Freelance Finance: Setting Rates

Here at The Savvy Newcomer we understand that it can be intimidating to talk about money. It’s often a sticky subject, but we feel it couldn’t be more important to address as small business owners. One major component of succeeding as a freelance translator or interpreter is managing your finances well. If you don’t master your money, your translation career won’t be profitable or sustainable. This series on money matters is intended to get right to the heart of some of our biggest questions about freelance finances; we won’t shy away from the tough questions and we invite you to dive into these topics along with us.

Rates. There, we said it! Any conversation about freelance finances would be remiss not to mention the R-word; one of the biggest questions burning in the mind of every aspiring translator or interpreter is “What should I charge for my services?” Let us start with a little secret: there’s no right or wrong answer to this question.

A variety of factors, from your living situation, to your geographic location, to your level of experience, to your specialization, should all play a role in determining your rates. A one-size-fits-all response to this question wouldn‘t be fair; that’s part of why it’s tough to get a straight answer from practicing translators and interpreters to this type of inquiry! Another reason practitioners are hesitant to share their rates is because when a group of competing service providers agrees to charge a certain rate for their services it’s considered price fixing, which results in an unfair profit to sellers and increased cost to buyers.

So how does a newcomer to this profession go about deciding what to charge?

  1. Look at your own data.

A one-size-fits-all approach to translation and interpreting pricing just doesn’t work. Here’s why: everyone is different! Some key personal metrics to consider as you seek to set prices for your work include:

– How fast you translate

– How fast you type

– What business expenses you need to cover (don’t forget taxes!)

– What languages you work in

– Where you live

– What type of services you offer

– What specializations/settings you work in

– How much experience you have as a translator or interpreter

– How many hours a week you’d like to work

– How much vacation time you want to take each year

– How much money you need to live on

This may seem like a lot of factors to take into account; consider taking some time to determine actual figures for the items above that apply to your situation. Anytime you can have a concrete number in mind instead of a range or a guess, you’ll not only be more likely to stay firm on those numbers, but you’ll also feel better about your prospects since you know exactly where your goals are set.

Besides, I have some great news: once you’ve established the numbers above, there’s an incredible tool that a team of volunteers from the Spanish Translators, Copyeditors, and Interpreters Association (ASETRAD) developed to help calculate what you actually need to charge in order to make your business profitable! Calpro is a spreadsheet designed to be adapted to the individual situation of each translator or interpreter. The U.S. version of the spreadsheet includes suggested numbers that may be adjusted for your needs and can be downloaded by clicking here.

  1. Look online.

Another place to look in your pursuit for answers is the resource of all resources: the internet. By visiting the websites of both freelancers and language services agencies you can see how translators and interpreters discuss rates publicly, and this will give you a better idea of what your conversations about rates should look like. Many industry stakeholders choose not to publish their rates, but some do list pricing online—especially if they feel this will offer a competitive advantage. Some agencies’ rates are public due to their involvement with government agencies or GSA schedule listing. When a translation agency makes their pricing public, remember that the rate they are charging their customer will not necessarily represent what the subcontractor or translator will be paid; the agency needs to pay an editor and possibly other subcontractors, may include a project management fee, and will of course keep a margin of the funds to pay their employees and cover overhead.

As you peruse information about translation and interpretation pricing online, you’ll notice that not everyone uses the same units of measurement to charge their clients. Some translators charge per hour, while others charge per word, character, page, or line, and yet others prefer a flat fee per project. Interpreters may charge by the day, half-day, hour, or even minute depending on the type of work. There’s no right way to charge your clients, but you’ll start to see patterns and will want to consider the pros and cons based on the types of clients you work for and your language pair.

When you start to find information on what some of your colleagues are charging, it’s important to remember that pricing can differ across language pairs and specializations. Data from the ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey[1] (based on information from 2014) and the ProZ.com average rate survey, for instance, suggests that certain language pairs command a higher rate than others, and specializing in certain areas may bring in better pricing. However, keep in mind that even if two translators use the same unit of measure, such as a per-word rate, their translation speed may differ greatly based on their specialization and level of experience, so they may wind up making the same amount of money per hour or per day. Also note the dates of any pricing you may see online, since rates can increase or decrease over time based on inflation, demand, and implementation of technology in the market.

  1. Look to clients.

If you’ve pursued the two sources of rate information above and are at a standstill on what to charge a translation or interpreting client, there’s always the option of asking the client what their budget is for your services. Some negotiators suggest that this may even result in higher rates than you would set for yourself, since many people tend to underestimate their value or aim low in setting prices. If you can get to the client’s bottom line right away, it could help to ensure that both you and the client are comfortable with the rate that’s agreed on. Be aware that clients may offer a rate lower than what you were expecting, however, and be prepared to negotiate or stay firm on your minimum rate. Since rates with language services agencies can be difficult to adjust, make sure you aren’t locking yourself into a rate you’re not happy with. It can be hard for agencies to increase your rates over time since they aim to make a certain margin off their own pricing and can’t always raise rates with their clients when you need to raise them with yours. Make sure that whatever price you agree on will comfortably allow you to work with the client at a rate that’s agreeable to both parties.

A word to the wise: be cautious about raising or lowering rates in unique circumstances (for example, during a pandemic). Lowering rates without giving a specific and justifiable reason why may set a precedent for offering the lower rate in the future. Raising your rates can cause your client to think you’re unhappy working with them at your current rate. As in many things, communication is key; talk to your clients, talk to your colleagues, and be honest with yourself about what rate will ensure your work is sustainable, profitable, and rewarding.

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Readers, have you found this information helpful as you set about establishing rates for your translation or interpreting services? Have we answered some of your questions and made the conversation about rates just a little bit less awkward?

We hope you’ll find these resources helpful and continue to engage with us about Freelance Finance. Leave a comment below on any topics you’d like to hear more about!

[1] The most recent report on the results of ATA’s compensation survey is available to ATA members by logging into the Members Only area of ATA’s webpage.

Emails asking for translation or interpreting rates: Here’s how I respond

I often get requests for my rates from organizations that are trying to build a database of individual translation or interpreting service providers. An individual provider is a person who does their own work, also known as an interpreter or translator. Keep in mind that prime contractors (large language companies) can’t provide services without a sufficient number of subcontractors (individual translation and interpreting providers). We as the practitioners have a responsibility to steer this conversation.

The prime contractors often start with questions about rates, and their emails go something like this:

“I found your name on the website for Professional Association X. Are you interested in translating or interpreting for us?”

Note that there is no personalization. Nothing about your specific profile that stood out, nothing personal. They aren’t trying to build a business relationship with you; they just want data.

“If so, what rate do you charge by the [insert very small unit here]? Are you certified in [insert specific certification here]? Do you have any experience with [insert specific service]?

Sincerely, Person X”

At the end of these emails you’ll often see phone numbers listed in more than one city. So you know for sure that if you call, you won’t get Person X on the line! So how do I respond?

“Yes, I would be thrilled to translate and interpret for you! I charge by the [usual large unit, minimum number of units]. I am certified in [list all my certifications, not just the one they asked for]. I have experience in [providing specific service]. As a matter of fact, I have been doing that since [year], and my clients preschedule my services at the rates mentioned above.

For more information, please check me out at [LinkedIn, my website, etc.]”

This way, when someone contacts me back, I get to continue the conversation on my own terms. I make the next move and set the terms of the discussion. I own the story about my profession and get to answer the questions I wish they had asked instead of the ones they did ask.

Next time you get an impersonal client email that seems to be fishing only for numbers and data to add to a database, try this technique! Professionals set their own terms and set rates that work for them.

Freelancers: 7 Things to Know Before Your Next Negotiation

This post was originally published on the Copyediting.com website on June 20, 2017. It is reposted with permission of ACES, The Society for Editing.

Editorial business owners are always negotiating. Whether it’s terms for an upcoming project or an existing contract that’s gone out of scope, having these tough conversations is part of the job.

Here are 7 things to know before your next negotiation with a client.

1. BE READY TO SAY NO

The fear that many of us have around negotiations is hearing, and saying, “no.” But remember that every negotiation starts with a “no.” Otherwise, why would you be negotiating?

Practice saying “no” in a mirror, or with a friend—whatever it takes for you to get used to saying that tiny, yet powerful, word. Soon it will feel like second nature, and your business (and personal life!) will be better than ever.

2. PLAN TO AIM HIGH

Before the negotiation begins, it’s important to know your bottom line. What’s the lowest number you’ll consider before walking away from the deal?

Then, decide what you’ll ask for in the negotiation, and aim high—as high as you can while still being relatively realistic (don’t ask for $1 million for a proofread). Even if this number feels ridiculous to you at first, know that you’ll negotiate down from there.

Here’s the key to this concept: if you go into a negotiation knowing exactly what you want and you start there, you’re actually showing that you’re not willing to negotiate anything. You’ll look like you’re not willing to compromise, and the client will almost always call you out on it.

3. START ON COMMON GROUND

In their simplest form, negotiations are based on one fact: someone wants to buy something, and someone wants to sell it. As a freelance editor, you want to sell your services, and your client wants to buy them. This is your common ground.

Start every negotiation by simply stating your common goal, in very general terms: “I would love to work with you, so let’s talk about ways we can make that happen.”

Strive for a respectful tone, and use “we” to show that you’re invested in working together to achieve a win-win result.

4. NEVER SHOW YOUR CARDS

Once you’re in the middle of a negotiation, be careful not to show your cards. This gives the other person all the power, and you will lose ground without gaining anything.

Avoid phrases like these at all costs:

  • “The least I can do this for is $200.”
  • “The most I can pay is $100.”

These types of phrases give away your bargaining power and back you into a corner.

5. BE THE FIRST PERSON TO THROW OUT A (HIGH) NUMBER

Not showing your cards doesn’t mean you should avoid being the first person to throw out a number. In fact, studies have shown that the first number mentioned during a negotiation serves as an anchor, especially if the seller says it.

For example, if a graphic designer is negotiating with a CEO who wants a new logo, the graphic designer should be the first to say that the logo design will cost $10,000. Even if the CEO had planned on offering $4,000, he or she will usually respond with something closer to the anchor number, like $6,000.

6. DON’T RUSH INTO A “SOLUTION”

As freelancers, we often feel caught between wanting to make our clients happy and still needing to make a living. Many times, we go above and beyond to find a quick “solution” that really isn’t addressing the root problem. One example of this is accepting projects that offer lower pay and/or unreasonable deadlines.

Instead of rushing into closing a deal that you know isn’t a good fit, give it time to breathe. Don’t rush into something just to make the other person happy—the beauty of negotiation is that it can, and should, benefit both sides.

7. BE PREPARED TO WALK AWAY

Let’s face it: walking away from a negotiation is hard. We’re often afraid to disappoint a prospective or current client, or we’re scared they might spread rumors about our business or try to go after us in some way. This is especially true with authority figures, such as an influential person in the community.

But it’s so important to be able to leave the contract on the table if the terms aren’t right for you. Just remember: walking away from the wrong client frees you up to attract your ideal client.