The 50% Success Rate

A few days ago, we saw some very insightful posts on Twitter about a translation-related presentation. The speaker mentioned (unfortunately, we did not write down his or her name) that if your clients are accepting all your price quotes, it might mean that your quotes are too low. We think the speaker put it in these terms: if your customers don't decline at least 25% of your price quotes, then your rates might be too low. We could not agree more and would like to shed some light on our own experiences when it comes to pricing. Please keep in mind that we work exclusively with direct clients, and we know that language service providers (LSPs) work quite differently. Update: we just heard from some fabulous colleagues that the quote we had seen actually came from the The Freelancery, which is always full of good advice (some is tongue-in-cheek).

Cute, huh? And yes, we paid for this image. 
It's a pretty well-known fact that we are not the cheapest provider around -- quite the contrary. We have worked hard to be in the lucky position to have many repeat customers, who make up at least 70% of our business. Our repeat customers feel very comfortable with our prices and the quality that they are getting, so they never haggle. Most of them don't even want a price quote, and we are happy to waive this formality for clients who have a stellar payment record, which includes all our repeat customers.

For new clients, we get about 50% of the business we bid on, and we are very happy with that. Let us elaborate: right off the bat, we know that there is a segment of the market that will never purchase services from us, because they are looking for the cheapest rate and we are not it. That's perfectly fine. We try to develop a good radar for who these people are and usually send them our rate sheet (which is also easily available online) to see if they agree with our rates before spending the 10 minutes it usually takes to make a formal price quote (we use TranslationOffice 3000 to do this). Many times, clients are surprised by our rates, and we thank them for their interest, recommend a colleague if possible, and move on. You know the story: many clients think that translation should be priced at the same rate of say, housecleaning services.  

Other customers initially feel comfortable with the rate, perhaps because a per-word rate is a bit of an abstract. However, once they see how many words need to be translated and they see the total of what it is going to cost, they back down and might say: "I thought it was going to cost $200 or so!" when we sent a quote for $2,000. Obviously, that's too far of a gap to start negotiating, so we wrap things up. 

Of course it is always disappointing when you don't get a project for which you have submitted a quote. We all like getting business, but we are quite content with our 50% success rate for new clients. On the other hand, it can be a hassle and quite time-consuming to draft complicated quotes (say, for multi-day interpreting assignments) only to have the client choose another provider. A few months ago, we spent more than three weeks going back and forth with a potential client ( a conference organizer who always had to confer with her client) about a large-scale interpreting assignment for several languages. We probably put at least 10 hours of work into this, only to have the client decide that "their international delegates would translate" -- yes, they meant "interpret." Of course, that was a bit disappointing, but that's the way business sometimes works. 

We realize that our rates are set at a professional (read: relatively high) standard, and we don't need to get all of the business we quote on to make a good living. Ideally, 100% of new clients would accept our quotes, but then we wouldn't get any sleep!

What about you, dear colleagues? Do you always get all the work that you bid on?


Fernando Cuñado on May 15, 2013 at 12:51 PM said...

Hi girls,

Good post. 100% agree.

I think the quote you mentioned appeared in The Freelancery a couple of days ago:

"You should lose at least one out of four assignments because you’re too expensive. If you land every job, you’re not charging enough, or, you are irresistibly charming. Either way, you should charge more."

It is a great quote.


Elisa Bonora on May 15, 2013 at 2:00 PM said...

I totally agree that we should stick to our rates. If we don't value our work as it deserves, no one else will.
I have set my own rates and room for negotiation, and I don't always get the work I bid on - "I expected 10" when the actual price is 100 happens quite frequently to me too, as well as "I thought it could be done in a week" when it would actually take a month.
Also, I recently described my services to a potential client and the reply was: "Interesting, but first of all I need to know how much you charge". What about quality?

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on May 15, 2013 at 5:54 PM said...

@Fernando: Thanks so much for telling us where this came from -- we just couldn't recall and looked everywhere to no avail. We wanted to be sure to give credit, but had no luck! Thanks again. Happy to hear you agree. The Freelancery is awesome!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on May 15, 2013 at 5:55 PM said...

@Elisa: Ah, if we had a penny for every time someone wanted to pay 10% of its worth for our services, we'd be sitting on a tropical island now, sipping fancy cocktails... Thanks for chiming in and congrats on standing your ground. We must all stand up for ourselves -- we could not agree more!

Alicia said...

Hi girls,

I also spent hours making a quotation, explaining all the services included in the rates, and then all you get is "we will have it translated by one of our employees".
Sometimes, you don't even get a reply, so I believe I still need to be happy of receiving these negative replies :).

I work in a translation agency and, although rates are usually lower, we have a minimum that we respect and try to make clients respect. If the client wants it cheaper than us, and cheaper than a freelancer, they know what to do.

What they don't know is that buying cheap usually is more expensive...

Felicidades por vuestro blog, os sigo desde España y es agradable ver lo que disfrutáis con vuestro trabajo y hablando de él.

Kind regards,

Tim Windhof on May 16, 2013 at 9:51 AM said...

Approx. 65% for legal translation clients. 50% for HR.

Andie Ho on May 17, 2013 at 9:48 AM said...

THANK YOU for this affirmation! I was turned down for a few projects late last year for reasons of cost. I was starting to doubt myself, but I stuck to my guns and just recently picked up a several new clients at my asking rate. Glad to hear others are having the same success!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on May 17, 2013 at 10:26 AM said...

@Alicia: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Yes, it can indeed be frustrating to spend so much time on quotes. That's why we try to gauge if potential clients are even in the ballpark before going to the trouble of making a formal quote. It's wonderful to hear that your agency tries to get minimum rates so everyone is happy.

Un gran saludo y mil gracias por tu mensajito. Nos da mucho gusto que se note que nos encanta nuestra profesión. ;)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on May 17, 2013 at 10:27 AM said...

@Andie Ho: Thanks for sharing this fabulous success story! Rest assured: you are not alone; quite the contrary. Good for you for sticking to your rates -- way to go!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on May 17, 2013 at 10:32 AM said...

@Tim Windhof: Thanks for sharing success rates in other industries. Very helpful indeed!

Max de Montaigne said...

Hi Judy and Dagmar, Thank you for a nice newsletter. Compliments too for your design.
I cannot provide an answer for my own "50%" yet, but one thing is sure: I never bid when a notification appeals for "Your Best Rates". The best reply would be a quote from Red Adair: "If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur".
All the best,

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on May 20, 2013 at 8:17 PM said...

@Max: Thanks for your lovely comment and thanks for reading. Happy to hear you like the blog and the layout. Excellent point -- we never bid when we are asked to give our "best price" either. We only have one set of prices (well, we do have small ranges). All the best to you! And that quote is fantastic indeed.

Elisa Bonora on May 21, 2013 at 8:02 AM said...

Max, Judy&Dagmar: another cool reply to the "best rate" request would be this one by Translator Fun:

Anthony on June 2, 2013 at 11:10 PM said...

Very inspiring post. When I was starting out, I, like a lot of freelance translators I suppose, made that one mistake: quoting a rate that would improve my chances of landing the job rather than the one I believe I deserve for my work.

I now charge the rates I want and although my client base is growing more slowly, I am also more satisfied with these new partners and my job in general.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on June 3, 2013 at 12:01 PM said...

@Anthony: Thanks for reading and for commenting. We are delighted to hear that you liked our post. Well done on sticking to your rates -- way to go! It is amazing how much happier we are when we get paid what we are worth.

Revé on December 15, 2013 at 12:19 AM said...

I think that people tend to greatly underestimate the cost of quality freelance services, especially foreign language services. I think there tends to be a sentiment of "Anyone could do this," "My client's kid could interpret for me," "Why pay that much when I could use Google Translate?"

Even here in Madrid as an English teacher, potential students are very unaware of the market. They generally don't realize how much it costs to have a native English speaker as a teacher -- who has experience, a 100% Cambridge exam pass rate, who speaks advanced Spanish, who will come to your home. They tend to quote prices that young Spaniards with a B2 level would charge...or an Eramus student with zero experience, no university degree, who only plans on staying for a few months, who just wants extra money for beer. Generally people who want cheap classes tend to be very unreliable and disrespectful as well. If they want cheap classes, they can find them, just not from me.

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz on April 16, 2014 at 7:11 PM said...

I have a near-100% success rate with my steady clients and in similar demographics but a near-0 when responding to specific job ads from LSP's and the rare clients posting in similar places. Something in the neighbourhood of 1 short job in 5 years, I believe. When responding to those, I actually know I won't 'win', because price is too much of a driver, but it's still a good opportunity to plant my CV and contact details for better budgets in the future.

Sometimes I write those things just to let the client see what a professional offer looks like and where the numbers come from. If the same client burns his fingers on a cheap option later, he will know why that happened and how much to budget next time. I can't make all freelancers do the same, but one's gotta start somewhere, i.e. from oneself.

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