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The eternal problem of the word rate (or line rate)
Thread poster: Astrid Elke Witte

Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:26
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Jun 29, 2008

I have been keeping a record of all my activities for a few months now, using time-recording software. As a result, I have come to the conclusion that (1) a "word rate" (or line rate) is disdvantageous; (2) it is absolutely wrong to grant any client the same word rate continually, for an extended period of time (a year or more).

To save quibbles with clients, I have agreed to include all extras, such as .pdf conversion or DTP, in what they perceive as the "going rate" (generally a pretty average rate). However, I find that this is not working, as sometimes it can involve far too much .pdf conversion, formatting, DTP and whatever else is not translation. Also, it does not take into account the complexity of the document.

I have also had some experiences with new prospective clients, who have asked for a word rate and then, when I have run a word count on the document with PractiCount and quoted to them how much it will cost, stating to me that their system of counting words came to a smaller number of words, and, since I had given them a quote, they were now entitled to place an order for the work, using their own word count. My answer to this is "Sorry, no." The result: no customer.

Of course I do not need to work for every enquirer who comes along, but there must be a more strategic way of dealing with the enquiry. Therefore - in the face of most agencies' (and end clients' insistence) on "a word rate" - I no longer quote a word rate (or "line rate" in the case of German into English), but issue a flat-rate quote, which takes account of everything I need/wish to take into account. Some enquirers are accepting this flat-rate quote, and it avoids any word count discrepancies from the outset.

However, I have existing clients who have, for a long time, been paying the same fixed word or line rate for everything they send me to translate, disregarding all other aspects of the translation. I wish now to change my rules for these clients. One reason is the extensive conversion and formatting work which I sometimes have to do for free in the case of particular orders. Another reason is that while one of them even stated outright, in writing, that it is not their policy to pay extra for weekend or night work or rush jobs, they still keep insisting that I do translations between 8 p.m. one evening and 8 a.m. the next morning, or very large translations between 8 p.m. on a Friday evening and 8 a.m. on a Monday morning. I now wish to re-educate these regular clients without losing them. In the case of one of them, I either have to accept all translations or not do business with them any more.

So my question is, is it at all possible, in general, to tell regular customers that there is no fixed word or line rate, but that a fresh quote will be issued for each job, which needs to be formally accepted each time?

Also, has anyone had any experience of successfully changing over a customer from "one price fits all" pricing to pricing that takes everything in connection with that particular job into consideration?

One thing which has happened before, and which I wish to avoid, is saying to a customer, "It costs EUR XXX extra for converting a .pdf", and then, as a result, being sent a "converted" document by the client which is entirely unformatted and as good as nonsense, along with the .pdf "for comparison", to begin the long formatting procedure "in with the price".

The main question involved here, actually, is how to get very businesslike about pricing (as businesslike as all the clients themselves) without losing all the clients. (There is only one factor to possibly prevent them from going elsewhere, namely that they are happy with the translations.)

Astrid


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:26
English to Spanish
+ ...
Good Question Jun 29, 2008

From what I can see you have been allowing yourself to be exploited by clients who have been getting you to do work for them for free, such as formatting, rush work, etc. If these are good clients, and you express this situation diplomatically, then they should understand.

However, if they wish to go on with their expoitation, then you do not need them as clients.

To often people allow themselves to be kicked in the butt because they feel they have no choice. It's time for that to stop, and when it does, our profession will be much better off.


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xxxPeter Manda
Local time: 22:26
German to English
+ ...
pricing ... Jun 29, 2008

That is an excellent analysis of the pricing problem, that give's great pause, Astrid. The problem that I see is that as a freelancer I am only a component of the manager's pricing. There is the proofreader (who sometimes, I have learned, has worse skills than I!!!), etc. etc. In other words, my fee (word count) is only 1/3 [at most] of the project managers take.

Now, generally, if the company is obnoxious or really rude (domineering, condescending, arrogant, or otherwise abusive) then I highlight this margin for them. Because it is this margin that includes the formatting, editing, proofreading, etc. etc. If the company insists on a rapid turnaround and then gets upset because they caught a line missing in editing, I apologize (of course); but if they lecture me on my inadequacy, then I point out that they are earning a margin and that margin is well covered. (What really gets me laughing is when they try and tell me that they don't factor proofreading into the project - but that's another topic for another day ...)!

But ... here is the deal, I am interested in long-term projects with good companies.

I have a handful of good companies, where the project managers are like family to me. They are flexible, understanding, caring, and willing. And this encourages me to go all out for them. That includes, double-proofing, reediting, formatting, rearranging, and working double-time through the night. Here my purpose is to maximize the margin for the companies by holding my earning near to the 1/3 or so that I understand my cut to be.

This attitude works best for me; because I see a symbiotic relationship here. If I can increase my translation companies' profits from the limited margin they have by delivering good work to them, then they can use that profit not only to have a better life for themselves (and thus a better relationship with me) but also to use the money to invest in business trips and other relationships necessary to drum up the business that results in my getting the work. This includes doing the formatting as best I can, providing polished product to reduce the need for proofreading, etc. etc.

So, overall, I'm sticking with the per word structure. For me it works with the agencies that are really great. I love working for them as a result. They love the work I deliver. And we both make a profit that helps us deliver better product to the end customers, thereby over time increasing our overall general welfare.

Thanks!


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Amy Duncan  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 23:26
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Agree with Henry Jun 29, 2008

Henry Hinds wrote:
To often people allow themselves to be kicked in the butt because they feel they have no choice. It's time for that to stop, and when it does, our profession will be much better off.


This is so true, Henry, and interestingly, if we take a stand and then lose an exploiting client, new and better things inevitably open up for us.


jazzrascal


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Ivana Friis Wilson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:26
Member (2008)
English to Danish
+ ...
Dump them one by one... Jun 29, 2008

Astrid, that is a very good analysis you made.

I suggest that you allocate a little bit of time every day (or once or twice a week) to look for new clients. You provide the new clients with your terms (obvioulsy a time saving way to find new clients if you want agencies is the Blue Board) and every time you get a new client (when you are sure that the relationship is working out), you tell an existing client about your new terms and hope they accept. This way you cover yourself if the existing client says no to the new terms and your working relationship must end.

That is the approach I am taking. I spend a little bit of time on marketing every time I find a client that pays better, I tell an old client that doesn't pay so well that my rate is going up and that they can take it or leave it. They mostly leave it.

It is not a quick way to do it but it is a safe way.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 23:26
English to Portuguese
+ ...
The concept of "translation" Jun 29, 2008

What is "translation"?

A simple - but correct - answer is: You get something written (otherwise it's interpreting - let's keep audio/video translation aside for a while) in language A, and deliver it in language B. Nothing further.

If you do it with a state-of-the-art computer, a Royal manual typewriter, a Parker 51 fountain pen, a quill and inkwell, or even a chisel and a hammer, it's a matter of the era you live in, and both price and speed have changed accordingly throughout history.

Everything else is additional to translation. Compare it with getting your car fixed. If I take mine to, say, replace a headlight at Grump's Garage (manpower = 1, Grump himself), I'll have it done for $X, and most likely the steering wheel and the stickshift will be delivered smeared with grease. If I take it to the Ritz Authorized Shop, it will cost $Y, and the whole car will be delivered thoroughly washed and cleaned. Equate that to PDF-decrypting, OCR, etc. etc.

Likewise, if the headlight was broken due to a minor accident, Grump will hammer out anything that interferes with assembling the new headlight, and tie it with wire or plastic straps wherever bolts won't work any more. The Ritz guys will do the necessary body & paint work to restore the fender to its original appearance. Equate that to DTP. Just keep in mind that Grump doesn't have access to car body work services.

Ritz's bill, of course, will specify separately how much was the headlight itself, the electrician's labor to replace it, as well as the body & paint job.

Of course, if you have a Chevy 1958 falling apart, it makes more sense to take it to Grump's; it won't make so much of a difference. If you have a shining new Beamer, you'll take it to Ritz.

The key is in breaking down your job. Of course, you can "give" OCR and/or de-PDF-fing as a lagniappe (like the free carwash at Ritz), to make the client happy. But if you do DTP (body & paint), that's extra work, and cost.

If your ol' Chevy is part of your vintage car collection, and you have to use Grump for a temp fix, you'll take it later to a good body & paint shop to get the whole job done. Equate this to your client's export sales catalog; if you just "translate" it, they'll later take it to a DTP pro (and pay!) to have the necessary graphics work done.

Some clients don't want the whole nine yards; they'll take it from somewhere along the line. Maybe you don't do it, but I translate video for subtitling, and go beyond that to a offer a fully-authored DVD.

When I do this for an end-client, I give them separate prices for translation, time-spotting, burning subtitles, and authoring the DVD. When I do it for a video producer - who has more and better video resources other than for translation - they just want the translated subtitles; they'll take it from there and do the rest. So it's obvious that they'll pay me much less per minute than an end client.

So just break down your whole job. If you offer anything for free, as a courtesy, say so! They'll know exactly how much you are charging for the translation, as well as what has to be done on top of it to get what they want or need. If your DTP is too expensive, it's only fair that they'll hire someone else to do it.

On a final note, if you use CAT tools, it's your problem. Just as Grump uses a pipe wrench and a chisel to work on nuts and bolts, Ritz probably uses power tools. It's a matter of your investment (not theirs) in efficiency and quality-enhancing tools.


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:26
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Sounds like a very good strategy Jun 29, 2008

Ivana Friis Wilson wrote:

I suggest that you allocate a little bit of time every day (or once or twice a week) to look for new clients. You provide the new clients with your terms (obvioulsy a time saving way to find new clients if you want agencies is the Blue Board) and every time you get a new client (when you are sure that the relationship is working out), you tell an existing client about your new terms and hope they accept. This way you cover yourself if the existing client says no to the new terms and your working relationship must end.

It is not a quick way to do it but it is a safe way.


Thanks for mentioning this, Ivana. It would work very well, I expect, in certain situations, such as that of your clients all being the same size, or producing the same amount of income, and mostly being agencies.

My situation is that I get most of my income from a couple of end clients, and any translation agencies that I work for only send me very small jobs, sporadically.

Of course, getting new major end clients is a bit more work....

Astrid


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Ivana Friis Wilson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:26
Member (2008)
English to Danish
+ ...
Didn't realise your clients were mainly direct Jun 29, 2008

That is harder, then, because of course there is a lot more work in aquiring new clients. I have a only few and it took at lot of time to find them and some of them found me.

What about just factoring the extra work into the per word rate? And just tell them your rates have gone up?

To a certain extent, if a client is only interested in price, they are probably not the right client for you.

Partly, I think my advice is still good, give the next new client the new price and slowly work yourself up to a good rate. But of course it will be a lot slower than with new agencies.

Of course you could consider getting more agency clients.


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:26
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Agencies appear to be on very tight budgets Jun 29, 2008

I would hate to have to have literally hundreds of clients to make up a month's turnover, and I have yet to find an agency that spends more than an average of EUR 100 per month with a particular translator.

Astrid


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Sergei Leshchinsky  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 04:26
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
You forgot about the per our rate Jun 29, 2008

The way José Henrique put it is quite comprehensive. One may work different ways, but the cost will depend on the previous investment made in tools. The investment in tools is, so to say, "premeditated" and one expects some output and is supposed to display certain skills too. It's a system. Here, the per-hour charge arises to fill the gaps in per-word and per-line pricing. Some tasks (like converting into / extracting from PDF, doing optical recognition or extracting from a ZIP file, packed with forgotten password...) cannot be measured in words or lines... Here, time comes to the stage. It's like mending a car: a certain operation takes certain man-hours (as per the manual)... Here, YOU set the rate. Otherwise, you go into the red.

[Редактировалось 2008-06-29 20:11]


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 23:26
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Investment in tooling - a case study Jun 29, 2008

Sergei Leshchinsky wrote:
The way José Henrique put it is quite comprehensive. One may work different ways, but the cost will depend on the previous investment made in tools. The investment in tools is, so to say, "premeditated" and one expects some output and is supposed to display certain skills too. It's a system.


This is a very relevant issue for translators: tooling. Every piece of hard/software must be analyzed for cost/benefit.

For instance, right now I and a colleague (it's his project) are analyzing a 4-digit pages technical manual, to translate and DTP. What we have is a distilled (not scanned) PDF of it. From there, I discovered that it was originally created with Frame Maker. As it is for the manufacturer itself, we could get hold of the original FM files.

I have been doing DTP with PageMaker for 15+ years, and am equipped to beach-comb every graphic element, as well as text, from that PDF to re-create the translated pub with PageMaker.

Not too long ago, I had a request for a translation job to be done on Frame Maker. The client would not accept any other way. After a long search, I found one DTP operator willing to implement my translations there. He gave me his hefty DTP-only per-page price to implement my translation there, apologizing that FM is such a pain to use, that he simply has to charge that much for it.

His DTP-only per-page price matches the average wholesale {translation+DTP} bulk price I offer in large projects with PageMaker.

Considering the total amount involved in this project, we could perfectly buy a Frame Maker license and include it in our "cost", but we won't - it will be a "pain" for me to use it just as for the other guy. As the client just wants the PDF and doesn't care how we get it, our offer will be more competitive with me using PageMaker.

So it's a matter of analyzing the cost/benefit of everything you buy for professional use.


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Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:26
Spanish to English
+ ...
no problem here in changing how I price projects Jun 29, 2008

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:

Also, has anyone had any experience of successfully changing over a customer from "one price fits all" pricing to pricing that takes everything in connection with that particular job into consideration?

Astrid



Astrid:

I also work with direct clients, and they seem to be aware when I put in extra effort. With one regular client, the poor writing, multiple drafts of some sections, and dribs and drabs that arrived after the main text was completed meant additional work for me on several projects. So, before I sent in my invoice, I asked if they were willing to compensate me for that time (at my hourly rate). I've done that 3 times, I believe, and they have never balked.

With a different client, I had to buy some research materials, and he was happy to cover that. Additionally, on a recent large project , I raised my rates and rather than calculating the cost based on the per-word pricing (our usual way of doing business), I used a lump sum figure (based on a rough word count). I've actually passed back some of the work I anticipated having to do (tracking down all the directly quoted matter that was written originally in English). He's going to look up much of that and add it to the translated text. At no point did he complain or threaten to get another translator.

Don't forget that the work you do has to be done by someone, so either you bill for it, or your client will have to pay someone else to do, or perhaps your client will have to do it, and that takes his or her precious time. I don't think you should experience any angst in asking to be fairly compensated.

Finally, about looking for new clients, I'll just mention one other thing that I've learned in the past 6 months. I also edit English-language manuscripts as well as translating. Dissatisfied with what two presses were paying me, I shopped around, and lo and behold, I found a press that pays me by the hour for the hours I actually work (rather than giving a lump sum payment regardless of how tough the editing turns out to be). They accepted my "hourly" rate without balking--and it is 20% more than the other presses were willing to pay when I asked for some additional compensation on projects that were "impossible" (i.e., that took me hours longer than they'd anticipated). On top of that, the new press is more prestigious and the people are great!

So, don't sell yourself short and do hunt for additional clients...

Good luck!
Patricia


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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 09:26
Partial member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
CAT tools Jun 30, 2008

In economics, productivity is improved with technology.
In translation business, we meet with diving price ranges due to many more suppliers [novices, with less experience.]
I can keep same price levels with more earning by investing on CAT tools.
For instance, I rarely spend more time on the translation formatting by using TagEditor [its tag setting carefully checks mistakes for me.]
In InDesign, PagMaker, QuarkXpress, FrameMaker or other DTP jobs, I use hardlocks (dongles) to keep good translation formats.

Cheers,
Soonthon L.


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 04:26
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Basic rate only for Word-files Jun 30, 2008

For pdf-conversions I charge plus 10 percent. This does not always cover the extra time, but at least should make customers more willing to do the conversion themselves.

I try to set my rates so that easy jobs are covered generously but difficult ones adequately. And I stopped taking jobs that require extensive research. But once in a while a project is so interesting, that I take it though it requires much more time than my rate allows.
Regards
Heinrich


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 02:26
Dutch to English
+ ...
Eggs and baskets Jun 30, 2008

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:

I would hate to have to have literally hundreds of clients to make up a month's turnover, and I have yet to find an agency that spends more than an average of EUR 100 per month with a particular translator.

Astrid


You don't need to have that many Astrid, honest.

Try the following formula: 80% of your income to come from an "inner circle" of five clients, each in approximately equal proportions, the balance to come from promising candidates ready to be moved into the inner circle should one of the exisiting clients "misbehave". Nothing like you being unavailable for a while for a "misbehaving" client to realise it's time to be flexible.

Takes time to get there but is safer than having all your eggs in one basket, with just a couple of clients. The problem when you are dependent on one or two clients - as you're experiencing - is that they are effectively calling the shots.

There are plenty of agencies out there who will place a few thousand euros per month with a competent legal translator at very decent rates, especially in a language pair like German/Dutch to English.

I'd really advise spreading your risk and tactfully but firmly putting your foot down from the outset with new clients.

Best of luck
Debs

[Edited at 2008-06-30 08:53]


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