This could be a difficult subject for a translation agency to post, as the translator will always want to receive the most for their hard work, and the translation agency always pay the least, so that it could win the most tenders. Basically it is a bidding war. Any agency, or even individual translator, can post their service on the internet, where files and even payments can be effortlessly transferred as if the end client and translator were located in the same city. In fact, we have mediated work where both the translator and the customer were located near to each other, without even knowing, while on the other side of the world from us.
This becomes the age old problem of determining what a translator or agency can charge or get away with. Companies have been battling this question since time immemorial and for this reason corporate spying and espionage exist. It is always a great temptation to learn what the other translators on a particular tender are charging, and we try to offer this information to our translators if they ask.
Historically, there are several types of bidding processes. The bidding may be open, so that everyone knows what the highest bid is. The bidding may start at some basement price. Other times the bidding is closed, meaning the bidders have to guess, in which case they might end up paying substantially more than the second highest bidder.
For translations, the matter is made further complicated because the bidding is not on the same product, meaning that the quality and speed offered by the individual translators often differ.
Sometimes a customer may require only an informative translation, not requiring great quality, nor even a translation by a native speaker. Hence the bidding "war" includes non-native speakers in lower cost countries.
Other times the customer may demand a very high quality translation,
to include a proofreading by a quality translator,
the subject matter can be very technical and require an expert, and the
customer may be willing to pay for this quality.
So no matter how much the translator charges or the customer agrees to pay, our markup will always remain the same (although we may charge more for first time customers to cover the risk of non-payment).
It may seem unethical for us to disclose what the other translators are charging, as such opening up the table to a bidding war so to speak, but enough of our translators have asked for this information in the past, which is why we have decided to make this information public (shown below).
Keep in mind that these prices are a general guideline of the average charged by quality translators and do not necessarily represent some ceiling for us or what we hope to pay. Sometimes we get very large projects which need to be accomplished in very short periods, and for which we often resort to much more expensive translators, just to get the job done on time. In these cases we would add up the total charge for the entire project, divide it by the number of words translated to calculate a per word price what it cost us, perhaps offer some discount to the customer because of the overall size of the project, and then round the figure to some nice sounding price, issuing an invoice to the customer based on that.
Most of our customers trust us and accept our strategy, and most of the time our estimate at the beginning of a project is very accurate. Other times the customer may demand a concrete price in writing, in which case we would be forced to guess on the higher end, to protect ourselves against the unforeseeable. This is just the usual issues of running any business.
For each project we always ask the translator what they would like to charge, and move forward from there. Perhaps a lot needs to be done over a holiday, or the subject matter is very technical. We never force our translator to agree on a permanently defined price and they are always entitled to change their price at any moment. Based on a preliminary response from our translators, we can then issue a price estimate to the customer, and if we win the tender based on that, then we can proceed from there.
From the perspective of the translator, perhaps they might be free at the moment and be glad to work full time on a project for a month, offering us a discount, which we could then pass onto the client to help us all win the tender.
Other times the translator can be busy with other work, charge something more because of the headache of having to go into overtime, and we might accept the higher price because the situation demands it and the customer's budget can afford it.
Or other times the translator may have developed a good name for themselves, with steady clients sending them subject matters they are comfortable with. Such a translator is in an excellent position, and can afford to charge a higher price to new clients. Heck, such a translator can even begin to farm out projects to other quality translators, control their work, charge their own markup rate, increase their volume, and eventually begin to operate like an agency. This is the wonderful power afforded by the internet. I myself translated for 8 years and during which time I slowly migrated to operating only an agency. In fact, I still translate from time to time, although I much more enjoy project management and company development.
My suggestion is to always seek new customers when you do not have paying work. If you want to develop an agency while most of your earnings comes from your own translation work, you can work on that on your own free time. When looking for new customers, you can spend your time approaching a list of translation agencies like ours (or for a small fee have us do this for you), or filling in their translator application forms, or provide them with free translation samples. All this takes an investment of time. In the beginning you might offer a more attractive rate just to secure yourself with enough work, but over time, as you build up a reputation for yourself and steady clients with a steady stream of work, you can start to charge more to new clients, or approach your existing customers and ask if they might offer you more, considering how reliable you have been for them all these years.
You might consider a premium rate for express work or on translations which need to be accomplished over the weekend or holidays. You may devise different rates for different subjects or volumes. Everything is possible, and every business does this. Just think about the airline industry, which charges premium rates for the business class who need a flight on short notice, while offering much cheaper rates for tickets bought well in advance, or even lower rates for student or standby tickets. Which are tickets sold only when some seats remain available and just before takeoff. In economics and business language this is called price discrimination, which in some ways can be considered illegal or unethical, but practiced nevertheless. For this purpose very complicated software programs have been developed for the airline industry, estimating which seasons will be busier, and formulating a complex price grid, all designed to maximize profits for the airline company by charging different prices to different people.
So you can certainly try your own price discrimination, although I do not think there is any software developed like this for the translation industry. You might approach a few translation agencies (by pretending you are a potential customer) and see what they charge for your language combination and expertise, in turn charging them an appropriate price.
When charging a direct customer as opposed to a translation agency, you might try charging something in between what an agency charges and what you would normally charge an agency. If you establish a good name with direct clients, there is no reason why you couldn't charge as much or more than the agency if you are really good or are knowledged in a special area, which your customer needs.
When submitting your price to a new client, you can also be vague and try something on the higher end. You can say "Some of my existing customers pay me", or "If possible", and include "price negotiable", for example. You obviously want as much as possible, but you do not want to scare away your new potential client either, so if you are quoting high, do not make it seem like your price is firm and set in stone - unless of course you are so well established you do not need to look for other customers. In such a case you are ideally established, and you might consider screening your own translators and quality control their work, so that you can offer a higher capacity.
Prices often vary among language combinations precisely because of the costs of living in those countries.
Typically, translations in Scandinavian languages will cost a lot more than, for example, Hindi or Russian translations. This has nothing to do with the quality of the respective translators but everything to do with the costs of living of the countries where these languages are mostly spoken. Of course, it may happen that a Swedish translator has decided to move to Beijing China, has chosen to charge three times the local Beijing rate for his translations from German and English into Swedish, is quite well off at those rates considering the cost of living in China, while offering a rate which is less than half what the average Swedish translator is forced to charge because they live in Stockholm. So such a China based Swedish translator can benefit from lots of work and live quite well. This again is the strength (or for some, the annoyance) that the internet offers, but such is the fact of life in this increasingly global marketplace.
This is why you should consider the prices we have posted below as a very rough guideline. They are based on the prices of quality translators we have found. This is not to say that we have not found less expensive translators, like the quality Swedish translator living in China, but we have chosen not to post these "extremes" but rather just the average. There are also many translators who charge more than this, but at the below prices we have not found it difficult to find quality translators.
Possible Guideline to Help You Set your Prices
After a debate on ProZ, I modified the below data and aspire to achieve some "wiki consensus".
I will break up the prices according to the following. For those who
are only just considering to start a career in translations, an average
can translate between 2500 and 5000 words a day.
These generally reflect the lowest price levels offered by my quality native translators. It should also reflect the local prices for those countries, quite possibly on the higher end. It could be a good price suggestion for someone who would like to work on the global web translation market.
3) ProZ's and Translator Café's Posted Rates
ProZ's rate data is only available for full paid members, but TC's is open to free members. Taking Czech to English translations as an example (because I have many years and active experience in this language combination), TC's rates show the following:
From my experience these definitely do not reflect local prices in the Czech
Republic (TC's are significantly higher), so perhaps consider these as
aspired prices. Or what would apply if you live in Western Europe. The
translation market is a very competitive place so it's good to do some
research and see what options are best for you. Or combine approaches
and see where that leads to.
You may add your own rate and I will continue to develop this as interest in it increases. The averages script timed out before it could make the complex calculations, so unfortunately it did not include all the language combinations (stopped at Portuguese to Turkish). I will try to resolve this later to include all the language combinations.
Other Websites to Help you Choose your Translation Rates
Important Translator or Translation Rates, Charges, Prices and Fee Links
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Published - August 2010
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