Determining your rates and fees as a translator

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If you are a freelance translator, putting yourself in a position to do high quality work on an ongoing basis requires that you approach the job from an effective commercial standpoint. While the question "What rates should I charge?" is one that ultimately only you can answer, as a professional in the industry -- and an independent business owner -- you must be sure to address the question carefully. When you do, bear in mind the responsibility we all have to cooperate in creating an environment in which it is possible for translators who take the time to do high quality work, can be paid an amount that allows them to dedicate themselves to their work on an ongoing basis.


How payment tends to work in the translation industry

Before setting about determining one's rates, one must understand how payment tends to work in the translation industry.

Translators often quote their rates on a per-unit basis. The unit most commonly used is words, but characters, segments, lines, pages, "weighted words" (adjusted for repetitions, etc.), and even minutes and hours are also sometimes used. To determine how much to charge for a specific job, the translator determines the number of units in the job and multiplies it by his per-unit rate.

Some people believe that unit-based quoting isn't ideal for translation work because the units that translators produce don't all look the same and the units don't all take the same amount of time and effort to produce. However, unit-based quoting is common among translators and translation agencies, perhaps because it is simple to understand and relatively quick and easy to calculate, and because this approach often makes it possible to know costs in advance.

Other approaches to payment are sometimes taken, but these are less common. For more information on how pricing tends to work in the translation industry, see the article "Approaches used in determining payment for translation projects".

Determining your rate by calculation

The translator's rate is subject to mainly three factors, namely:

  • How much money the translator wants to earn in a given period of time
  • How many units the translator can produce in that period of time
  • What amount the client is willing to pay

A translator who uses per-unit pricing will use the following formula to determine his rate: gross income = units produced x rate (or: rate = gross income / units produced).

How much money the translator wants to earn

Whether a translator works in his personal capacity or as a one-person corporation, his income situation can be expressed in the following formula: gross income = profit + salary + other business expenses. For translators who work as private individuals, profit and salary are often the same thing. The amount for the salary is determined by the following formula: salary = personal expenses + income tax.

To determine your ideal salary, first find out how much your personal expenses are (including an amount of money you'd like to have as extra money), and then add a markup percentage to cover income tax.

Personal expenses may include: rent (including utilities), groceries, entertainment, repaying of loans, savings and retirement plans, insurance, clothing, furnishings, school fees (if you have kids), and money that you'd like to have extra.

The calculation to add a markup percentage for income tax, is as follows: salary = ((personal expenses) / (100 - tax rate)). For example, if the income tax rate is 34%, and your personal expenses are $5000, then your total salary = $5000 / (100-34) = $7576.

See also's rates calculator.

Translators based in the countries with weaker economies should take care to avoid a common fallacy: underpricing based on the seemingly cheaper cost of living. The latter mostly reflects low standards of living there. Simplistic calculations would probably show that a US-based translator should earn 5 times as much as someone working in Russia or 20 times more than translators based in India. If calculated properly, the cost of living in "cheaper" countries often turns out to be higher than in more prosperous economies when taking into account the healthcare expenses, higher price of imported goods, etc. Finally, one should be aware of the prevailing existing rates in the emerging and mostly globalized translation market as welll as in specific local markets.

How many units the translator can produce

(This is a more complex calculation because you have to take into account the fact that you don't work 100% of the time). And if you have more than one unit, things can get even more complicated to calculate...

The following factors may be taken into account when determining pricing:

  • Use of CAT tools
  • Outsourcer location
  • Time pressure
  • Quality requirements
  • Language pair
  • Payment terms and timing
  • Volume of work contracted for
  • Your translation throughput ([1500 - 2500 words per day] is common, for sustainable output)
  • Whether or not the translation must be "certified" (or completed by a "sworn" translator, depending on location)
  • Whether the translation is a simple text or a complex, highly technical document.
  • Format considerations
  • Other requirements such as not translating repeated text, each page as a single file, etc.

How much clients are willing to pay

Notwithstanding the above discussion, which represents the true, ideal position we should be taking, there are many agencies who are coming back to the translator after having received the quote and asking for a slight reduction. "We have received your quote and would like to work with you but our job only pays 0,09 EUR per source word and your price of 0,12 EUR is too high". The best thing to do in this situation is run away as quickly as possible, or, better yet, try to insist on your original price. Perhaps this is the point where you bring out your big marketing guns and ammo that prove why you are worth what you are asking for. For example, "I am an expert in XYZ and I can provide a well researched and meaningful text."

Unfortunately, the reality is that more and more translators are acquiescing and agree too willingly to the lower rates just to get the work. It is understandable in certain situations but we should get ourselves out of these situations as quickly as possible. Otherwise we become slaves to a machine we no longer control...

Determining a rate by polling

Another approach used by translators in setting rates is to make inquiries into the going rates, and to seek to achieve rates that are within, or more preferably, at the high end of the range.

Some information on rates is available online; many translators and translation companies publicize their rates. Others do not publicize their rates, but will share them in personal conversations.

Industry surveys have also been performed by various bodies, and websites like make some aggregate rate data available. (See for example.) It should be taken into consideration when evaluating the average rates shown in such aggregated information that many factors go into pricing, and the rates earned by translators vary substantially from project to project, and from translators to translator; what one translator is paid for a given text may be several times what another is paid for a text from the same document.

Premiums and discounts

Volume discounts

Two main types of volume discounts are thinkable:

  • On a per project basis, ie. the discount is warranted by the scope of one particular project and is valid for this project only.
    In this case the consideration may be that the translator will increase their output in the course of the project because as they get more familiar with the subject matter and its specific terminology they will increase their output (spending less time on research, glossary look-ups, etc.).
  • On a per client basis, ie. the client requests a volume discount arguing that they will send "enough work to keep the translator busy".
    Whether it makes sense for the translator to grant such a discount needs to be carefully considered: If the client is an agency sending lots of different types of material for translation (different subject matter, different terminology, different file formats, etc. for each project), a volume discount may not make much sense for the translator because the advantages described above (increasing familiarity leading to a quicker turnaround) will not materialize. Instead, the translator might have a steady flow of work at a discounted rate, thus making them unavailable for work from other clients paying the "normal", non-discounted rate.

Volume discounts may be given by applying a lower per-unit rate when calculating the final price for the project or by discounting the total amount for a given project by a certain percentage.

Repetition discounts

  • CAT tool analysis provide the basis for repetition discounts:
    • Words in new segments have no discount and provide the basic rate
    • Words in fuzzy matches (for instance 99% to 50%) get a moderate discount
    • Words in repetition or 100% segments get a big discount.

The following is what you should charge when using a CAT tool according to an SDL Trados trainer:

  • Repetitions and 100% matches: 25% to 50% of normal rate
  • 85% to 99% fuzzy matches: 30% to 75% of normal rate
  • 75% to 85% fuzzy matches: 50% to 100% of normal rate

The above breakdown represents a suggested range and is not definitive. The actual price will always depend on what the translator and client negotiate prior to commencement of the project.

Rush charges

Blog post on rush charges from Thoughts on Translation:

Weekend work

Many translators accept jobs that require weekend work. When they do, most charge extra, at least under certain conditions. This is in light of the fact that taking on weekend work may require canceling plans, arranging extra childcare, etc. On the other hand, a minority of translators takes the view that their service is offered on a 7-day-a-week basis, and their rates are already set to cover such contingencies.

For more discussion on this topic, see:

Source format charges

  • Additional charges may be applied based on the format or file type of the original document(s).
  • For instance a source document in PDF may need to be extracted or processed with an OCR tool or other software before it can be translated with the help of a CAT-tool.
  • Hard copy or faxed documents produce another set of issues.
  • Also some file types may require special CAT tools, as is the case of tagged source documents, or other specialized software.

DTP-related charges

Minimum fees

Some translators apply a minimum fee, such as their hourly rate, for small jobs.

Payment terms

  • See poll: Do you offer a discount for early payments?
  • Payment terms usually depend on the individual client and what the client and translator have agreed on during negotiations prior to accepting the translation assignment. They should be clearly stated in the purchase order, contract and in the translator's invoice to the client. 30 days is usually the standard, although agencies in some countries stipulate 45, 60 and even 90 days. The law in France, for example, has recently changed, reducing the legal obligation. For a long-term client, it then makes it worth your while to have your "billing month" end several days before the end of the calendar month, to give you time to have paperwork approved by the end of the calendar month and so get paid 30 days sooner than you otherwise would have been.

Updating rates


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