Finally all holidays are over. Even the old style New Year celebrated in Russia passed yesterday. Although freelancers do not live by official calendars, now we feel ourselves more decisive to throw into work with enthusiasm.
Probably most of you have already summed up all your achievements and set new goals for 2015. However when it comes to finance in freelance the results can be assessed only a month or even two after the year is finished. A couple of days ago I decided to check my statistics file for 2014 and found out that almost all my invoices had been paid already. There are only a few due in January and February. This fact allows me to say that the year has finished without any debts.
When I checked statistics for all previous years, it appeared that the last backlog dates back to 2010 and constitutes just $33. And at that moment the idea came to my mind: this is success. This is one of my personal achievements I can be proud of.
Very often I see posts where translators and other freelancers moan about non-payers and ask for advice how to avoid bad clients. Some experienced colleagues say with certainty: “Ask for payment in advance.” I cannot agree with that. Imagine that you are a newbie in the world of freelance translation or voice-over, and the most important thing for you now is to find your first clients and build up a good reputation. If you demand upfront payment from every single potential customer, I am afraid that it will take much more time for you to entrench yourself in the market. I follow this advice very rarely and only with companies who have evidently bad reputation. I do not reject offers from them immediately. I answer in a regular polite manner and add one small sentence: “Please note I would only be able to cooperate with you on a full prepayment basis.” If they agree — excellent: it means that I would get the immediate payment and start working without any worries. If they are not happy with my offer — great: at least I do not cooperate with a bad client.
Of course, some luck always plays its role. I remember working for a company with a very bad reputation (I found it out later): I completed a huge project and received the whole amount invoiced. Only sometime after that I understood that I had real chances to be one of those deceived translators.
Nevertheless, in general I would say that our good payment statistics is obliged to a few rules, which we follow in our family business:
- Look at the email address. It should be professional. The domain is usually the name of the company. Any offers sent from public domains (gmail, hotmail, etc.) should be suspicious for you.
- Check databases on professional websites and platforms. A lot of potential clients are registered with BlueBoard on Proz.com or have some feedback on Hall of Fame and Shame on Translatorscafe.com, even when they do not publish any projects there. This step is easy, quick and often gives necessary results. At least if a company is a famous non-payer, it is very likely enlisted there with bad marks. You should know that if a bad client is not registered with BlueBoard, any freelancer can register it and leave a feedback, so that other colleagues are warned already.
- Check company’s website and its social media appearance. The more traces you see online the better. Website is a face of any company. Moreover it is always a good sign when a potential client is active with social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+. If you haven’t succeeded in finding the client on any of these resources, try to check if the company is mentioned there by your colleagues. Absence of any information about the company on the Internet should be a red flag for you. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t cooperate with this company: just be more attentive and cautious. Perhaps it is some small local company, which is just starting its way in business, may be it is your first direct client, who knows?
- Pay attention to style and politeness. Any professional in any sphere should know business ethics and be polite. Of course, cultures are different and sometimes people from other countries can seem a little bit rude in their correspondence style. However if the style obviously reveals unprofessional behavior, you can almost be sure that your cooperation with that person would be a disaster.
- Say ‘Yes’ to small jobs. Very often completing a small project can become the best way to see if the client is responsible and pleasant to work with. Even if you bump into a cheat, it would not cost you much money. At the same time every tiny job can become a start of long-term winning relationship.
- Be polite. Always. Even when you really don’t want to be polite. Sometimes we have to remind our clients about our invoices and overdue payments. Often it can seem rather irritating. If a client is a permanent slow-payer, it is a good reason to think about changing the situations. Perhaps you’ll raise your rate for this company or you will just refuse from cooperating. It is up to you and it depends on specific pros and cons. Anyway, whatever your attitude to the client is, never lose your patience and keep complying with your business ethics. This is your reputation. Even if you leave this client, you don’t want them to tell somebody that you are rude or unprofessional.
- The last rule is not so common I think, but I always follow it subconsciously. I pay closer attention to clients from certain countries. It is mostly from my personal experience, but there is a kind of statistics in my mind, which says that there are more scammers in some countries in comparison with others. Unfortunately Russia is among the first category for me. This is one of the reasons why I seldom cooperate with Russian customers.
Definitely there have always been exceptions to the rules. For example, in 2009 I was not paid by an extremely pleasant company, with perfect project management, accurate purchase orders, and a nice looking website. Finally, they even belonged to one of those countries which I added to the “good list”. So even the best cart may be upset. It happens, but every exception only proves the rule.
And what are your tricks for diminishing non-payment risks? You are welcome to share your experience in comments.