Charlie Bavington

French to English Freelance Translator - I.T. specialist

Bringing a pragmatic eye to meeting your needs

On payment in advance

September 5th, 2014 | Categories: advance payment, business

In one of those jolly coincidences life throws up from time to time, I’ve seen a number of discussions about payment in advance in the last few weeks.

My response in one such discussion was to quote a maxim to which I try (but fail) to adhere in life in general – do as you would be done by. Yup, I had “The Water Babies” read to me as a kid; as I recall, as a kid who felt slightly too old to have books read to him, but I suppose it did me no real harm.

I would, though, take a pretty dim view if, during one of my infrequent ventures into the world of outsourcing work, I were asked to stump up payment in advance. It just sends the wrong message about trust, in my view. To say nothing of a lack of understanding of business transactions, where credit is standard practice (all other things being equal).

That said, I certainly concede there are situations where payment in advance could have a place. One such is perhaps work for private individuals (as against work for another translator in a B-to-B capacity) about whom it could be difficult to find out anything beforehand regarding their likelihood of paying post-delivery, and against whom recourse might be limited to relying solely on a local small claims procedure of unknown effectiveness. (Added to which, payment in advance is less unusual in B-to-C situations.) In contrast, one advantage of our socially networked translator world is that, were I, for example, to fail to pay a supplier, I would expect my name to become mud fairly swiftly on Twitter, LinkedIn, Proz or Transnet (being the main places I tend to “meet” those with whom I work), and indeed elsewhere.

However, one does occasionally see advice given to request payment in advance in cases where the client is known to have a sub-optimum reputation regarding payment. Such advice causes minor levels of seethe in my usually placid countenance.

While I have a fairly low tolerance threshold when it comes to calls for “solidarity” in the profession in general, I do find the out-and-out I’m-alright-Jack-ism of this attitude beyond the pale. If this hypothetical scummy client has the cash available to pay you, while others are clamouring for what they are owed, something ain’t quite right.

At the very least, you’re jumping the queue and depriving someone, somewhere, of money to which they are entitled. They’ve done the work already and are waiting for payment; you’ve done diddly squat so far and yet want that same cash? On an individual level, it doesn’t show much class, concern for others, or moral rectitude. On an industry-wide level, it would surely be better for all concerned if sub-standard clients were not facilitated to continue in business by our continuing to provide them with the fruits of our efforts.

And if, while you had been waiting and wondering about your payment from some client who has proved to be scummy, and you’ve posted on the blacklists, blue boards or payment practices lists of all hues and raised the red flag in general online, how precisely would you feel if you knew I’d seen all that and demanded, and got, payment in advance? My guess is you’d be quite irked. Possibly seething at a level considerably higher than minor. To return to where we came in, if you wouldn’t like it done to you, don’t do it to other people.

  1. Rob Grayson
    September 11th, 2014 at 19:13
    Quote | #1

    Hi Charlie,

    While I agree with the general thrust of your post, there is one other type of situation in which I’m not afraid to ask for part payment up front: namely, a very large job where waiting for full payment 30 days plus after the final invoice is liable to seriously impact my cash flow. I’ve asked long-established existing clients for this on a number of occasions, and all have agreed without prevarication. The same goes for the few times I’ve asked it of brand new clients who have approached me looking for a substantial translation.

    • Charlie
      September 12th, 2014 at 08:49
      Quote | #2

      Hi Rob,
      Well, I suppose unusually large jobs bring with them a range of issues to be managed, of which payment schedules are just one (although a pretty important one). I’m still somewhat averse to the idea of starting off a relationship by asking for advance payment, but who am I to come between a man and his happy clients :)

      For large jobs in general where cash flow might become a concern, my immediate reaction would be to set up a schedule where you bill in stages as work is delivered, and perhaps attempt to make subsequent deliveries contingent on payment for prior deliveries, but I’ve never tried it, it’s all hypothetical. My largest single job/invoice was a shade under €5k and my cash flow could cope! I might feel differently about a job running for months and/or where I was outsourcing a high value of work to others.

      Nice to hear from you, Rob. Hope all is well your end.

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