Translators on… brings together a collection of industry professionals, each sharing their experience and advice on certain topics of their career, offering a wider, more authoritative range of opinions than a single source. Want to know more about the series? Watch the launch video.
The previous Translators on… post was all about the big leap – how to make that transition to freelance translation without starving to death or going without sleep. It seems only fitting that we now talk about setting rates for the first time.
Without any previous experience in or exposure to the translation industry, it can be nigh on impossible to know what to charge. Rates have been one of the last remaining taboos within the profession, but of late we have been opening up a lot more about what we should be charging. And this is a good thing, because it helps us to identify where professional translators seeking to make a living wage are being undermined.
Breaking with a purely academic focus, universities are increasingly incorporating the business aspects of freelance translation into their teaching and starting to educate translation students on rates.
But if your university doesn’t talk about rates much or you didn’t study for a translation degree, and you don’t have a clue what to charge, how do you darn well figure out what to charge?
Working in-house may provide some insights into what the ‘going’ rate is, if such a thing even exists. I would argue that it doesn’t, since we should be charging rates that place high enough value on our skills and allow us to make a decent living, calculated according to our own personal circumstances, whilst not undercutting our colleagues. So is there any harm in using any knowledge acquired on the subject as a benchmark? Not necessarily – I would say – as it can provide a good starting point for trial and error.
As we have come round to the idea that we – or the professionals amongst us at least – are colleagues and not competitors, we find ourselves opening up a lot more to each other on the subject of rates, to the extent of sharing our practices.
Now it’s all very well to set your rates, but to say that not every client will be happy to pay whatever you quote is a bit of an understatement. Particularly when starting out, there is often a pressure to quote at rock bottom in order to reel the client in. We know this to be a false economy in the long term, because the type of client that will pay peanuts is not likely to accept a rate increase further down the line.
When I came up with my first rate, I did find myself offering slightly lower when asked if there was any ‘leeway’ (substitute for an equivalent clichéd synonym such as ‘flexibility’) with my prices. But since then I have approached or, more often, have been approached by other clients who have accepted my rate without quibble, so much like Jenni’s approach (above), I quote slightly higher the next time around. And if the client still asks if there is any ‘room for manoeuvre’, a small decrease means that I am still offering my original rate and therefore not losing out.
If they are still bargaining for a ‘better’ rate, rather than devalue myself and do the profession a disservice, all that suffices is to say a final word to the client on the value of quality and then part ways. No need to make a big issue out of it or post a nasty rant on Facebook. Then you can dedicate your time to clients who understand the relationship between quality and price and sleep better at night.
Naturally there are market discrepancies to take into consideration, my UK rate is higher than many Spanish clients would accept but rather low compared to what Belgian, German or Dutch clients are willing to pay. Exchange rates will often come into play; the weak euro against the pound in 2015 has hit UK-based translators with clients in the Eurozone pretty badly, so in this instance it is worth weighing up whether your euro rate should compensate for that.
What are our contributors’ tactics for securing a decent rate with their clients?
Negotiation seems to be the consensus here, but as David says it doesn’t necessarily mean lowering rates. If a client won’t pay your regular price, they may for example instead agree to come to you for urgent or weekend work that does command a respectable rate. You may, on the other hand, agree to a lower rate in return for a guaranteed high volume of work to start out with; ideally, this voluminous workload could simultaneous allow you to develop your specialisms, as Marie points out.
Discounts do tend to become a more contentious issue as you progress further into your career, so once you set that precedent with a client that you are open to high-volume discounts, it will be practically impossible to rescind that. I am at a stage where I do not need to rely on offering discounts for large workloads, so I do not accept them when proposed by new clients, but I refuse largely based on principle, because the same amount of translation effort is still required. On the contrary, focussing on a single project for a long period of time could be detrimental in catering to your other clients. Moreover, it is in the client’s interest to have a single translator work on a large project for consistency reasons.
Negotiating rates appears to form a natural part of the initial stage of a freelance career. What is equally natural is to raise rates as you progress. With more experience (and investment in CPD), you will have developed a stronger skill set that puts you in an authoritative position to attract better(-paying) clients and you will see yourself taking on less work from your original clients if they don’t accept any reasonable rate increases.
There are two options when it comes to clients who won’t agree to rate increases: keep these type of clients on your books and take on jobs from them when things are a bit quiet, or ‘sack’ them outright if you are in a position to do so; again no need for dramatics – a simple and calm explanation that your working relationship with them is no longer commercially viable will do. And bear in mind, no matter what a client says, it’s not that you’re too expensive or too inflexible, it’s that they are too cheap.
A final brief word on raising your rates. It doesn’t have to be a negative thing for your client. As Andrew Morris put it at his ITI Conference 2015 masterclass, tell your client, “I’m going in this direction. Won’t you come with me?”
The next Translators on… post will discuss how much initial investment is needed to get off the ground.