For six years, I worked for peanuts in the translation industry. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
When I began my career as a Japanese–Spanish freelance translator, I was incredibly stressed from the need to acquire clients. Most of the clients I was approaching were Japanese companies, who (theoretically) pay well. However, the rates I was being offered were, well, basically insulting for a professional translator. I am talking about 0.04 USD per character for Japanese to Spanish PATENT translations. Yes, PATENT translations.
As I didn’t know what usual rates were, I started accepting all of these jobs and, indeed, it was a great help to understand how the business works. Nowadays, a newcomer to the industry would be able to check what average rates are easily – thank you, Google - but back then I had no access to this information. The only thing I had was strong confidence in my language skills. That’s all.
However, raising my rates caused me several problems in future years. Even a raise of 0.01 caused me to lose several clients – although most of them, I must say, remained with me. So I would like to give some advice for skilled translators who want to establish themselves as freelancers. Please note that this only works for SKILLED translators:
1. Set a price for your time
First of all, decide how much you want to earn for eight hours of translation. The price of living is not the same in N.Y.C. as it is in Budapest, and you should also bear in mind the competitiveness of your language pair.
Then, after you have a clear idea of how many words you can translate without rushing on an average day, decide what your rates will be. Your rates should be like those on a restaurant menu: They can’t change depending on the client.
2. BE POLITE
If anyone offers you a translation assignment below your rates, tell him what your rates are, and BE POLITE. Project Managers often deal with translators who give replies such as “Sorry, the rates you are offering are just ridiculous”. Well, nobody likes this kind of answer, and you can be sure that this translator won’t be offered a job again. “Sales” is mainly about networking, and you should be sure to be super polite with your potential clients.
Set a maximum of characters per day, and increase your rate when you must rush over this number. Clients (GOOD clients) will understand. That’s just being professional.
4. QUALITY MATTERS
And if you make a mistake, offer a discount.
If you go to a restaurant and you are served corn soup with a fly floating in it, you are not obliged to pay for that, right? Obviously, a single typo or spell mistake is not enough to be penalized, but big untranslated texts, mistranslations, etc., might cause trouble for YOUR client. If the work isn’t up to your quality standard, you should be humble, apologize, and offer a discount.
If you are not willing to offer discounts to your clients when you cause trouble for them, I am afraid you must not take much pride in your own work quality.
Study both your target and source languages everyday, no matter how confident you are. Also, check as many translation tools as you can and be sure you can at least understand how they work.
It is my opinion that, if you follow the advice above, you shouldn’t have problems finding translation assignments for decent rates. Remember also that decreasing rates is easy, while increasing them is almost impossible. So try to be as professional as you can from Day 1.