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Everyone’s talking about rates these days March 18, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings.

Corinne’s post Lowering your translation rates: why/why not has taken the translation industry by storm (or maybe just the people I follow on Twitter 🙂 ). I’ve been talking to a lot of fellow translators about this, and everyone has an agency that has tried to get them to lower their rates. It seems the Big Two are particularly guilty of this. One agency in Massachusetts allegedly refuses to pay more than 10 cents for into English translation, while a perfect agency in New York has been trying scare tactics and a big hammer to get their translators to lower their rates. Now, mind you, this particular agency is known for sending job requests after 6 PM that are due the next day or contacting translators on Sunday – both practices that should require weekend or rush rates. The translators I have spoken with who have been asked to do this have stuck to their guns and not agreed to lower their rates – and received job requests the next day at their usual rates!

I have to admit that I was probably Corinne’s inspiration for this post. I mused on Facebook that I was thinking of lowering my rates when I was in the midst of a fairly long dry spell a week or so ago. I was then asked by my favorite client to offer a 10% discount on a very large job (20,000 words) with a tight deadline. I’m glad I didn’t give in to either temptation. Instead of offering a volume discount (which makes no sense from an economic standpoint – working harder for less money???) I am working with the client to keep the word count low (only translating multiple responses once, using contractions whenever I can, allowing them to pretranslate some of the more simple responses, etc.). They are hopefully happy with the compromise. I also have a new client who is willing to pay me my highest rate ever and has sent me four jobs in as many days.

So stick to your guns. We have bills to pay too! For $22 an hour I can work as a secretary or clean houses (both jobs with markedly lower stress levels). There are not that many qualified translators out there as it is. If the agencies keep trying to depress rates more and more they will soon find there will be even fewer qualified translators. The economy is sure to improve any day now. Just remember, this too shall pass!



1. Corinne McKay - March 18, 2009

Yes, you were definitely part of the inspiration for my post, thanks 🙂 I agree that the rate pressure is lower at the higher end of the market. My rates aren’t stratospheric but they’re high enough that I’m sure that price isn’t the client’s only, or even main, concern. I know, it’s hard to sit on your hands when work is slow, especially if you don’t have a spouse’s income or a large savings cushion to fall back on. But I think that the real answer is to dust off your marketing materials and go after higher-paying clients instead of joining the race to the bottom.

2. Tom Ellett - March 18, 2009

During a quiet spell a couple of weeks back, I briefly considered effectively cutting my rates by asking clients to pay me in pounds sterling rather than their local currency (although based in Canada, I keep a bank account in the UK for the convenience of European clients). Then work picked up again and I didn’t take the idea any further.

On reflection, I realize this would have been very short-sighted. Exchange rates have been all over the place in the past year. The kind of clients I like to work with probably value a stable rate in their own currency more than a short-term cost saving that could well be wiped out in the next round of currency fluctuations.

The exchange rate is currently moving in my favour again, but the cost to clients of my services remains the same. So the moral of the story is not to gamble with your rates in response to a slight downturn in work.

3. jillsommer - March 19, 2009

@Tom Ellett – welcome to the translation blogosphere! I checked out your site tonight and subscribed on my feed reader. It looks promising.

I also charge my European clients in euros and have a German bank account, so I know exactly what you mean. I know what the going rates in Germany are and charge my clients accordingly. I don’t base it on the exchange rate. I too figure it will all balance out over time.

4. Loreto Riveiro - March 19, 2009

You are so right about exchange rates.

The company I work for keeps playing with exchange rates instead of agreeing payment in euros. Being the situation as it is, most of the time we end up losing money (curiously, we hardly ever have benefits caused by fluctuation in exchange rates). At least, both parts know what they are going to pay, and there are no surprises.

5. Effie - March 19, 2009

In Greece there are agencies who are asking their translators for a 20% reduction in their rates, and of course asking for higher rates is a large no-no.

6. Alejandro Moreno-Ramos - April 3, 2009

I’m always surprised to hear that volume discounts make no sense from an economic standpoint. Maybe it just happens on my field (I only do engineering translations), but I find large jobs to be very much profitable, as I spend less time (proportionally) trying to understand the source text.

jillsommer - April 3, 2009

I understand that reasoning, but you are still physically typing the words in (unless you use Trados and have lots of 100% matches, and in that case I have been willing to make concessions). In my particular case the translation is input online without the benefit of Trados – and really, without the benefit of proper grammar or well-written sentences. Each response is an entity unto itself. They are survey responses that often don’t make sense or have spelling that requires that I look at the word and know what they were trying to say despite the terrible misspelling. Everyone has to make their own decision based on the factors of the job. I translated (and typed) 30,000 words in one week. I earned every cent.

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