Freelance translation pricing

Translator Question: How Much Should I Charge?

The other day, I got a question from a reader in France just starting out as a freelance translator.

The question was specifically about translation rates and what she should do in her particular situation.

Maybe you can relate.

If so, and if you have some advice for her, consider leaving a comment below so that we can all learn and grow a little!

Question from Alicia

Hello, I’m only starting as freelance translator, I’m using a site for freelancers to find my first customers. However, when it comes to submit a bid I don’t really know how much to ask for an e-translation. 

For example if the project contains 45,000 words and my rate is 0.08 EUR per word, then would 3,600 Euros be the money I need to get from this translation job?

I have this doubt because customers tell me that I’m expensive.

Also I’d like to know if as translators we need to take in consideration the country of the client and make the price affordable if it’s a “poor” country. For example, should we compare our prices to the value of their currency?

My Take

Great question, Alicia, and welcome to the world of freelance translation!

Submitting a bid for a translation, or knowing what to charge as a translator is one of the most common questions that beginning translators have when starting out. Even veteran translators can have some questions regarding how to charge potential customers, so know that you’re not the only one with this question.

There is a wide range of what translators charge, and that range is manifest even more clearly on freelancer-type websites. The reason is because these websites cater to the global market and there are translators from all over the world competing for translation jobs.

For those of you who haven’t looked into these freelancer websites, I recently wrote an article on one of the most well-known of these types of sites called Upwork: Upwork for Freelance Translators: Worth It?

So while you charge 0.08 EUR per word, other translators (mostly in third-world countries) are charging half or even a fourth of that amount.

If you’re the one submitting a bid for a translation job, it’s a lot more tempting to go with the lower price. However, what many of these translation requesters don’t realize is, is that with the lower cost comes more of a chance that the translation is not going to be professionally done.

Now if the requester doesn’t necessarily want a top-notch translation, that’s fine, but if he or she wants something professionally done, then awarding the bid to someone less professional is not the solution.

Just because a person posts their credentials on these sites and they say they’re qualified, doesn’t in fact mean that they are.

I’ve used Upwork myself as a client searching people to help me with a specific job (that wasn’t translation-related). It took a couple of tries before I found someone capable of doing the job (which was a pretty simple one, by the way).

But enough of that.

The real issue is that you’re being told that your rates are too expensive. I’m guessing the clients are telling you this?

To be honest, that’s what you’ll get from trying to win bids on freelance job sites.

Again, those sites are so saturated with low-rate freelancers that you’ll be hard pressed to break through and make much money from those sites since everyone posting bids is looking for the lowest cost.

Now, as I did outline in the article I mentioned above, it is possible to make money on these sites as a legitimate freelance translator but there are some definite things to keep in mind if you decide to try them out.

As a translator, you are much better served by marketing locally or submitting your resume and information with translation agencies directly.

Marketing Local

A lot of freelance translators either forget about this market segment or choose to ignore it.

I’m not convinced it’s not the latter.

The reason I say that is because marketing local is different than marketing online.

When you put your CV on a freelance website and don’t get any jobs, you’re not out anything. Instead, you can easily blame everyone and everything except for yourself. You can convince yourself that you tried and that it’s everyone else’s fault for not hiring you. And you can do that all without having to talk to anyone face-to-face or over the phone.

However, when you market locally, you actually have to put yourself out there.

You have to go and talk to business owners, cold email them, or cold call them and pitch your services.

And you have to do that hundreds of times.

I was reading an anecdote on Twitter (you can follow me on there, by the way) from a guy who does copywriting.

He didn’t have any experience.

So what did he do? He sent out hundreds of cold emails. Still, everyone said no (at least those people that answered him). So he sent emails back to the same people again and again.

And the first person to hire him was a business owner he had emailed 6 times!

But that’s all it took to get started.

As a freelance translator, you have to be willing to jump outside your comfort zone and stay there for long periods of time if you want to find clients that are willing to pay you what you are worth.

Translation Agencies

In addition to marketing local, you’ll probably have more luck if you market to translation agencies directly.

A lot of translators are negative on translation agencies, but as I’ve said before, translation agencies are not the devil.

They can actually help you start landing clients at a decent wage.

The good thing about agencies is that they have a clientele that they want to please so they aren’t necessarily looking to hire the cheapest translators out there. They want translators that will do a good job for the client so that the client keeps coming back to them.

It’s much easier for them to keep the clients they do have than to keep finding new ones.

Just like marketing local, though, it will take some work on your part.

You have to be willing to reach out and email/talk to the people at the agencies. And a lot of the times you have to be willing to do that over and over again until they say yes.

If you don’t know where to begin in terms of reaching out to translation agencies, I’ve got the perfect resource for you:

Translator’s Market: The GIANT Book of Translation Agencies. Find Work and Get Paid as a Freelance Translator.

(Here’s the PDF version.)

Varying Price Based on Country

Finally, with regards to your last question about lowering your prices for “poor” countries, I would say that I never do it. I have a range that I use when charging clients, and if I need to or feel compelled to for whatever reason, I will charge the client at the lower end of that range.

However, I never say, “Oh, this person is from country X, so I will charge them less (or more).”

P.S. For more tips on becoming a successful freelance translator, be sure to read my book.

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