It may seem like the first two should go without saying, but it’s amazing how many aspiring translators never get to step two. I almost got stuck at step one myself. I stumbled into the profession years ago when I discovered this intriguing site called Proz.com. I know now that the rates most agencies pay there are a tad on the stingy side, shall we say, but I am still thankful because this platform taught me a lot and enabled me to gain the experience I needed to build what is now a thriving business. (Note to agencies on Proz.com who offer subpar rates: if you’re lucky you’ll get a fledgling top translator at the start of his/her career or an experienced translator with poor business skills, but more often than not you’ll get what you pay for.)
But at some point you have to do more than just deliver the goods, or your clients will be happy to keep you working weekends at ridiculous rates. So here is a simply two-step plan to get higher rates:
1. Find out what constitutes a decent rate.
Unfortunately there is a lot of legal handwringing in the profession about price-fixing, so the ATA and other organizations no longer publish recommended rates. Proz.com does list the averages of the rates posted by Proz members, but after months of only winning bids on jobs at rates that were much lower than my posted rates, I concluded that those rates were just collective wishful thinking and that $0.06/word was the real-life going rate. It wasn’t until I started listening to more experienced colleagues via personal contact, forums, blogs, etc., that I realized there was, in fact, a world of higher rates and better business practices out there.
1. Charge at least that rate.
One particular eye-opener was finding the rates posted on the Twin Translation website, and discovering that what Judy and Dagmar charged (direct clients) was about 5 times as much as my measly, misinformed rates. They were not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. Now they are the first to admit that their rates are very high, but they don’t apologize because they have proven that they’re worth it, and their clients are happy to pay. Their boldness inspired me and I’m happy to report that I do not work for $0.06/word anymore, and the base rate I quote agencies now is more than twice that. It’s nerve-wracking typing that large number in your quote for the first time, but it’s surprising how fast it becomes the new normal.
But in order to do this effectively and confidently, you have to understand your own value. This is how I look at my own situation to help me get in the right mindset. Let’s take a look at the Proz.com directory:
- The total number of translators registered with Proz.com, according to their site, is 375,000. This is linguists from all over the world in all language pairs.
- Of those, 4192 translate from Dutch into English.
- Of those, 394 live in the US.
- Of those, 241 specialize in medical documents.
Now this is not saying anything yet about education an accreditation. The Proz list doesn’t allow sorting for those criteria and I didn’t feel like checking all 241 pages, so let’s hop on over to the ATA site and take a look at their directory (I’m not saying that ATA certification is the only worthwhile credential out there, far from it, but it’s an easy one to track for my purposes here).
- There are 121 Dutch-English ATA members.
- Of those, 93 live in the US.
- Of those, 38 specialize in medicine
- Of those, 11 are ATA-certified.
E-le-ven! How many lawyers or doctors are there in any one city, let alone all of the US?
And it’s not a low-demand issue, either, where the market will only bear up to 241 Dutch-English medical translators. According to its own website, “ClinicalTrials.gov currently lists 169,809 studies with locations in all 50 states and in 187 countries”. About 5,900 of these studies have sites in the Netherlands, which means they are continually generating documentation that most likely will have to be translated into English.
I get so many job offers in my mailbox for clinical trials that I have to turn down the majority of them. I also know that a lot of these documents will end up being translated by inexperienced and, unfortunately, sometimes unqualified people, because it is critical that this work gets done within a certain time frame.
So why on earth would I not get paid well, and why on earth would the sponsors of these studies not be happy to compensate me well for providing them with crucial information on what may be their next moneymaker?
This is why it’s important to specialize and to know your market. I was actually planning on writing a post today about how to position yourself as a partner rather than a vendor, but as I started writing I realized that some of us need to discover the value of what we do before we can communicate that effectively to our clients. So how can we position ourselves to become that partner? More on that next time.