wait 60 days before you get your hands on your golden coins: end-client pays in 30, you get it in 60. If, however, the end-client doesn’t pay, some companies will block your payment. They shouldn’t do this, and you should fight against it.
- Scam – And then there are scams. Someone wanted you to translate something, convinced you to do it, but had no intention of paying you in the first place. Your chances of winning in this situation are slim and depend on who scammed you and why.
So, What Should You Do?
First of all, remain calm. Then, go through the following diagram.
Please note that following the diagram above won’t guarantee you getting paid. You may find that the company that owes you money is bankrupt, or that they are in a country where going to court is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
As for me, I eventually got my 700€ back after a year and a half, 15 emails, half a dozen phone calls and a bad review on ProZ (this last one got the job done).
If you have any other tricks up your sleeve, feel free to comment below or send me an email and I will be glad to update this post.
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