Accumulated accounting tips for translators and freelancers

Business Advice for Freelance Translating
Collected from the freelance translation community on twitter , via the hashtag #xl8

This post aims to collate helpful information from freelancers and translators around the world on managing money, tax, clients and cashflow. It may be of use and interest to other freelancers. Please feel free to add any tips that may have been of use to you over the years in the comments section below or email them via the contact page form.

The advice:


Tax tips (expenses, claims, IRS, HMRC, VAT, etc.)

UK based:
- Starting up is simple: declare to HMRC within 3 months using the self-employment form found here. You'll have to complete a tax form by the 31st of January every year. It's easy to fill in online. On this form you can claim for expenses. If you work from a rented home (flat, etc.) then you can claim for a fraction of how much of the home you use. An accountant can help with this, but 1/3 of rent is not uncommon (this does not constitute professional advice, just personal experience). Homes with mortgages are subject to Capital Gains Tax for any claims made, also the fraction is subject to a time-rated scale for usage. Definitely seek professional advice here. VAT not essential, still awaiting more advice from the freelance community on potential benefits.


Cashflow (long payment terms, late payers, example payment request letters, etc.)
Payment practices It's best to check out any new clients you are working with to make sure they aren't a fly-by-night agency that won't be around to pay you the agreed amount when it comes to it. The main way to do that currently is via the Blue Board, using its useful search function. Other ways were recommended as follows: From @Gaby_Ibanez, who describes herself as a “Translator. Subtitler.” from “Beautiful Argentina”:

“Yes, always check out the agency’s payment practices and never stop doing it, no matter how long in this business you’ve been.”
“There are several PP lists: some are free, some you have to pay to get access to them. There’s also the Blue Board on Proz. >>”
“>> And the Hall of Fame & Shame (, but to have access to the last 2 you need to have a paid membership.”

Leading on from this, the ATA have released a document called “Ensuring payment”, here’s the direct link [pdf]. In this document you’ll find links to various company payment practice lists from around the world.

@pcruzp, an “EN FR SP Freelance Translator”:

“#Proz BB it’s a good start, but I trust more on Yahoo Group Lists for PPs + checking Contact Details +

Using the whois tool enables you to compare the name of the website registrant to the person/address you are in contact with and progress in any potential research that may need carrying out.

More useful links from @Gaby_Ibanez regarding Payment Practices:

1 - WPPF: World Payment Practices Fees
2 - Translation Payments WhoWhenWhat
3 - TCR List managed by Laura Hastings; a paid service.
4 - Payment Practices managed by Ted Wozniak; a paid service.
5 - Blacklisted Translation Outsourcers a paid service.

More information is available, as pointed out by Gaby, on their respective websites.

Terms and Conditions
Including your terms of work in initial contact with new clients is effective, as practiced by Tom Ellett of Albascan Translations, with an example of his terms and conditions on his site, including the following clauses on:

- Copyright
- Confidentiality
- Amendments (and their costs)
- Cancellation (and its cost)
- Liability of the translator
- Payment (within 7 days, interest at 2% per month)

Also interesting is the line: “wire transfer fees and other [payment] charges are payable by the Client.”

Included are two reminders (as logos) of the associations the translator is a member of. All clearly laid out on one A4 PDF.

There was also advice from @petergarner when asked if he used Terms and Conditions with either direct clients or agencies:

“Generally no. But occasionally I am asked to provide a formal estimate 4 big jobs, in which case I include certain pretty basic T&C.”

It is possible to speed up late payments using a letter or email. Here's one that worked for me, but may have impacted future relations. If anyone has a more diplomatic offering to share, it'd be welcome below.

Hi [project manager],

Thank you for checking the invoice payment status. When we spoke over the phone regarding the work you’ll remember that you assured me of a 60 day payment. Changing the payment terms without notification is unacceptable.

As a reminder, on the [date] you further confirmed a 60 day payment: [quote previous email exchange]

Is there anything you can do to prioritise this payment? Neither of us would want this to get any more complicated than it is, and it would be better if we could keep this matter private, would it not?

Sincerely, [name]


Céline of Naked Translations has offered this list of items to include on any freelance invoice. Behold:

INVOICE or QUOTE, clear and visible
Your details
Client details
Client reference
Invoice number
Job description
Rate Amount due
Payment terms
Payment details
Payment due date

"This makes it much easier to get paid on time and to chase any overdue invoice."

Céline also suggests the use of FreeAgent. It’s an online accounting system that allows you to import bank statements for speeding up most accounting work. It also calculates taxes, graphs essential data and separates expenses from income quite simply. A 10% discounted version (normally £15 for freelancers) is available here with my referral code, but I’m still in the free trial and haven’t made up my mind whether or not to stick with it [EDIT: It's 2015 and I'm still with Freeagent. Highly recommended].

I have also seen which provides a similar service coupled with an accountancy firm to tie up loose ends and incorporate you if it becomes worth it, which they say happens around the £25k mark.

(increasing them, growing business, cold calling, email templates, etc.)
It seems it would help with professional image to have a website. Among the examples of what appear to be clear and well designed sites are those of Tom Ellett, Céline Graciet and Percy Balemans. Tips from the translation community on positioning include having a single or few specialisms. This helps the client better understand your offer.

Gaining new clients (the dreaded marketing!)

“I get most of my clients via word-of-mouth/networking and via my ProZ profile/website.”

“None of the active ways I’ve used to seek clients have been as effective as being easy to find and having an in-demand specialism; in other words, they find me. I have met 2 (in 5 yrs) worthwhile clients after bidding for their jobs on proz. I only bid for interesting-looking jobs tho.”

@ultramegajoy of the Netherlands has also reached a great stage where, “Most of my new clients come from word-of-mouth referrals or networking, occasionally ProZ direct contact.”

Costs (reducing them, waste, good deals on insurance, webhosting or related, etc.)
Hiscox offer insurance to freelance translators that covers £250k throughout Europe for professional indemnity at £15 a month. Most surveys and polls taken show translators don't generally have insurance, and if they do they've never used it, but it's not very expensive to add a further comfort for your clients. It may be a shrewd marketing move, if nothing else.

Cheap web hosts in the UK with great customer support, use them to *easily* register your domain and set up webhosting: layershift. Around £10 for a web address (domain name) and £4 a month for hosting. [EDIT: It's 2015 and the webhost scene is as competitive as ever - all much of a muchness if you just need a basic site!]


A small list of Small Business websites:

US based - online version of print magazine. Fortune & Money magazines with CNN. US Government tools and resources.
Duct Tape Marketing for low cost, effective marketing strategies.
Business Week The Small Business section
All Business information and advice from a well regarded, oft-cited source.
Startup Nation “175,000 pages of award-winning advice”

UK based is an active community with a broad range of articles.
Business Link is a UK government run site for tools and resources.
UK Business Forums is another active community with lots of real, experience based advice.

More to come, add a comment and stay tuned :)

[EDIT: This post and others like it ended up morphing into the book you'll see linked to in the sidebar and menus. Feel free to read it online.]

Thanks for reading. I do translation from French and Swedish to English, so if that's useful to you, feel free to connect and message me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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