Golden rules for setting translation rates

You’ve just graduated from university and you want to make a name for yourself in the world of translation, but you don’t know the market rates? Stay calm! Other freelancers are in the same situation. Here you can find all the key aspects that you need to consider at the beginning of your career, as well as the pitfalls to avoid.

How much should I charge as a young translator?

First of all, the rate for a translator is calculated per source word or per source character in most countries –in Germany, it is often per target line. However, the rate for audiovisual translation will be calculated by the minute. The literary translation rate is different, for example in France it is calculated according to the number of typewritten pages in the translation and you add the copyright. Your rates will depend heavily on the established market you belong to. If there are many translators having the same language combinations as yours, then you will start with a low rate. On the other hand, if there are not many competitors, a client would not understand why your rates are low, because the rarer the offer is, the more expensive the rates. This is why doing market research in your language pairs and geographic area is essential.

Also, many factors are decisive:

– How complex the text is: It varies according to the presence of technical vocabulary. Usually, the more technical a text is, the higher the rate. As a young translator, it is normal that you take longer to do a technical translation. The preparatory period of terminology research, documentation and information gathering makes the task longer. Nonetheless, it is best not to charge high rates since you are just starting out.

– The deadline: The deadline given by the client is crucial. It is very common in the translation world for a project to be labeled “urgent”. Even if you are just starting out in the world of translation, very short deadlines can be requested and it is up to you to decide whether or not to accept urgent projects. In this case, you have the possibility to increase your rates, as this implies an adjustment of your working time. It is not uncommon to ask for an extra 10 to 20% depending on the urgency.

– The medium: A project to be done on Word or PDF does not require the same work as a project to be done on documents that are not editable (i.e. JPG, scanned PDF, gif).

– Additional services: A project may not only require your translation skills. Sometimes, the creation of a terminology database or glossary may also be requested. If this is the case, it is necessary to take this additional service into account in the price.

– Language combinations: Each language combination has its own price -or price range-. It is understandable that a translation in which English is one of the two languages is less expensive, since it is the most translated language in the world. However, a translation from Greek into Slovak involves a high price since few translators are proficient in both languages, and it is a rare language combination.

Mistakes not to make as a young translator

Every translator has to find the right balance between charging too little and too much. Many beginners make the mistake of offering their services at a price much lower than the market: Firstly, because they are desperate to find new clients and develop their network, and secondly because they think they stand out. In addition to lowering the market price, too low a rate can dishearten a young translator, who will not have enough income.

It is important not to hesitate to offer a discount to the client when there are repetitions in a text. Although young freelancers are afraid of earning less by applying this rule, it allows the client to recognize the professionals. Indeed, the potential client would have no qualms about looking for another translator who promises this discount. Moreover, the client would have no trouble finding someone else, since this process is very common in the translation industry.

Of course, the rate at which you start your career will evolve over time, depending on your experience and the projects you have completed. It is important to know that a translator’s rate is never set in stone. The beginning is often difficult, as you have to establish your network while applying relatively low rates. To help you out, you can find a price list on the ProZ website, depending on the languages you specialize in and the field you master. However, don’t forget that all translators have been through this and that you will end up among the experts.

Laura Le Galliot