jump to navigation

Tightening the belt February 26, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas.


It’s hard not to escape the fact that our global economy is in serious trouble. We are bombarded with bad news every day, both in the media and in professional forums. Even Microsoft is laying off employees. And yet we are also hearing about all the corporate and government waste that is going on even while times are supposedly tough. Every day I read a new report in the newspaper about how a bank that received bailout funds spent millions on a corporate event, this corporation gave its CEO several billion dollars in bonuses despite having laid off a ton of workers, or how FEMA has a $2 billion surplus that it isn’t distributing to those who need it.

Many translators have also been increasingly getting e-mails from clients asking us to reduce our already low prices. I have been doing this for at least 15 years and am amazed that the average word price really hasn’t increased with inflation. Freelance translators are constantly asked to reduce their rates “for this job” or “for this client” “because the margin is tight” – this was happening even BEFORE the economy tanked! I realize agencies have to make a profit, and one of the ways is to pay less for the translations they are selling to the end clients, but it’s hard to get blood out of an already anemic stone.

One way to combat this is to stop working with low-paying agencies and concentrate on finding more direct clients. I love working with translation agencies, because it allows me to not have to do all the hand-holding and hoop-jumping working with direct clients entails. However, if one more agency sends me an e-mail asking me to lower my rates “because of the economy” I’m going to scream. They aren’t doing it because of the economy; they are doing it because it makes fiscal sense to take advantage of the bad economy.

Translations cost money, and good translators cost money. Having seen the results of translations by lower-paid “translators” I realize they get what they pay for. Most of the translators I know are no longer willing to proofread, because agencies are also trying to save money by farming the translation to a machine or a cheap translator and then hiring a more expensive translator to try to save the translation through proofreading (at $0.02 or $0.03 a word). This practice is useless, because it is often easier to retranslate the document than try to correct all the errors and still have a halfway decent translation in the end. And those accepting a per-word rate for proofreading certainly don’t earn a decent wage from the hours of hair pulling proofreading a bad translation entails. This is why an hourly proofreading rate is always advisable. I went to school and got a Master’s degree, which obviously doesn’t mean beans to less reputable translation agencies, and have invested thousands of dollars in dictionaries and equipment over the years. Doing your job well costs money. I wish some agencies would stand up to their clients and do a little client education and explain why paying peanuts is not necessarily a good thing.

In the meantime, we need to follow Adam@Home’s lead and tighten our belts. If you haven’t read Corinne’s post on freelance frugality I suggest you head over there right now and check it out. We may be earning less for a little while until the economy improves again, so it pays to practice frugality and perhaps tap into the cushion you hopefully have been setting aside for times like these.

I’m sticking to my rates and if the agency doesn’t like it they can find someone else and I will do the same. Despite all the doom and gloom out there right now, there still are plenty of good agencies that value their independent contractors out there. You just need to look for them.



1. Riccardo - February 26, 2009

I don’t really have any problem accepting a word rate for editing – it’s easier for everybody when estimating the cost for a job. And the agencies that accept to pay editing by the hour usually also insist that the job should not take more than x hours.

What I never accept, is to edit a job without seeing it first. If I see that the quality of the translation is substandard, I don’t hesitate to turn the job down, and suggest that it should be retranslated, instead.

I’m also careful in making sure that a proofreading job is, in fact, proofreading, and not editing in disguies: in our price list I’ve included a definition of editing and proofreading:

Editing: Revision of the translation with correction of mistranslations, omissions/additions, as well as language errors in the target language. Done by comparing the target text to the source text.

Proofreading: Revision of the translation to correct typos and similar errors in the target language. Done without reference to the source language.

As regards agencies that ask for discounts because of the economic situation, I’m always tempted to tell them that they should first contact my grocer, mortgage company, utilities company, Internet provider, etc. , and that when they have convinced them to give me a rebate, I’ll be ready to discuss discounts for the agency. Then I don’t do it, and I try to be as diplomatic as possible, without, however giving them a discount.

2. Corinne McKay - February 26, 2009

I agree with you about tightening the belt versus cutting rates. Cutting your rates increases the likelihood that you’re going to have to turn down work at a higher rate because a client loaded you up with a big project at a discount. To me, I feel like if I make 25% less this year than last year, that’s OK. I’d rather do that and spend my increased free time marketing to direct clients or writing a book than cut my rates and resent it!

3. Sonja - March 1, 2009

I’ve just been contacted by one of my best clients to reduce my rates by 3 cents per word. In itself that is not a big deal because… well, they’re trying to. Why not? I sometimes do the same when I see something I want to own but think it’s too expensive.

What I really hated about this approach was the reason, and of course it all has to do with the current economical crisis and the difficult situation they are facing, including discounts that they had to give to their own clients. When it comes to economy aren’t we all in the same boat? I sometimes wonder why they think that I do any better than them. As Riccardo pointed out, bills have to be paid. My Internet provider so far hasn’t informed me they would give me a discount because of the difficult economic situation we all are in. So my reply has been straight and concise: “Due to the current economical situation I am not able to cut my prices, I am afraid.” Period.

jillsommer - March 1, 2009

Hi Sonja, good for you. Just because they ask doesn’t mean you have to do it. The consensus on the German Language Division listserv is that most people have said no to lower rates and are still getting work from their clients. A few have even raised their rates – explaining they had not done so in a couple years and had to in order to pay for inflation. In the end it is every individual’s decision. Everyone should ask themselves this question when debating whether to accept it: can you afford to keep working for that client and still be able to pay your bills and maintain your current standard of living?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: