Rates, rates, rates…
It often feels like that’s all we talk about in the #xl8 & #l10n industry. If we accept less than we’re worth, then that’s all we’ll get, right? Fighting against the power that the major agencies and language service providers wield can be frightening. I’ve been taking a much deeper dive into my pricing as I’m transitioning from a 10-year career as a freelance translator and language service supplier into a boutique communications agency owner. It’s fair to say my poor little brain has been well and truly boggled by the numbers and additional margins I need to cover now that I’m running a business and subcontracting work to fellow linguists. But there’s one simple truth I’ve discovered. Pricing is about honesty and negotiation. When it comes to setting rates and prices for services, there’s no trickery involved on anyone’s part – they should reflect the added value of the services provided.
Where to begin?
Once we’ve worked out how much we need to earn to break even, and then pay ourselves a reasonable salary, we need to find out what our clients want/need, and can afford. Do they want us to arrange for the translation to be proofread afterwards OR are they handling that themselves? Do they want top of the range marketing copy OR do they want a functional text that their end client can use for reference purposes? Is the translation being run through a well-populated TM, meaning the job requires a post-editor, rather than a translator or copywriter? Is the subject matter of the source text general and easy to work with OR does it require us to draw on the specialist knowledge and experience we’ve invested our hard-earned time and money into as part of our continued professional development (CPD)? These are all conversations to be had with ourselves, any members of our own team, and, ultimately with our clients.
For me, finding the right price point is a work in progress. Yes, I’m bringing bags of experience and highly developed, specialist expertise into my new venture, but it’s still a new company without an established track record and brand of its own. However, my general approach here and when designing my company’s pricing strategy, stems from a belief that the more transparent we are with each other, the more power we as suppliers can take back from the giant LSPs!
My current pricing strategy can be summed up with five tenets
1. Know our worth!
I can’t emphasise this enough. Be realistic, but also be proud of what you bring to the table. Like many linguists, I have multiple university degrees and additional qualifications in specialist areas such as healthcare & nursing to my name. I’ve also been working hard in this industry for the last decade, and prior to that for around ten years in the higher education sector in the UK and in Finland
2. Do the maths (or have an accountant or someone else more numberly-minded than yourself help you!)
We need to keep in mind that our costs are our costs, and they reflect the specifics of our circumstances. For example, I live in the UK. This means my cost of living is relatively higher than it would be if I lived in Finland, which is home to my source language. Also remember, that while a fair amount of alchemy can go into calculating our base rate, and our rates in general, including factors such as the market norms and the marketing value associated with premium or budget services, ultimately our base rate will be determined by how much relevant experience we have, what our qualifications are, and what our overheads (expenses are). By overheads, I mean both our personal expenses (including the salary we thought about earlier) and our business expenses. This includes everything from the electricity we use to power our tech, to professional membership fees, and the fees we pay anyone sub-contracting for us. It’s essential that we figure out a budget that’s right for us and nobody else. And again, get assistance if you need it.
3. Insist on an hourly rate whenever possible
We all differ in our preferences. Some clients certainly prefer word or page rates for certain services, but I feel strongly that an hourly rate much better represents the amount of work we put into any given task. But surely if something takes longer, we’ll get paid more, right? It’s often not as simple as that. And, when factoring in elements such as the complexity of the subject matter we’re dealing with, the quality of the source language, the need to refer to a source reference, or to conduct extra research ourselves, the profitability graph is more of a bell curve than a nice, straight, upward line. I’ve found that, regardless of what service I provide, an hourly rate not only helps me understand the profitability of the various services I offer, but it also helps my clients and I appreciate the exact difference between, say proofreading an expertly written text by a native-speaking author and editing and revising a complex text written by someone who is yet to fully master the demands of writing to a publishable standard in a second or third language.
4. Have a minimum charge!
Keeping in mind Tenet 5, below, be flexible! (If it’s worth our while). Otherwise we must remind ourselves and our clients that all the admin and expertise associated with any given task is worth at least our break-even + salary component (e.g., if we can do the task in half the time it would take at our minimum fee, that’s a decent profit margin). Some services will always be more profitable than others, and the rate should reflect that. For example, if we provide lots of wedding certificate translations, we get faster and faster at completing those tasks, and they are usually short, falling under our 1-hour minimum charge, so they are potentially much more profitable than a higher-rate service.
5. Be prepared to negotiate!
I insist on project-specific quotes as much as possible, as the nature of our work and our clients’ requests can vary so much. However, most large agencies will prefer fixed rates. With this in mind, it’s up to us whether we choose to accept a job they offer or not. But if a client is directly haggling with us, we should remind them of our own costs and encourage them to be forthcoming about their budget. I also ensure that my price list and terms and conditions contain a pricing caveat that goes a little like this: “These prices are guide prices and are intended to give an indication of the anticipated cost to the client; however, I reserve the right to apply a higher rate than listed herein if I so deem on the basis of the nature of the task.” It covers your behind for those situations when the easy proofreading job turns into a heavy editing massacre once you finally set your eyes on the text.
Take home message
Hopefully, you’ll have found these tips useful. If you have your own advice or take on the pricing dilemma, I’d love to hear from you in the comments or via my socials. I would also encourage anyone struggling with pricing or just curious about rates to ask other linguists what they charge. Some will be happy to share, others less so. But starting the conversation about pricing is half the battle in our attempts to demystify the whole process and bring some more parity to the industry we love. I, for one, try to be as open as possible with my colleagues and clients about my prices, without advertising them on my website. That’s a subject for a whole other blog post, though!
If you’d like to find out more about rates and pricing in more detail, both from an agency and supplier point of view, I really recommend checking out the following websites and blogs:
Great blog! Small LSPs add real value for clients, so there shouldn’t be any shame in pricing to reflect that. Same goes with life experiences, qualifications and CPD
Thanks, Gill! I totally agree. I feel it’s a bit like shop local and find some true gems or go for the big fish when that’s the right solution for you. I think it’s so important that freelancers and small LSPs raise their profile in the eyes of the end clients we want to work with. As a freelance translator, do I want to be competing with the giants in bid rounds/calls for tender with huge multinationals? No. It’s not the kind of headache I need. Would I want to work with those brands through the major LSPs? Yes, if the price and terms are right. What I want most of all, though, is to help smaller brands shine on the global stage. I think that’s where we smaller fish can truly be the difference makers.