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Get thee a minimum price and use it July 10, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

I subscribe to a payment practice listserv called Zahlungspraxis. Communication is in German, and it is a good way to keep up with the payment practices and behavior of German agencies and companies. I subscribe to Payment Practices too and there is some overlap, but Zahlungspraxis is free so it isn’t a big deal to subscribe to both.

There has been a bit of a row on the list over the last couple days between a German-Korean translator and an agency based in Cologne. The translator complained that the company had canceled the job within 20 hours of hiring her, while the company then responded by saying she had received the payment and they had never received the translation. It turns out they are fighting over €2,85 – 5 words! I couldn’t believe my eyes this morning when I read that. The way the translator phrased her original post made it sound like she had been slaving over her computer for 20 hours and then the agency simply canceled the job and told her she had never been issued a PO. Hey, it’s happened to all of us. I’ve had it happen to me once or twice. It’s frustrating, but that’s just part of doing business sometimes. Needless to say I have been paid for the work that I had done before the job was canceled, and the one time I wasn’t I simply refused to work with the agency again.

If it had been an existing customer I probably would have translated the 5 words for free, but that is a personal choice. In this case, it was a new client. She insisted on payment upfront, and the agency paid her. If you ask me, the agency acted in good faith and transferred the money to her in expectation that they would be receiving the translation. She should have sent them the translation anyway and then not complained about a measly €2,85 over an international listserv. There’s a little thing called libel…

The point that I would really like to drive home is that professional translators should not work for €2,85, $5 or any other insulting amount. You should set a minimum price and insist on it with clients. I won’t turn on my computer for €2,85. There are better things I can do with my time, like sit in the sun and read a good book. I have a minimum fee, and professional clients realize this and have no problem paying it. Attorneys, doctors and just about every other professional have minimum fees. Heck, I went to my vet the other day and was in the office for a whole 5 minutes and charged $250 for an exam, a bunch of shots and tests, and flea medication. You need to decide what your minimum price is and use it. You should either charge your hourly rate or, if you are so inclined, half your hourly rate (I have two minimum fees for my clients depending on how much time I actually spend on the job). Everyone is different, and you should choose whatever you feel is best for you. But please, don’t work for €2,85.



1. MT - July 10, 2009

This is a shocking story. I totally agree that translators should have a minimum job price (most people charge between $25 and $45). Like you said, five words is something you might just do for free, too.

Freelancers often forget that there is a *cost* to processing billing (general overhead), in terms of your time and resource consumption, let alone health insurance costs and self-employment tax, and processing a $3 invoice probably doesn’t even cover all the overhead that the invoice incurs…

2. Riccardo - July 10, 2009

In fact, it costs less to do 5 (or even 50) words for free, than charging for them by the word, if one does not use a minimum charge:
5 words you just translate for free, type them in an e-mail, and forget about it. Total time spent, 1 minute.
If you have to also account for them, you may very well have to spend 15 minutes for 5 words (record project, translate, invoice, etc.).

Hence, the importance of minimum charge rates.

And nobody ever balks at them (if a prospect balks at the idea of paying a minimum charge – you don’t want them as customers)

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