Thanks to ATA member Dorothee Racette for sending the link to the new income calculator on the ATA website. This is a helpful tool that allows you to calculate your monthly and annual gross translation income based on how much you work and how much you charge.
The income calculator is good food for thought on a variety of fronts, because it’s always important to be thinking about translation rates. Also, I think that while of course we all want to avoid antitrust and price-fixing violations, it’s important to talk to other translators about rates too.
First, if you do an income calculation and feel that you will be earning too little, I think it’s almost always more effective to look for new and better paying clients than to try to convince your existing clients to pay you more. If you’ve been working for a client for a number of years and they are happy with your work, they might go along with a raise of a few cents per word, but it’s unlikely that they will willingly go along with a raise from 14 cents a word to 20. Likewise, if your target income level prices you out of the rate range that most translation agencies will pay, you simply have to start marketing yourself to direct clients, rather than looking for a few elusive agencies that will pay very high rates.
Second, don’t get fixated on the per-word rate when what really matters is the hourly rate. You can afford to take a lower hourly rate on a project where you produce 600 finished words per hour than on a project where you produce 400 translated words per hour, so focus on your hourly or daily earnings rather than on the per-word rate.
Third, don’t underestimate what your services are worth when you market to direct clients. A customer who wants to be your “drop everything” client should be willing to pay a “drop everything” rate. In this 2004 article from Business Week, well-known French to English translator Chris Durban comments that “The problem with most translators is that they make themselves too small. They have stuck with 12 cents a word for far too long. The top of the market is 50 cents or 60 cents a word — and it’s empty! There is very little competition at that level.” While I haven’t yet had the courage to ask a direct client for 50 cents per word, I know a number of highly skilled translators who are very busy at 25-40 cents per word.
So, however you calculate your income, make sure that you are basing your rates on objective data; the online income calculator is a great way to do that!