Are you undervaluing yourself? The effects on you, your business and the translation industry


Many translators complain that industry rates are low. They feel forced to lower their rates in order to attract new clients and even to continue to be able to get regular work from their existing clients. Indeed, it is not only translation agencies who are reducing the rates they pay to their freelancer translators, but also direct clients in many sectors. This particularly applies to companies whose internal regulations require them to obtain several price quotes and to go with the cheapest each time.

Language services undervalued

People generally don’t see why they should pay what they consider to be high prices for translation services because everyone has a friend, acquaintance, niece or nephew who did languages at school who could probably help out, or so they think. Unfortunately misconceptions about the skills translation involves continue to be widespread. But not charging what your work is worth only reinforces these misconceptions and beliefs and is not only bad for you and your business but also for the translation industry as a whole.

The downward spiral of underpricing

Not charging and earning the rates you know that you need to survive – not to mention that you know your work is worth – is a sure-fire way to run both yourself and your business into the ground. You will be working long hours, weekends, be neglecting your health and your family and friends and still not be satisfied with the amount of money coming in at the end of the month.

Avoiding the vicious circle

Competing on price is simply not a good idea in an era where there will always be someone somewhere in the world willing to provide what appears on paper to be a similar service for a much lower price. This is a fact we must accept. It is our job to convince our clients that the value we provide to them in terms of the benefits they receive is worth the money they pay. This is a much more sustainable marketing strategy than always trying to undercut the competition on price.

Translations are not commodities

If you are looking for a product and you find the exact same product on two different websites, one much cheaper than the other, then you are likely to plump for the cheaper offer – providing of course that delivery charges, delivery period and service are all comparable with the more expensive offer. Translations, on the other hand, are never exactly the same – but many potential clients are simply not aware of this. If you want to avoid potential clients making a decision solely on the basis of price, you need to explain the benefits the potential client will get for his/her money.

Communicating value

In her international bestselling book, True Worth, How to Charge What You’re Worth and Get It, Vanessa Ugatti, The True Worth Expert, says “Prospective clients will always regard the quote you give as high if you don’t first demonstrate the value of what you do. Without knowing the benefit, they will regard the fee as too high, no matter what fee you offer”.

Without being aware of additional benefits and, in turn, the value you provide, can you really blame prospective clients for comparing quotes on the basis of price alone? It is our responsibility as translators, both freelancers and agencies, in the 21st century to be proactive in turning the tide and helping our clients understand that quality translations by skilled qualified translators have, and indeed should have, their price.

Photo credit: © eef ink Do-not-undervalue-your-work

A few thoughts on setting prices

Pricing is a difficult subject because it’s very personal. When starting out translators tend to ask around to find out what their colleagues are charging and set their rates based on this information after deducting a certain amount to account for their lack of experience. Others simply let translations agencies dictate their rates. Here are a few thoughts on setting your rates, what to bear in mind and the potential consequences of your pricing decisions.

1) Once you’ve set your rate for a customer or an agency it will be difficult to increase that rate towards that particular customer or agency. It is easier to quote higher rates to new customers than to existing customers. Always be on the lookout for higher-paying work and offer higher rates to new customers. If the higher rate isn’t accepted, you can still negotiate and you may just be surprised at how often a higher rate is in fact accepted.

2) There will always be someone out there willing to do the translation for less. If you are a serious translator, competing on price alone is a bad idea. Play to your strengths and to your experience. Chances are you will find something in your skill set which will more than justify a higher rate and for which the end client will be more than willing to pay.

3) Charging low rates because you are “just a part-time translator” or “just a stay at home parent looking for something to do” and don’t have to live on what you earn is not helpful for the industry or others trying to make a living as a freelance translator. It is not in your best interest either since it is unlikely that you will always be in this position and will at some point want or need to make a decent living from translation.  

4) Believe in your skills and ability and make sure you produce work which measures up and charge rates which reflect your skills. Make sure you know the lowest you are prepared to go so that you don’t agree to something unfeasible when under pressure. It’s ok not to get every assignment and some customers simply have to learn the hard way. Low prices often mean low quality and a once-burned customer makes for a faithful future customer.

5) At lower rates you will obviously need to work more hours to earn the same amount as if you were charging higher rates. Don’t get lost in word rates and line rates, make sure you keep your eye on how much you are making per hour. If you work out that you need to work more than 24 hours a day at the rates you are charging to earn the amount you need to live on, then you have a problem…

Vicious circle

If you accept too much low-paying work just to make ends meet, you will most probably not have the time to accept higher-paying work when it does come your way. Leave yourself some room to manoeuvre so that you can move onwards and upwards and make your business successful.