Get Paid!

Many times, it's relatively easy to find out details about a particular client's past payment history by using fantastic tools such as Payment Practices. However, those rating services largely focus on translation agencies. We work almost exclusively with direct clients, which makes it difficult to obtain readily available information about their payment practices.

We have thus far had almost overwhelmingly positive experiences in terms of payment, even by individuals (not backed by a corporation) who would be difficult to find should they choose to default on their payment. Unfortunately, in the last few weeks, we have had to follow-up on some outstanding invoices.

What we learned:
  • State your payment terms clearly on your invoice. Ours are payable upon receipt, but as is customary, we give a 30-day grace period.
  • After 45 days, we send a friendly follow-up e-mail, pointing out that we had been reviewing our accounts receivable list and had noticed an outstanding payment. We then politely inquire about the status of the payment. This is usually a short, friendly e-mail.
  • After 60 days (and perhaps sooner), we send another e-mail message, referencing the previous e-mail. A good way to phrase it is to say "We have noticed that the invoice for our services (invoice number XYZ) from date (XYZ) is still outstanding. In our previous communication, you had indicated that you would be kind enough to look into this matter. Could you please tell us when we can expect payment? Thanks for your business".
  • Call the accounting department. Once you realize that your contact person is either not following up, not being responsive, or perhaps embarrassed to admit the oversight of the payment, you might have to go up the chain of command. We recently had to do that for the very first time and called the client's accounts payable department(part of a very large organization). Turns out they had no record of our invoice at all; which means that the department manager who hired us never submitted our paperwork. We successfully worked with accounts payable to get this issue resolved.
If you have any suggestions/experiences concerning outstanding payment and how to handle the process of collection your invoice, please share them by leaving a comment. Have you ever had a complete non-payment experience? Which steps did you take and how did you deal with the situation?

The Business of Integrity

Entrepreneurship in any line of business is all about referrals and reputation. To succeed in our profession, it is extremely important to develop a solid reputation as a trustworthy, professional translation services provider who has, first and foremost, integrity.

It's overused and sounds trite, but it really is true that your character shows when no one is looking. Our your business integrity, in this case.

One of our new clients in Germany, with whom we have a great working relationship , transferred the payment for our services to Dagmar's account in Vienna, as is customary in Europe. Upon closer examination of the online checking account activity, we saw the following:

Two payments for the same project? No, one is enough. It's a large company, so it's quite possible that this billing snafu would go unnoticed. However, we cannot and will not accept more money than we have rightfully earned. Thus, we contacted our client, told them about their accounting mistake, and asked them to reverse the second transfer. Without a doubt, it's the right thing to do.

Translator Gone Wild

In our experience, the vast majority of our fellow translators are highly professional individuals who like to go the extra mile to make their clients happy, especially in times like these. However, there seem to be linguists who either do not need more clients or who are, unfortunately, willing to ruin their reputation (and, by extension, our profession's) with unprofessional behavior.

True story: one of our most treasured clients asked us to help him find a translator for German->Chinese, which we happily did through the Austrian Interpreters' and Translators' Association's directory. Our client then contacted the Chinese translator, sent him the source text, and expected to get the translation back in a Word file, as is customary. Instead, some time later, our mild-mannered client received notification from the Austrian Post, inviting him to pick up a cash on delivery item, requiring him to pay approximately EUR 500.00. Since he wasn't expecting any such item, the client called the post office for more information. It turns out that the Chinese translator had sent the translation as a hard copy (the postal service employee on the phone agreed to bend the envelope: there was no CD inside). Our client – rightfully so -- decided not to spend the money on a translation he had no use for because he needed the electronic version. He sent the translator an e-mail asking for clarification and kindly asked him to e-mail him the Word file, after which he would gladly pick up the item at the post office and pay for the translation. Since the translator never responded to any of the client’s e-mails, he finally called the translator who immediately started yelling at him, accusing the client (!) of being unprofessional and threatening to sue him if he didn't pick up the item without delay. Client explained once again that he needed the electronic version, after which translator, having told him that he needed "to make do with the paper copy" hung up.

The good news is that the Austrian Interpreters' and Translators' Association won't tolerate such behavior that is detrimental to the industry as a whole. The issue is already on the agenda of our upcoming board meeting on Wednesday.

(Net) working

As a follow-up to last week's post, we wanted to share some thoughts on what we call the "new/old" networking strategies. In our opinion, the "new" networking sessions -- the business mixers, the networking luncheons, the Chamber of Commerce-hosted happy hours -- are, in general, a good idea. The problem is supply/demand. Too many sellers, not enough buyers. At those events (which we have been attending for years, mostly when working in corporate America), everyone wants to sell something, but most people aren't interested or ready to listen to what other people have to say; as it's all about their pitch and what they can get out of the informal meeting. We have now stopped attending these events, and went back to an old-fashioned principle, which is good for us, as we are not natural salespeople -- far from it.

What we now do is we speak passionately about what we do. We are in the lucky position to do something -- translation -- that we are truly passionate about. Hence, these conversations are always very easy, and we are not trying to sell anything. When we get asked what we do, we usually speak enthusiastically about our industry, our place in it, what we are working on, etc. Case in point that in can be effective: Last week, I finally found a fantastic tennis partner who is not my twin sister. My tennis partner, Staci, had just started running her own busiess as well (a wine distribution company). We briefly talked about how our businesses were going, and exchanged thoughts on leaving corporate America (which we both recently did). As I was telling her about our translation business, her face lit up and she said: "I will send your info to a friend of mine who owns a court reporting business; she always needs Spanish translations!". I quickly followed up with Staci's friend who might be interested in working with us. It may not lead to actual business, but it's good to know that one doesn't have to act like a used car salesman (sorry, car sales guys) to grow the business. The title of this post, "(Net) working" comes courtesy of fellow translator and blogger Corinne McKay of Thoughts on Translation, to whom I had related this story. Thanks, Corinne!

No Translator is an Island

Having a solid network of fellow linguists is paramount for entrepreneurs in the translation and localization industries. Just like most businesses, we get a substantial amount of work through word of mouth and referrals, and we frequently pay it forward. We are happy to send work to fellow translators when we are too busy or like to recommend specialists who are better at the field in question than we are. It's also about getting the best translation for the specific client and project, so it makes sense that we work together with a network of colleagues whose work we trust and respect. There's enough business for all of us, and by setting a friendly and helpful tone with clients and colleagues it's a win-win for the individual, the whole, and the profession. We think it also strengthens the languages industry when we present a solid, united front working towards the same goals: high quality in language services.

Just today I found out that clients really like being given options, too. I was following up with a client about a quote I had sent last week. I wrote: "If you decided to go with one of my fine fellow linguists in town, I am sure you will be in very good hands!", to which my potential client responded that he did indeed want to hire me. He cited my honesty and my willingness to suggest alternatives as the main reason for choosing our services.

In addition to referrals, our virtual and in-person network of translators around the world provides incredibly insightful advice about potential clients, pitfalls, new projects, etc. We subscribe to several Listservs, first and foremost the German Language Division Listserv of the American Translators Association, which is a fantastic resources for asking a large group of highly qualified linguists about terminology and translation input. Many times, they are our lifeline for difficult language challenges, and thanks to international time zones,and members all around the world, someone is always working.

Good Monolingual Business Dictionary

In our quest for always finding better and more subject-specific dictionaries and glossaries, preferably online and free (we already have most of the good, expensive ones on CD-Rom), we came across this Monolingual Business Dictionary. It's a good tool to help one understand basic as well as complex business terms before starting a translation. It also helps with these troubled financial times: many terms are recession- and crisis-specific, and we haven't run across them frequently before 2008. Hedge-fund related terminology: bring it on!

With the exception of the to-be-expected Google ads, we like the dictionary's layout and feel. We have just begun using it, and have found it to be useful and informative thus far.

You can add the Business Dictionary to your RSS feed here.

Marketing Tip of the Week

A few days ago, I was reading my alma mater's (University of Nevada Las Vegas) alumni magazine, and just like every month, I looked under the "class notes" section to see what my fellow graduates (the ones I am not in touch with) were up to. It's always great to read about other alumni's careers and lives after graduation. As a two-time alumna of UNLV (B.S., 1998 and M.B.A., 2001) and lifetime member of the alumni organization, I had, however, never submitted information on my own career to be included in the magazine. Today, I changed that.

In my class notes submission, I announced my recent decision to join my twin sister full-time in our translation business and gave some background on my previous work experience running a Spanish-language travel website in corporate America. The inclusion in the alumni magazines is free at UNLV, and surely other universities have a similar set-up. I think it's a fantastic way to communicate what you are doing to professionals in your area, and could also prove to be a valuable marketing and advertising tool: after all, running a small business is all about referrals. My thinking is that even if I do not get any business from my listing, perhaps I will have the chance to reconnect with long-lost friends and colleagues. Check into your university's alumni magazine!

Automated Translation Amusement

The merits and pitfalls of several aspects of machine translation are highly debated in the language technology world, and it's an interesting topic. However, we can all certainly agree on one thing: automated translation does not work: these programs can't conjugate, decline, recognize meaning, read between the lines, do syntax, etc. Many of us have tried this for fun on Bablefish where one can enter a say, German text and have it translated into awful English. The real fun starts when you translate it back into the original source language -- it's never the same, and it's quite hilarious.

Via a Twitter feed, I discovered a tool that makes this even easier, so if you would like to spend a few minutes reminding yourself how important linguists are, click here.

Our example in English: It's pretty chilly outside. I think I will stay home and finish my book tonight. The result in German: It' s-recht kühle Außenseite. Ich denke, dass ich Haus bleibe und mein Buch heute Abend beende. And back into English: It' s-quite exterior cools. I think that I remain house and terminate my book this evening. Reminds us of playing "Stille Post"; and that's not a good thing in translation.

Have fun!
Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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