Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Checking Out Potential Clients

A recent question in the Translators Worldwide group on LinkedIn prompted me to write this post. An English-Spanish translator was describing a potential job offer she received by e-mail which raised a few flags for her. She wanted to know whether that e-mail might be a scam, rather than a real translation project.

As small-scale businesses providing services to far-flung (sometimes international) clients, we face this situation not infrequently. How do we know that a potential client will, in fact, pay us after we deliver the translation? Worse yet, how do we make sure the bank account information we may provide on our invoice for purposes of direct payment is not abused to hack into our account digitally and syphon off our money?

The short answer is: we can't make sure. But we can take a few precautions. When I get a request from a new client, I check a few things:

  • I google their company name and look for:

    1. a professional-looking company website with physical address information (i.e., a house number and street, not just a PO box)
    2. other websites/forums referencing this company

  • For U.S. companies, I use's reverse lookup function to check the name and address connected to the phone number. If the phone number is unlisted, it's probably not a real company.

For agencies I also:

  • check the blue board for other translators' experiences with that company.
  • check for other translators' experiences with that company's payment practices.

If there are no references at all on the web to this company and/or the company has no website, I assume it's not a real company -- at least not one that would work internationally and therefore need translation services.

I have sometimes taken calculated risks with jobs for which I wasn't sure I'd get paid, but I generally only do that with small jobs.

If the client looks like a potential payment problem, I ask for 50% of the estimated cost up front by PayPal. That way the potential client has no bank information. I transfer incoming PayPal payments to my bank account, so if anyone could get at my PayPal account, I wouldn't lose much money.

Granted, there are legitimate potential clients out there who are just not good at marketing their business -- or don't need to market it on the web, e.g., because they have enough word-of-mouth referrals. My brother's niche business manufacturing high-end musical instruments is such a case, for example. But how do I know this is not just someone who thinks they have a great idea the world will pay for, but then finds out that the world is not interested and consequently has no money to pay their suppliers (including me)?

In the end, I generally trust my instincts. If it looks fishy, it probably is. I may have lost out on some potential assignments, but in the end I have gotten paid most of the time -- even by private individuals in Australia.

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