How do you know how much to charge as a freelance translator?
When you're first starting out as a freelancer, it can be tough to figure out what rates to charge. This is especially true because once you settle on rates with a client, it's generally very hard to move them upward. The conventional wisdom is that if you want higher rates, you need to find different clients.
So it's pretty obvious that you don't want to set your rates too low at first. On the other hand, getting translation work generally means taking that work away from some other translator, and when you're inexperienced, price is one of the ways you can convince clients to give work to you instead of Tracy Translator.
One piece of advice I've heard is to charge 10-25% lower than the "going" rate until you've got as much work as you can handle, then progressively replace your cheapest clients with higher-paying ones. I'm not sure if I fully buy into this (what if you find a really great client at first; do you want to have to dump them in a year or two?), but it can serve as a rule of thumb.
How much other translators charge
The best way to figure out how much to charge is to find out how much other translators are charging. But such information can be hard to come by. Firstly, translators tend to be a bit coy about such matters, and avoid giving out rate information on the Internet. One reason is competitive advantage, but a big reason is probably that they charge different clients different rates, and they don't want that information made public.
Another reason why it's hard to find out what other translators charge is translation consumer interests. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the United States the American Translators Association has run afoul of the IRS on this matter for antitrust violation, and ATA members are therefore not allowed to discuss rates amongst themselves.
One way to get at such information is to go to translator conferences (like IJET), and ask people face to face — perhaps prefacing any questions with "Are you, or have you ever been a member of the
Communist Party ATA?" My first IJET was an invaluable source of information on how much to charge, and I've tried to share this information with new translators at subsequent IJETs.
Given the ATA's survey result that freelance translators make around $65,000/year on average, a back-of-the-envelope calculation says that freelance translators probably charge around US $0.11/word on average*.
* $65,000 / 12 months / 20 days per month / 6 hours per day = $45/hour; assuming 400 words/hour of output, that's $0.11/word
I'll go out on a limb here and say that for Japanese-to-English translation by native English speakers, rates are generally around US $0.10 to $0.30 per English word.
How much translation agencies charge
Another less direct way of finding out the going rates for translators is to find out what translation agencies charge. Many agencies don't list their rates, and you've got to keep in mind that even if rates are listed, the agencies will almost always negotiate specific rates for each job. But it's a good starting point.
This will give you an idea of what end-clients are paying for translation, as well as what agencies are paying. In my experience, about 50-75% of what agencies charge goes to the translator. So if the agency is charging $0.20/word, the translators are probably getting around $0.10-0.15/word.
Figuring out how much to charge is one of the toughest problems that new freelance translators face. Arming yourself with information on rates is a good way to figure out how much to charge so that you're a) busy enough and b) can feed yourself. Charging a rate that both you and your clients are satisfied with is essential for building a lasting business relationship.