In 10 years as a freelancer, I’ve only been screwed twice. If you deduct the time I got my money back with interest, it’s once only.
My clients range from private individuals, small businesses to large organizations. Of my approx. 100 invoices a year, 99.99% are paid on time.
Maybe I’ve been lucky, because I read a lot of bad stories from colleagues. Some get far too low rates for far too long, others get cheated by agencies somewhere on the other side of the globe – or right in their own town.
That’s happened to me once a couple of years ago. When four-digit projects were still unthinkable to me, I fell for a scam offer from an East Asian company.
Worked my ass off for 1 or 2 days on some crappy text about car tires, didn’t get paid. When I googled them (after sending them the work of course!), the company didn’t seem to exist. You only make that mistake once, and then you start working for real companies with things like offices and websites.
My clients and agencies treat me the way I treat them – with respect. No matter what goes on in my life – whether I’m evicted, having bad sleep, or straight up ready to leave this planet – when it’s about business, I do my job and deliver my service as if nothing ever happened.
I usually find if a client will respect me by stating my conditions clearly right away. No need to pursue a relationship on the wrong terms, but no need to argue and get upset either.
There was only one particular agency – whose name I won’t mention – that really got me pissed off, because I’d done about a month’s wage worth of work for them. They didn’t answer my e-mails at all or put me off for a year. Then I did some research, found out how to file a small claim in the UK from Germany with only my credit card (it’s easier than finding a good headset) and got my money back plus processing fees. Mind you, this an established European company, not some lonely scammer in an internet café.
I shared this experience with other translators on the ProZ BlueBoard and until now I get e-mails all the time thanking me or asking me how to get your money back. When you have a project offer, invest the 50 cents or whatever it costs to read the company’s BlueBoard entry on ProZ, or at least Google their name!
Remember: It’s weird to just go up to a complete stranger and offer them one or two thousand dollars worth of work (even if they’re as handsome and qualified as you are). Normally you’d ask a friend if they know a friend… So anyone recruiting this way is desperate, at the least.
With private clients I’ve never had to wait long for my money. It’s just as safe as any online retail business nowadays. Just make sure you know their address. Very few consumers would risk bad credit ratings for having a claim filed against them.
Some colleagues only take cash from private clients, especially if they’re not permanent residents in their country. I have yet to be cheated by one, so I don’t see why I should treat small clients different than big clients in this sense.
Oh yeah, and if a client should complain and you messed up (two factors which rarely coincide), give them a discount, send them a nice e-mail, whatever. Don’t be like those agencies who try to weasel their way out of paying you 😉