tips translators non-payers

Quick tips for translators to hunt down non-payers

In the jungle of professional translation, non-payers are tigers lying in wait for hapless translators. Learn to spot and avoid them.

Non-payers also exist, unfortunately, in the world of professional translation. Find out about the four different types of defaulters, how to identify them and what line to take with them.

Four kinds of non-payers


They’re the clients who never want to pay, regardless of the translation rate.This is probably the most common kind of delinquent and also the least problematic. Indeed any professional translator who holds themselves in some degree of esteem will not accept cutting their rates to the ridiculously low levels sought by this kind of customer and will therefore not work for them. Problem solved!


Generally unwilling to agree on a translation quote. A nasty piece of work, because although these clients give all the impression of having accepted the budget, at least in appearance, and the translator starts work, in fact they never formally accepted it. Be careful and don’t fall into this trap!


These clients don’t respect payment terms. Unfortunately, they’re quite common and rather more problematic to deal with, because when the work is finished, the translation services provider has nothing left to do but to kick his heels until such time as the client should decide to pay him his due. This situation is all the more infuriating, because the client generally takes a very long time to pay.


This kind of client says they cannot pay… after the translator has delivered. They may allege financial problems, or customers of theirs who have not paid them in turn, or other administrative deadlines … but no matter what, they will invariably find a good excuse not to pay.

How to identify them?

The world is full of surprises… but by-and-large, in the universe of professional translation, non-payers generally display the following characteristics:

  • They don’t mention the budget when it comes to actually closing the deal for the translation of documents.
  • They change the subject when you ask whether or not they are OK with the budget.
  • They contact you again a year later and want you to do the same job at the same rate.
  • They never ask you for a budget nor do they ask what your fees are.
  • They tell you that the issue of payment deadlines depends on another area or that this will be dealt with later when the translation is formally assigned to you.

How to avoid them?

To some extent, you can avoid such problems. Here are eight tips that are bound to help:

  1. Always send your quote in writing (e.g., by e-mail).
  2. Require the budget to be confirmed in writing, and make sure that the person who signs off on it is responsible for this area or has the authority to do so.
  3. In your budget, you should include the translation price, forms and terms of payment.
  4. You can also add a clause which provides for the consequences of non-payment, such as interests or legal action.
  5. You should also specify that any change in conditions will require a new estimate.
  6. Analyse the translation delivery conditions: if the deadline is brought forward, it might be appropriate to add a supplement as if it were a urgent translation.
  7. Make sure it is clear that this estimate only applies to this specific translation, and in no case may it be taken to be valid for other jobs.
  8. Set the period of validity of the budget (two weeks, one month, etc.).

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This article has been written by Mathieu

Mathieu was born in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. After studying Literature and Linguistic Research, he moved to Argentina where he is currently a translator and a web editor.