Calculating translation rates

Freelance German Translator - Translation rates

When two or three translators gather, they are likely to talk about their translation rates. The freelance German translator translation rates they charge agencies, the rates they get from direct clients, the rates they hear others charge. Especially for newcomers into the profession, the rates they can charge are one of the most frequently asked questions.

Most people leave it there and forget to calculate how much money they need to earn to pay the bills and what standard of living they are hoping to achieve.

For would-be translators to get a clear idea of how much they have to earn it is important, first of all, to have a comprehensive understanding of their outgoings.

If you are solely responsible for all living expenses, these costs will include:


Living costs:

Mortgage or rent, utility bills, telephone and mobiles, broadband, council tax, costs for running a car including  tax, MOT, petrol, service, alternatively,  public transport costs, any insurances, food, clothes, newspapers, hairdresser, holidays, Christmas and birthday presents, pet food, vet bills etc.

Cost of running a business:

Office rent, computers, software upgrade and support, telephony, Internet, stationery, postage, insurances including professional indemnity insurance, membership of professional institutes such as the Institute of Translating and Interpreting or the Chartered Institute of Linguists, occupational disability insurance, costs for continuous professional development (CPD), marketing expenses costs, utility bills (if not part of the household bills or included in the office rent) etc.

It’s important to include a safety margin for savings and emergencies and you arrive at your overall monthly or annual costs of living and running a business.

Indirect costs

Indirect costs are a major factor for freelance translators who don’t have the benefit of a guaranteed income and fringe benefits that come with paid employment. Translators must take into account the costs of not working at weekends, bank holidays, holidays and sickness, as well as days with little or no work coming in. These all represent lost income and therefore constitute a cost. If possible, you should calculate how many days in a year you are likely to be engaged with work that generates income. 

Productive working time

When calculating productive working time, do not include time spent with admin, marketing, proofreading your own translations, handling client enquiries etc. Apart from proofreading, many of these activities can often be fitted into slack times when little or no work comes in.

It is nevertheless important to make sure that you leave enough time for these activities and other unexpected work-related interruptions in any business week. Depending on the complexity of your business and your general working speed, you can lose between ½ and 1 day a week to these necessary activities.


To calculate the income you must generate every day, you divide your total monthly or annual costs of living by the number of your productive working days.

The average amount of money your business must generate every day is then divided by their daily output that is the number or words you can translate or the number of hours you can work.

This amount will be a fairly good guideline of the average rates you must charge to be able to pay all your living costs.


Our sister company, Iolante, has developed a free tool to help calculate costs called Cost2Target.

It will help you to work out your overall financial situation. You then decide what your priority is in order to achieve what you must/want to achieve. You can do that by trying to cut costs or trying to adjust your rates, or by increasing the hours you work.

Not everyone will have all the options open to them.
But this tool allows you to play with the different options and to see their financial consequences.