How Much Should You Charge as a Freelance Translator?

I get this question all the time from new translators.

Everyone seems to want to know the magic formula for figuring out the right price per word.

They’re afraid that if they charge $0.01 too much, nobody will hire them.

On the other hand, they are scared that if they charge $0.01 too low, they won’t make enough to make it all worthwhile.

Translators figure that if they can charge exactly what other people charge, then they can fit in with all the other translators and not be out of line.

That mentality is just plain stupid.

Do you want to know the secret to choosing the right price point for your translations?

Here it is:

You should charge what you’re worth.

Pretty revolutionary, I know.

But that’s the secret sauce right there.

Because the thing is, if you don’t charge someone for your services at a price point that you think you’re worth, your potential clients won’t think you’re worth it either.

You have to know that your skills deserve the price you’re asking.

And if clients can’t (or mostly likely won’t) pay your price, then it’s time to move on and find someone who will.

Right about now is when crybaby translators will complain that if they wanted to be paid what they were worth, they would be paid $10.00 a word for their translations since they are worth so much.

But what they don’t remember is that while translators need to set their rates at a level they are happy with, they also have to set them at a price point that the market is comfortable paying.

If your clients don’t think you’re worth $10.00 a word, what makes you think you’re going to find someone that is willing to pay that much?

On the other hand, translators also like to cry about other translators that charge way less than they do.

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Crying about low translation rates in the name of the “good of the whole community.”

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News flash: $0.03 a word is a great rate for someone living in Mexico where the median income is just under $5,000 per year.

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Why not? Quality translators live in all corners of the globe. Not all of them need to charge $0.15 a word for their work.

What it comes down to is this.

Translators that complain about
the rates of other translators
are too insecure about their own rates.

That’s the truth.

Translators that are confident in their skills and their abilities as freelance translators are too busy finding awesome clients, building their skills to offer more services to those clients, and charging premium prices that those clients are more than willing to pay.

They are not worried about the petty game of figuring out whether or not they should charge one cent more or one cent less than the next translator.

What if You’re Just Starting Out?

Now what if you’re a new translator that has no experience charging anyone for your translation skills?

Maybe you’re like this dude that asked me the following in an email the other day:

In looking up translator fees on web sites (Spanish/English) the rates go anywhere from about 0.03 to 0.12 cents per word. When I get requests for quotes I’m asked for rate and delivery date. This is difficult for me in 2 regards:

1) First, it’s hard to gauge, since I don’t have much experience and I don’t know how long it will take me to complete the translation.

2) I can ballpark a figure but I don’t know what or who I’m competing against since there are other quotes being solicited at the same time.

Is it appropriate to charge low and fast and undercut your competitors in order to get the job? Is there a standard?

Let me break this down a bit.

It’s fine to look at rates of what other people charge, but you have to know that rates vary due to a wide variety of factors, the biggest which seems to be geolocation.

A translator living in India or China is going to traditionally charge less than a translator in Europe or the U.S., all other things being equal.

So the first thing you need to do as a beginning translator is to determine how much you want to make.

A couple of things will determine your income as a translator.

  1. The per word rate you charge, and
  2. How fast you can translate

If you charge $0.10 a word, for example, and it takes you 10 hours to translate 5,000 words, you’ll be earn $500. But if you can speed up your translation rate and can now translate 8,000 words in 10 hours, you just increased your income $300 for the same amount of time.

So, back to what you want to make. You need to figure out how much money you want to earn and then work backwards.

If you want to earn $40,000 a year as a translator, break it down.

If you charge $0.10 a word, you’ll need to translate 400,000 words per year.

Let’s say you can comfortably translate 250 words per hour. That would mean you would have to spend 1,600 hours translating, which is equal to 200 8-hour days a year.

Now that might seem pretty good. But not many translators I know can spend that much time translating straight.

And this 1600 hours doesn’t count the amount of time you spend marketing, editing, communicating with clients, and every other non-translation task that translators have to deal with.

Now say you want to make more than $40,000 a year from translating.

You’ve got three options: You can either work more hours, charge more per word, or work faster.

Or the fourth option which would be to do a combination of the three.

If you have no idea where to begin on what to charge, though, you can always check out the Translator Average Rates table on Proz.com for a starting point.

As to the second part of the question above, don’t worry about other translators.

Worry about what you need and don’t worry about undercutting any translators.

Crybaby translators will always have something to cry about regardless of what you do. Make your decisions on what’s best for you.

Don’t worry about making decisions for the good of the translation community or for other translators.

They don’t care about you.

Only you can care enough about you to do something about it.

Now go do it.

‘Till next time.

4 thoughts on “How Much Should You Charge as a Freelance Translator?”

  1. Mario

    And who is the author of this blog, may I ask? If the writer/creator of this piece wants to remain anonymous, he/she is not worth reading, period. I perused this website looking for information about the blog owner or contributors and found nothing.

    1. Thanks, Mario. Glad you found the site worth reading enough to leave a comment.

  2. Matthew M.

    Thanks for the link to ProZ.com — they have some helpful advice and tools on pricing.

    1. No problem, Matthew. There are a lot of great resources out there for translators. TranslationRules.com is just one such resource. If there are other good ones, I’ll always be glad to let other translators know so that we can all get better.

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