This is not a news blog or an advice blog or any sort of company blog. It's more of an opinion blog.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Market Is Not a Reverse Auction

You've probably heard a lot — including from me — about how prices are falling, status is falling, respect is declining, all of which is true, and allow which keeps intensifying as we speak.

But this isn't the whole truth. Things don't have to be this way.

You may've heard from so called business experts and frontline fighters about how this is what the clients want and how we must provide. Suck it up and deliver. Like the tough guys we are. Or they are. Bullshit. Stupid, ridiculous bullshit.

They make it sound like being a tough guy is about putting up a brave face as you cough up protection money for a guy who certainly is bigger than you but not nearly big enough, or relevant enough, to shove you around at will. How tough indeed!

No matter how distorted and unbalanced, there is still symmetry in the market. You don't have to do whatever you sense — or, more likely, are told by pundits and sometimes even your own client — 'the market' wants. Meaning what the buyers want.

… This is because 'the market' ≠ the buyers. The market is also the sellers. It's a two-way street.

There is no 'new reality of the market' that buyers supposedly now want more goods or better goods for the same or lower price, which they supposedly didn't already want before. Any guy who says that certainly is so no prize-winning material. There is nothing remotely inventine or innovative about that kind of statement. Buyers have always wanted to buy more for less and sellers have always wanted to sell less for more. Everybody has always wanted to make a good bargain. Nothing new there.

Now, even supposing that you're going to deliver that good bargain as opposed to sticking to your guns and negotiating harder, even that still doesn't mean you need to start selling more for less. Because you don't.

On the contrary: You can explain how what you already are selling, at the price you already are charging, is a great bargain and always has been. (Just perhaps there was no pressing need to go into the details of it until now.)

As a translator you are opening doors that would otherwise be closed and building bridges where people would otherwise need boats, or at least building and navigating those boats for them so they don't have to swim. Those doors and bridges and boats lead to potentially unlimited opportunities, which, while probably finite, are still worth times and times more than the price of your translation calculated as the number of words times the per-word rate.

It's only that as times get worse and competition gets tougher and scarier there may be more storytelling for you to do before the story falls in together and sells. But, unless you're translating contracts and marketing blurbs written anew at each time for every $100-$1000 transaction, you should still have more than enough wiggle room to carve out a decent fee, if you're willing to put some work in it.

And before you put in the work you must realize and accept that the work can be done and will make a difference. At least try.


Consider that a lot of the information you have comes from (i) battle-scared warriors who want to appear tough as they make the brave decision to give the opponent what he wants without putting up a fight and still hope to get the hero treatment; and (ii) people who have a vested interest in making you think that you already are buried neck-deep in reverse auctions, sucked in and unable to go anywhere else. Which you aren't. Not remotely. Not even if your situation actually is somewhat bad in objective terms. It just isn't as bad as that.

Consider how many times they have:

  • asked if you are available
  • stressed that it's important it's you who take up that project
  • tried to evoke your sympathy
  • … or threatened you
  • or resorted to flattery
  • or even made small concessions such as waiting their turn or paying a slightly higher rate

Boy! (Of either sex.) All of that means you do have some pull.

It's just that the opposing side of the negotiation table may want to prevent you from actually using that pull, for example by making you believe you don't have it or shouldn't use it because it would somehow be unethical. (Or, most frequently, because their procedures, same for every contractor, don't leave room for it.)

See, contrary to what they would like you to believe, the market doesn't consist of millions of sellers, trying to win the favour of buyers who are free to pick and fuss all they want, pretty much because that's they way of things, which is how it should be and the only way it could be. Nope, it isn't.

All of those buyers also need to contend with the scarcity of the goods or services they want to buy, or even of the sellers who sell those, as well as the higher or lower attractiveness of their, the buyer's, budgets and other terms they are able or willing to offer. There is nothing which prevents sellers from selling to someone who offers a higher price or is willing to wait longer or sweeten the deal in some other way.

The market is more of a free-for-all. Everybody is auctioning. Everybody is competing for the other party's side of the bargain. There are elements of reverse auction and there are  — or at least could be, if translators or any type of sellers were more proactive — elements of normal, straight auction as well, where the highest bidder among the buyers and not the lowest bidder among the sellers wins. There are no formalized bids or rules to cover the entire market as a whole, and you need to play it by ear and by trial and error and by guessing a lot. But the essential mechanics are there.


Try to break out of the psychological compulsion to please the client (or else!), at least for the sake of a little exercise we're going to have.

Suppose there is a job you don't to do or in any case can afford to 'lose', i.e. simply not get, which is not the end of the world. You won't actually 'lose' it if you don't get it and it was never years. You will simply not have got that one particular job, and that's it. For the record, you don't need to get everything single job you see, nor could you humanly process them all anyway. What you need to get is enough jobs to make a comfortable living at the rates you charge.

So, take that problem job and try to up the rate or move the deadline. Be fair, don't shortchange them, just don't be as acommodating as before. Mind your need for sleep and free time, or give yourself an 8-hour day, 40-hour week, occasional holidays, you get the point. Or, if they're a new client and you know they have the money, then don't charge them the same rate you've been charging everybody for years on years now for the same work — raise it in due proportion to your increasing experience. And inflation. And everything else.

In other words, stop giving so much **** about 'being competitive'. Allow yourself to be less competitive. In the meaning they attach to it anyway.

(Remember that, in the real world, you're competitive or not depending on whether you win the competition. Not depending on whether someone says you are.)

There is a good chance you will get those higher rates and longer deadlines, if you actually try. You should try, if only to know more or less where you stand. And remember that you can always grant a discount on the invoice or deliver early or even agree to grant them a one-off discount if you become convinced that their reasons are sound, that their cause is a legitimate one.

Most people who will turn tail and pass up on you are going to be those on the lookout for a cheaper provider, not really the few people who have a real need but too much pride to ask for a discount (hint: if their statements are public record and they've been awarding juicy bonuses to their management, they are not in dire need), so don't worry too much about that. You can still make it clear (somewhere, somehow), that discretionary reductions and otherwise unique terms are available on a case-by-case basis to clients who can show a legitimate need without being able to pay the normal fee. That will keep the needy in and the bargain seekers out.


What else can you do?

Yeah, it's not all wrestling about the fees. Supply and demand can be influenced — or brought out — in subtler ways that don't involve violence.

I say 'brought out' because the advantages of what you already provide — the good features and the useful benefits of it — are often hidden and underappreciated, and it's up to you to change that state of things as opposed to simply heaping even more at an even lower price.

Thus you may need to do more work to make sure that clients realize just how much they're getting from you — or how much more they're getting from you than from someone else.

Many of them will still try to get it cheaper, that's sort of how human nature is, at least for some humans. The trick is to not cave in the moment they say that (to try costs them nothing, so in a certain sense they would be stupid if they didn't), but instead reiterate the value that you provide and the fact that your prices are already quite reasonable and (if true) that many other clients are perfectly willing to pay them (which means they see the value).

A client who already sees he's getting a good bargain but would like to turn it into an even better one doesn't have too many strong arguments to show for it, and chances are that if things were to resort to open violence you would come out on the top. Especially if he already is getting better terms from you than anyone else is giving. There is an old Latin saying: quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur. If someone asserts something without proof, you don't need proof to negate it. You just negate it.

Remember that in such situations the burden is on them to convince you. You discharge your own burden by simply quoting a fee that falls within the market standard or as much higher than it as your qualifications are or the difficulty of the job is. Anything more favourable to the client is for the client to justify, and you have no obligation to give him an A for effort.


To prove your qualifications, data in on objective, legible and concise format are always good. Just pile up the degrees and accreditations and certificates and years of experience and testimonials from happy clients (both the content and the sheer number matters). That is something your client cannot claim to disbelieve or challenge without a good foundation.

Also include samples so that you can refer your prospects to them instead of translating something new for them free of charge for their proofreader's reviewing pleasure.

Speaking of which, obviously, just about any random QA'er from a translation agency or business company is not going to test you more reliably than your professors at university and your state examiners and exam boards at professional associations already have done, unless the test is more difficult and the reviewer is more qualified than your previous examiners were, which is simply not very likely.

It's only that some of your prospects may prefer to have the privelege of acting unreasonably and disbelieving anything which they haven't personally put their hands on — and very literally so because they won't even accept credible documents from respectable institutions in lieu of a first-hand check. Guess what? You don't really have to put up with that sort of treatment. (Unless you actually have to.)

It's kinda like maths. You don't need to prove that 5000 words times 0.12 a word makes 600 to pay. That's just the kind of thing you just don't have to prove in the face of feigned or even actual disbelief.

But you will still need to use your own good sense to find out where the limits are because making conclusions about your skill level on the basis of your papers is a bit less forward than simple arithmetics. It just isn't some kind of murky waters of non-knowledge and uncertainty that somehow means you should be charging peanuts because your actual qualifications are intangible. And even if they were.


Finally, you don't need to talk business. At least not only it and not all the time. I suggest you do read a bunch of course materials about the basics of economy, management and marketing just to know the setting you work in (and if you do business translation, you need that knowledge anyway), but instead of focusing solely on the business terms that are native to your clients, you also use terms that are native to your art.

After all, they need a translator, so it makes no point pretending they don't need one but only have a business problem to solve. Which is not true.

So you don't want to only use some business references that they're going to downplay and counter easily simply because they're more fluent in the lingo and carry more authority in the area than you do. You need to establish yourself as an expert in what you do, which is what they need.

And no bullshit like you still need to prove you're needed. If you weren't needed, they wouldn't be there asking. Or that you need to prove your monetary value. If they didn't sense the value… yes, correct, they wouldn't be there asking (which is even fine to tell them, at least without using the 'BS' word, usually).

So if they know it and you know that they know it and they know that you know they know it, and so on and so forth, then it makes no sense to act like you don't know (and you don't know etc.) and grant them a victory in their own silly game. No unfair downplaying of the importance of your art, and no gratuitous refusals to recognize your qualifications should be your rule no. 1 for them. And yes, you can set rules. To some extent at least. (Precisely to the extent you can get away with, which is up to you to find out.) This remains true even if it's you contacting them rather than the other way round. You're still talking business and fees and not charity and donations.


I suggest you also use the talents that you already have to deliver a convincing value proposal that does a good job of showing — and claiming the credit for — the value and meaning (and cost-to-provide and scarcity and difficulty to find) of the services you provide.

Thus, if you are one of those people who came to translation from a different profession, one which is somehow involved in most of the stuff you translate, you could simply use that to establish a connection and to establish your relevance. And show yourself as a competent fellow (of either sex) who understands the stuff.

On the other hand, if you have more of a language background, you should use that. After all, you are an expert on language. So rise and shine. And if your bacgkround is more on the literary side, especially if you know how to write or edit a story, then certainly use that to your advantage. It's actually becoming quite hip in the business world these days.

And, once again, if they gratuitously negate or downplay your importance or relevance, call them on it. Don't be aggressive or rude, but force them to back out of it, if only by asking questions — for example: why they think that, why do they think they know better than a recognized authority — or repeating the obvious — for example just how authoritative the institution is which granted your credentials or was satisfied with your work as your client.

Again, you don't need to act like every shit argument is good currency, because it's not. But you need to build some confidence. I've already suggested expanding your knowledge and re-evaluating your status as an expert in your field with a useful role to play for experts in other fields, but there are also other ways, such as developing your soft skills, including the art of negotiating and saying no without breaking up the negotiation. Everything in due time, not too much at once, but I suggest you take a look at those. I did as an adolescent (a bit overeager to please and a bit shy to stand up, a bit inept at defending my right to stand up and reasons for it etc.), and it did me some good. It prepared me for some things later on.

The no. 1 realization to make is that there is bullshit in this world and that that bullshit isn't binding on you, you can call people on it and refuse to accept it (as a reason for them to get a discount or otherwise).

And the no. 2 thing to do (more like even no. 1, in fact) is to use your knowledge to demonstrate… your knowledge. And to show in all sorts of ways (not always by talking directly about it) that your services are valuable and that you're a competent provider, and (if you need to) that your fees are reasonable and offer a lot of value.

If you have lawyer clients (small firm or solo), or doctors, or architects, it could be a good idea to ask them for some tips, as they've probably already had to deal with the same problems. There should also be more literature available from lawyers' perspective than translators', nearly all of which is going to be applicable to translators without much adaptation left to do, given how similar the professions and the problems are.

With time, as your means allow it, you will want to use a real marketer and a real ad man to make your message heard, to give it more reach and make it more resounding. The goal is to make your perspective matter too and not only the perspective of people who want your services to be cheap and underappreciated (also because it makes them cheaper).


Additional reading:

major auction types at Wiki

I believe the market is closer to Walrasian auction than a reverse auction, but the point is not to analyse the theoretical model of that (which I haven't even done myself), the point is to realize that it all goes two ways.


As a (wo)man of letters, you simply have an advantage there, and you should use it. Good marketing kinda always comes down to a good story, especially when it comes to creating a brand.

Walrasian auction and Walras's law

… If you're more mathematically inclined, this may do better than a narrative explanation.

As well as a bunch of how-to books, starting from 'for dummies' and moving up. It's only reasonable to know the setting you're forced to operate in and the setting that's native to your prospective clients. It will help you get better fees and otherwise better terms from them, but it will also help you better serve their own needs, which is a win-win situation. (Just like being a good legal translator helps you identify and refuse to sign, or renegotiate, an abusive clause in a contract.)

Your Cheap Marketing Plan for Dummies (and Lazies)

Woohoo! Have I just called you…? LOL, negative. In fact, I'm quite lazy myself (in the head too), when it comes to marketing and other such penny-pinching pencil-pushing boringness, but the point is: this is something anybody could do. And his dog, probably. In fact, dogs are quite good at it.

Even if you actually were a bit on the slow side, such as me before my fourth coffee of the morning (which usually happens around two o'clock in the afternoon), you still could. Right? So stop worrying that you can't. Because you can. Because, again, it's so simple anyone could do it — even though experience teaches that, ultimately, not everyone can, or will. More advantage for you if you will and they won't.

Enough of my babbling on what in fact has only been one or two coffees this morning (actually, I've just made a third, so by all estimates I should be coming round soon). What you need is:

1. People getting that translation from you and paying you for it.[1]
2. People coming back for more, or more people coming.

Point two is actually simpler than point one, so let's start from there:

1. They need good translation (even if they don't know the difference), which they came to you for in the first place.
2. Like everyone, they'd also prefer minimum fuss and maximum comfort, safety, reliability and so on. They're probably appreciate you being an all-round agreeable fellow (of either sex).[3]
3.While there are no guarantees, as long as you satisfy #1 and #2 there's still a strong chance they'll be coming back, referring their friends or leaving you nice testimonials. Any of which will help you keeping moving forward.

This means the best marketing you can get — and the cheapest — is just simply doing what you're paid for and not being a jerk about it. Don't let this truth be diluted in all the talk about formalized QA/QC and client-service standards and routines. This is precisely the common-sense alternative to those complicated and not necessarily helpful things.

Now on to point one:

The best source of new clients is happy old clients. Either directly, by referrals, or indirectly, by testimonials. Try to get both.

You also need to look credible and project confidence and inspire trust. You're toiling hard for a living and not loitering about like someone who has developed an aversion to honest work, so suit up and get a real photo. Proofread the CV. Run in through someone who has actual experience hiring or preparing candidates, to make sure it's relevant and well organized. Find more places to plant you CV in, both online and offline. The more you sow, the more you will reap. It doesn't have to be 20 different places, at least not right off the bat, but don't skip important channels or put them off for later. Mind your website: It's about the only place on the Internet where you can present yourself totally on your own terms, so use it. Nobody's going to be telling you what can be included and what can't, or what has to be there, or what the character limit is. None of that, zero, nil. So use the freedom.

Perhaps you feel you aren't the greatest writer humanity has to offer. Statistically speaking, that's probably right. Still, it doesn't take an award-winning storyteller to just answer a couple of questions your clients might be interested in. If you have an arts degree, your writing can't be too awful, so at worse you'll deliver something that looks like an actual piece of communication between human beings and not a contest entry for critics to dote on (or slaughter mercilessly as they see fit, as if your clients give a rat's breath).

Do you know how much work it takes to sound natural once you've lost the ability? Thousands of writers try to sound less experienced at their craft than they really are. So you don't really have to worry so much. Just put in some effort and make it matter, because it matters to you. If it doesn't, then don't complain about not getting the results without putting in the work.

So, work hard on your jobs and work hard on your clients, or rather your communication with them, and you'll see results.

Hard work alone will probably not make you a rockstar, but given the current state of the market and of the profession even getting the basics right will net you a sizeable advantage — and will get things done for you.

1. The reason I didn't want to say 'buying' is a long story for a different day.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Once More About Scale

Economies of scale are quite self-explanatory: the bigger your production (or trade in someone else's products or services), the more you can profit from reusing the same equipment or using its capacity more fully. In economies of scale, repetition is the mother of profit.

This is also how translation agencies work. They put their project managers to maximum use and beyond. They usually work with a greater number of translators, and a greater number of clients. The scale of their operations allows them to hire support staff as well, to free up translator time and PM time. It also enables them to follow their seemingly favourite strategy, i.e. cost leadership, meaning lower prices for end clients, which, in their case, might even actually be more profitable than investing in marketing to claim higher rates. You can't really follow the same model because you're limited by the amount of content your one brain and two hands can produce or convert.

From a different perspective, you can't possibly profit from translating (or illustrating or even importing) a single book for a single client for the typical price a translated book at a bookshop. Since so many copies of the same book are sold in bookshops across the country or worldwide, the price of one book can be so much more accessible. This is how reproduction or serial or mass-scale production works.

With the exception of royalties for literary translators or negotiated fees for high-octane marketing translators working on short texts of which the critical importance is much greater the length, translation typically does not cost less or more depending on the frequency or intensity of its intended use (for example the number of copies or displays or some other instances of use). Our traditional remuneration scheme is simply different and does not account for this particular parameter.

So, besides the fact that you're made to suffer economically because agencies can't understand or don't care that you won't profit from more words at a lower price per word, are you also clocked out from any positive effects of scale?

Nope, you aren't.

It may not affect you directly, because your own production scale is one brain, two hands, one keyboard etc., but it certainly affects that part of the client's business in which your translation is going to be used.

For example that manual or leaflet you translated for a manufacturer will not be used by only a handful of people the same way the translation of a birth certificate, marriage licence or school diploma would be used in a single administrative procedure and forever kept on file, unused.

On the contrary, probably quite a lot of people will eventually end up reading it and perhaps relying on it to produce or sell something, or litigate it or whatever. The same applies to anything you translate which is ever going to be published anywhere. Whatever the audience is, it is most likely going to be larger than the guy who sought you ought, his boss who okayed the project and the accountant who paid your invoice.

Similarly a contract is probably going to be read by some lawyers, accountants, consultants, sales people, a judge or two perhaps, perhaps not a huge crowd of people in all, but it will quite possibly affect the operations and thus the profits of an entire production plant or transport company or design studio or whatever else it is.

And business translation still costs mostly the same rates in the broad market as community translation and translation of civil records for individuals or only a small fraction more.

Hence, rather than dropping your rates in response to price pressure from the largest business clients, you should reminding them and explaining how they're going to use your translation again and again and again. It's not like they don't already know. Instead, chances are they simply don't see the connection or don't see it as a good reason to pay rates more in proportion to the scale and importance of the project just like they'd probably prefer your skill level and attention to detail to be.

Remember: Managers, consultants, lawyers, designers, engineers, analysts and similar people are paid higher wages than the bottom of the scale because their work leverages the work of many other people, either directly or by being applicable to the product of it or the process. The thing is, the translator's work also does that.

It does involve a lot of typing, sure, but so does the work of the other professionals. And yet a lawyer hammering a brief or an engineer wrapping up the results of a study or test isn't really seen as just typing. Neither should be the translator who translates all of those people's mental operations, but we do have a bit of an image problem. Hence you may need to do some explaining and some persuading.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Take Inventory, Check Out the Other Folks

From time to time it's time to take inventory and see where you are at and consider where you want to go and how much distance you've already made.

Of course, you can say it's difficult to be objective, nemo iudex in causa sua and so on, but you don't need to be the epitome of impartiality to just note down your most relevant qualifications, such as degrees, accreditations, years of experience and other such data. Two plus two still makes four, no matter how modest or not you are.

Try to aggregate the data and preferably end up with something like elevator pitch as a result, minus the pitch. Peel off the marketing. We're taking a somewhat sober assessment in order to see what marketing you could use, so it's better to start from raw data than the marketing soup you've been serving for a while.

Now go find some CVs, bios and profiles from:
  • leaders in your language or field, or otherwise already where you hope to one day be
  • people more or less at your own stage
  • the rookies
See what the leaders or experts are doing and how. Depending on your long-term vs short-term focus for this little exercise, you can choose either the rock stars or people who are one or two steps ahead. There is a chance they are doing it right, if it works them, especially the rock stars. Those who are economically successful are more likely to do it right than people who you just know are good because you are qualified to see the difference and judge the work on your own. Especially those people who are economically successful but not really spectacular translators are probably good at the art of finding and convincing their clients. 

Look for similarities. Look for something which makes them successful and which you also already have, or are slowly getting there.

Find inspiration for immediate changes or scout the road ahead for information to keep in mind as you proceed. It's up to you.

Next check out the folks who are more or less in the same place. Is there anything they are doing better than you? Any smarter (e.g. shorter or more convincing) ways of saying practically the same thing? How about communicating the same information in a more inviting and reassuring way? How are they bringing out assets that are more or less on the same level as your own? (For example, you can learn from a medical translator if you're a legal one and vice versa). Anything they haven't thought about? Anything they missed but the more successful people did not? If they otherwise look very similar to you or to one another, how could you distinguish your message?

Now the the rookies. There's a chance some of them are replicating by-the-book solutions without really understanding them, but some may be quite creative simply because they don't know what exactly they're supposed to do or don't yet know what to copy. You can still learn from someone who does not yet know as much as you do overall. Competition is rough there, so there's a chance that those of the newbies who manage to eke out a nice living already know quite a lot.

Not to encourage elitist attitudes, but if you've been around for a while, you'll need to look for ways to bring out that experience in your copy and turn it into an advantage. I think that looking only within your bracket or ahead would not give you a complete picture. To keep track of progress you sometimes need to go back to how things are on the earlier stages of the road. You don't need to be negative in order to use the rookies' CVs and copy to measure your own progress. It's mostly the matter of demonstrating the benefit of your experience.

Don't get too carried away. It's better to underpromise and overdeliver than the other way round. Your presentation needs to reflect where you are and not where you hope to be in 5 years from now. Finally, pardon me for bringing this up, but if you feel like borrowing from one specific person rather than a pattern you saw in a wider group, remember to respect that someone's intellectual work and creative effort, which is protected by intellectual property. Where in doubt, ask permission or come up with something that's simply not as similar. Play nice.

5 Factors Other Than Rates That Affect Your Profit on a Project

We focus on rates quite often and for good reason, as despite what some people insist on claiming rates are going downhill, and despite what others might claim (or just not care about) the current level of financial demands from agencies and business clients is not realistic or sustainable, but this doesn't mean we have an excuse to get lazy and stop at that. There is much more to how much you make than the rate you charge:

  1. Difficulty. And if you've been around for a while, you probably know how it is: 80% more bother will generate 20% more pay. But what you possibly haven't seriously reflected on yet is that taking only a 20% pay increase while putting in 80% more time sets you back, actually.


    Suppose the starting position is that you have 10,000 words to do at $0.10 per, translated at about 500 words per hour. You will make 1000 dollars in 20 hours. This means you will be making $50 per hour.

    Are you still with me? If you take another 10,000 words at $0.12 (+20%) with 80% more time, that ain't gonna be no goldmine. You will have to commit 36 hours instead of 2 hours of your time. $1200 divided by 36 hours makes $33.33 per hour. This means you're 33% down.

    Eyes wide open already? I can make them even wider (make sure they don't fall out, you're going to need them unless you're unlike me and actually like interpreting :P):

    You would actually be better off for taking an actual pay cut but translating easier stuff. Let's hypothetically take a 20% pay cut (not that you should, in real life) but save 80% of our time: we are going to make $800 from 10,000 words at 0.08 per, but we'll have waded through them in 4 hours. Which is almost totally impossible, but we're running huge numbers here to show you, on such extremes, how far the differences could potentially go, based on time required for the task at hand. $800 in 4 hours makes $200 per hour. Compare to $33... yikes!

    But let's leave Pareto (a.k.a. the 80-20 rule, typically used for such theoretical illustrations) alone and take more conservative numbers, which are, however, going to be a bit more difficult to calculate (no round numbers that are easy to handle any more).

    So, suppose you translate 350 words per hour at 0.10 per. This means you make $35 per hour (before tax, expenses etc.). Suppose your agency or client agrees to a 10% surcharge but you need to invest 50% more time, and I can tell you this is a very realistic scenario. This means you'll need 1.5 hours to translate those 350 words now, at 0.11 per. You will only be able to complete 2/3 of the normal workload within 1 hour, which is 233 words. Rounded up, you will be making $26 per hour. Which means you're down one quarter, despite your nominal raise.

    By contrast, imagine taking that 10% pay cut, so that you make 0.09 per word, but your text is easier and you can translate 50% faster, which means 525 words per hour. That will mean $47 per hour. Compare that $47 to your standard $35 and especially to your 'premium' $26 per hour.

    If you've ever wondered how come highly qualified translators with unique skills who translate serious stuff somehow don't always seem to be making a lot of money, here is your answer. It also explain how come some rookies or less ambitious translators can be quite affluent compared to their higher-charging peers.

    And that is simply because translation price doesn't go up in direct proportion to time needed to translate. This cost is simply mitigated on the client's side and shouldered by the translator, the way things are right now.
  2. Additional tasks and requirements — included in the PO or job sepcification — compared to 'just translating'. Convert some files, run through a checklist, consult with the client's huge database, verify the HTML while localizing, whatever. The principle is the same: it all soaks up your time with much more celerity than it increases your rates. And you know what that means — you're making less per hour, aren't you? Times 140, 160, 180 or 300, it also means you're making less per month. And times 1500, 2000 or 3000, it also means you're making less p.a. Bottom line: you're making less, even if you theoretically get a small raise or some form of additional payment, especially at cheaper rates than what you get for translation.
  3. How helpful your client or agency is. Can you just call and ask or do you have to dig through 1000 pages of reference material to translate 10 pages of text? This translates directly into more unpaid time or less. I think there's a chance that the example you've seen under #1 already makes you suspect that after you do the numbers the difference is going to turn out quite surprisingly large. If so, you are correct.
  4. QA procedures and client input. This really belongs in #2, but it's worth bringing up separately because of how much difference it can make. Processing a long list of questions or proposals is always going to take a lot of time even when they are competent. Much of the time they are not. In a lot of cases you end up explaining the rules to the client's or the agency's QA department… or the junior secretary or intern who was tasked with reviewing your super duper mega extra important translation. And this is before they start arguing… In the end result, your work time can be doubled or tripled for no raise at all, often with the expectation of getting a rebate after going through all the trouble.
  5. CAT vs non-CAT. CAT analysis can shave several percent off of just about any business, technical or legal text. Say, 5% less in the adjusted/effective/weighted wordcount is not the same as 5% off from your usual rates, but it has the same effect on your pay. If your pay is calculated as wordcount * rate, then — just as in any multiplication — reducing either number by 5% will reduce the end result by 5% too. 1000 words at 9.5 cents per or 950 words at 10 cents per, it still  makes 95 dollars either way.

    Just to clarify, I'm not raising the banner against adjusted wordcounts and fuzzy grids here. I'm simply saying that just as an agency or client can say: 'We're going to be treating these 1000 words as 950 because we think that's how much work you really do for us,' so can you say: 'I'm going to be treating your 0.10 per word as 0.095 because I think that's how much you really pay me.'

    There is nothing unfair in this, as long as you're honest in assessing how much your income hit exceeds the usefulness of fuzzies and repetitions. This is not telling the client what to do or not to do, it simply means that you're going to see some 0.10 offers as 0.095 offers internally. Being conscious of how much you really are offered or paid is not the same as being cheeky or uncooperative.

These are all short-term factors that can apply to specific projects, even one-off projects for one-off clients, even though, naturally, you can benefit from whatever information you have about the client's habits or your relationship (such as the probability of consuming your time with inquiries and change requests). Here's a long-term factor:

  • Your relationship with the PM, the agency, the client etc. For the purposes of solely its influence on your income, we can look at it from two perspectives:
  1. What's in it for you other than the rate, in a long-term perspective. Apart from all of #1–5 from the previous list, part of the relationship is how much work you get, how much effort and time it costs you to get that work, how much time you lose unproductively, for any reason whatsoever, not just their feelings about the rate. There is also the non-financial factor of simply your work comfort, and that is something of which the importance cannot be underestimated. It affects your mental peace, and your health, and even your productivity, in fact. Higher rates don't always lead to more money, or more work comfort.
  2. The impact of your rates, specifically, on the relationship, in the long term. Or, more precisely, the impact of their feelings about your rates — and the resulting pressure — on their behaviour in the relationship. In plain words, this means how eager they are going to be to work with you, how far motivated to choose you despite a higher rate than someone else is charging, or to get out of their way to help you, or the opposite: to want to cash in on all sorts of available requests and call in all available favours since they're already (over-)paying you so much and flexing their business muscle so much simply, solely by just paying your rate.
Last but not least, in a 'macro' view, your rates affect how much work you get from all clients and agencies. I always keep insisting and reminding people how higher rates can make up for less turnover, notably far less than a full calendar of paid work. And time is important for your family, for your own mental and physical health, for CPD, for your other interests, and probably a couple of other things you could think about, including marketing. But it if you take it too far, you just might have more free time than you'd wish for. ;)

Besides, it's not like we have an ethical obligation to maximize our rates. We actually have an obligation not to overcharge — pretty much like everybody else, and it ultimately comes down to thou shalt not steal. Getting our rates back to a level where most of us can support an upper-middle-class income for a highly qualified and hard-working translator who is not a rock star and not below middle-middle for the rookies is one thing, but at the end of the day outright overcharging is fraud, especially in the context of working with clients who don't (yet) have the knowledge to make an informed decision.

Also please note I'm talking about B2B here, mostly. It's one thing to charge, for example, several hundred dollars for an hour of your time in connection with a profitable business deal, another to charge the same for a medical translation needed by someone who's already broke. Or just something for a visa. Or whatever. I'm not advocating the latter, by any means. This post should not be read as advocating a hard line in B2C with individuals who need a certificate or a CV.