Two cents, or $10,000?

If you’re a freelancer, you probably conduct price negotiations with clients or potential clients almost every day of your professional life. For translators, especially translators who work with agencies, these negotiations often come down to a difference of one or two cents. Your minimum rate is 15 cents per word and the client will only pay 14, or 13.5, and so on.

Price negotiation is a difficult part of freelancing. The fact that translation is normally priced in such small increments (words or lines) makes it even more difficult; kind of the opposite of negotiating the price of a house. For example when we moved from Boston to Colorado a number of years ago, my husband and I sold our house for about $300,000. When we were negotiating the sale price, we had to remind ourselves that these seemingly huge amounts of money ($6,000 to have the siding replaced! $500 to have a hauling company come take away old furniture!) represented only a tiny fraction of the house’s sale price. Translation works the other way around: we’re talking cents here, not thousands of dollars, so declining a project because the client won’t pay one more cent per word can leave a translator feeling like kind of a petty miser.

But here’s the thing: say that most full-time freelancers translate 400,000 or 500,000 words per year.  Let’s say 500,000 because I’m not that great at math and it’s easy to multiply by five. That seemingly petty one cent per word? If you extrapolate that over 500,000 words per year, it’s actually $5,000. Two cents? How about $10,000?

Forcing yourself to think about prices by the project rather than by the word can help you avoid caving in to the “it’s just one cent” mentality. Instead of negotiating the per-word price, how about calculating how much money you’re giving up per project, or per year? Rather than seeing your negotiations as “just a cent,” you’ll have a more realistic idea of the effect on your total income.

47 Responses to “Two cents, or $10,000?”
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