Any freelance translator out there will tell you the actual translating is the easy part of their job. It’s the running a business part that generally causes translators headaches. Particularly when it comes to the numbers.
A lot of us like to hide behind the excuse that we’re words people, not numbers people. But the fact is, if you want to run a successful freelance translation business then you can’t avoid the finances. Because, as financial mentor for freelancers Susie Jackson puts it:
“If it doesn’t support you financially, it’s an expensive hobby, not a business.”
Luckily for us, there are lovely people like Susie out there, on a mission to help freelance translators take financial control of their businesses. I spoke to Susie about the ins and outs of pricing your services as a freelance translator in March 2022.
Read on for the highlights, or watch the full video recording for yourself here.
Meet Susie Jackson: The Organised Freelancer
Susie mentors freelancers on all things finance and pricing. She helps them figure out how much they should be charging and create businesses that align with their own values while supporting them financially. She wants to see a future where every freelancer feels supported and empowered.
Susie also works freelance as a copy editor and Spanish-to-English translator specialising in academic texts for the social sciences. Now you know a little more about Susie, let’s dive into just some of the invaluable advice she shared when we spoke.
What are the main struggles freelance translators face?
According to Susie, most of the freelance translators she helps are struggling with the same three things:
- Anxiety around having to discuss money. It’s super common for freelance translators to get anxious about the money side of things. This can even lead to physical symptoms like stomach aches or headaches. This can be paralysing and stop you from taking action in your business, even if just subconsciously. Getting new clients will mean you have to talk money, so you won’t want to actively market your services.
- Feeling powerless in client relationships. Feeling like your clients call all the shots, and you’re just putty in their hands. This is often the case with freelance translators that mostly deal with agencies.
- Overwhelm. If you find your business finances to be all a bit too much, then you might just bury your head in the sand and keep putting off actually addressing them. The more you put it off, the more the problem snowballs, and the more overwhelming it becomes.
Does any of that sound familiar? I know I’ve felt all of the above. And it can be easy to accept all that as the reality of freelancing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Susie has all kinds of insights to help us transform our relationship with our business finances, starting with a concrete formula for setting your translation rates.
How should we price our freelance translation services?
So, you’re new to the translation industry and want to know what to charge.
Your first instinct will probably be to try and find out what other people are charging so you can set your prices accordingly.
But that strategy doesn’t work long term, as it isn’t financially sustainable.
Everyone’s needs are different. Even if someone shares your language pair or niche, they will have different financial needs or different availability.
You need to set your translation rates based on the realities of your business and your life.
Understanding the numbers
Think about what you need for all of the below over the course of a year:
- Personal living expenses
- Business expenses
- Tax or social security
What does all that come to?
Then think about time.
How many hours can you realistically, consistently dedicate to paid client work?
And how much time do you need for all the other non-paid tasks surrounding running your business?
Finally, add days for sick leave and holiday into the mix.
If you divide the total amount you need to earn in a year by the hours you have available for paid client work in the same year, you’ll get the minimum hourly rate you need to charge.
And there you have it. You’ve got a non-negotiable rate that you should never go below to keep your business on the right track.
When should we offer discounts?
“Don’t assume they can’t pay your rates before you even quote.”
Don’t just assume that a client can’t pay your rate. You might be surprised!
And if you never get a quote rejected, then you’re probably undercharging.
If you’ve done the calculations above, then when a client tries to negotiate you down, never go lower than your minimum.
Having those numbers in black and white makes it far easier to stand your ground.
Negotiation should always be a compromise
Offering a lower price is compromising. So the client needs to compromise on something too.
A good option here is to change the scope of the project in any way that makes it less time consuming or more enjoyable for you.
Perhaps you could agree on:
- Fewer words for translation
- A different, more straightforward delivery format
- A longer deadline
Tip: Try including a couple of options in your initial quote. That helps to encourage a discussion around price, rather than a flat rejection.
Remember, if you provide them with options, they won’t have to look for options elsewhere.
Value and affordability are different things
Rather than lowering your price, is there any way you could make your quote seem more affordable to your client?
You could offer them:
- Payment in instalments – rather than in one lump sum.
- Different payment methods – for example, a different currency.
- Different/longer payment terms – 30 days to pay rather than 15.
How can we raise our translation rates?
First things first. Remember, it’s always easier to charge higher rates to a new client than it is to raise your translation rates with existing ones.
So, if you’ve done your calculations and realised you need to charge more, dedicate plenty of energy to your marketing to find clients that can pay.
If you’d like to book a marketing 1:1 session with me, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: “Marketing 1:1 with Delfina.” For financial advice, no one better than Susie to help you out.
- Step 1: Assess your clients
To raise your rates with current clients, start with an assessment.
What is your profitability for each of your clients? What hourly rate does it work out at?
You’ll need time tracking data to figure this out. If you’re not tracking your time yet, keep reading to the end for some tips on getting started.
You might be surprised by the answers you get here, because even per word translation rates that seem low can work out at good hourly rates if you work quickly.
- Step 2: Identify one or two clients to start with
Don’t raise your rates across the board. That’s a risky strategy, as if they all say no you’ll be in trouble.
Pick one you wouldn’t mind losing.
If you don’t have a testimonial from them, now is a great time to ask for one.
Because the things they say they like about your work are great bargaining tools.
For example, if they appreciate your fast turnarounds, then you can explain you’re very busy and need to charge them more to be able to keep delivering work so promptly.
Don’t be discouraged if the first client you try and raise your rates with says no. But stick to your guns and let them know you won’t be able to keep working with them, freeing up your time for a new, higher paying client.
Raise your rates with all your clients slowly but surely.
3 top tips for keeping your freelance translator business organised
1. Track your time
Tracking your time tells you everything you need to know about your profitability. It’s far easier to know what to quote for a project when you have hard data to base that decision on.
2. Track your finances
Keep a record of your business income and expenditure each week (using Susie’s free income and expenditure spreadsheet).
Get familiar with those numbers and you’ll start feeling like you’re in control.
3. Track your clients and projects
Make your life easier by using a project management tool to make sure you’ve got all the information you need about your projects, deadlines, invoices and clients in one place.
Susie uses ClickUp herself, but also recommends LSP.expert which is designed by and for translators.
Get more of Susie’s financial wisdom
There’s a lot to digest in here! But Susie has so much more goodness to share. Both her free content and the courses she offers are invaluable.
Find out more about Susie’s free hacks for freelancers, her Charge with Confidence program and other services for translators on her website and on her Instagram profile.