Sunday, August 28, 2022

Translation entry: experience ≠ price


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The arguably most important and clearly most difficult question faced by newcomers to the translation business is how much to charge. There is so much uncertainty regarding the “ideal” price that many newbies simplify the matter to the equation “experience equals price”. I would argue that actually no real connection exists between experience and price nor should exist. However, there is a correlation between experience and work load, i.e., new translators require more time to produce a proper translation.

For better or worse, experience or a lack of it is often not reflected in the quality of the translation. Specifically, quite a few translators produce almost the same poor level of work in terms of accuracy and language throughout their long seemingly successful careers, apparently learning nothing over the years. By contrast, many new translators with the knowledge, drive and language required for a task produce excellent work. Since a customer seeks production of a project, not an employee, years of experience or lack thereof are simply not a relevant factor in setting a price. What counts is the ability to produce a proper translation. Therefore, there is no requirement to factor in a discount for being new to the profession when setting the price.

Many starting translators believe that the best way to jumpstart a career is to start with low prices and build up the clientele. This strategy works well with standard goods when quality is more or less uniform among suppliers. However, translation, as a service business, is far more dependent on the skill of the supplier rather than the raw material. Thus, translation purchasers, lacking other criteria, tend to link quality to price. In other words, a low price means a rougher translation. This perception means that beginning translators should set their prices towards the average, not low, segment of the market. Furthermore, new translators need to be aware how difficult it is to raise prices, with it often requiring years to persuade clients that the translator is worth the rise to normal rates. As they say in Hebrew, there is nothing more permanent than the temporary. Therefore, quoting average prices allows new translators to make a decent income from the start even if it may take a little longer to build up the clientele.

The most difficult question regarding pricing for a new translator is how much to ask or, if you will, how much is average. As there is no market price (see here), any average is at best an estimate for a specific market. In many countries, translators cannot lawfully openly discuss rates, making the whole matter even foggier. However, I would recommend privately asking translators in the market for which the quote is requested and taking into all factors, including whether the buyer is an agency or end client, the country of origin and the difficulty of the translation as well as the number of words, of course. Some open sources of specific rates are and agency sites, keeping in mind that the large LSPs tend to have a high profit margin and pay the translator very little, relatively. Pricing is an art, not a science, and requires some investigation work.

It should be noted that experience does increase efficiency. As in most professions, volume leads to greater efficiency up to a certain point. Experienced translators have seen certain text countless times and do not think how long to translate it. They handle many the technical issues, including document preparation and communication, much more effortlessly. They also know what type of errors they are prone to commit and actively look for them. As a result, veteran translators can properly finish a project faster, taking into account all elements of the process. For a new translator, it would be wise to insist on longer deadlines in order to allow for this inefficiency until the processes become automatic. Rushed jobs often lead to the long-term loss of customers. In other words, nobody loses a client because they need extra time but do lose one if the result is poor. Therefore, those lacking experience should factor this need for sufficient speed into their quotes by insisting on realistic deadlines.

Everybody starts at zero. It does not mean that new translators must or should discount their work because of their lack of experience as long as they can provide a proper translation. Experience may allow a person to work faster but not necessarily more skilfully. Of course, quality takes time, the more so for a beginning translator. Deadlines have nothing to do with pricing. In short, for those entering the translation business, charge a professional price but do not take on too much work at a time.


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  1. Truly on point in so many ways.

    However, I have to point out that the inexperience of a new translator cannot be offset by a longer deadline. I have worked with countless newbies and, unfortunately, even after asking several times "Is this the final version or do you need more time?", they proceed with submitting subpar work. In other words, lower rates for new translator are logical, as long as they are temporary, the same way that would work with a new employee at a company (higher rates = promotion).

  2. Thank you for your comment. Clearly, any translator, experienced or new, must be familiar with the terminology and style and be recognize when a translation is subpar. Unfortunately, that is not only a 'rookie mistake".