What Rates Should You Charge?

Suggestions on How to Become Established as a Freelance Translator

Freelance Translation Rates

Competition is fierce!

The question of rates is a big bone of contention within the translation profession.  Freelance translation rates vary greatly. Many new translators enter the field every year and competition is fierce. It is regrettable, yet understandable, that a lot of budding translators try to enter the market by undercutting the competition. Another issue is that quite a few translators don't work full time but regard translating as something of a hobby: There are many retired teachers who like to "keep a hand in", housewives who do not need to earn the whole income for the family, students who think it's a good way of earning a bit of money while becoming qualified – I once had a mail from a foreign student, offering to work for £20 (!) per 1000 words, since then competition from other countries has reduced that appallingly low charge even further. There are also those, especially in literary translations, who translate for the love of literature or the perceived prestige of translating a work of fiction. How many plumbers do you know who'd fit a new central heating system at cost and at minimum wage level? - Which is what a surprising number of people working in the translation industry seem to be willing to do.
Factors to be Taken into Account when Setting Prices

So, how much should you charge for your translation service? Well, that depends on the service you are offering:

  • The language pair you are working in, even the direction you are working in can make a difference: For example there are not as many native German speakers living in England as native English speakers. So you can charge more when you are translating into German; the rarer the language, the higher the rate that can be charged.
  • Degree of difficulty/specialist subject: The more specialised the subject matter, the fewer people will be qualified and/or willing to undertake the translation, and the price rises accordingly.
  • Weekend/evening work: A lot of clients claim that their work is urgent. But you will find that as soon as you mention additional fees for out-of-hours' work, suddenly next Wednesday will do. Alternatively, if it is really that urgent, clients are happy to pay you for your willingness to meet their deadline - don't sacrifice your weekend for nothing! Even if you don’t have anything else planned and don’t mind working – you should never give clients the impression that they can expect weekend work from you as a matter of course.
  • Layout: Most texts nowadays come in electronic format, so that you can simply overtype them. Thus the original layout it easily maintained. If you receive file formats that are not over writable or hard copies (e.g. birth certificates, exam certificates etc.), it will take you considerable time to copy the original layout. In those cases, you might consider to charge per hour of your time rather than on a word count basis.
  • File format: Most files come in Microsoft Word but an increasing number arrives in other formats, not all can be imported into all CAT tools. You used to be able to charge extra for jobs arriving as a collection of smaller files or in unusual file formats. Now, your clients expect you to be able to process them all equally efficiently. This is where you really need to have a good CAT tool, otherwise your work ends up costing you money rather than bring it in!
  • Affordability: It is not realistic to charge a little old lady who wants a Christmas card from some German relative translated a minimum fee of, say, £25. Such a quote will simply not be accepted. On the other end of the spectrum, if a company stands to make millions of pounds from the business proposal you are to translate, they will be willing and able to pay a good price for your excellent service.
  • Certification: To be able to certify the accuracy of a translated birth certificate or other official document, the translator must be qualified to translate between the two languages in question and be a member of a professional association (e.g. the Chartered Institute of Linguists). It costs you to become qualified and to be a member of at least one of the relevant institutes. This cost must be reflected in your price.
  • Who is your client: Are you working for an agency or a direct client? If you work for direct clients you should charge at least 30% more than you would get from an agency. That is still good value for money for your client who would probably pay the agency between 50 and 100% more.

    The above mentioned factors are probably the most important ones when pitching your price but the list is by no means complete.
    So, how do you Work out a Competitive Price?

I still haven't mentioned any concrete prices. Why not? Because I do not know which of the above factors apply to you! My prices for English to German translations, for example, range from £50 per 1000 words for a private client who asks me to translate her private correspondence with German friends and relatives - easy, interesting and pleasant work, virtually no vocabulary research - to £110 or more per 1000 words for a business client with a semi-specialised text to be done to a tight schedule.

To work out the price range you could charge, spend some time researching the going local rate for translation work in your language pair(s) and areas of specialisation. Ring up various agencies asking them for a quote, then talk to freelance translators and ask them what they charge. If you’re a member of a translating association, have a look at their latest rate survey. That will give you an indication of how much (or how little) you can expect. When you apply for work with an agency, they usually ask for your rate. If you are significantly more expensive than the average translator, you will find no work; if you are significantly cheaper than average, you are helping to spoil the market rates and will work for peanuts. Aim to be competitive but not "cheap"!
If you work for a direct client, charge at least 30% more than your agency rate.

Are you too expensive or too cheap? As a rule of thumb, I suggest that if you convert 80% of your quotes into jobs, your pricing structure is about right. More, and you’re likely to be too cheap, less, and you’re likely to be too expensive. For more information on how to work out your costs and to download the free business planning too Cost2Target, have a look at our next post on Calculating translation rates.