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Charging for materials
Thread poster: Astrid Elke Witte

Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:35
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Sep 18, 2007

I recently bought a new printer/photocopier/scanner, and subsequently discovered that the toner for it is very expensive, and I sometimes have to print out an awful lot. Now I recall, from various lawyers' offices I worked in at one time, that lawyers always charge separately for paper and ink, as well as postage/fax costs/telephone/general disbursements. That is quite apart from the hourly rate for their time. When I think about it, other categories of self-employed people also charge down to the last cent for materials used. So why on earth don't we? Or do some of you charge for materials and get away with it?

Astrid


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:35
Italian to English
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Never thought of it Sep 18, 2007

But I don't see why in principle you shouldn't, although of course it's not your clients' fault that your toner is more expensive than the norm. I can't imagine agencies would take very kindly to it (though I know one wonderful agency who tells you to add a 25 euro admin fee to each job because they require a signed certificate of translation), but direct clients might be more amenable.

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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:35
English to Spanish
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Unpleasant surprise Sep 18, 2007

I gues you got an unpleasant surprise on the equipment you bought; buyer beware.

Normally such items do not and should not add up to much, so normally no extra charge should be tacked on. However, if you feel it is justified and the client will bear it, then you can try to charge for it.


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Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 08:35
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
Kind of petty don't you think? Sep 18, 2007

How about charging for electricity you use? charging for mouseclicks? (after all, your mouse is going to wear out, isn't it) charging for getting out of bed to check your e-mail?

I mean, if you wanna pass your costs on to your clients, do so by raising your rates. If you use printer and toner to proofread your translations better, it's gonna show up in the quality, ain't it?

[Edited at 2007-09-18 18:48]


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Claudia Krysztofiak  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:35
English to German
+ ...
Depends on what you wish to charge for Sep 18, 2007

Material costs normally are part of the general overhead costs for your business and they should be reflected in your rates.

My rates include DSL24/7, telephone calls and the one or other letter or fax (and of course the office, Pc etc. with all regular costs) The material I receive is sent online and I normally do not print it but translate it on the PC and sent it electronically. If you have to print a lot, then you should calculate whether a laser printer would be more reasonable. Higher initial costs, but lower costs for toner etc.

If a client asks me to send a printed version of a lengthy text, I either calculate this into my offer or ask for a special fee per page (normally to discourage the printout, because I hate to waste the paper ).

You can negotiate with your clients whatever they are willing to accept. But you have to give them the facts up front.

Personally, I would not like to have complicated invoices for every bit of work I do, with extra rates for the material used, phone calls, etc.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 07:35
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
I don't charge for it Sep 18, 2007

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:
I recently bought a new printer/photocopier/scanner, and subsequently discovered that the toner for it is very expensive, and I sometimes have to print out an awful lot.


I don't charge for it -- I simply include it in my usual rate. If there are fewer printouts, then I score. If there is the usual amount of printouts, then the rate I charge absorbs it.

I'm not sure if you should charge separately for it.

Remember, you are a provider of a product, not a provider of a service (even though it may seem that way). You should calculate the cost of your raw materials into the quote given to the client.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 07:35
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Equipment hidden costs Sep 18, 2007

Henry Hinds wrote:
I gues you got an unpleasant surprise on the equipment you bought; buyer beware.


Yes, I think the combination equipment tend to have higher usage costs. Also ink jet printers use a lot more ink money-wise than laser printers.

And not all printers are the same -- my previous HP ink jet printer cost slightly more and the ink cartridges cost about twice as much as my more recent Lexmark ink jet printer, but that is just foolery... the number of copies I could get per dollar of ink with my HP was far, far more than I ever got off my Lexmark. So the Lexmark seemed cheaper when I compared the price of the ink cartridge, but it turned out to be more expensive in the end.

At the moment I use an HP laser printer, and the printer was more expensive and the toner is more expensive and... and... and I save tons of money when I print!


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:35
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
That's an interesting idea Sep 18, 2007

Samuel Murray wrote:

Remember, you are a provider of a product, not a provider of a service (even though it may seem that way). You should calculate the cost of your raw materials into the quote given to the client.


Hi Samuel,

That is an interesting idea, and, when I think about it, in a way you are right. However, here in Germany, translators are officially classified as service providers.

I guess the best thing is to try raising prices again in January.

Astrid


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Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:35
French to English
+ ...
Should be included in your rate Sep 18, 2007

Hi Astrid,

I agree with the others that something as "standard" as printing should be included in the rate. Admittedly most of us don't send out printed translations nowadays, but I always print off copies for checking and for my files, so it's something I expect to do anyway.

My printing costs have actually gone down over recent years since I've discovered compatible ink cartridges via internet suppliers - much cheaper than original cartridges! However, I also find that the printers themselves don't last very long - mine seem to last an average of 18 months! Repair never seems to be an option as it's usually almost as cheap to buy a new printer and get a new 12 month guarantee - crazy!

I used to charge extra for things like photocopying in the days when home photocopiers were not available and I had to go down to the local office supplies shop and pay for copies of diagrams etc, so that I could cut and paste them into my translations - what an age ago that seems! I think that was fair enough as it was an definitely an "extra", which involved me in considerable time, effort and cost.


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 06:35
Dutch to English
+ ...
Generic toner cartridges, etc Sep 19, 2007

Hi Astrid,

Your observation about lawyers is correct. When I practised in South Africa, I used to specialise in bankrupticies and liquidations and in addition to my fee, I was allowed to charge for postage and petties, telephone calls and all types of weird and wonderful things.

In our situation though, it's something you normally take into account in determining your fee (like any other cost of running your business).

Ideally we should quote separately on each job, but regular clients get used to the rate you charge them. In those cases, if there is an inordinate amount of printing etc necessary, I just agree an admin surcharge upfront with them - I've never had a problem.

As far as your toner is concerned, you can consider shopping around for generic toner cartridges. I haven't done so, so can't comment on quality, but I know there is quite a difference in price down here in Portugal, maybe it's worth looking into.

Keep well
Debs


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 07:35
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Charging for faxes Sep 19, 2007

Claire Cox wrote:
I used to charge extra for things like photocopying in the days when home photocopiers were not available and I had to go down to the local office supplies shop and pay for copies of diagrams etc...


I wonder what clients would think if we begin to charge them for sending them faxes. When a potential new international client asks me to fax a signed NDA, the cost of the fax is often the equivalent of an hour's translation work. I don't always get jobs from these people, but I regard it as a necessary business expense.

If the client wants me to post a printout of the work to him, I may charge extra for that, because (a) it is so unusual these days and (b) it is not a "normal business expense" in the sense that stationary and postage usually is.


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:35
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for all your replies Sep 19, 2007

The new piece of multi-purpose equipment I bought cost over EUR 1000 and came with a 3-year guarantee. The guy who sold it to me pointed out on delivery that it didn't have much toner inside it, because they put in almost empty toner cartridges at first, so that you can try it out. As I print out large volumes of paper (sometimes, for lawyers, various versions of a 100-page document, and various new versions of the same 100-page document a week later), I thought I had better order the new toner cartridges immediately.

The guy explained to me that this piece of equipment has four toner cartridges inside, instead of one: a black one, a blue one, a red one, a yellow one. I therefore had to order a set of four. He delivered them yesterday, together with an invoice for around EUR 400.

Now, as far as I am concerned, that raises my printing costs to about EUR 200 per week. I will have to see if that is how it works out. However, the old multi-purpose laser printer/scanner, which broke in August, gobbled up about one toner cartridge per fortnight. That machine only had one toner cartridge, which was black, and cost about EUR 70, so it cost EUR 35 per week.

Both the old one and this new one are laser printers.

I have not read the instruction book for this new machine yet, as I have been on holiday for the past fortnight, and I got it just before I went on holiday. However, by default, it does not just print black-and-white. If there are any coloured bits in the document, even just blue hyperlinks, it prints those in colour.

When printing costs reach these proportions, I simply do not find the costs "petty" or negligible any more. That is why I wondered if I could charge anything. However, I will try putting my rates up instead, then.

Astrid


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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:35
German to English
Potential tax implications Sep 19, 2007

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:
I recently bought a new printer/photocopier/scanner, and subsequently discovered that the toner for it is very expensive, and I sometimes have to print out an awful lot.


You should really always examine the TCO/lifecycle costs when buying a printer. It's often the case that if you check out comparisons of printer costs, the upfront costs of a printer are higher, but the running costs are lower. We recently bought a Kyocera colour laser that was significantly more expensive than its competitors to buy, but is significantly cheaper to run, such that the additional cost will be amortised within a year. But I should point out that we use a b/w printer when colour isn't needed (we print at least 5,000 pages per month).

Now I recall, from various lawyers' offices I worked in at one time, that lawyers always charge separately for paper and ink, as well as postage/fax costs/telephone/general disbursements.


I think that the days when lawyers charged for paper and ink are probably gone. I certainly haven't seen such charges on lawyers bills for years. Apart from anything else, lawyers, accountants, tax advisers, etc., have regulated fee schedules for what they can or cannot charge, and here in Germany at least, any materials they are allowed to charge for are exemptions to the general law governing Freiberufler (see below).

A couple of things to remember in our purely German context:

1) We can certainly charge for certain itemized cash outlays we have incurred in the provision of our "Werksleistung", for example postage or courier costs. However, you wouldn't really want to charge for these unless they were significant, would you?

2) You have to be extremely careful about what incidentals you charge for. As Freiberufler, we are prohibited from selling goods of any sort, which is a "gewerbliche Aktivität" (commercial activity). If you start charging for paper and ink, the tax authorities may well take the view that you're engaging in a commercial activity, reclassify your tax status and cane you for backpayments of Gewerbesteuer (municipal trade tax) from the year dot. The German tax literature contains many examples of what's called "Abfärbung" (tainting). It's not worth the candle, believe me.

In your case, I would buy a cheaper printer for your "normal" b/w print runs and reserve the colour printer for when you really need colour. You can still buy a decent inkjet printer/photocopier for less than EUR 410 net of VAT, which will allow you (still, this year only!!!) to write off the entire acquisition cost against tax this year because it's classed as a GWG - low-value asset (it has to have a photocopy or fax function as well, otherwise it's classed as a computer peripheral and doesn't qualify for the GWG tax break).

HTH,
Robin


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Sonja Tomaskovic  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:35
English to German
+ ...
Make sure to print out b/w. Sep 19, 2007

Hello Astrid,

What you are talking about is a colour laser printer. I have one myself.

However, in order to avoid using up the colour toner - which is very costly - make sure that you either configure the printer to print out on greyscale by default (you will have to review the settings or the software that came with the printer), or make sure that you change settings accordingly every time you print out something.

This way, you can save on the colour toner, and only buy the cartridges when they are really empty. For my own HP printer, cartridges for black and the other colours can be bought separately.

Sonja


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:35
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Tax implications Sep 19, 2007

Hi Robin,

Thanks for your detailed answer, pointing out the various tax implications. It seems that one can't be careful enough, here in Germany. I will bear in mind the points you mentioned.

Thanks, Sonja, for the tip about configuring the printer to print out on greyscale. Yes, I think I can manage to do that.

Best regards,

Astrid


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