ATA Pricing Webinar Questions: Answered (Part I)

Thanks to all the colleagues around the world who attended Judy's American Translators Association webinar on "Pricing Strategies for Interpreters and Translators" on February 29, 2012. As promised, she will answer the questions we didn't get to right here. To purchase a recording of the webinar, please visit the ATA's website. There were so many great questions that Judy will answer them in two batches -- stay tuned for part II!

Q: What are the strategies to set minimum rates?
A: Clearly communicate to the client what your minimum rate is. You might add that information on your website if you feel comfortable with that. Then stick to the minimum rate, unless it's a repeat customer who sends you lots of work and who just happens to need one sentence translated.

Q: What is the best strategy to inform customers of an inflation rate adjustment?
A: Clearly state that you have adjusted your rates for inflation on the price quotes that you issue during the first months of the year. It can be as simple as "Please note that my rates have been adjusted for inflation by XYZ." We update our rate sheet, which is publicly available, at the beginning of each year, and post the adjusted rates there.

Q: How do you deal with being undercut by less qualified interpreters when agencies just want to go with the cheapest?
A: That is of, course, always a problem. Unfortunately, you cannot control what others do -- you can only control what you do (trite, but true). Move on to the next client and make sure you communicate the value of your services to the potential client. The goal is to get them to see your value and your abilities, not your price. That said, there will always be clients who just want the cheapest price. We don't work with those clients and neither should you.

Q: Nowadays, the US economy is not the same as 10 years ago. Are you aware that we don't get to make many choices with reference to accepting or rejecting a client's offer?
A: I am well aware of the state of the American economy. However, regardless of the economy, you always have a choice whether or not to accept a certain rate.  As a business owner, you have to make some tough decisions, and they include walking away from work that doesn't pay what you charge. Independently of the economic climate, there will always be clients who look for world-class quality and who are not very price-sensitive. Of course the economic downturn has, in general, made customers more price-sensitive in all areas. But if you demand and receive adequate rates, you don't need hundreds of clients. You just need a few good repeat customers, and trust us: they are out there.  You have a choice regarding the clients you work with. Let's not take the "free" out of "freelancer." You might enjoy the tough love and brilliant advice regarding pricing in Chris Durban's book "The Prosperous Translator." Down with the poverty cult (Chris's words)!

Q: Do you charge late fees, if payments are not made on time?
A: That's a good one, and it's a tricky issue. We rarely encounter late payers as we clearly define our payment policies up front. However, when people have paid late, we have sent them updated invoices with a late fee. Most folks have provided prompt payment, but conveniently exclude the late fee from the payment. Collecting on the late fee can be frustrating and time-consuming, so depending on the amount owed and how much time you want to put into it, you have to decide whether to pursue it or to just let it go. Your time is the only resource you have, so use it wisely.

Q: A translation agency told me I had to charge them one third of the price they charged their client. Do you know if that is standard practice? 
A: I am not sure. Twin Translations works exclusively with direct clients, so we don't know much about how agencies break down their rates. It's surprising that the agency shared that information with you. Perhaps one of our readers can answer this question by leaving a comment below.

Q: What about reductions for repetitions?
A: I presume you are talking about repeated words/segments in translation environment tools. We don't give discounts for those, unless the client wants to pay us for the investment in these tools that we've made and the hundreds of hours we've spent dealing with the software. Also, repetitions still need to be reviewed to make sure the context is correct. For instance, in many legal documents you will find both the word claim as a verb and claim as a noun. The system would recognize this as a repetition, but you still have to review the sentence. We also don't give discounts because we use a computer and not a typewriter -- after all, we paid for the computer. However, we recently did a a project that was a series of handouts which had the exact same information on each page four times. In that case, we certainly only charged once. There was still some formatting involved to make sure the layout was correct, but charging only once was the right thing to do. There's always some room for flexibility.

Comments? We'd love to hear from you.


Marga Burke on March 7, 2012 at 3:34 AM said...

I work mainly for agencies at present. I don't know what their typical mark-up is, but if an agency isn't willing or able to pay the rates that I charge (even after negotiation), then it doesn't really matter to me what the reason is; I know that agency won't be a good match for me, so I walk away.

Chiara Vecchi on March 7, 2012 at 6:23 AM said...

Hi Judy and Dagy! Thanks for this post!
About the question 'A translation agency told me I had to charge them one third of the price they charged their client. Do you know if that is standard practice?', I would like to share my own experience. I have worked for and in a few translation agencies in Europe and they usually charge the end client at least as twice as much as the translator charged them. One third seems a bit odd to me. However, it might be a good idea to do a competitors' analysis and see what fees agecies are charging.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on March 7, 2012 at 12:35 PM said...

@Marga: thanks for reading and commenting. We agree with you 100% -- if it doesn't work, walk away. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

@Chiara: you are welcome; our pleasure. We appreciate you sharing your experience with our dear readers and colleagues, as we are definitely not qualified to answer the question. And yes, a bit of competitors' analysis is always good!

Riccardo on March 21, 2012 at 10:19 PM said...

Q: A translation agency told me I had to charge them one third of the price they charged their client. Do you know if that is standard practice?

A: That's a BS answer from the agency, but could be turned to the translator's advantage: "My for you is X per word, any you have my blessing if you want to charge your own customers 3X: go for it!"

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on March 21, 2012 at 10:23 PM said...

@Riccardo: brilliant. Thanks for the laugh! :)

Anonymous said...

I like your style - confirms I'm doing things right!

Just one question after having looked at your rate sheet: you charge by word and not by line. However, in some language pairs, there are great differences in word length. How do you compensate that? (I do a lot of German <> English and only charge per hour or per line because of that)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on March 28, 2012 at 6:24 PM said...

@Anonymous: thanks for reading and commenting! Would you mind sharing your name? We love knowing who our dear readers and colleagues are. :)Glad to hear you like our style.
You are right: in other countries, including Europe, translation is charged by the line. The website you looked at is our American-specific site, but we also have a European site where we detail the price per line. In the US, we don't compensate for the difference in word length. It's too cumbersome, and luckily there's always a good mix of long and short words. It's also a great idea to charge only by the hour -- we've been thinking about doing that. The only problem with that approach is that the potential client wouldn't know ahead of time how much it would cost.

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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