I stumbled upon this thread by chance - and sorry for writing EN as it's the language i speak, too, not only translate from
With too many imediate things to do - work, family, planning a trip to Paris and Dortmund ProZ.com conferences (there's a chance I'll be able to run a session on freelancing in Dortmund) - I'm not sure I'll be able to properly arrange an viewing sample of the book - so here it is.
That’s one subject that has been, is being and will be discussed, with a very slim chance of arriving at a generally accepted solution.
Let’s start with the obvious fact that the level of economic development in different countries is not the same, and the taxation systems vary a lot. It means different wage/salary standards, different minimum wages, varying living standards and so on. Therefore, rates prevailing within a particular country may differ quite substantially from those predominating in another country or region. Legislatively adopted or dominating standards in one country can be quite different from those in other nations. Take the well-to-do Great Britain and India as an example. Sometimes the cost of a cup of coffee or pint of beer in Oxford may be comparable to a weekly income of a family in a poor Indian state. Well, I’m not sure about the preciseness of the figures, but the principle is obvious. Additional factors that further complicate the issue of rates include popularity or activity of a particular language combination, availability of specialists in particular fields, and severity of competition.
Formerly, when the Internet was easily available and more or less affordable in the more developed countries, its cost being prohibitive in the less developed ones, and connection to the web practically inaccessible in many others, local rates were hardly influenced by external markets. At about the turn of the millennium, local rates started feeling pressure from external markets. The pressure is bidirectional: higher rates in the more developed countries go down due to the strong influence from translators based in “cheaper” countries; and at the same time, these translators quickly integrate into the international translation environment and adopt the higher rates – those they would have never received in their respective local markets. They refuse to work at local rates, and that pressure increases the rates in these countries. With the Internet rapidly gaining territories, its cost going down steadily (I now pay around $US 16 a month for unlimited ADSL connection – six or seven years ago this amount would allow me to work via a dial-up connection for a week or so, and receiving a file over 5 Mb was a task without a practical solution), we are presently in the period of a world translation market formation, in which your location does not matter one bit. It’s a long process that will, I believe, last for another three or four years, and the rates will finally reach their equilibrium. The difference between particular language pairs will remain: Japanese or Hungarian are much more difficult than Spanish or French. Similarly, there will be rate differentiation within a particular language pair based on specialization. But that’s logical, too: the more complicated the job, the more should be paid for it.
Personal experience: In 2000, I was paid about one dollar per translated page – approximately one third of a cent per word. Soon after entering the international freelancing market, I bid on a project, the client got interested and asked me about my rates. With absolutely no experience behind my back, I stated the rate which was reasonable from my viewpoint. The client’s reply was extremely illustrative: “A professional translator with qualifications you claim will never work for such rates. Taking that into account, we can’t trust your qualifications and don’t believe that at the quoted rate, you are able to provide translation of adequate quality.”
Wow, but it’s natural when you come to think of it. Imagine yourself in the following situation: you are leaving a car showroom where you were enquiring about new sports models. By the door, you are approached by a decent looking and clean-shaven guy and offered a brand-new, zero mileage car, the very model you were searching for – even the colour is the one you agreed on with your family! – at a price five times less than that of the showroom price. Would you buy it? Or even consider it? Well, you know one thing for sure: it’s impossible because it can't be possible. So it’s a practical joke, or there’s definitely something wrong with it. And the chance of getting into trouble with this deal is way too high!
The way I see it, this picture perfectly describes the feeling of a client looking for a qualified translator to work on a specific project. The client knows the market situation and the current rate range, the PM assesses the text and believes that the rate of XX cents per word would be OK. With luck, they can find a good translator who agrees to go a cent down. Under adverse circumstances, they will pay a cent or two more. And here comes the stunning offer: “I’m the right person for this job, will deliver impeccable translation and do it at a rate which is a fifth of what you expected to pay.” Does it really look convincing? Or is the business principle “good things never come cheap” wrong?
The issue of rates will be addressed once more in the book in the section devoted to the methods of increasing ones rates. For now, we’ll look at the range and dependencies and try to single out factors that should be taken into consideration when determining one’s rate.
Rates depend on:
- language combination or region (mostly, owing to the difference in levels of the economic development of the relevant countries that determine the client’s budgeting);
- specialization (increasing from general to specialized to highly complicated texts);
- turnaround (“normal” – within 2,000-2,500 words a day – or a rush job to be done over the weekend);
- format (straightforward Word.doc without any complicated formatting to non-editable formats like PDF or JPEG to, for example, DTP application formats that are to be converted into something you can work with, translated using Trados and converted back with further checking and correction of the layout if necessary).
You can find all kinds of rates on the web. Projects offered at the rate of one cent per word are not uncommon, and the highest rate I saw stated in the PO was EUR 0.24 per word (my personal best is $US 0.19) and I suspect it’s not the ceiling yet.
It’s not easy to set strict correlations, but trends are identifiable. Based on my experience, I map clients onto a geopolitical scale taking into account the level of the economic development of the host country. The two ends of the scale are “expensive” and “cheap”. At one end of the scale, there are the UK, Germany, and USA, with India, Egypt, and FSU countries at the other end. Western Europe is located closer to the more expensive side and Eastern European countries like Poland or Hungary, belonging to the middle strata. I emphasise that these are my personal general observations, and you can find great agencies anywhere – just like penny-pinchers; avarice is a part of human nature rather than nationality. I have absolutely no idea of a great many countries as my experience is limited to twenty or so. Besides, the mapping is very arbitrary! The only Russia-based agency I work for, located in a province a few thousand miles from Moscow pays me €0.07; and a couple of months ago a PM from a US-based translation agency tried to talk me into accepting a complicated project at three cents per word. When I asked him why the rate was so low he mentioned taxes and something else… Does this agency pay higher taxes than the ones I have been working happily for years at a rate three times higher? So high rates can be found anywhere, and the opposite is true, too.
Rates are more or less stable in “closed” language combinations; in this case, “closed” means that the languages of a pair are used in two respective countries, with little or no external pressure. A Finnish into Dutch (Dutch into Finnish) combination may be an example, or Russian into Swedish (and Swedish into Russian, to a lesser extent).
Rates are extremely volatile in language combinations where the country representing (most often) the source language of the pair is a well-to-do nation, and the country of the target language is a developing one. That’s the typical situation for the English into Russian language pair. The rates in this pair stayed high until some eight years ago when Internet became affordable for an enormous army of translators from the former Soviet Union. Absolutely unaware of what their services might cost, they underpriced, offering a fraction of the then existing rates and disrupted the market in this combination completely. Many outsourcers just could not grasp the situation: an excellent translator for a highly complicated job could be hired at a rate as low as two or three cents per word.
It didn’t take those translators long to see the real situation, and they quickly migrated to a higher rate level. Presently, the situation has mostly settled down, and the rates approach their stability value – I’d say, at a point close to $US 0.10 per word (basic rate). It’s the basic rate which can, should be and is increased for complicated areas or unfriendly formats. Newcomers eager to get themselves established and secure their place in the market continue exerting downward pressure on rates. On the other hand, an increasing number of established translators are refusing to work for peanuts thus driving the rates up.
One wide-spread misconception is that rates below the average level are a good way to attract clients. They are – to attract the clients who, of all options, always select the cheapest. Would you like this type of client to form your clientele base? The correlation between the price and quality is well known in business: good and cheap rarely come together. Clients looking for the cheapest translators are often the most troublesome, they often use all kinds of formal excuses for delaying payment, like finding faults (and use them as a ground for reducing the amount, small as it is) and co-operation with such clients dies pretty quickly.
The factors to bear in mind while determining one’s rate are as follows:
- Existing rate range in your language pair
As was already mentioned, rates depend on the complexity of the source and target languages. Ask your more experienced colleagues to share information with you. Visit a few sites of translation agencies – some of them will state the rates, others have enquiry forms you can use to send a sample text and ask them what they would charge for translation. Don’t forget that the rate paid by agencies to translators is 50% to 75% of what an agency charges from the client. Specify the rate for your specialization field – within a language combination, the rate may sometimes range within 100% to 200%.
- Your taxation system and overhead costs
See what percentage of your earnings will be claimed by the taxation authorities. The figures differ greatly from country to country. As far as I know, the current taxation system in the FSU countries is one of the most loyal. Developing economies in an attempt to bring businesses out of the shadows initiate various taxation schemes that encourage tax payment. The following information may cause envy among translators working in the more developed countries: as a private entrepreneur working under the so-called fixed tax system, I pay about $US 20 a month irrespective of my earnings, and this scheme applies as long as my gross income doesn’t exceed 500,000 in Ukrainian currency, or roughly $US 100,000. Talking to colleagues working in other countries I learned that they pay up to 40% in taxes. That means I’ll be in a more favourable position charging 8 cents per word than a colleague of mine who gets 10 cents before tax!
The overhead costs in our case should be considered as well. They include the cost of Internet connection, covering phone bills, computer purchase and upgrade, and price of software. There are operational losses such as coverage of banking fees, but usually they don’t exceed 1-2%.
- Your aims and targets
Compare two situations. One of my colleague’s philosophy is to have as many clients as possible, attracting them with rates below the market average. He succeeded in that, and presently he is fully booked and often overburdened with work, types his head off twelve hours a day, frequently works at weekends and has problems finding subcontractors because the initial rate of three cents per word leaves little margin or room for manoeuvre. No matter how hard he tries, he rarely gets over the limit of $US 2,500 a month.
Another colleague uses a different approach. It took him a few years to find several direct clients who don’t mind paying high rates (to be fair, the jobs are really complicated). These clients give him not more than two or three jobs every quarter, between 10,000 and 30,000 words each. The jobs are within the same specialized area where he became a real expert with time. He is busy some 50% of the time, doesn’t try to maximize his revenues by getting additional jobs or clients; he’s got used to taking his family to a sunny place in the world every three or four months and feels completely comfortable with such an arrangement.
As you can see from the two examples, rates determined on the basis of immediate targets influence the course of further actions. A well-thought out strategy would allow one to gradually replace “cheaper” clients with “more expensive” ones, but you have to have good marketing skills to make your self-promotion campaign successful, and there’s always a fear of losing the good in pursuit of the better.
Rates may and probably should be flexible. Discounts are possible for large-size jobs, as well as for “easy” jobs – non-specialized stuff any freshman would do easily. On the other hand, you may charge extra for rush jobs (ones that require translation of the amount of words in excess of the “normal” 2,000-2,500) or clumsy formats. The final table showing all types of rates may look as follows (all figures are indicative):
Translation: basic rate – $US 0.XX per source word (applied to general, non- specialized texts)
Medical translation: $US 0.YY (may be much more than the basic rate)
Proofreading/editing: $US XX per hour
Discount: 5% for jobs with the wordcount of more than 10,000 words
Surcharge: 10% if working with Trados
15% for PDF source (and the rate may be taken by the target file)
15% if working in MS Excel or PowerPoint
Additional surcharge possible for poor-quality scanned source files, etc.
New word: $US 0.ZZ per word (Trados basic rate)
100% matches/Repetitions 25% of Trados basic rate
95% - 99% 50% of Trados basic rate
75% - 94% 75% of Trados basic rate
If this system is strictly adhered to, an ordinary uncomplicated text in MS Word format may be charged at the level of your basic rate, and a complicated PowerPoint presentation of dentistry equipment to be done in Trados may be priced as high as 200% of the basic rate.
You may elaborate the table even further trying to foresee every possible type of job and situation, and find that it’s absolutely useless with some clients who claim that their accounting system would not accept multiple rates, so they need just one figure! No problem – give them the basic rate; by default it's the rate applicable to ordinary MS Word files without complicated formatting. If the job differs from that, it’s up to you to accept it at your basic rate or bargain for a surcharge.
I promised to explain why I don’t state the rates in my CV. I work with clients based on five continents in more than 20 countries. Considering the dominating rates in these countries, a UK customer paying me nine cents per word will probably regard it a good bargain while a Polish client paying five cents can’t really afford a quarter of a cent more. Besides, in idle periods when my major clients are in hibernation I can accept an occasional job at a rate lower than usual. The above refers to the English into Russian translation – one language pair where one can come across all varieties of rates and projects can originate from any part of the world. When it is a translation from Spanish, Italian, German or with Ukrainian as the target language, I’m more stubborn in terms of rates as the competition is not so strong and the rates don‘t fluctuate as much. Additionally, I can agree to a slightly lower rate if I believe a client to be promising. The loss in rates will then be compensated by steady volumes.
Therefore, the CV I keep stored in my PC has no rates in it, but I insert them when sending it to a particular client in a particular country. In general, the issue of rates is country - and client - specific. A slightly reduced rate with a promising client may bring more jobs home and thus compensate for the small loss in price.
Finally, an arithmetic approach may turn out to be helpful. By now you should already know your average daily turnaround. Let’s say it’s 2,500 words. Multiply it by the rate you consider acceptable for yourself. For illustrative purposes, let it be 0.08 of whatever currency you prefer (go for British pound, it’s the most espensive!). 2,500 x 0.08 = 200. Multiply it by the number or workdays in a month (22) – you’ll get the gross income of 4,400 for a full working load. Don’t forget though that steady workloads are unlikely, continuous inflows of jobs are rare, and pauses are inevitable. Besides, a proportion of your time will be wasted for e-mail exchange, clarification of dubious issues, feedback, enquiries, etc. In reality, a freelancer’s working day has no precisely defined time limits, and to reach the level of maximum workload one often has to work overtime. Deduce the taxes and overheads – 25%, 40%? Take into account the allowance for idle periods. Are you happy with the final net revenues? I don’t think so…
Personal experience: Last September I received an invitation for co-operation from a new client. The registration procedure was pretty long and somewhat tedious; we approached the issue of rates at the very end of it. Obviously, each party tried to stand its ground catering for their respective interests. The impression I got in the course of my communication with the client was quite favourable (surprisingly, I found no adverse traces of it on the Internet. I mean, there was the agency’s site but no comments regarding its credibility or payment practices), so I gave up, agreeing to a rate half a cent lower than I usually charge. As a result, the flow of jobs from this client during the following months was so huge that I managed to pay back the loan I borrowed from a bank to buy a new apartment.
Here’s one more example dating back to a few years ago. An overseas agency I had never heard of asked me if I was available for an immediate job and what my rates were. I told them I was not booked at that moment and could accept the translation, and informed them that my basic rate was ten cents per word. The client said they work with translators from Russia and Ukraine and pay five, four or sometimes even three cents per word. I requested the file, had a look at it and told the client my rate would be fourteen cents for this assignment. After a short silence the client got back to me offering thirteen cents per word, which I agreed to. The co-operation with this client has been going on since then – not too active (the client probably filters out less complicated jobs and sends them to the above mentioned translators charging three to five cents), but absolutely problem-free in all aspects.
Incidentally, as this area has been touched upon, some clients use the supposedly low cost of living in the translators’ countries as an argument to justify the unusually low rate offered – “Hey, life in Ukraine is cheap! Nobody pays FSU-based translators that much!” Is it really so? A good car is cheaper in the USA or Germany because of the import taxes and duties, food products of similar quality are as expensive or even more costly than in the Netherlands, rent is rocketing, catching up with the West (while quality of services largely remains the same!), and prices of apartments in large cities – and I don’t mean Moscow or Kyiv – are higher than in many European capitals. They might be right to some extent, but how is it related to the job complexity or price?
Summing up, it’s a market where the price of a particular commodity or service is determined between the buyer and seller. I sell translation services and set my rate for this service; it’s up to the client to accept it or not. In the same way, it’s up to me to reduce the rate charged for my services or leave it unchanged. In any case, I discard the geographical – political – economic arguments as irrelevant. After all, if I am planning a trip to Switzerland does it give me grounds to demand a double rate from the client referring to the high cost of living in Switzerland as an argument?
A few more items are worth mentioning. Certain types of jobs can be charged based on the volume per hour of work. In particular, I hardly ever agree to per word tariffs for editing, proofreading or review jobs. The logic is very simple: the quality of the translated text maybe anywhere in the range from perfect to horrible. The amount of time spent on editing a very good translation is approximately equal to the time necessary to read it (a few occasional typos can be disregarded and don’t qualify as “poor quality”). Editing a bad translation is a torture. Sometimes, and it’s not exaggeration, it’s easier and quicker to translate the text anew. The advantage of the per hour rate for this type of job is obvious: the payment is proportional to the labour. The commonly accepted turnaround for editing is about 1000 words per hour. Consequently, editing a very good job may take up two or three hours (just read and enjoy it!), but with a poorly translated text you may get stuck for a day or longer! The per word rate wouldn’t take the quality of translation into account in this case as it is based only on the wordcount.
Novice translators frequently ask if the total amount based on the per hour rate can be objectively measured and how clients can agree to a per hour rate if translators can invoice them for more hours than they actually spent on the job. There’s little to worry about. Have you heard the story about two friends, engineers that have just graduated, talking after their first day at work at a research institute. “I wonder what I’m supposed to do for this miserable salary,” says one. “Nothing, and do a little damage,” replies the other.
Translators would not invoice extra hours because a) there are more or less accepted turnaround standards (approx. 1000 words an hour); b) if the payment is high why should one risk losing the good in an (unfair) attempt to get better; and c) should something of this kind happen, the job will probably be the last one in the co-operation with this client. Who in their sound mind would kill a hen laying golden eggs?
Another option frequently used in freelance and applied to small jobs is the so-called minimum charge. It’s the smallest amount that makes you quit whatever you are doing at the moment and start working. Usually the minimum charge is set at about the price of a one-page translation and, expressed in figures, can be 25-30 dollars, euros or pounds. Again, it’s up to you to determine the amount for which you would be willing to switch on your computer. Usually all jobs under one page in size can qualify as minimum charge jobs. You can receive a minimum charge for 250 words or one sentence. Recalculated into per word rate, my personal best was € 2.5 per word: I translated a 12-word sentence and got paid € 30 for it.
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