How to ask a rate hike?
Thread poster: Jeongwon Hyon

Jeongwon Hyon  Identity Verified
South Korea
Member (2018)
English to Korean
Dec 5, 2018

I have been working for a big translation agency since Jan. 2017. There's nothing to complain working with them. They give me interesting projects, try to pay on time (they usually pay me late, but not too late, so that's okay), and, most of all, provide plenty enough projects for my living (I am in a three year contract with them). However, recently, I feel like I deserve a bit higher rate as my experience and skill have been developed while I am working with them. So my question is, how I can ask to change my rate? Is it (reasonably) okay for a freelancer to ask a raise? Will they be able to terminate my contract because of my request?

Please share your insight with me!


Thayenga  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:08
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
You are a service provider Dec 5, 2018

Jeongwon Hyon wrote:

So my question is, how I can ask to change my rate? Is it (reasonably) okay for a freelancer to ask a raise? Will they be able to terminate my contract because of my request?

And as such you set the rate - just like your grocery store around the corner sets the prices for their merchandise.

The only exception would be if the contract you've signed prohibits any rate increase.

Can they terminate your contract because you increase your rate? Of course they can unless there is no option for either party to terminate the contract any earlier, which is highly unlikely.

texjax DDS PhD

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:08
Member (2008)
French to English
It depends Dec 5, 2018

In my experience, raising the rate to a particular outsourcer usually ends the collaboration.

The best way I have found to raise rates is to broaden your client base - find new clients and new markets for which a higher rate can be negotiated from the beginning of collaboration.

The exception to this is with outsourcers who have a portal where you can log in to your account and set your own rate. I have been successful in raising rates for a given outsourcer only in these cases. What it means, of course, is that your name does not come up as often when the outsourcer is searching their database for a translator within a given budget for a particular project.

In your position I would definitely work on getting more clients. It's risky to put all your eggs in one basket - as a rule of thumb, one client should not represent more than 20% of your income.

[Edited at 2018-12-05 15:06 GMT]

Teresa Borges
Nikki Scott-Despaigne
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Hauke Christian

B D Finch  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:08
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Just ask Dec 5, 2018

Don't use the word "hike" when you ask, as that would make your request sound onerous and unreasonable. If you don't ask, you certainly won't get a raise. The worst they can say is "no". They would only be likely to terminate your contract if they found your request offensive or if you insisted after they said "no".

First, research what the going rate is for the sort of translations you are doing for them. Decide what you want to ask for and what your backstop position is. If you really want to keep them as a client, which it sounds like you do, then the backstop would be continuing with the same rate and accepting "no" for an answer. Be sure of your ground with regard to your own skills and value to the agency and the rate they are likely to be paying other translators in the same language pair(s) and with similar skills. Be honest with yourself about this.

Taking into account the bargaining culture in the country in which the agency is based, decide whether to pitch your request slightly higher than what you might reasonably expect them to agree, in order to settle for a win:win compromise. Don't pitch it too high. Next, write out your request, telling them how much you value them as a client and giving reasons why you think an increase would be fair, leave it for a day, re-read it and check both content and tone and then send. What to do next will depend upon the reply you get.

Good luck.

I agree with John Fossey about broadening your client base. However, my experience is different from his. I've successfully raised my rates to some agencies, while leaving other agencies behind because I no longer felt it necessary to accept their rates and they weren't willing to raise them.

[Edited at 2018-12-05 15:18 GMT]


Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Local time: 06:08
Member (2016)
English to German
It depends on the market situation Dec 5, 2018

Rates are a matter of negotiation. Of course you have every right to ask for a higher rate or even to set your rate on your own. But the agency is not compelled to accept your rate. It might send you fewer jobs or no jobs anymore, even if the contract remains active.
The best time for negotiating higher rates is when your total workload of jobs is more than you can handle. In that case, you can be quite sure that your rate is below what the market allows. When you started out two years ago with this agency, did you negotiate a low rate to get in? Then you can, and should, increase your rate after two years of this business relationship. The agency may agree, or negotiate, or refuse, but in any case, it's perfectly normal to try, and the new year might be a good starting point for higher rates.
Is this your only client or do you have a broad base of clients and agencies? Your position is always stronger if you have alternatives and are not dependent on one customer. Look at those clients that pay the lowest rates to you and explain to them that you have to increase your rates because otherwise you cannot accept much more work from them and give preference to better payers. This has worked for me several times. Always be polite and businesslike. This is not about what you "deserve", it is about what the market allows you to charge for your (excellent) service.

Philippe Etienne
Teresa Borges
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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Ask?! Dec 5, 2018

Don't ask, tell!

There is nothing wrong with raising your rates gradually to reflect inflation and your own growing maturity and wonderfulness.

No client can legitimately object to this.

I don't subscribe to the idea that the only way to raise your rates is to find new clients. I have never had any problems raising my rates. They sometimes grumble a bit about their margins, but they keep on coming back. That's because their margins are absolutely yuge.

All the times I've lost agencies, it's been either because they've been taken over and gone down-market or because I'm just never available for them. Not because I raise my rates by a reasonable amount every year or two.

And as for direct clients, well, they just do what they're told. I've never had any of them comment in any way on my prices, however much I try to fleece them. Maybe it's because they respect me as a professional, maybe they're just clueless, or maybe they know how much more again they'll be charged by those very same agencies grumbling about their margins...

Kaspars Melkis
texjax DDS PhD
Thomas Pfann
Gareth Callagy

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:08
Member (2007)
+ ...
You're running a freelance business Dec 5, 2018

You aren't an employee. You don't ask for a raise; you inform your client that you will be raising your rate on such-and-such date. I'm actually surprised to hear that you have a three-year contract. I'm not sure how that works as a freelancer. It seems most unusual.

As others have said:

1. A freelancer should be working for several main, regular clients plus doing occasional jobs for quite a number of others. If you can count all your clients on the fingers of one hand then you're in a very precarious position. Whatever your contract says, I think it's highly likely that the client has every right to stop sending you work tomorrow and just pay for what you've done. Would that leave you with zero income for the foreseeable future? If so, you're extremely vulnerable.

2. A common outcome of raising your rates is that the client will disappear or only use you for select jobs while getting a cheaper supplier for the rest. Better to raise them in an orderly fashion:
(a) Actively seek out new clients, only accepting a higher rate - set yourself targets and meet them
(b) Then raise your rate for your least preferred or least important client - one that you can afford to lose
(c) Then, once you have a reasonable amount of work coming in at the higher rate, repeat step (b) for the next least-important one
(d) Once your best client (only client?) today is the only one paying the lower rate, they'll be far less important and easier to say goodbye to.

Yunping Yang

Tina Vonhof
Local time: 22:08
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Another thought Dec 5, 2018

I agree with what others have said about expanding your client base for all the reasons mentioned. But you also need to check into this: in some countries, if a freelancer works on contract exclusively for one client, he or she is considered to be an employee and will be taxed accordingly (i.e. higher).

Dan Lucas

conejo  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:08
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
If you try to raise your rate, you have to be willing for that client to stop using your services Jan 1

In my experience, increasing your rates is something that carries a high risk of the client choosing to not work with you anymore. So before you ever initiate that conversation with any client, you have to be prepared, ready, and OK with them saying "We won't hire you anymore unless you keep the previous price". Even if they do agree to the new rate, you also have to be aware that this may cause them to hire you less frequently than they did before. Because they may choose to use cheaper people instead of you, and make you a lower priority.

It would be nice if we could raise our rates, but most of the time they don't let you. I think the only times you might be allowed to raise your rates with a client would be:
- There is no one else who can do what you can do, and they don't want to lose you (you are so good at a very specific thing, and they don't have anyone else who can do it with that level of high quality, and you are providing a critical service)
- The rate you started out with was ridiculously low and well below the industry standard (I am not sure if it would be allowed even in this case).

Before doing this you have to be ready to lose them as a client or lose part of the business.

[Edited at 2019-01-01 01:11 GMT]


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