Leave your translation rates to your clients?
Thread poster: Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 20:21
English to Polish
+ ...
May 23, 2013

...And they will be 0,01 per. Or not? I have always suspected people are better than that, and a while ago when spending my nights reading about legal marketing (which is really transferable to translators, especially if you're a legal translator), I read about a guy who allowed his clients to set his rate for a month (link).

He somehow didn't get his income to nosedive. He made some nice fees regardless, and he made some publicity that he wouldn't otherwise have. Also, he got some feedback on how much his services were subjectively worth to the clients (within reason because that might not have been the sole factor in a client's decision).

Other than the fact that I don't really have the publicity to pull this off, I've been tempted to try that in translation. Has anybody run such an experiment yet?

So, you tell the client to write your cheque. You ask that the client should include the following in his decision:

1. Value received.
2. Satisfaction.
3. Budget.

Now, #1 is a very solid factor in sales. In fact, charging based on value is quite ethical. It corresponds with the pre-capitalist notion that gain should result from a concrete title to it, and that there should be some equivalence of mutual benefits. Subjective value in a client's own assessment is still close to the capitalist position of whatever the market's willing to pay you, it just peels off some of the practical circumstances of the market that make hackneyed capitalist slogans sound infantile in real life.

#2 is pretty much the definition of subjective and unmeasurable. On the other hand, being satisfied certainly is a benefit that results in a good title to some payment. I guess this is solid enough, after all. I'm normally the guy who specifically excludes satisfaction clauses, but that mostly comes down to the fact I'm not willing to compromise quality for the sake of pleasing a client, a reviewer or anybody else indeed, or in any way allow subjective individual satisfaction to be the benchmark of quality, let alone correctness, of translation. On the other hand, here the notion somehow doesn't offend me.

#3 is something all but the most established ones of us must be taking into account, and probably a good deal of those established ones give discounts or work pro bono for clients who legitimately can't afford the fees while legitimately needing the translation.

Again, from 1 to 3, those are all very useful pieces of information to have, as is their aggregate in the form of the final price.

Moreover, I've recently learnt from a colleague from the British Isles that there is a tendency there to depart from pricing based on text units in favour of pricing based on some other type of value, e.g. transaction value. Surely, we wouldn't be happy to be paid 0.01 per just because a company is legally forced to buy a translation that nobody's ever going to read. On the other hand, the value of hiring a professional translator to deal with a piece of legal marketing, for example, certainly lies not in the price of 1500 words that compose that cute little rainmaking device. Or those short contracts that really need to be done well.

Somehow, I don't believe two-digit lump sums for small jobs would be abounding if I let my clients quote the price. As a safety precaution, I guess we could inform the client about how many hours we worked or much our resources were taxed or how much we had to rely on extensive education or experience or otherwise wouldn't have made it. Clients don't always have the knowledge or imagination necessary to assess that. Or they may not be focusing on that at the moment.

Say, we put like this for those clients willing to participate in the experiment: Dear Client, the translation I did for you was challenging because .... It took me ... hours, which would have been around ... if I were not an experienced specialist in the field with ... years of such translations under my belt/had not done a similar project recently/had not been assisted by a colleague/weren't a crazy monkey with Google. I very much relied on my education, which cost me ..., for which I'm still footing the bill 10 years after graduation. I used software which cost me .... Please take this into consideration while determining what you believe to be a fair fee, but do not be deterred from basing it primarily on the value and service you have received, as well as your own budget.

I suppose this could be regarded as a partial pro bono exercise just in case some clients give significant weight to their own economic constraints or unfulfilled needs, but I somehow believe that a bit of a note like the above, giving a brief account of the translator's own budget concerns, would go a long way in inspiring some kind of fairness. Besides, well, the information is useful to have at any rate.

So, I'm inclined to give it a try. Not now, perhaps not next month, but sooner than 'some day'. Anybody else willing to brave it?

[Edited at 2013-05-23 04:35 GMT]


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:21
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Just two questions May 23, 2013

Most interesting. Thank you for raising this topic.

Have you given some thought to the fact that most of our customers are physically far from them and that going to see them (a major factor in explaining the work performed and solidifying the perception of satisfaction) can mean quite some cost and time? Maybe the post-mortem should happen with some kind of very clear form the customer can see at a glance, along with a phone call or something?

Also, after that month in the experiment, how do you think the rates received from customers will affect your final standard rate? My concern is that, being translation a largely commoditized market, even very satisfied customers will apply the rate they have known before as their maximum. Our main challenge as professional translators is exactly that: trying to de-commoditize and proving our value to the customer.

All in all, I think it would be a very interesting experience as long as one has some money in the pocket to pay the bills even if the rates received are low.


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 02:21
Chinese to English
People don't know the value of our service May 23, 2013

The problem with this idea is that there are so few translation buyers who understand the value of the service. While pretty much every large company has to have do legal work, and often has lawyers working for them (or running them), translation is just another commodity bought by the procurement department for most.

The exception is LSPs, but as Tomas says, they like to treat us as interchangeable units (and I'm happy to be an interchangeable unit for them).

We have no public profile, so no-one would know where to start working out our value. Moreover, we're often only one link in a longer chain - part of a contract negotiation, part of a marketing campaign, part of corporate internal communications - so it would be very tough for customers.

Personally, I'm quite happy with my cog-in-the-machine status. I do sometimes feel like I should want more money (given the amount of education I've had, I'm probably not earning enough). But I'm reasonably content with the way things work.


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 20:21
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
More May 23, 2013

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

Most interesting. Thank you for raising this topic.


Thank you for the kind words.icon_smile.gif I believe the credit should still go to that lawyer who came up with it.

Have you given some thought to the fact that most of our customers are physically far from them and that going to see them (a major factor in explaining the work performed and solidifying the perception of satisfaction) can mean quite some cost and time? Maybe the post-mortem should happen with some kind of very clear form the customer can see at a glance, along with a phone call or something?


No, I haven't. That's a point well taken. I suppose the lawyer actually met his clients in most cases, which a translator rarely does other than those sworn translators who never do any other work. I'd make sure the client gets to hear some voice and see some large enough pictures to associate a face with the voice.

Also, after that month in the experiment, how do you think the rates received from customers will affect your final standard rate?


No concrete idea, and I'm pulling this out of thin air, but in the Polish market, I'd expect:
1. zombie farmers to try to dump junk projects like 30 pages overnight without a rush fee;
2. some other agencies to come in with rates in the lower regions;
3. direct clients to be decent, possibly pay more than I'd charge them in some cases, especially self-respecting law firms and responsible businesses;
4. some new clients or agencies who'd use the opportunity to price the first the job done by a new translator on the basis of the quality received when being guaranteed immunity from needing to pay much for junk;
5. some movement from insecure actors so far inhibited from working with a translator, perhaps tentatively considering some opportunities;
6. some guys popping out of the blue out of curiosity, usually with small jobs;
7. some folks with stuff they know they'll need to translate sooner or later, so might as well do it now;
8. some folks from countries with higher costs of living who don't want to pay their market average but will end up paying more than the average of what I get to charge.

The overal effect would probably iclude plenty of failure to be noticed anyway, some junk jobs to do for half pay, but also a couple of quality new contracts making the exercise worthwhile.

I'd probably need to include some anti-zombie clauses to prevent abuse of the system, as well as imposing some limits on the quantity, so as not to get monopolised by someone taking a full month of my time with hopes of paying a week's worth of wages, for example. Obviously no deductions under their own general terms to result in me paying them. Perhaps no night work.

My concern is that, being translation a largely commoditized market, even very satisfied customers will apply the rate they have known before as their maximum. Our main challenge as professional translators is exactly that: trying to de-commoditize and proving our value to the customer.


True. I have no idea how to pre-empt that other than the suggested criteria that I'd ask the client to take into account. It'd only be hard to justify anything that deliberately ignored some of the deadlines or even utter a claim that it's fair. I could surely require the client to write 'I believe that the following is the fair price for the value and service I received: xxx.'

All in all, I think it would be a very interesting experience as long as one has some money in the pocket to pay the bills even if the rates received are low.


Yup.

Phil Hand wrote:

The problem with this idea is that there are so few translation buyers who understand the value of the service. While pretty much every large company has to have do legal work, and often has lawyers working for them (or running them), translation is just another commodity bought by the procurement department for most.

The exception is LSPs, but as Tomas says, they like to treat us as interchangeable units (and I'm happy to be an interchangeable unit for them).

We have no public profile, so no-one would know where to start working out our value. Moreover, we're often only one link in a longer chain - part of a contract negotiation, part of a marketing campaign, part of corporate internal communications - so it would be very tough for customers.

Personally, I'm quite happy with my cog-in-the-machine status. I do sometimes feel like I should want more money (given the amount of education I've had, I'm probably not earning enough). But I'm reasonably content with the way things work.


I think some of the problem could be alleviated by having the client read some things and using appropriate wording to make things very hard on someone who doesn't really believe that what he's quoting is a fair price. However, I feel at least a little uncomfortable drafting statements that I know some people would be making in bad faith. For example, I could certainly draft it to say, 'Upon my honour, I believe that the fair price is xxx.' But I don't really want to give people opportunitities to give up their honour.

[Edited at 2013-05-23 07:51 GMT]


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 20:21
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
There's a restaurant May 23, 2013

in London I think, where it's up to the customer to decide how much they think the meal was worth.

Of course, you can see how busy the place is, how hard the staff work etc. It's much harder to walk out of a restaurant without paying than to send an e-mail to a translator the other side of the planet to say that you don't want to pay for his translation because it's rubbish.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:21
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
An interesting quote May 23, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:
I read about a guy who allowed his clients to set his rate for a month (link).


I like this quote from his blog post:

Figuring out the attorney fee structure for your firm is a complicated and arcane process. The thing most of us looked at when we started our firms was what other firms in the area charge. That is what I did. Then I made my prices a little bit lower.

The problem [with] being cheaper than other firms [is that it] doesn’t mean you are affordable to your target client. It just means you get paid less when you find someone who will hire you.


The same applies to translation, when dealing with private clients in particular. Even if I halve my rate, it is still much higher than most private clients were expecting to pay. So reducing my rate won't make it more likely that private clients will hire me -- it will just reduce my income.

On the other hand, the same does not apply to agencies. Agencies are not shocked when they see what translations cost -- they simply pass on the cost from their client. So the argument for not reducing your fee for private clients may not work with agencies. A slight reduction in your rate for private clients won't make a difference, but it may well make a difference with agencies.


 

Andrea Riffo  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 15:21
English to Spanish
I've actually done this twice May 23, 2013

Both times with a trusted client with whom I have a long-standing relationship.

They had a medium project that had several unusual requirements, so I had a really hard time figuring out what to base my rates on (the hour? per word plus extra %? On what should I base the %? etc), so I told them honestly "there's a lot of tiny details to this specific assignment that make it hard to quote for; I'll go ahead and we'll talk about rates later". The second time was for similar reasons: unusual project, not quite sure how to quote, fill in the blank.

Unprofessional? I don't think so, but can certainly see how it could appear that way, which is why I wouldn't dare do this with someone who's not familiar with my work... but this client and I have been working together for many years now so I knew they would appreciate the honesty and wouldn't take it the wrong way.

So I did the whole project, delivered as requested, and then asked them what they proposed. Both times, their suggested rate was on the high end of the ballpark range I'd come up with in my head, and I got the added bonus of learning why they thought that was a fair price (and a price structure for future similar projects).

Greetings!


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 20:21
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
The blacksmith's cat died of many thanks - Danish proverb May 24, 2013

Af mange tak døde smedens kat

-- is a Danish proverb, said to derive from a fable about a blacksmith who applied this principle.

Customers came from far and wide to have their horses shoed, or whatever else a blacksmith is expected to do. He did the work, smiled politely, and said they could leave whatever they thought was suitable payment in his hat by the door.

Everyone thanked him heartily, but he was not even paid enough to be able to feed his cat, and the poor animal starved to death.

Obviously, people were not so soft hearted about cats in those days.

icon_wink.gificon_wink.gificon_wink.gif


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 20:21
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
A cultural matter... May 24, 2013

The thing is that most people's aim in life is to pay as little as possible for everything they want. And they want everything! I had a boyfriend, we went on holiday together and took turns writing in a travel diary as we travelled. I came across it recently. My entries feature descriptions of the people, the scenery, the food, whereas he simply noted his delight at the rock-bottom price of the (tacky) hotel room we chose and the price of the meals we had, and ranted about having to haggle to take a taxi...

It's time people woke up and realised that you have to pay a decent price for things. If you buy cheapo chocolate, it was produced by people who do not earn enough to send their children to school or buy medicine when they're sick. If those bars of chocolate had warning messages to that effect and photos of the producer's sick children, maybe people would stop buying them. After all, how much chocolate do you *need*?

Quoting Gandhi, there is enough for everyone's need, not for everyone's greed.

Coming back to translation in particular, I get the impression that clients are more grateful for you handing something in on time than for the quality of the text.


 


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