Deciding to set yourself up as a freelance translator is a major step. It demands courage and a tireless and strong drive to succeed. This is why most experienced freelance translators only suggest having a freelance career once you have gained substantial experience within the industry. In other words, you should only do it when you feel completely ready to go solo. Nonetheless, becoming a freelance translator stands as a valid option for everyone, and since many novice translators are deciding to go for it despite their limited professional experience, it would be worth discussing one of the greatest dilemmas every translator experiences in their search for independence. That is, establishing the precious rates for their translation services.
I know that there are plenty of valuable reflections and articles written on this matter, however, I think the price at which novice translators should start charging or the reasoning behind their rates, remains unclear. It is not the aim of this short reflection to give a definitive answer to this dilemma, that would be impossible, but as you are entering an increasingly competitive market you should ask yourself the following questions:
What is the current translation market like? How much is currently being paid to freelance translators who work with the same language pair(s)?
As a freelance translator, you are self-employed, which means that you should promote yourself as being committed and professional just like any other company does; therefore, stop being lazy and dive head first into that terrifying business plan! Although there is no need to write an entire business plan, I personally believe that doing some market research works as a valuable rule of thumb. If you are planning to work with translation agencies, it is vital that you fully understand the current market. So, you need to find out how much they are paying their freelancers and those who work with the same language pair(s), their payment policies, etc. In order to do so, do not stick solely with the advice given by your tutors or mentors at university. Remember that most of them are so immersed in their academic role that their finger is no longer on the pulse with regard to current translation rates (unless they also work as freelancers); equally, they may have the mind-set that to make ones career seem respectable and professional, translators should maintain high rates. Instead, start using your networking skills, ask your fellow students and translators, read translation magazines, try search engines (e.g. Google, bing) or even make some telephone calls to agencies to gather first-hand information. This is all crucial.
I personally share the mind-set of my former translation tutors and trainers; nonetheless, it seems that reality differs greatly from their beliefs. So, understand the market and you will get a better idea of how much your translation services are currently worth.
Am I a qualified translator? How much experience do I have?
Do value your skills, experience and yourself as a professional but make sure you can actually walk the walk, not just talk the talk! As I just said, I, too, am highly committed to making translation a respected, professional career, therefore, when setting your rates value all your qualifications achieved and experience acquired throughout your life. However, be aware that as a newcomer, a degree of humility is important. An MA degree does not make you a “master”, overnight; it only equips you with the tools to become one in the long-term.
You have probably heard about the stories of “translators” who undercut others with their incredibly low rates. Well, I can now tell you that these stories are true. Apart from the need to get work, it is difficult to really state why people offer such low rates. It may be someone who thinks that because he/she has some command of a foreign language then they can produce professional translations; perhaps it is a student or it may simply be a desperate, qualified newcomer in search of some work. Either way, it is down to the agency’s professionalism and ethics to set a minimum quality standard which allows us to enjoy fairer rates.
What other talents do I have?
Am I an IT geek? Do I have a literary background? Well, if you have in-depth or substantial knowledge of a field other than languages, you are in a better position to demand a higher rate. In today’s world, specializing in a particular field of translation is crucial. Thus, think about the cooking, music or mechanical courses you have done back in the day – all of them count! And if you have not done one yet, you should probably start considering it. As the translation market stands today, translating general documents is just not enough. Become a specialist in a field, learn all you can and you will not only be able to set better rates but also broaden your translation and career prospects.
In short, setting up the correct rates is the cornerstone of your future as a freelance translator. I certainly think that there is a real need for an annual price scale guide to be provided to the entire translation industry even though it is almost impossible to set standardized rates. The truth is, a comprehensive and intelligent annual price guide which considers all variables i.e., current market conditions, translation companies’ prospects, translator’s qualifications and experience, specialist fields, language pairs, etc. – will not only benefit all novice, qualified and experienced translators but it will also help to maintain translation as a professional industry. After all, it is a real shame for qualified and experienced translators to be earning less than they deserve due to unfair and uneven competition from those who undercut our professional service.
César Castillo – Intern at Translation Lincs