Payment Pitfalls of the Modern Freelance Translator

If there is one topic that consistently strikes fear into freelancers, it’s payments. From anxiously watching your bank account balance to bombarding a client’s accounting team, the topic can elicit feelings of anger, distress and worry that can sometimes leave us longing for a regular paycheck. In an age of revolutionary financial technology, online payment solutions and blockchain technology, there is little excuse for poor payment practices, yet freelancers find themselves all too often battling to receive their hard-earned money on time.

A Financial Renaissance?

We are entering something of a heyday when it comes to payment solutions. The continued rise of fintech is transforming the space, and the likes of PayPal, Transferwise and Revolut are providing accounting departments across the globe with a plethora of options for fast, effective borderless payments.

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Coincidentally, this technology is remarkably well suited to the language services industry, which requires that millions of small payments are made to freelancers across the globe each and every month. Yet the industry remains dogged by slow, costly bank transfers, a payment method that is already antiquated and becoming redundant in many other sectors.

We live in an era where it is possible to make near-instantaneous transactions, yet the language services industry opts for a method that often takes longer than it would to deliver the payment in person, whether it be in India, China or Brazil.

Cash Flow Worries

However, while the method of payment may be a source of irritation for freelancers, it is the actual payment behaviors of companies that can really grind a freelancer’s gears. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of LSPs take payments extremely seriously, and realize the criticality of this for maintaining any sort of relationship with freelancers, let alone a good one.

Yet all freelancers have had their fair share of payment issues. While the urgency placed on freelancers to deliver projects on time can be extreme, some LSPs take a more relaxed, blasé stance when it comes to making prompt payment. And in the worst cases, overdue payments are accompanied by an accounts team playing dead, a process commonly known as stonewalling.

While not ideal, I can budget for long 60-day payment terms, but when I am then informed that cash-flow issues will delay my payment further, I am forced to take on and endure the business mistakes of others. This is of course manageable for smaller payments, but when payment for a six-week project was significantly delayed back in 2016, I quickly ran into my own cash flow worries.

When payment for a six-week project was significantly delayed back in 2016, I quickly ran into my own cash flow worries.

As a freelance translator, instances like this have left me feeling utterly powerless. With limited financial and legal clout, I am left with little option but to wait, an act of forced clemency that will not be reciprocated by my bank, landlord or insurance provider. Opting for a burdensome and expensive legal process in the event of non-payment is simply not feasible for me, effectively leaving me at the mercy of the clients I choose to work for.

More recently, I have also noticed the encroachment of exploitative payment practices. One particularly audacious attempt I received in my inbox was for a 20% reduction in my rate in return for 30-day payment terms as opposed to 60. I felt this type of tactic was preying on freelancers’ insecurities regarding payments and should thus be universally rebuffed.

Poor Payment Practices Are Terminal

The saving grace for freelancers is that we have full choice with respect to who we choose to work with, and that there are a lot of fantastic options out there. As the language services industry continues to boom, so do the choices for who we opt to partner with in our freelance endeavors.

Failing to see the long-term damage of poor payment practices can be terminal for companies in the industry. Payment is so fundamental to a freelancer’s well-being, that just one bad experience can have translator’s running for the door, leaving a trail of negative online reviews in their wake.

LSPs can build up a loyal pool of high-quality translators and gain a competitive advantage simply by implementing fair and consistent payment practices.

When coupled with several highly influential databases naming and shaming guilty parties, companies can quickly be seen as a pariah by the freelancer community and will thus fail to attract the quality of linguist required to compete in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

But it’s certainly not all doom and gloom. In today’s market, LSPs can build up a loyal pool of high-quality translators and gain a competitive advantage simply by implementing fair and consistent payment practices.

And freelancers can quickly separate the wheat from the chaff through researching companies thoroughly, thus avoiding many of the payment pitfalls of their predecessors. A win-win situation if you ask me.

Simon Klys

Translator and editor currently based in Berlin. Thoroughly enjoys all things Scandinavian.