As some of you may know, I have quite a bee in my bonnet about proper pricing and strategic positioning when it comes to freelance translation.
Pricing is complicated, and I could easily dedicate an entire blog to the topic. Instead, I would like to share two tools – two different spreadsheets for calculating translation fees. One allows you to calculate a rate while comparing different pricing methods (per word, per line, or per cartella), while the other allows you to easily calculate the correct fee for any projects where you are granting a match discount (most commonly for agencies).
Note that I almost always quote a project fee to my translation clients, but this is usually a round number based on whatever my spreadsheet spits out in terms of per line (primary) and per word (secondary) rates, with a little lee-way either side depending on any additional work that may or may not be involved. Obviously, all the figures stated are just examples to help it make it clearer to you how the numbers fit together.
The first perhaps requires a little explanation of what the different methods are for those outside Europe, and why I like to take multiple methods (in my case, words and lines) into account:
Different pricing methods
Per word is the most common pricing method in the US, UK, and many other areas.
- Easy for most people to get their heads around.
- Self-explanatory for many languages, such as English or Spanish, that don’t create monster words.
- Very small unit, so effectively commoditises the service by default. Brits get around this slightly by quoting rates per 1,000 words to clients.
- Can be particularly disadvantageous for more complex texts, as it essentially renders all words – even short and long ones – equal.
- Can be outright dangerous for texts or source languages that contain many compound words, as these all count as one word.
- In certain languages, such as German, it essentially penalises clients who write well – by charging them more for avoiding monster words and writing content that is easier to digest.
Per line is arguably the most common pricing method in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, at least among more established or upmarket translators. Nowadays, this has to do with the last disadvantage listed above. While many colleagues calculate based on the source line today, it used to be more common to calculate based on the target. This was great in the days of typewriters, when the length of documents could not always be easily calculated in advance. These days it is less desirable, as the translator and their client has no idea what the cost will be until they are finished, and it encourages wordiness.
- Per line does not penalise good writers who favour short words over long ones.
- Colleagues report this method tends to be more consistent in terms of workload across different clients, styles, authors, and types of text.
- Larger quantity of text than just one word, so less commoditising down to the smallest element.
- Harder for people to get their heads around (how many characters? are spaces included?).
- Unnecessarily complicated for languages that do not create monster words.
Per cartella (or page, or similar)
Per cartella or page rates are commonly used in literary translation, Italy, and some other settings. I am not as informed on this pricing method. I’m going to skip the advantages and disadvantages, as I do not really know enough to comment. There is obviously some overlap with per-line rates in terms of how it is calculated, though.
Spreadsheet 1: Comparing pricing methods
I use a variation on this tool every day to help me calculate my rates effectively and fairly, keep a record of what I am charging to which clients, and track the profitability of individual jobs. I have different tabs for each of my most regular clients, so can easily see at a glance how I tend to price things for that client. I just copy one of the tables each time and rename it to match the name of each client.
I usually look at both the per-word and the per-line rate, favouring the output of the per-line rate. I am more inclined to charge a higher rate if I notice the usual per-word rate is much lower than the per-line rate (this suggests the text is wordy – with more characters per word), and more inclined to charge a lower rate if I notice the per-word rate is much higher than usual (this suggests the text is well written – with fewer characters per word). I always examine the text concerned and tweak the rate up or down, sometimes adding a flat fee or percentage-based surcharge.
It may not be the clearest spreadsheet in the world, but it works well for me, and includes a lot of supplementary information I find useful when I am trying to figure out how to price something.
Spreadsheet 2: Agency fee calculator (with match discounts)
While I stopped working with translation agencies for a variety of reasons many years ago, I still remember and get wind of how they operate. A common issue you see translators complaining about or at least questioning is how agencies calculate their match discounts. Sometimes agencies make mistakes – just like translators do. And sometimes things are skewed against translators by design.
I want to focus just on the tools in this post, but still feel obliged to mention a few points in relation to match discounts:
- Agencies often expect match discounts for an existing TM you did not create. Those matches may be very poor quality, so why should these segments be discounted?
- If you complain about the quality of matches, agencies may say it is okay to edit them. What, for free?
- If the agency does not allow you to change those segments, but you are still expected to spend time referring to them for consistency with potentially iffy terminology, this will cost you time.
- Anything below 85% is usually unusable.
- Anything below 95% may still be largely unusable.
- The way SDL Studio defines a match appears to have been changed recently, to the benefit of agencies rather than translators.
- The way matches are defined can vary greatly between tools.
Nevertheless, this is the reality of the translation profession – many translators work with agencies, and many agencies demand match discounts.
I created this tool after a friend of mine had a problem with a client: she had been provided one analysis and total fee, but her own analysis was very different. I created this spreadsheet for her so she could check her own maths easily and visually, and report her findings to the agency.
As my friend was also using an analysis from SDL Studio, I created this spreadsheet with colour coding to allow for a range of different ways of calculating rates and match discounts. If you have an SDL Studio analysis at hand, you can easily copy and paste this into the tool. Otherwise, you can enter in the values manually using a different section. Just follow the colour coding!
To sum things up…
I’ve been meaning to share this post for a little while, so sorry that I kept forgetting about it. What can I say? I’ve had a lot going on, what with obtaining German citizenship, stressing about Brexit, and now buying an apartment in Berlin. Time is in short supply, but maybe these tools will help some of you save some precious time. More importantly, though, I hope they help you to build your understanding of pricing in general, how different pricing methods compare, and the effect match discounts have on your bottom line.
If you have other thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of different pricing methods, please add these in the comments below! These things vary so much by culture, specialisation, and day of the week. It is impossible for me to sum up everything here, so I and everyone else reading this will be glad to learn from your experience!