How to Calculate Your Rate For Translation Jobs

One of the good things about being a freelancer is that you can set your own price. Well, you can do that too as an employee, but this is a more dynamic situation. You don’t have to wait months or years to get a promotion and ask for a raise, if you finally get it.

As a freelance translator the agreement between the translator and the client is often based on a price per word, so let’s take a look at how this rate is calculated. We can use U.S. dollars as an example.

The rate, or price, we’re looking for is USD per word, or USD / word. This is often per source words. The number of words in a source text is virtually always different from the number of words in the translated target text.

There are some numbers which are kinda fixed in this price calculation, and the rate calculation will be based on these numbers, for instance:

  • How many hours do you work?
  • How fast can you translate?
  • How much do you want to earn?

See, this is what I love about freelance work: You have a large degree of freedom 😉

The Formula

What we’re looking for is

Rate = price / word

If we add the time factor to this formula, then price is USD / month (there are bills to pay each month, right?), and word is words per month too, words / month.

Rate = price / word = (USD / month) / (words / month)

Examples

Example: (Professional)

USD / month: $5,000.
Words / month: (20 working days) x (2,000 words per day) = 40,000 words.

Rate = (USD / month) / (words / month) = $5,000 / 40,000 words =>
Rate = 0.13 USD / word

And another example: (Extra cash now and then, for example working one weekend)

USD / month: $100.
Words / month: (2 working days) x (4,000 words per day) = 8,000 words.

Rate = (USD / month) / (words / month) = $100 / 8,000 words =>
Rate = 0.01 USD / word

And there you have it – a way to calculate your rate.

Comparing Different Rates

Now, there’s a natural question that pops up, when you look at these two different rates, which are not even extremes: Why on earth would anyone pay 10 times more for the same amounts of words? Why not split a 40,000 word text into 40,000 / 8,000 = 5 pieces, and find 5 freelancers who work at rate 0.01 USD / word and get it done this way?

Well, it happens. And when it happens, quality goes down the drain. You have text – and you have context. Translator 5 does not know, what Translator 1 is doing. In popular terms: The right hand doesn’t know, what the left hand is doing. Sometimes this will work, and sometimes it will not work. If you’re translating levels in a computer game, it will probably work. If you’re translating a short story, it will probably result in a poor reading experience.

The Free Market

As a freelance translator you’re working in a free market. The market doesn’t care what size your bills are, but you will be rewarded, if you work fast, for many hours, but of course, you don’t have to. That’s the beauty of it – it’s up to you.

The value you can provide as a professional freelance translator is consistency, experience and a deep understanding of the subject, because that’s what you do. You translate. And if you’re not translating, you’re preparing to translate. Debugging your precious, awesome tools, sharpening the saw.

All that comes with a price. But you can still buy beer with that money if you want to. Just not too many, you want to get up early tomorrow – and translate 😉

4 comments on “How to Calculate Your Rate For Translation Jobs

  1. -

    informative article Thanks for posting this. I know from experience that one of the challenges new free lance workers face is figuring out how to set your price point. when you are just starting out as an independent entrepreneur you really have no basis for comparison as to what the market price is for your services and even a Google search doesn’t always give you the answers you need for your fist job.

  2. -

    Great post Thomas, thank you. Figuring out what to charge is a big sticking point for a lot of people who are just starting out in their new role as ‘self employed’. This article helps put things into perspective.

  3. -

    Very thorough and concise breakdown of establishing a rate for your translation services. Create point too about content vs context. Personally I don’t think I would ever hire multiple people to translate one document. That’s just asking for a translated document that makes no sense. 🙂

  4. -

    Thank you Thomas, this is great info on establishing your rate. It’s amazing to think that you can really command whatever your desired income is, but yes I agree it takes hard work and consistency to make sure you’re on top of your game. It’s business. Reputation is everything.

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