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.

Conclusion

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.

19 comments to How do you know how much to charge as a freelance translator?

  • Hi, I would like to add that

    - Many many translators work not 6 hours a day, but a lot more. I wouldn’t say there is an average, but from what I know about translators all around the world, the community’s working hours are way beyond 6 hours. In fact, I think working long hours can be the a way to keep a good level of income for translators working exclusively with (greedy) agencies – if translators had more end-clients they would definitely learn to work less (and of course get more pay).

    - Regarding the relation between what agencies charge from end-clients and what they pay their freelance translators, I’m inclined to think, from my own experience, that they don’t pay 50-75% to translators, but very often less than that. Here I’m talking especially about European agencies (Germany, France, Austria, Holland), who tend, by the way, to charge the end-client a per-line-rate and pay the translator a per-word-rate, which allows them to get much more value out their business (I mean, to get R-I-C-H in no time). :-)

    Anyway, in your comments I think you should always mention what country and what market you are talking about. Of course, we know you talk mostly about Japan and Japanese-English translation, but, as you know, there’s a great deal of diversity in the translation business which should be taken into consideration in any analysis.

    That said, I just want to say that I like your blog (I’m a RSS reader)! I have my own translation blog (in Portuguese, English and German):
    http://fidusinterpres.com
    :-)

  • Hi Fabio: Thanks for the comment. You’ve got a cool-looking blog (especially now that I know who the guy in the header image is :)). I’ve added the in English category to my RSS feeds.

    Regarding working hours: I know that lots of translators work longer hours than that, but I was trying to count only “head-down,” productive working time, just to get an idea of how much translators were charging per word. I don’t think that 6 hours is overly pessimistic for that.. Maybe I should have just said “2,400 words per day” and left it at that. :)

    You’re also right that my experience is mostly limited to Japanese-to-English translation, although the ATA’s figures are for freelance translators in general.

  • MT

    Actually, a lot of translators work fewer than 6 hours a day, too: for instance, I work generally no more than 4 hours a day, but I’m still making a full-time salary. It just kind of depends on your individual speed, the kind of material you get, your rates, etc., so you can’t really generalize too much. 2,400 words a day sounds about right for most people, however.

    I personally don’t think professional translators should ever charge less than $0.10 per word–no matter the language combination. In some combinations, like Spanish/English, that is a cent or two higher than a lot of people charge, but I still feel strongly that $0.10 is the minimum rate at when the profession of translation makes economic sense.

  • Diana

    I would like to know how much can I charge for a proyect translation.
    I used to charge $65 per hour- Is it too low?

  • @Diana

    How much you charge depends on a lot of things. One of the most important is whether you are able to make a living at that income.

    In my first translation job, I worked in-house at a car maker and earned $24/hour, $36/hour for overtime. $65/hour certainly beats that!

  • Bill Alger

    I used to work for an agency called Trusted Translations. It’s supposed to be an American company but in reality all of their translators, editors and sales people are located in Argentina. They pay their translators 2.3 cents per word from English to Spanish, and 3.0 cents per word from Spanish to English. Their rates for editing were even lower, at only 1.0 cent per word.
    100% of the company’s business comes from clients in the US.
    Talk about exploitation!

  • Elena

    I’m currently located in Dubai, I translate from English-Spanish, Spanish-English and was wondering how much can I charged per hour based on consecutive translations?

  • Neil

    ..very helpful info, much appreciated.
    Ive been working as a translator/Interpreter for the same company over the last 10 years. I’ve now started to do some freelance work as well, and have a couple of doubts re. pricing.

    If, lets say, i set .08€ as my price per word for general translations- could anyone suggest a suitable rate (per word) to use for ‘edition’, ‘dubbing’ and ‘subtitling’ translations?

    Thanks.

  • Morad

    I have been a freelance translator/interpreter for many years. I am tired of agencies trying to take advantage of individual like us freelance translators. the fact is the knowledge and skill is ours not theirs. I get calls from agencies to do a deposition for example, or translate a birth certificate. When I tell them my price, their response is NO Thanks. That is because they contact everyone else and whoever does it for them for dirt cheap, that is who they go with. talking about ethics.

  • So, I have been translating Italian/English/Italian for over 30 years. I am perfectly bilingual. But I have never offered my services online. I have paid 45 dollars to become a member of an agency. Now I have to prepare my CV and establish my rates. Help, please, please. Elisabetta.

  • ivan

    am living in Mexico and i want to start as a trasnlator Spanihs-english-spanish but i dont know how much can i charge i dont want to charge an excesive quantity of money ($65$ just sounds nuts awesome but nuts) I just want to know how much does a starter like me should charge?

  • I guess the rates differ per length of document. I did get a document translated the other day and I paid around 75 cents/word. It was only something like a 200 word document in Chinese and I needed it in English. Paid $150 to do the translation.

  • Benjamin

    Hello I am a new comer to Freelance Translating. I would like to know if any one could give me pointers as to what the best way to get started in this business is on your own or through an agency? I have experience translating/interpreting from English/Spanish; Spanish/English most of it has been non-profit. This seems to be a legit and established way to generate revenue.

    If anyone would be so kind as to point me in the right direction I would greatly appreciate it.

  • Amanda

    I just got offered a job to translate a crane manual from english to spanish. I have translated before but never charged for it. Being that this is a technical translation, what do you suggest I charge?

    Thanks for all of your help!

  • Gilda

    I think it also depends on the pair of languages and on the subject. If it is a technical translation, I charge more…

  • Mee

    @Bill Alger

    Yes, I totally agreed with you about Trusted Translation. I haven’t work for them before but I was recently asked if I’d be interested in translating a document from English into Hmong (a very limited vocabulary language, therefore very tough to translate). The rate I was given was: USD 0.060 per word for translation and USD 0.02 for editing. Are you kidding me!!!! That is extremely low!!! I don’t recommend taking a job for less than USD 0.10 per work for any translation.

  • Tiffany

    If I am charging based on the formula .12 per word for translation and $25 an hour for editing and it is based on 1000 words per hour, I will do $0.12 + $0.025 = $.145 to get the cost of the sale. But I still need to add in the PM time, the proofreading time and possible profit margin. How would I calculate the client cost with these additional factors?

  • Sandra

    I have always translated English-Spanisg/Spanish English working for a company. I am now starting as a free lance translator. It is a book, I don not have it yet but I guess it’s a technical book. I live in Uruguay, South America. What would be an acceptable charge?

    Many thanks, I love this blog.

    Sandra

  • FinnTranslator

    Hello everyone!
    I would like to know how much should I charge for my translations. I’m a freelancer and not so experienced but my translations are good. I currently translate english text to finnish for 0,015$ per word. This feels pretty low considering the odd and complicated language. How much would be ok pay for me?

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