A significant part of my work volume is translating certificates of all kinds, from the simplest, college degrees, to the most complex, government tax forms. While it is quite common and accepted, if not ideal, to price documents by word count, this method does not reflect the actual work involved. Instead, it is advisable to price each certificate in a rational way using a base adjusted by its specific factors. It is also my experience is certificate translation is profitable both in the short and long term.
Certificates vary in the number of the number of words but more importantly in terms of formatting complexity, vocabulary and clarity. Clearly, some official documents are very short, such as drivers’ licenses, while others extend to many pages, such as bank statements. However, if time is money, formatting runs up the meter. A water bill of two pages can take 2-3 hours to recreate merely because of the formatting. To the best of my experience, automated PDF converters do not provide a professional result, leaving it up the translator to do the ant work, at least the first time. Furthermore, in some cases, the language used in the document is quite specific and must be, correspondingly, very accurate. Insurance and tax documents use terms whose translation require checking to ensure accuracy. This search takes time. Often, the quality of the PDF is poor, with no better copy available. Even worse, handwritten text can be quite difficult to decipher, requiring time and concentration, if not consultation. Thus, all certificates of the same number of words are not created equal.
I suggest setting a base rate for one page which reflects a set time and the economic reality. This base rate should represent what the translator wants to earn per hour, which of course depends on the cost of living and financial circumstances, among other factors. Translators also need to consider supply and demand. It is not difficult to ascertain the range of rates for the translation of a marriage or death certificate, rather standard documents. The rate should lie within this range, preferable towards the upper half. This number may vary depending on whether the ordering party is an agency or an end customer and the country of purchase. With this number, it is possible to assess the basic rate for each certificate.
At this point, the actual rate can be set by adjusting it upwards or downwards as required. Premium elements include rush jobs, difficult formatting, poor quality of the original, multiple pages and your expected level of distaste/boredom in doing the work. QA and accounting time should also be included. Discounting factors include short texts, simple language, customer budgets, quasi pro-bono situations, one-time discounts and established relations with customers. Furthermore, if there are more than one document of a similar type but with different numbers in the package, e.g., salary slips from several months, it is possible to reflect that repetition in lower rates for the additional documents. Note that having a template of the document from a previous translation is not relevant to the equation. When the plumber comes and fixes the problem in 10 minutes, he still charges for a full visit and correctly so as you pay for his experience. As each document is treated individually, the sum total of the rates should reflect the total number of hours you expect to invest multiplied by your hourly rate. I often add a “surprise factor” to allow for unpleasant discoveries. The factor should not be so high as to distort the quote but enough to allow me not to get upset if the translation takes more time than I expected. The final amount is your quote, which, in the case of single documents, almost all customers find affordable.
I profit in the short term both emotionally and financially. When larger projects are lacking, it is reassuring to receive short translations to fill the time and create a feeling of working even if they will not pay any serious bills. More importantly, the actual per-hour rate for certificates can be amazingly high. In simple words, my profit is my expertise. The difference between the theoretical time required to translate the document from scratch and the actual time is often night and day, leading to healthy hourly rates with little stress. Of course, the first time I translate a new form can take a long time but this investment bears fruits in the future. Given the constant demand for certificate translation, I am generally quite busy with a good profit rate.
In the long term, certificate translation is the key for gaining the trust of customers and receiving more financially meaningful projects such as contracts and long documents. Viewing the translator-customer relation as potentially long term, it makes no difference if the first project only pays for today’s lunch or dinner. It is quite possible that in the near or far future the same customer will need a major translation. Having previously proven your quality and reliability, you have a significant advantage over potential competitors. In practice, trust is as important as rates, if not more. Furthermore, these small jobs often lead to referrals to other customers, creating a whole network of contacts, all from a small certificate translation. Thus, certificate translation is part of my long-term translation marketing strategy.
Certificate translation is a profitable niche on condition that the rates reflect actual reality. The price, seemingly insignificant, is right both in the short and long term, especially if you can use it to get to what is behind the window in the next round.
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