|The inside of Judy's wallet.|
For today's quick post, we wanted to touch on something that we've been thinking about a lot: the way translators charge for their services. Traditionally, translation services in the U.S. have always been billed by the source word, meaning the translator will know exactly how much she or he will charge the client before the process starts. And the client has an exact figure, which is helpful for them. In Germany and Austria, translation is usually billed by the source line (a line being 55 characters).
Changing existing pricing structures can be difficult, and most translation agencies have established processes based on per-word rates, so we speculate that there won't be too much change there in the short term. So that's why we will focus on direct clients here. We work only with direct clients, and not surprisingly, most have no idea how many words are on the documents/websites they need to have translated because as opposed to translators, they've never thought on a per-word basis. On most documents, it's easy to count the words, but things get trickier with PDFs and with web-based content. For the past few years, we have started quoting many projects by the hour, because we feel that an hourly rate is something most clients understand quite well, as they are used to paying that for other professional services, such as lawyers, CPAs, therapists, etc.
We also like this approach because it elevates our profession in a way and puts it more on par with other professional services and moves away from this "piecemeal" approach that sometimes comes with per-word pricing. And ultimately, it's all about making clients happy, and in our (not necessarily representative) experience we feel that clients have been pleased with the hourly approach. We also like this pricing structure because it makes sense to most clients. For instance: say a client brings you a five-page last will and testament. If you submit a quote for five hours' work (for instance) at your hourly rate of, say $100/hour, that's transparent and easy to quantify and understand.
Finally, we like per-hour pricing because it gives the client the chance to clearly understand some surcharges that we usually added on manually in percentages. For instance: a scanned images converted into a PDF document will take infinitely longer to translate than a Word document with no tables (well, not infinitely, but it feels like it). We've always had a surcharge for PDF processing (which sometimes results in the client finding the Word document), and we think it's a very straightforward explanation that a PDF takes more time to process and is thus more expensive. We think it all comes down to an hourly charge being something that's transparent and easy to calculate and understand. Of course, your clients must trust you not to overcharge them.
Now, what are the potential downsides to this pricing approach? The main one that we see is that the translator has to do an excellent job at estimating how long the translation will take before the project starts. This is relatively easy to do if you have many years' experience, but it's hard in the beginning. That's why we advise to estimate on the high end to give yourself some wiggle room and you will have a pleasantly surprised customer if you invoice them for less. On the other hand, we never invoice more than what we estimated, as we think that's not fair for the client. You may choose to do this differently, but on the few occasions where we've been way off on our estimates, we just had to absorb the difference. Another downside is that some clients might potentially perceive your rate, regardless of what it is, as high. Then you can either explain to them that translation is professional service or you can simply thank them for their interest. Unfortunately, a change in pricing structure doesn't mean that there won't be some clients who will think your work is too expensive regardless of how you charge for it.
What do you think, dear colleagues? This brief post is of course in no way exhaustive, and we'd very much enjoy knowing what you think. Please join the conversation below!