If you’re a translator just starting out, one of the struggles you’ve faced is wondering how to set your translation rates. Every translator I’ve ever known has struggled with this same exact question.
If there’s one thing about translation that bugs me to no end, it’s the fact that some translators are willing to sell their translation skills to the lowest bidder possible.
I get the mindset, though.
You’re just starting out as a translator.
You are still trying to get that first gig so that you can prove to other clients (but mostly to yourself) that you are a real translator.
You tell yourself that you need experience. That nobody is going to hire you if you haven’t done any translating jobs before.
Then you notice all the rates out there by other translators.
You figure that since you can’t compete on experience, you might as well set your translation rates lower than anyone else.
As if the equation were:
no experience = low translation rates
I’m here to tell you that that’s a bunch of crap and if you believe it, you’ll never get out of the hole of bad translation rates.
If you don’t think you’re a good enough translator now to command decent rates, you won’t think you’re good enough after doing one, two, or twenty jobs.
You’ll always be making excuses for your “lack of experience.”
My Experience With Translation Rates
As a translator just starting out over 15 years ago, I had a hard time knowing how to set my translation rates. I went through the same emotions you probably have:
- I just graduated from college….
- Well, I don’t have enough experience….
- Nobody is going to hire me….
- Blah, blah, blah…. (put your own excuse here)
I knew what translators normally charged for Spanish to English translation, but I was too scared to to admit that I had just as much right to charge that amount as “experienced” translators.
And looking online made it worse.
Sites like Elance where translators and other freelancers hawk their wares and bid on freelance jobs magnified this problem because there were translators on their charging ridiculously low amounts.
I’m talking less than $0.01 per word!
In fact, here’s a translation job that was posted on January 20:
The person had a 115,000-word job he needed done in a month. It had to be a “high quality and professional standard” yet he was only going to pay between $0.008 and $0.02 a word!
And the most (or least) surprising part? There were over 50 people clamoring to get the project.
Before you think, “well, they were probably all from third world countries,” think again. There were plenty of bidders from Europe and the United States.
Do these people value their skill? Do they value their ability to translate from one language to another?
No, they don’t. I don’t care what they say.
As for myself, I didn’t want to be like one of these people.
I didn’t want to let potential clients crap all over my skills and experience by letting them throw scraps on the ground and having the dogs fight it out for the leftovers.
So I told myself I would set my rates, and clients could take them or leave them. And that’s what I did.
I decided I would charge between $0.08 and $0.10 a word for Spanish to English translations, depending on the level of complexity and who the client was.
How did that affect my clients, you ask?
Well, some people balked of course. They claimed that they could find translators for much cheaper online or other places.
That was fine with me. If they were too cheap to pay me for my skills, then there was a good chance they were going to be a trouble client anyway. And we all know how much trouble clients can cost us in the long run.
So, yeah, some people walked. But when they did, I just spent that time I would have wasted with their translation and looked for more clients. Clients that would actually pay me for what I was offering them.
And that has proved much more effective and resulted in much more income for me over the long run.
What does that mean for you?
Well, you can take a plunge into the cesspool of racing to the bottom if you want, but fair warning, if you do, it’ll be hard if not impossible to get out.
Or you can realize that what you offer is something that knowledgeable clients understand and are willing to pay you for, and then go after those clients.
Throughout my 15+ years of translation experience, I’ve noticed that rates run a pretty wide margin among translators in general; however, rates among professional translators tend to remain fairly stable.
Think about that for a moment.
Anyone can call him or herself a translator. There’s no worldwide governing body cracking down on unprofessional translators or on translators that don’t actually know how to, you know, translate.
In addition, there’s no set standard on what is acceptable to charge as a translator. Your rates are somewhat determined by market rates. Because of that, there are many so-called translators that charge on the very low end in order to undercut the competition and get more work.
Let them. They can deal with the terrible clients. That just means less competition for you with the clients that actually matter.
What Are You Afraid Of?
Most professional translators that make a living out of their translation and language skills can charge a reasonable rate. Why? Because they demand that rate and have found clients that understand the value that translation brings to their business.
As a professional translator, I would never lower my rate to an ridiculously low rate just to get a job. It would not be worth my time.
It’s not worth your time, either.
Don’t be afraid to charge what you are worth. That might be more or less than what I charge but it doesn’t matter. You may have more or less skills than I do. Or different skills that can demand higher rates.
Just make a decision on what you will charge and not lower your standards or your rates just because you don’t have any jobs lined up for the moment.
Here’s’ a secret.
You won’t win any bids for a low-paying life-sucking translation job. Think about the example job I posted up above. There were over 50 people competing against each other to charge $0.008 a word! All the bids were sealed; however, I guarantee that there were translators on there who were bidding even less to translate the book.
Every bidder on that site bragged about how awesome they were, how many clients they’ve had, and that they’ve lived all over the world. They’re all saying the same things. So the only thing that the client is going to base his decision on is how cheap he can get the job done.
So while he’s offering $1,000 to translate his 115,000 word book, he’s probably going to be paying a lot less. Why? Because the bidders are going to be offering a lot less to get the work. I’d guess $500.
Let’s take $500 for a 115,000 word book. That’s $0.004 a word. You’d make more working at a gas station.
Stay away from those jobs, and don’t be afraid to set your translation rates to what you think you are worth.
You’re a translator. It’s time to start acting like one.