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Rates - a sensitive issue

'Money' photo (c) 2011, 401(K) 2012 - license:
Recently, I've been thinking about the cultural/geographical aspect of rates. I remember my dear Twitter friend Konstantina Drakou also wrote about this issue in her blog post called "Is geography a quality factor?"
I don't know why, but I regularly get messages from European translation agencies proposing me work for 0.02-0.03 EURO per word (how "generous"!) and they get really surprised when I state my actual rates. This is even more surprising for me because those companies find me through and other translation portals where my rates are clearly stated.
I know that the issue of "competitive rates" is pretty important in this competition between different agencies in order to get more customers. But as a professional, I realize that I don't have to win clients only with my rates. There are far more important aspects to consider:

1. Are my rates adequate to my experience and quality?
2. Do my clients think that my rates are adequate to the services I render?
3. Do my earnings allow me to pay all the business expenses? (Yes, there are some obligatory business expenses, even for somebody living in Russia! They are: taxes; payments to the pension fund; renewal of my memberships in professional websites and soon there will also be payments to other professional translation associations; expenses connected with improving my software and hardware etc.)
4. Do my earnings allow me to take care of the needs of my family?

I also realize that charging low rates sometimes means that:
1. A client may choose not to pay the translator at all. If we don't value ourselves, why should our clients do that? Besides, the lower your rate is, the bigger your chances are to meet a scammer.
2. The clients will get a wrong perspective about the whole freelance market in general and about specialists in your field in particular. We all know that in the corporate environment we can often tell by somebody's earnings how valuable that specialist is for the company. And the clients apply this view to the freelance world as well! To me this looks very logical; I totally agree that a student should charge less than a seasoned professional.

I rarely speak about rates as I think this is an individual issue and we can't dictate to people how much they should charge for their services. And I honestly don't think that somebody charging lower rates will take away my clients from me, because (hopefully) my services are valuable not because of rates. On the other hand, I do everything possible to add maximum value to my services which allows me to regularly raise my rates and improve my earnings. I am still on my way to the target earnings I set as a goal, but I am much closer to them now than I was when I started this blog.

Dear translators, what's your experience concerning rates? For those of you living in countries with a weaker economy: do you often get proposals to work for peanuts? How do you react to those proposals?


  1. Hi Olga, another great insightful post as usual! Well, I struggled a lot with the issue of rates earlier this year as well, and that was because I had been working exclusively with one agency and they really overworked me... to cut a long story short, they cut down my work drastically, even though they managed to increase my rates slightly! I think my rates are probably considered quite low, but I have also only just started out in translation (1.5 years) and I have only worked for agencies so far. I think for sure that as I continue in the career, I will become better at finding clients and will charge better rates, but I need to show that I have translation qualifications, or at least spend a few years living in a country where the languages I translate into and out of are spoken. Rates are a very touchy subject though - I will be interested to see more responses!

  2. Dear Sarai, many thanks for your comment! 1.5 years - that's already something, right? Even though I do work with some agencies, I realize that the earlier you set out on your journey to find direct clients, the better it will be for you. Agencies are looking for cheap translators most of the time, and direct clients are usually more concerned about quality of work than about your paycheck. If they see that you are worth the money they give you, they will stay with you for a long time. Of course there are exceptions, but exceptions just prove the general rule, right? ;)


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