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Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

This morning I had lots of fun interviewing translation industry veteran Steve Lank (Monterey graduate, former ASTM translation QA standard subcommittee chair, longtime senior-level manager in agencies in the US, Ireland and Spain). Steve is currently Vice President for Translation Services at Cesco Linguistic Services, working from the Washington, DC office.

I put Steve in the hot seat and asked him:

  • Chicken/egg: how can beginning translators find their first clients?
  • What’s up with downward price negotiations? Why do agencies apply them, and how can translators best handle them?
  • What are the top dos and don’ts of translator resumes? What errors pop up again and again? How can a translator stand out among the many unsolicited applications that an agency receives?
  • How about following up on agency applications? How often should freelancers follow up, and using what method?
  • How does a translator turn a first-time client into a regular client, and become one of an agency’s preferred providers?
  • How about the increasing emphasis on specialization in our industry? Is the “learn by doing” mindset OK, or do translators need more formal training in their specializations?

To listen to the episode, cruise on over to the Speaking of Translation website.

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One of the great things about having a blog is that I get to ask questions that I don’t know the answers to, and then people who are smarter than I am will respond and fill me in. Here’s one that’s frequently asked by students in my online courses, and it honestly puzzles me as much as it puzzles them.

We’re talking agencies here: why are agencies willing to pay a per-word rate that effectively equals a much higher hourly rate than they’re willing to pay? Example: if an agency pays a translator 15 cents a word and that person produces 500 finished words an hour, the translator is effectively earning $75 an hour. But if that same agency contacts that same translator for hourly work (editing, proofreading, etc.), the proposed hourly rate is likely to be much lower (or even much, much lower). I can’t say I understand this myself, other than the fact that when an agency pays per word, its costs are completely fixed, whereas by the hour, they aren’t.

Thoughts? What’s up here?

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A short post, because I’d really like to hear from you. What would our industry look like if agencies were more transparent about what services they provide and what percentage of the total project fee they earn? For example:

In other types of “agent” relationships (authors, athletes, etc.), the client knows exactly what the agent will do, and what percentage of the total billings they will take in exchange. If you find a salaried job through a recruiter, they get a percentage of your first year’s salary, and you know what that percentage is.

This idea came to me for a few reasons. Good agencies have trouble finding good translators, even if they are willing to pay/interested in paying/desperate to pay real money for their services. Partially, this is because some good translators have had it with agencies and will only work with direct clients. A more transparent model could solve some of that problem. In addition, a more transparent model would make it clear that the agency is adding value (or not), and translators could choose to jump on that value (or not).

For example, I understand it when translators rail about “agencies that add no value,” and simply forward e-mails back and forth from the end client to the translator. I get it, and I also avoid working for those types of agencies. But I also think that agencies add a value that they don’t always trumpet: finding the client in the first place. As anyone who works with direct clients will tell you, finding them is a lot of work. It takes time and creativity and persistence and research, so the fact that a translator who works with agencies is freed from that step in the process should be worth a lot, and agencies don’t always point that out.

So what about this. The agency tells the translator how much they’re charging the end client. Sometimes translators already know this, because agency staff mistakenly send us e-mails meant for the end client. In any case, my assumption is that my agency clients are charging the end client 2-3 times what they’re paying me, and I’m OK with that. Then, the agency takes a set percentage of that amount, just for having found the client in the first place. Then, the rest of the agency’s fee is based on what they actually do; the translator knows whether the document is being edited by another translator in the same language pair, or proofed by a speaker of the target language, or not reviewed at all, and the agency charges accordingly. It seems like this would also allow translators to gravitate to agencies that provide the level of service that they want or need. For example, I spend a lot of time researching and marketing to direct clients, and I’d rather work with my own editors than with an anonymous editor provided by an agency. So, I’d be interested in working with an agency (or perhaps more accurately, an agent) who would simply find clients for me, forward the work back and forth and take a percentage of my billings.

Further disclaimer: I’m not at all anti-agency. I disagree with translators who call agencies “parasites,” and I really enjoy working with my agency clients because they let me focus on the parts of the job that I enjoy and am good at. But I think that a) agencies need to do a better job of highlighting their strengths (such as finding and retaining clients), and b) there’s room in the market for more of a commission-based “translator’s agent.”

An idea whose time has come, or a non-starter? Over to you!

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Let’s just dive in to this one: bad habits that may be putting the brakes on your freelance ambitions. Feel free to add your own in the comments! And for the record, I’m not getting all superior here…I culled many of these bad habits from my own experiences!

  • Waiting for the big block of time that is never coming. That book you’ve been planning to write; that marketing campaign you’ve been meaning to launch; that blog that you’ve been on the verge of creating…but not until you can take a week and focus only on that task. News flash: unless you’re independently wealthy and have no responsibilities to anyone except yourself, the big block of time is never coming. I tell you this because I waited (literally) two years to write the second edition of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, because I was going to take a month off and just blaze away at it. After two years of waiting for that elusive month, I decided that even if I only wrote one sentence, I had to work on the second edition every single day. And guess what; in another six months, it was done. So, whatever your long-term goals are, chip away at them in small, regular increments.
  • Publicly ranting about clients or colleagues. When I see people doing this, mostly in the form of Facebook or Twitter posts, I have one question for them: Why? I agree, everyone needs to vent now and again. But that’s what your e-mail and phone connections to your most trusted colleagues are for. Public ranting has so many downsides, it’s hard to know where to begin. First, nothing on social media is private, and someone may forward the rant to the client or colleague at whom it’s directed, even if you don’t actually name them in the post. Second, social media is there forever. You can delete the ranting post, but lots of people have already seen it. Third, it’s off-putting to other people who might refer work to you. I would never take the risk of referring a client to someone who is a habitual ranter. Also, I think that most clients run away from translators who have a reputation as being high-drama or difficult to work with. The emotional release of publicly flaming someone just isn’t worth the risk. Fourth: that whole thing about people in glass houses. I definitely get irritated when clients or colleagues inconvenience me because of their own bad planning, or send the wrong file, or don’t understand a question or instruction that seems simple to me. But I try to keep the perspective that undoubtedly, I do those same things sometimes, possibly without even realizing it. Fifth, it’s a waste of your time and energy. With the time you spend being aggravated at a client who bugs you, you could proactively go look for a new client who pays more and is less annoying. So, keep the complaints offline, and only to a few colleagues who you really, really trust.
  • Feeling that other people have all the luck in this industry. Everyone else lands the plum direct clients. Everyone else gets asked to speak at the cool conferences. Everyone else’s webinars sell out. My take: it’s not luck.  If you want to be jealous of something, be jealous that those “lucky” people work harder than you are willing to. As Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So go out there and perspire; just don’t wait for the big block of time to do it!
  • Overestimating your marketing/networking/professional development efforts. I bet that if you asked most translators to honestly audit themselves, most people are doing *no* outbound marketing at all: zero. And even those of us who are doing outbound marketing are likely to be radically overestimating how much we’re doing. For example, I think I’m pretty good at outbound marketing, and I have a database of potential clients who I regularly send stuff too. But, I ordered a set of 100 marketing postcards about 10 months ago, and I have at least 40 of them left. I aim to send out one postcard per day, and I’m actually achieving more like one and a half per week. Ditto with professional development: let’s say that we recommended that freelancers spend the extravagant sum of 5% of their yearly gross income on professional development. So if you’re making 70K, that would be $3,500…here again, I’m guessing that even translators who attend something like the ATA conference are not hitting that mark. Result: if you don’t move forward, neither will your business, in terms of new clients and new opportunities (see “some people have all the luck” for more on this).

I could go on…but, over to you!

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Let’s look some more at the “How much should I charge?” question, since it’s such a source of stress and speculation for most freelancers. You might also be interested in these previous posts–What is the right rate for your translation services, and How and why to raise your translation rates.

If you want, you can have an absolutely 100% set price for your translation services. My accountant (who I love), charges $220 an hour, end of story. Phone calls more than 5 minutes and lengthy e-mails are billable, end of story. That tactic could work for translators too. But whereas accounting work is relatively predictable, we’re always balancing factors like the subject matter, the turnaround time, the format of the source document, the high or low maintenance-ness of the client, the appeal of the project in general, and so on. So instead of having a set rate per hour or per word, here’s another option: think zones.

The green zone is a rate at which you would almost never turn down work, as long as the project is within your capabilities. It’s your ideal rate, and ideally, you’re always trying to push it a little higher. Note: the green zone is a good place for your clients to be, because it means you’ll bend over backward for them (worth subtly pointing out to them, too!).

The yellow zone is a rate that’s not ideal, but that’s worth taking a look at. This might be a rate that you consider when work has been a little slow, or if a project is particularly interesting, or when there’s some non-economic reason to consider the project. For example, when I translate books, it’s yellow zone work. It’s interesting, it’s nice to be off the daily deadline treadmill, but it’s at the low end of what is viable for me financially.

The red zone is work that you turn down because it’s too low-paying. Point being: to have a viable business, you have to have a red zone. If you are continually making exceptions to your absolute, I-don’t-go-below-this-number rate, just for this one project and then you’ll really never work for that little again…you will never have a viable business. So whether your red zone is 9, 20 or 40 cents per word, just make sure that you have one.

I find that this zone approach really helps me; having an “I don’t turn on the computer for less than…” rate helps me feel that this is a policy, rather than a case by case decision. Over time, I also find that I’m more attracted to billing direct clients by the hour; they understand where the number is coming from (which, with per-project pricing, they might not), but I also get paid for everything I end up doing (which, with per-word pricing, I might not). But that’s material for another post…any thoughts out there on pricing zones?

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Let’s just dive on in to this one; a few basic business management things that every freelancer should do, right this red hot second. Not rocket science, just things that are crucial to the survival of your business!

  1. Completely separate your business and personal finances. Even if you are not incorporated, open a separate checking account for your business to keep things clean. This also really facilitates recreating your accounting records if you ever need to.
  2. Have a reliable project and invoice tracking system. Post-it notes on the computer monitor work if you’re doing one translation job every two months. But when you start juggling multiple clients in a week or a day, you need a better system. Whether it’s Translation Office 3000 (not an affiliate link), a spreadsheet or even a whiteboard, make sure to have something in place.
  3. Buy a domain name and use it for your work e-mail. Your own domain name looks professional, and protects you against ever having to change your e-mail address again. You can also use whatever interface you want (i.e. Outlook, Gmail) to manage it.
  4. Put a percentage of every payment into a business savings account. I say “a percentage,” because it depends on your country and your tax bracket. But here in the US, let’s say at least 30% of every invoice if you just want to cover your taxes, and probably 40% if you also want to establish a paid vacation fund in order to pay yourself when you take time off. In a higher tax situation, say if you live in the European Union, you might be looking at more like 50% just to cover taxes and social charges. But the point being, don’t get caught short at tax time with no way to pay what you owe.
  5. Investigate retirement account options. Again, a little vague, but that’s on purpose. Put it this way: although one of the nice things about freelancing is that you can potentially work into your older years if you want or need to, don’t depend on that. I have an individual 401K through Charles Schwab that I’m quite happy with (and it has very high contribution limits, allowing you to put away a lot of money tax-free), but there are lots of other options out there: Roth IRAs, SEPs, etc.
  6. Investigate whether it’s worth incorporating. If you live in the US and are a sole proprietor (non-incorporated self-employed person), self-employment tax is a big hit. Essentially, you pay some taxes as if you are the employER and the employEE. Incorporating can allow you to legally avoid paying self-employment tax on some of your income, and can also give you some liability protection. Downside: having to file payroll taxes and a separate tax return for the corporation, depending on the corporate structure that you use.
  7. Use a professional e-mail signature. An e-mail signature (the few lines of text that get pasted at the bottom of every e-mail you send) is a very basic marketing tool, and also helps people know who you are. Here’s mine:–
    Corinne McKay, CT
    ATA-certified French to English translator
    http://www.translatewrite.com (professional site)
    http://www.thoughtsontranslation.com (blog)
    http://speakingoftranslation.com (podcast)
    303-499-9622

    Even if you have a very basic signature, like “English to Japanese translator,” it’s worthwhile. But overdoing it can be worse than nothing: the original convention was 4 lines, and I’ve clearly broken that rule, but definitely do not double the length of a typical e-mail with your signature.

Any other basic tips out there?

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No matter how long you’ve been a freelancer, rates are always a source of intense stress: charge too much, and you’re afraid of having too little work. Charge too little, and you’re afraid of not earning enough. There are lots of ways to think about rates (see my previous post about deciding how much to charge) and about raising rates, but let’s take a shot at the basics. Here’s a question I often get from other freelancers: how do I raise my rates, and what’s the best time to raise my rates? My take:

If you’re talking about raising your rates with existing clients, my two word answer is: you can’t. That’s a little harsh, but think of it this way. If you have a salaried job and you want to make 30% more than you’re making right now, you’re unlikely to get that raise in your current position. To make that jump, you have to change jobs. And so it is with freelance rates: a longstanding client is probably not going to agree to a significant rate increase, so you just have to look elsewhere. But let’s say you’re talking about a modest increase. A few options here; some may be nothing you’d ever say, and some might work for you:

  1. You could use Chris Durban‘s suggestion and invoke a third-party authority, like “My accountant has brought it to my attention that you’re my last client paying X cents per word/hour.” This can be a good tactic because the mythical third party is the bad cop, and you get to be the good cop and tell the client how much you love working with them, and that you really hope you can continue the relationship.
  2. You could try a human-to-human conversation with the client, like “I love working with you because you offer so many advantages : your staff are so helpful and easy to deal with, your projects are interesting and you always pay on time. At the same time, looking at my bottom line, you’re now my lowest-paying client, which means that I only accept work from you when I have nothing else in the pipeline. I’d really love for you to be one of my preferred clients, and the rate that it would take to get here is X.”
  3. You could just impose the rate increase and see what the client does; send an e-mail saying “As of March 1, 2014, my base rate will increase to X. Please let me know if you have any questions.”
  4. If you sense that the client could pay more but for some reason is resisting, you could try asking them for the truth (always a dicey proposition, but worth a try!). Such as “I’d like to ask for your feedback on what it would take for me to move into your top tier of translators. I love working with you and am committed to always doing excellent work, so this type of feedback would really help me move my business to the next level.”

But my succinct advice on how to really raise your rates remains: look for new clients.

Now, on to the question of when to raise your rates. Short answer: with new clients, and when you’re already really busy. Why? Because then, if the new potential client says no to the higher rate, you’ve lost absolutely nothing. You’re still really busy and you have enough work. And if the new potential client says yes to the higher rate, you know that at least some portion of your target clientele will bear that rate. Try 15% or 25% higher than you’re charging right now; heck, even try 50% higher and just see what happens. If you believe that you deserve that rate and that your work is worth it, there’s a good chance that the potential client will believe it too. And do not forget that if 100% of potential clients accept your rates without negotiating, you could be charging more. That’s not business advice, it’s just a fact. If literally no one thinks that you are too expensive, you’re leaving money on the table.

Here’s another rate truth: I work with both agencies and direct clients, and I like them both for different reasons. With my agencies, I just translate, and sometimes that’s just what I want to do. With my direct clients, I’m in the thick of the action, usually dealing with either the person who wrote the French document or the person who’s going to use the English document, and sometimes that’s just what I want to do. But here’s a truth of the agency market: you can only compete on quality and service to a certain point. Once you hit the agency’s rate ceiling, you’re stuck. For example I recently wanted to raise my rates with one of my agency clients, but they told me (and I believe, honestly) that they’re already paying me 2 cents per word more than any of their other French to English translators, so I can either continue at the current rate or not work for them anymore. This is not to say that direct clients will blindly agree to every rate increase, but they generally have more flexibility to move money from other budgets and allocate them to translation if they really want to retain you.

Readers, any thoughts on this? Any rate increase techniques that have worked for you?

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The beginning of the year is always a good opportunity to take stock: what went right in 2013, what needs to go better in 2014, and where do you want to be a year from now? Let’s look at some questions that every freelance translator should ask. I’ll kick things off with my own answers, and please add yours in the comments.

Think of where you were at this time last year and what your goals were; by comparison, how are things going now?
In January 2013, I made a major change and joined a co-working office, in which I’m sitting right now. This has made a huge and positive change in both my work and home lives, since I now rarely work at home and try to maintain a fairly rigid separation between the work day and the non-work day. I surmised (correctly, as it turns out) that at the office, I would get more done in less time and potentially earn more money. So, overall, this year was a very successful one.

If you’re stuck in a rut (in terms of income, clients, workflow), what needs to change?
I’m not currently stuck in a rut, but I was at this time last year. So here’s my advice: look for the root cause of the rut. At this time last year, I was feeling relatively blah about work in general: wanting to break through to the next level of income, find more direct clients, and earn a larger percentage of my income from teaching, consulting and writing. I realized that I really needed to shake things up, and that the root cause was that I needed an office outside the house. For you, maybe it’s something different. But it’s important to realize when you need a big revamp rather than some small tweaks. Also, accept your reasons for wanting a change, even if they seem weird or superficial. One thing I love about the co-working office: it’s an excuse to wear nice clothes. If I feel like wearing a new dress, or fun shoes, or a cute hair style that I saw in a magazine, I do. So there.

Did you earn what you wanted to earn?
It’s OK, and even positive, to admit/accept that you translate primarily for the money. I love the work that I do as a translator. I love getting paid to read and write all day, and I love learning about new subject areas. I even (mostly) love interacting with clients and colleagues. But I also love that I can earn a healthy income while working largely on my own schedule and living in a place where there are few, if any, in-house jobs for what I do. Over the years, I’ve seen that for me at least, earning a good living doesn’t make life better, but it does make it easier. So be honest with yourself: are you making as much as you want to? Or do you need to up your income in 2014?

Who did you work for?
This one is critical: what are your revenue streams? You can probably name your top two or three clients without looking at your accounting records, because they’re the ones you hear from all the time. But you might be surprised to see who your mid-level clients are. If you do work other than translation, you also might be surprised to see what percentage of your income the “other” work generates. For example this year, every session of my online course was full and I taught 7 sessions of the class, meaning that the class is now one of my top “clients.”

How much did you enjoy the work that you did?
If you’re earning what you want to earn, working for yourself is generally pretty great. But ask yourself this (and I know I’ve harped on this topic lately, so bear with me!): did you take what landed in the inbox, or go looking for work that really turns you on? Was it another day, another dollar/euro/yen, or did you really look forward to diving in to your work on Monday morning?

What are you getting sick of?
I’m generally a very positive person, almost to a fault. Meaning that I tend to ignore the negative until it’s staring me right in the face. But think about this: what aspects of your work are making you nuts, and what can you do about them? For example I’ve recently talked to a couple of translators who are retiring, and who said “I’m not sick of translating, but I’m sick of deadlines, and rush jobs, and clients who want a miracle for yesterday.” Now that I’m over 40, I hear that. I realize that in another, say, 10 years, I’d like to be focused on work that is really, really on my own schedule, such as teaching, writing books and translating books. I’m not really at the “had it” point yet, but I see it on the horizon.

Should you outsource anything?
A couple of years ago, I realized that doing my own accounting was counterproductive. Although my accountant charges more than I do, it takes me approximately 57 times as long to do payroll taxes as it takes her. So I decided to allocate about $1,000 a year to accounting fees and I now pay my accountant to do almost everything. I keep my own income and expense records, but other than that it’s all her, and it’s well worth it.

Where do you want to be at this time next year?
I’m not a big one for resolutions because they’re kind of a setup for failure (for me at least). Also I’m fairly disciplined, so I tend to follow through on long-term goals. So I think more in terms of goals for the new year rather than resolutions. Here are some of mine: I’m planning to launch a more advanced-level online course (Beyond the basics of freelancing) within the first quarter; then I’d like to do a third edition of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator. I also really, really need to work on connecting in person with more direct clients. I work primarily with direct clients, but most of them have fallen into my lap; I need to make more of an effort to actively seek them out.

Now, over to you? How did 2013 go? What’s on tap for the new year?

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I spend a lot of time explaining the merits of agencies to translators who work with direct clients, and explaining the merits of direct clients to translators who work with agencies. So, I thought I’d offer my explanation to the whole translation blogosphere and solicit your thoughts! Here we go:

Translation agencies are great, because:

  • If the agency does its job right, you just translate. You are freed from such tasks as explaining to the client why the words aren’t in the same order in the translation as they are in the original document, or explaining to the client that words like “software” and “information” are not pluralized as “softwares” and “informations” in English.
  • If the agency likes you, they will keep you busy. They will fill your inbox with requests, rather than the other way around.
  • They have a sense of what you do, and what the constraints of your job are. They know not to ask whether you could translate 25,000 words for 3 days from now, or whether you charge “for the little words.” By the way, that was an actual question I received from a potential client. I apologize if my answer, “Only if you want them translated,” sounded rude or glib.

But translation agencies have their drawbacks, such as:

  • In the agency market, a translator can only compete on quality to a certain extent. It’s in an agency’s best interest to use the cheapest translator whose quality and reliability fit the agency’s purposes. An agency that really likes you might pay you 10% more than what they pay their other translators, but they’re not going to pay you 100% more, whereas a direct client might.
  • They can’t afford to be loyal to you. A direct client might shuffle deadlines, pay rush printing charges or have their own staff work on a weekend in order to snag a translator who they really love. But agencies rarely will: if you’re not available within a reasonable amount of time, they’ll call the next person on their list.
  • Many agencies are not transparent about their teams and processes. When you work on a large project for an agency, the agency may refuse to let you communicate with the other translators. They may decline to tell you whether your work is being proofed a) by another translator in your language pair, b) by a speaker of the target language only or c) not at all.

Direct clients are great, because:

  • At a certain point, you will reach “terminal velocity” in the agency market. You will be charging as much as even the highest-paying agencies will pay, and you can’t increase your speed beyond a certain point if you want to maintain quality. So, the next logical place to look is the direct client market, where the price ceiling is much higher.
  • The business relationship is between you and them. Normally, you can communicate either with the person who wrote the source document or the person who is going to use the target document. In 11+ years of working with agencies, I’ve been in contact with the document’s writer or end user exactly zero times. To put it diplomatically, this model has its problems.
  • Quality is a major competitive advantage. I know for sure (and Chris Durban has said this as well), that some of my direct clients use me for their mission-critical translations; when they’re applying for a large grant or producing a report that will go to potential donors, they’re willing to pay my rate. But for other, less mission-critical things, they use either agencies or less expensive freelancers.
  • Questions and feedback are not only possible, but welcome. In the agency model, there’s pretty much an impenetrable membrane between the translator and the end client; in the direct client market, the back-and-forth flow is what makes the work more satisfying and the translation more accurate and more readable.

But direct clients have their drawbacks, such as:

  • Sometimes, they have no idea how you work, other than that you change documents from one language to another. 12,000 words for tomorrow? Some direct clients don’t know that that’s laughable. And while you’re at it, why don’t you translate into your non-native language? Or interpret for their upcoming conference? It’s not their fault, it’s just not their industry.
  • They may need you only sporadically, or for huge amounts of work at one time. Some direct clients only need a translator for a small job a couple of times a year, for example when they issue earnings reports or press releases. Others may have an onslaught of documents (grant applications, RFPs) a couple of times a year, and then they need 100,000 words in a month. So you absolutely must have a partner or backup person (more on that in another post).
  • Corollary: you really don’t want to turn down their work if you can help it. In the agency market, you can pretty much accept and decline projects at will. As long as you accept at least some of the time, the agency will likely call you again. But if you bail out on a direct client at a key time, your relationship with them may be over, because they have to find someone else immediately (see reference to partner/backup above).

Now, over to you! Thoughts?

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After “How do I find some clients?,” I think that the most common question I get from beginning (and for that matter, experienced) translators is “How much should I charge?” My sense is that most people want an answer like “If you work for agencies, charge 16 cents. If you work for direct clients, charge 30 cents. Anything else I can help you with?” But of course, it’s not that simple. As I always tell the students in my classes, I can’t tell you how much to charge, but I can help you figure out how much to charge. Here’s a short course in how to do it:

If you want a step-by-step guide, check out Jonathan Hine’s pamphlet I am worth it! How to set your price, and other tips for freelancers. Jonathan’s advice is right on: first, figure out how much you want to earn, and what your business expenses are. Then, figure out how many hours you want to work (or, conversely, how much time you want to take off). Then convert that into an hourly rate, figure out how fast you usually translate, and that will yield your target per-word rate. Again, this is a major oversimplification, but you get the idea!

Most translators base their rates on factors like this:

  • Fear (of charging too much, of earning too little, of pricing themselves out of the market, of living under a bridge when they’re old)
  • Speculation (about what other people are charging, because most people won’t talk openly about their rates)
  • Vague notions of “what the market will bear,” or “what clients are willing to pay,” with little to no actual data to back that up

Whereas most translators should base their rates on factors like this:

  • The types of clients they want to work for (agencies, direct clients, or both)
  • The balance of supply and demand in their language pair or specialization.
  • Whether most of their clients translate things because they have to, or because they want to.
  • How much they want to work
  • What their financial and lifestyle needs are: kids, student loans, aging parents, a desire to be location-independent, a desire to retire early, a passion for high-level clients, a passion for running ultramarathons while still earning a good living, etc.
  • Actual conversations with other translators about how much they charge.

Here a few other Zen koan-like tips on how to decide how much to charge:

  • “The right rate” means that you and the client both feel that you’re getting a fair deal.
  • “The right rate” means that you are motivated to do an excellent job.
  • “The right rate” means that you can live the life that you want to live.
  • If 100%, or even 95% of potential clients accept your rates with no negotiation, it means that you could definitely be charging more.
  • The best time to raise your rates is when you’re too busy. Try a higher rate with the next new client who sends you an inquiry: if the client turns it down, you still have enough work.
  • How do you significantly raise your rates with existing clients? You don’t. You raise those rates a little bit, then you make the big jump with new clients.
  • Broken record alert, but here we go again: There is *lots* of good, high-paying translation work out there. Income of six figures is becoming more and more realistic, even if you work with some agencies and some direct clients. There are even clients who are *looking* for someone like you and don’t know where to find you. So you have to go and find them. But most people won’t do that. They’ll continue to take what lands in the inbox, while complaining that some (other) people have all the luck in this industry.

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