For both the professional translator and the customer there are costs to consider:
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Firstly, for the translator there are the effort costs.
The translation process involves some elements of drudgery, most notably the typing.
There are also issues of formatting, OCR legibility, looking up specialist terminology, etc.
There are volume-related and time-related aspects (deadlines to meet, the pace required).
Secondly, there are other, feasibility costs. involving the overheads and investments related to minimizing effort. This includes the costs of a suitable computer-assisted translation environment (CAT tool). Not to be forgotten are the costs of relevant education, experience, know-how acquired.
We want to recover something towards these costs, over time.
The two above mentioned costs trade off against each other. Without a CAT tool, without dictation, effort cost are higher. Without due proficiency, lookup time and translation time goes up. More effort is needed.
I shall leave aside any formal qualification and certification costs, which are our speculative investment, our competitive advantage, or our right-to-bid prerequisite. They may or may not get us the work. They may or may not be optional. But they do not, in themselves, represent anything to trade, which our customer should pay for. We do keep our 'medals', after all.
I shall also exclude costs of living, simply because they are nobody else’s concern but our own.
Thirdly, there are the ‘lost opportunity’ costs of our not doing something else, something more lucrative, or more enjoyable (or both) as well as the potential delay in getting paid on this job. Let us call these the inconvenience costs of taking on the work.
If we have no alternative but to take the proposed work, the inconvenience costs reduce to zero.
As translators we want to meet these three costs, and add a profit margin on top.
We price in terms of volume, and/or time. We charge by the word, line, page, hour...
The customer does not really care about the supplier's need to cover their costs.
When we, as customers, are asked to pay for something, we weigh up its value to us, minus the price.
Only if the value is sufficiently greater than the price do we feel like buying.
The bigger the gap between value and price, the better our value margin. Of course customers shop around, to try and get an even bigger value margin.
Let us not forget the customer’s costs include indirect costs of managing their own client expectations, finding us, managing the project with us, proofing our work, getting paid and associated risks.
What we need to understand, as translators, is this – we must charge less than the customer values our work at; in other words to get the kind of customer we can afford to accept work from.
Oh, and what is the role of creativity and talent? It adds value to the customer, increasing the value margin. If the customer cares about quality.