I get lots of questions from beginning and experienced translators about volume discounts (charging a lower per-word or hourly rate for larger projects). I actually think that after “how much should I charge?”, “should I offer a volume discount” might be the second most frequently-asked question that I see. Here are a few thoughts, and feel free to add your own.
When I first started translating, I enthusiastically offered volume discounts. During my first year as a freelancer I worked about 10 hours a week and made $9,000. Seriously- there’s no zero missing! Out of that $9,000, $2,000 came from just one project on which I gave a substantial volume discount. Why? Because I didn’t have much work, and working for less than my standard rate was a lot more appealing than not working at all. Flash forward nine years, and I recently realized that not only do I not offer a volume discount any more, but sometimes I actually impose what might be considered a volume surcharge. Why? Because I have enough work at my standard rates and a volume discount would put me in the position of turning down other projects at my standard rate. However, I will sometimes do a small project at a lower rate as a favor to one of my regular clients. It helps them out, it doesn’t tie up too much of my time at a lower rate and it shows the client that I’m willing to show some flexibility within reasonable limits.
Volume discounts have their place. I think that the principle of volume discounts is fair: if a client guarantees you a week or two of work, you get to spend all of that time on the clock. Your administrative overhead is a lot lower, because you’re dealing with one client and one invoice rather than 10 clients and 10 invoices. You will probably work faster as you “ramp up” on the project rather than switching gears twice a day. You don’t have to stress out about juggling multiple projects because you’re just plugging away on The Big One. But when your client base grows, you have less of an incentive to offer a volume discount: you’re not desperate for the work, you’re busy most or all of the time anyway, and if you’re too busy, it’s time to raise your rates!