We translate and interpret because we love it—we can all agree on that. That said, we also don’t just work for the love of languages. We work in the languages industry also because we want to make a good living while doing something we love.
This simple truth brings me to today’s topic, one that has often been neglected in our humanities-driving profession: pricing, prices, money - yes, we will discuss money. To the detriment of our bank accounts, talking about money and pricing has oftentimes been something that many don’t feel comfortable with, and I’ve heard many points of view from my lovely colleagues, including not wanting to charge a professional boxer to translate his documentation so he could fight in a million-dollar prize fight because “I just wanted to help him out.”
I think helping out is fantastic, and I am a huge proponent of pro bono work, but we must charge for our professional services at a professional rate, both so we can make an individual living and to lift up our profession. What they say is true: services and products that have relatively high prices are usually higher valued and more respected in the marketplace. Much has been written about how one arrives at his or her specific rate - including working back from the yearly earnings one hopes to accomplish and taking into account expenses - but there isn’t that much information available on strategies to follow and what to keep in mind when approaching this important, controversial and complex subject.
No peanuts, no monkeys.
One of the biggest errors that many make is to underprice their services. Of course, it is true that beginning linguists should probably charge a bit less than highly experienced ones, just like first-year lawyers don’t charge the same as those who have argued cases in front of the Supreme Court for 20 years. But that doesn’t mean that those beginning linguists should charge 10 times less, or even work for free. I think free work should only be an option for deserving non-profits and for students trying to get experience. The best thing you can do for your career, and for our profession as a whole, is to go high. Of course, that won’t be possible with every client or every situation, but we should all work on looking for the clients who value our services enough to pay our rates.
Trust me, they are out there. They are oftentimes direct clients, but even many agencies certainly recognize that great language services cannot be had for peanuts. The main issue in terms of pricing in our profession, as I see it, is that someone will always take offensively low prices. Guess when clients will stop offering peanuts for that 20-page PDF text about nuclear physics that’s due tomorrow? When people stop accepting the rates, but we have a long way to go.
However, there’s hope: many linguists have stood firm on their rates, and I think that’s crucial. Professional service rates usually aren’t open for negotiation - when’s the last time you negotiated the rate of your lawyer, doctor, or accountant? Finally, I think it’s a generally poor strategy to charge a low rate to “land the client” and underprice your colleagues (it’s not nice, and it’s bad for everyone in both the short and the long run) and then try to increase your rate at a later point.
You don’t need to have a doctorate in economics to know that the client probably won’t pay you X plus 50% when he or she already knows you will do the work for X. So think wisely before you set your rate. When in doubt, go high. If you go high at a rate that you can make a living and keep up your quality (meaning you give each translation the time it deserves), you don’t need hundreds of clients. You only need a few good ones.
Adjusting for inflation.
Adjusting one’s rates for inflation is something that’s not oftentimes discussed in our industry, but it should be. As a matter of fact, I know many colleagues who have not adjusted their rates in a decade, meaning that their purchasing power has decreased significantly. Many of us live in countries with moderate inflation in the single-digit rate, but you still have to adjust for that. For instance, if you were a full-time employee, your employer adjusts your salary for inflation once a year. For those of us who are self-employed, we have to pass that cost on to our clients if we want to preserve our purchasing power. This is not the same as raising your prices, and the adjustment will barely be noticeable, yet it is important that you do it.
You can inform your clients of the adjustment early in the year (January), on your next price quote, or simply include a brief note about it in your next correspondence. This is something very common and your own clients adjust their rates for inflation withy their own clients, so it most likely will not come as a surprise to them.
These are just a few basic strategies that should help you with your pricing. As a matter of course, there are many more, but let’s take it one step at a time.
By Judy Jenner
|Bio: Judy Jenner is a seasoned entrepreneur in the languages industry, a Spanish and German business and legal translator and a certified interpreter in Las Vegas, Nevada.|