Setting rates in a strategic way is important for a few reasons:
First, because we need to make a living.
Second, because setting fees too low attracts “bottom feeders.” These are clients that you probably won’t build a relationship with; they’re more interested in cheap translations than they are in your expertise and the quality of your work.
Third, when translators are not strategic about setting their rates, they send a message to prospective clients and other translators: “I’m desperate. I don’t really know what I’m doing yet.”
If you’re new to the trade, you may want to check out the five fee-setting strategies we’ve adapted from Sara Horowitz’s book, The Freelancer's Bible.
Five Fee-Setting Strategies for Language Translators
Track your time
Always keep track of your time. Keep a spreadsheet, jot it down in a notebook, or track it with your time-tracking application of choice.
Avoid feast or famine pricing and know your rock bottom
To determine your value, you’ll need to do some market research. Find out what other translators are charging and how they’re charging it. Do they set their rates according to the number of words translated, or by the hour?
The key to setting your rates is settling on a fee that reflects your value. Just as important, though, is a willingness to be flexible when you can benefit from it and inflexible when you’re approached by a bottom feeder.
Do your homework
Learn the benchmarks for rates in your industry. You can start by browsing the message boards on Proz; The American Translators Association website is also an excellent resource. After you’ve stopped by these sites, pick up Corinne McKay’s book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator. There are other great websites, too, like Adventures in Freelance Translation, Translation Times and Marta Stelmaszak’s blog, Want Words.
Educate the client about what you’re worth
You may feel uncomfortable communicating your value to clients, but you’ll get used to it. A good translator makes the job look effortless, so you may need to explain the skill, thought and time it takes to produce good work.
Give a ballpark price before you officially quote
When asked, “What are your rates?” many freelancers might say, “Tell me more about the project and I’ll email you a quote later this afternoon.” Seems like a perfectly normal response, but it actually lowers your chances of getting the job at the rate you want.
Instead, offer the client a ballpark figure over the phone; then submit a formal quote later. Why? It takes care of pricing issues right off the bat. Sending a quote later on gives the client the opportunity to shop around for another translator.