There were so many excellent comments on my last post about translation rates that I think the topic deserves another post. First, thank you to everyone who commented; I think that your insights are more valuable than what I originally wrote, because they represent the viewpoints of people in all different language combinations, geographic areas, levels of experience, etc.
A few new thoughts:
-It goes without saying that the higher up you are in the market, the easier things get (in my experience!). Once you pass a certain price point, you are almost sure to be working with clients whose only concern, or even primary concern is not price. That isn’t to say that mid and upper-level clients aren’t concerned about money, but I really think that these types of clients are more focused on quality, responsiveness, turnaround time, knowledge of their products and services, etc. than they are about badgering you for a rate cut. The highest-paid translators I know make 40something cents per word; my rates aren’t in that ballpark, but they’re high enough that I feel like I’ve progressed beyond the reverse auction mentality that characterizes the lower end of the market.
-Jill Sommer wrote a great post about rates today; it has some great advice. Jill points out that if you’re going to lower your rates past a certain point, why not do a different job all together? I have to agree with this; if I were making $20 an hour translating, I’d rather look at other careers.
-The currency issue is an interesting one, and I can really see arguments on both sides. In one sense, if I have some clients who pay more than others strictly because of currency exchange differences, I don’t see much harm in offering to harmonize the rate I offer those clients. In another sense, I agree that clients are usually more comfortable being billed in their own currency, and that the currency exchange equation goes both ways. Those of us who bill in euros and spend in dollars have been riding high for the past few years, but the pendulum may swing the other way at some point.
-I made the point about objective data because I am very guilty of this kind of nutty thinking. If you asked me if my current workload is higher, lower or about the same as last year, I’d say lower. But when I recently did my accounting, I found that I’ve actually earned about 25% *more* than I had at this time last year. Honestly, I think that this is because a) I listen to NPR too much and b) the beyond-depressing economic news is all around us. So, really really force yourself to look at *your* data, and remember that the world’s economy is not your economy.
-I really agree that you can’t blame customers for getting used to discounts if they’re repeatedly offered discounts. In a micro example of this that mirror’s Fred’s story about the mail-order business in France, I’ve found that if you buy something from Sierra Trading Post and then don’t buy anything else for a while, they’ll take the initiative to e-mail you a coupon for 20% or even 25% off. Now I don’t buy anything from them unless I receive that coupon; this probably works well for a huge retailer, but it’s not such a great business model for a provider of high-quality professional services.
-As Kevin pointed out, I also have to keep saying that I would rather work less than work more and earn less. Personally (and of course this is partially based on the fact that my husband has a stable, salaried job and thanks to our “urban Amish” lifestyle, we have a significant financial safety net), the idea of working less is actually not unappealing at all, in that it would give me time to work on some non-paying projects that I’ve relegated to the back burner. Everyone’s mileage may vary here; if you’re a single parent living paycheck to paycheck, obviously your decision may be different, but it’s good to see that others agree about this!