One of the first difficulties that a professional translator has to face is deciding their rates. Personally, I started researching what the current market rates were before I even finished my studies, and I still believe it is the best strategy. I used to contact other colleagues, my professors, research any available agency website at the time, and ask around, trying to compile a list of what other translators out there were charging for their services. This has proven to be very effective, and it is the strategy I would suggest to you today. Not to mention, I’m still doing it, 10+ years later, just to have a general feeling of the market, and be able to expect client’s reactions.
Nowadays, with the extensive use of the Internet, the use of social media and the massive networks of professionals, it is much easier to do such a thing, and here are a few tips for new professionals who wish to understand better how we charge, and what we charge.
First of all, you have to think of yourself as a small business. Not only will you be charging for your professional services, but what you earn should also cover all your expenses, including living costs, taxes, accounting fees, subscriptions to professional associations, promotion and advertising of your business, computer software and hardware, etc. At the end of each month, you should be able to have something that could be considered a salary, which will cover all your needs. Find out which hourly rate would help you achieve that. Yes, it is not a steady income, being a freelance professional involves that risk unfortunately, but it is an income nevertheless, and only treating it as one will help you evolve.
Most new professionals think that offering lower rates will bring them more clients, which may be true, but what they fail to see is that offering lower rates also diminishes the value of their time and efforts. Furthermore, constantly working with a handful of clients with low rates might prevent you from finding other clients with higher rates. Not to mention that always working with lower rates will most probably make it hard for you to make ends meet. Always keep an eye in the future, and evaluate your relations with your clients based on the long-run. Is booking all your time worth what you might be losing from trying for new clients with higher rates? Are you going to burn out yourself whilst working for low rates, when you could have been working less hours and earning more money? Think about that beforehand.
In addition, do not be afraid to negotiate. Negotiating is generally expected in all types of business, and negotiating does not make you look unprofessional. Rather the opposite. You should charge what you think you are worth. Not too high to drive yourself out of the market, but not too low either. You can leave a margin, for example to be competitive, but you do not want to look cheap either. Because, let’s face it, some professionals who charge too low make most clients suspect that they do so just because their services are not good enough to justify a higher rate. Or, that they will finish the project they are assigned very quickly and sloppily, just to get more work, because their rates are so low. On the opposite side, charging too high might make your potential client think that you are over-reaching, and unless you are one hundred percent sure of your abilities, they will find some flaw in your work that will make them question you and your professionalism. Discuss with your client the rates you would like to receive and you will see that with dialogue you might earn more than you initially thought to ask for.
One more thing you can do is develop rates for each client individually. Not all clients can offer the same, and not all clients demand the same, so adjust your rates based on who your client is and how much you think they can pay. Offering discounts for steady workflows or large volumes is a good strategy too; negotiate with your client and ask them to send work exclusively to you for a lower rate, but remember that your quality must remain as high as it would be for a higher rate, otherwise you will appear unprofessional and they will not want to work with you again. Also, in that effort, try not to harm your colleagues by offering an extremely low rate, thus «breaking» the market. Even half a cent is a decent offer; think about the general conditions of the market before making your bid.
Also, remember to always ask for the details of a project. Learn before you start working on a project what it involves, try to determine the amount of effort that will be required on your part, the time you will have to spend on it, the difficulties it might present, and then you can set your rate according to what you think is fair. You can even ask for a sample, if there is one available. Remember that, most clients have a background in this industry and are well aware of how much your services will probably cost them, so do not try to be sneaky, just be honest. And, of course, negotiate!
Keep in mind that you do not have to have a set pricelist. You can increase or decrease your rates depending on the client, the project, the type of work you are required to do. But always be honest, it is the best policy. Telling a client that you can lower your rates if they send you more work is not something to be embarrassed of. It’s just good business tactics. Lowering your rates because you are simply afraid is not. Do not ask for a rate change in the middle of a project, it is unprofessional, even if you found out that the project is more difficult than expected. You can mention it to your PM, but simply asking for a higher rate is not polite. And on the flip side, do not be afraid to ask for more, from before beginning the project, if you see that it requires more than what your usual rate covers.
Finally, know that you can either charge by the hour, or the word, per source or target word, or per 16 pages or any way you want. The parameters vary, the methods vary, and the negotiations between you and your client can influence your decisions. Do some research, decide what you want, ask colleagues and professional associations (like www.peempip.gr, for example, the Panhellenic Association of Professional Translators Graduates of the Ionian University, or any other professional association in your country) about their methods, and you will find what you need.
In general, rates vary significantly. Lately I heard of agencies in Greece offering to freelancers as low as €0.015/source word to translators, which is simply ludicrous and, I dare say, unprofessional. €0.035 is a good place to start, if you are a student and need the experience. From there, you can go as high as you can convince your client to give you, based on your quality, professionalism and experience. A good translator will not easily lower their rates just for the sake of working, because they have put a lot of time and effort in becoming what they are: Good translators. In Greece and in the current market (unfortunately), €0.04 is a decent rate to start and work your way up. Anything lower than that is just a waste of time if you are a professional who values their time, and in my opinion, it only puts a crack in the foundations of what we all want and strive for: fair rates for our good work.
Some examples of methods of charging that I have seen in this industry are listed below. Note that this list is not exhaustive, nor can it be considered a standard, the volumes can vary significantly:
- Simple Translation -> Per source word, or per page (1 page ≈ 250-300 words).
- Technical Translation -> Per source word
- Technical Translation, Software strings -> Per source word or per hour
- Literary Translation -> Per 16 standard book pages
- Glossary translation -> 30-35 terms per hour (medium difficulty terminology)
- Editing (or «Review») -> Mostly per source word (on the total of words), but sometimes per hour, at a rate of approx. 1000 source words/hour
- Proofreading -> Per hour, at a rate of approx. 2000 source words/hour
- QA checks, engineering -> Per hour
LSO (Linguistic sign-off), LQA (Linguistic Quality Assurance), FQA (Formatting Quality Assurance), etc -> Per hour, at a rate of approx. 2500 source words/hour (or 15 pages/hour)
*This is only an informative article. The writer assumes no responsibility for any misunderstandings
Popie Matsouka is currently the Senior Project Manager and Lead Medical Translator and Editor of Technografia. She also holds the position of Quality Assurance Specialist, having specialized in translation and localization QA software technology. She is the resident tech/IT expert, and after having worked as a localization tools trainer, she recently also became a beta tester for SDL Trados Studio. Her education includes being an Apple trained Support Professional, plus a PC/MAC and LAN technician, apart from being a CAT tools expert. She also volunteers for the Red Cross, and is a firm believer that if we all work together we can make a great difference in this world, combining our professional and our personal strengths.