Negotiating: Art, not Science

One of the most important parts of running a translation business is setting your price and negotiating your contracts. After all, we are all in business to make a profit, and in order to achieve that, we sometimes have to fine-tune our prices and work on our negotiation techniques. While this is an area of continous learning and improvement, we'd like to present a few strategies and lessons learned during the last few years. Some of them were learned by trial and error, while some are basics that we have established as business rules, which we will stick to.

  • Set your prices. Just like in any other business, the seller sets the prices, not the buyer. If you are letting the buyer dictate the price, you are ignoring a basic principle of the marketplace.
  • Realize that not everyone will want to purchase your services at the price you set. It is impossible to create a price that will make everyone happy. Find a price that makes you happy and that will accurately reward you for your services.
  • Don't justify yourself. Many times, linguists feel the need to justify their rates. You don't have to -- simply state your price. My carpet cleaner doesn't give me a reason why things are priced at a certain amount, and I really don't expect it.
  • Be firm. There's no reason to play hardball unless you really have to, but you can be both polite and firm. It's also completely appropiate to say that your rates are non-negotiable.
  • Throw a bone. If you would like to work with the client in question and can't agree on the rate, offer a discount on something unrelated to price. For instance, a few times we have agreed to waive the surcharge for working on a PDF. The client correctly perceived this as an addded value and accepted our rate. Sometimes you have to find ways of compromising.
  • The power of silence. Negotiating is difficult, and most of us want to talk too much to fill uncomfortable silences. It's a challenge, but try this: after stating your price, say nothing for a few seconds and see what happens. This is substantially easier over the phone than in person.
  • No is a complete sentence. Well, it's not really a complete sentence, but saying no is completely acceptable at all times. As an entrepreneur, you have the power and responsibility to decide who you would like to work with. If it doesn't feel right, politely say so. One of our favorite lines, courtesy from a fellow ATA linguist, is: "Unfortunately, we have no availability at that price".
  • Walk away. At some point, after many e-mail exchanges or repeat phone calls, you need to decide how much time you would like to invest in this potential working relationship. If the project is from, say, an individual who wants her birth certificate translated, is costing you one hour's negotiating time, it's probably not worth it. If the project is from a potentially long-term customer, it's certainly wise to spend more time. However, be aware that you might not get any return on your investment (=your time) should you not reach an agreement, so monitor your time accordingly.
  • Put it in writing. E-mail or fax your quote with the agreed-upon price and ask the client to sign it and fax or e-mail it back.
  • Trust your gut. If you feel that your counterpart is driving too hard of a bargain and you feel uncomfortable with the situation, trust your instincts and decline. You don't want to set yourself up to working for someone who might not be a good match personality-wise or even business-wise.
Our negotiating abilities and understanding of the nuances and subtelties are always evolving and changing, and it's a lifelong learning process. We look forward to continue developing the ability to negotiate professionally and politely while mainatining our fair rates. If you have any tips to contribute, we'd very much like to hear them!


Anonymous said...

Very helpful post. I also recommend the translation ISO as a great way to start the process of 'organising' and getting to work.

ISO can be found here:

Anonymous said...

Trusting your gut is so important. I pride myself on having a good "gut instinct" and usually acting on it. The few times I have ignored it over the years, I have regretted it. If you feel uncomfortable in any way about a job, just say no: the resulting hassle is just not worth it.

Anonymous said...

Very good post I have just discovered through Naked Translation. You have put down in writing what my partner and I have been doing naturally and I am going to keep your post visible so I can remind myself everyday how true it is!

Judy and Dagmar Jenner on February 23, 2009 at 4:27 AM said...

@Anonymous: Glad you like the post and that you have already been using these strategies. :) I might print them out myself and post them in front of my nose -- just in case.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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