Getting Paid -- Support for Translators Online
by Amy Russell
You may remember that in the February edition of the Translorial I reported the story of a translator who had been waiting months to receive payment from an agency he found by searching the World Wide Web. This opened up the issue of how freelancers can use the World Wide Web to get more business, and the risks involved if clients are in distant places. That same translator directed me to a web site where translators could report agencies that pay very slowly or not at all, and I decided to check into it. I discovered that the web site has now been converted to a mailing list with the same purpose. You can access it from: http://pages.infinit.net/karining/payment.htm. I asked the creator of this web site (now mailing list), Karin Adamczyk of Macroconsulting (located in Quebec) some questions about the mailing list. What follows is the text of our "online interview."
AR: How and why did the payment practices web site originally come into existence?
KA: The Internet has opened up a global marketplace and translation is a field in which a given translator might be asked to work with a company anywhere in the world. While this is wonderful, we have very little to protect us from those who might want to take advantage of the distances between us. By getting together and sharing our experiences, we help each other to learn about reputable companies and unscrupulous operators. Without such a service, how could a translator in Spain know anything about the reputation of an agency in the United States, Canada or anywhere else? I started the site after being burned by a company in the Caribbean. It is especially important for those who are just starting out. Beginners are hungry for work and have less experience with what they should ask for. Subscribers also help each other by making recommendations and providing examples of how they check for information.
AR: I first logged on to the payment practices web site a few months ago, when all the information about late payers was all right there. Now you have gone to a mailing list format. What prompted the change?
KA: There were several reasons for changing to a mailing list format.
1) While the list is monitored and simple bad-mouthing is not tolerated, no single person is responsible for messages posted.
2) The "service" is provided at no charge whatsoever and there was quite a bit of work involved in keeping a "web site" up to date.
3) I actually got involved by contacting non or slow payers and asking why translators had not been paid. To make sure that claims were truthful, I insisted on receiving copies of agreements, communications, etc. before I would agree to get involved. Again, this involved quite a time commitment and there were a couple of complaints from people who had submitted complaints that it was taking too long for me to act.
4) There was a complaint from an agency that was listed as an "excellent payer" because the person who made the complaint didn't bother to read the comments. They assumed they had been portrayed in a negative light.
Changing to a mailing list format cuts down on the amount of time required to monitor and maintain it. Before changing over, I had informed visitors that the site would be shut down. I received so many messages with good wishes, thanks and requests to reconsider that I could not just stop providing a useful service.
AR: In the US I believe most translation agencies would be unwilling to sponsor a web site or a mailing list such as yours that lists late payers, for fear of being accused of libel or slander. Was that a consideration when the web site was initially launched? Have there been any subsequent problems?
KA: It was and is a very serious consideration. The threat of being sued for libel or slander is only real if you provide false information. When the service was provided in the form of a web site, I insisted on receiving proof of allegations before any action was taken. Companies were always given a chance to present their side of the story and they were told that their name would be removed if they paid for work done. Now that it has changed to a mailing list, I monitor each and every message received. When someone subscribes, they receive a welcome message in which they are informed that simple bad-mouthing will not be tolerated. Subscribers are asked to provide information about personal experiences. If a subscriber sends an inappropriate message, a private e-mail is sent to the subscriber to inform them that their message was not appropriate. They are asked to reformulate their message with specific personal experience. If they continue to send such messages, they are banned for a period of 7 days (their mail just bounces back to them and is not posted to the list). If they continue after they are reinstated, they are banned permanently. The mailing list was started in March 1998 and I have had only one such case (today).
AR: Do you have any success stories about the web site/mailing list -- anecdotes about translators who got their payment problems resolved as a result of the support they got from the site?
KA: There are a couple of success stories. One operator was exposed for failing to pay many translators late last year. Because of the web site, 12 of us (myself included) were in touch and warned others about the company. We also warned the agency about the site and some of us received at least partial payments.
Another (now retired) translator also received payment of nearly $2000. US from an agency that claimed his work was unacceptable (many months after submission).
There were also some other translators who were surprised to receive payment, but it was unclear why payment suddenly arrived after many requests. It is entirely possible that the site or list had something to do with it (at least it's nice to think so).
AR: Have you had any reaction from agencies -- those named in the list or others?
KA: The agency that at first claimed the now retired translator had provided unacceptable work did threaten to sue and tried to belittle what I was trying to do by congratulating me on finding a way to spend my time and by stating that it must feel good to grab a spot in the limelight. No suit was filed and the translator received payment.
Several agencies have congratulated me because they feel that the service will weed out the "bad ones out there" and reputable agencies will benefit.
Some of the subscribers are owners or employees of agencies.
AR: Do you have any useful tips for translators who are having their first experience with a client who is slow or apparently unwilling to pay?
KA: Be professional. Think about how large corporations handle such situations and do the same. The best advice is to clarify all details (work, payment, deadlines, etc.) beforehand. Make sure you issue clear invoices and keep an eye on your receivables. If you approach your client with respect, you will be treated with respect. Do not call the company and scream and holler. You want to resolve the problem and hopefully continue to work with them. If something is unacceptable to you, inform the company right away. If all else fails, check the laws in your area and decide if it is worthwhile pursuing the matter legally. Find out as much as you can about what you can do without naming the company. There might be a perfectly legitimate reason why you haven't been paid (invoices can get lost).