How to set your rates

What we like to see in applications from freelancers Part 5

How to set your rates

This is Part 5 of my blog article talking about what we like to see in applications from freelancers. In Part 1, we talked about how to make sure your email doesn’t get deleted right away. In Part 2, we talked about the various methods available to show that you produce a high standard of work. In Part 3, we talked about ways to show you are professional. In Part 4, we talked about your flexibility with different software formats, and in this part we are going to discuss pricing.



Pricing is a real can of worms. In this article, I’m going to limit myself to what Constructive Translations like to see in freelance applications (that is, in your initial application to join our freelance team). What I say will only be true for our own agency, and is only guidance. Every agency has it’s own preferences.

Should you include your rates on your application

I personally think it is a good idea to include your rates of freelance applications, usually in the cover letter. It’s not mandatory to do this at all, but it saves us having to write back and ask for your rates at a later date. We need to be able to put something on our system. You can always change your rates on a case-by-case basis, but it’s good to have some kind of a number so we know which ballpark you are in. There are all kinds of different translators out there, and we need to be able to match the right translator to the job. Rates are absolutely not the only factor we consider, technical background is more important for us, but it is important and needs to be considered. When we quote a job to a client we need to work out how much the job will cost us, and sometimes we have to do that over the phone or very quickly, so we don’t have time for a long exchange of emails. Ideally we would use our regular partners but as an applicant you should try and offer us as much convenience as possible.

What rate formats should I include

I think it’s better to provide your rates in too many formats than not enough formats. For example, you might have different rates for source and target words, or (like many Germans) you may have a charge per line or per page, you may have a minimum charge, hourly rates, rates for editing, rates for proofreading, rush rates and so on. It’s fine to include them all in your application, so we can select our own preferred format. (We generally like rates to be listed for source words or for an hour’s work, as it makes our calculations easier).

Should I say that rates are negotiable?

There’s a difference between having some leeway on your rates with different subjects or deadlines (which we think is fine, and actually encourage), and expecting us to do the work and calculate your rates for you. While we think it’s a good idea to say something like “my rates are negotiable”,  I personally don’t like “I will accept whatever rates you think are fair,” emails. Usually more experienced translators have a good idea of their rates, whereas newer translators will sometimes be unsure and sometimes send those kinds of applications.

In this article I won’t talk about the best ways to negotiate rates with your clients, but I will say you should be honest and clear about everything (and so should the agency). Don’t accept a job unless you are willing to do it to your usual high quality. Or, if you really can’t put in the required work for any financial reason, make sure the agency are aware of this and that they agree.

We also have to point out that there are many bad agencies out there. Until “exploiting the translator” isn’t a viable business plan, they will continue to prey on the newcomers to the industry. There are a number of ways to check out an agency, the Proz Blueboard is one, there are also LinkedIn Groups and Facebook Groups, where bad payers are listed.

How should I set my rates?

For the purposes of this article about applying to be a new freelancer, I’m not going to give any numbers, but I’d like to talk about having a good correlation between your experience, skills, background and abilities and your rates.

Firstly, if you had no idea where to set your rates, it would probably be a good idea to review various rates surveys. These are published by a variety of bodies such as the Institute of Translators and Interpreters. If you are extremely skilled, with many years of experience, ability to work with all kinds of software and a strong background, you can (and should) set your rates on the high side. If you have less experience or are still at the early stages of your career, I would suggest setting your rates lower. That doesn’t mean lower than the going rate, but on the low side of that range. Also , that doesn’t mean keep them low, it just means don’t expect to get many clients if you are charging the same rates as a 30 year veteran when you have only just graduated. At the same time, it’s not a good idea long-term to work by undercutting the more experienced translators.

Over my years of translating, I do believe I’ve improved every year, and my work now (after about 7 years) is significantly better than after my first or second year of translating. I’ve slowly increased my rates accordingly. Quality creates value and is worth paying for.

The most common problem I’ve come across involves rates included in applications from recent graduates. Before mentioning that problem, I’d like to reiterate that I’m not giving guidance on how to set your rates. I’m just trying to highlight an issue that I’ve seen. If I’ve seen it, I’m sure other agencies will have noticed it too. The problem is that a lot of new freelancers, maybe with a Master’s Degree, set their rates right at the top of the payscales published in the various pay surveys. In fact, we frequently receive applications with rates which are far above the top-end rates published in those surveys. As a student, I remember being told that you should keep your rates high. This is something I would agree with, but “high” in that case, means “high” considering your skills and experience, not “high” compared to a senior professional with 20 years experience and the same qualifications.

Another thing I personally hate is when we look for freelancers in countries where rates are generally very low due to exchange rates, and general cost of living calculations (such as Bulgaria for example), and they quote us very high, British-style rates. Some freelancers think we are going to pay more because we are based in the UK and “can afford it”. We prefer to use people in the UK if we can, but when we can’t we will pay the going rate for the relevant country for people with the right skills and experience. As an agency if we have a client based in Bulgaria for example, we wouldn’t be able to charge them UK-style fees and expect to keep their business, so we do have to make reasonable adjustments. The opposite is true for places like Norway, where freelance rates are generally somewhat higher but end-clients can usually pay more too.

Years ago, I was shown the respondents to 2 job advertisements The content of the advertisements were identical but one used Germany as the address and asked for quotes in EUR. Another used an address in Eastern Europe. In many cases, the same exact respondents had sent the same exact CV’s, but the quotes were significantly higher for the German clients. Personally, I realize things like this happen in business, but I think it’s somewhat unethical myself. Maybe it’s easy for me to say that, being based in a more expensive country, but that’s just my opinion.

Anyway, no doubt many people will have issues with some of my thoughts from this article, but I hope it gives insight to newer translators, or translators doing a rates review. I certainly feel it would have been useful for me in the first few months of my career. I’ve been keeping an eye on the feedback to this series of blog articles and I’ve got some ideas about what to write next. I’m going to do one more series of articles looking in more details at money, then I’ll turn to translation agencies, and talk about what I think a translation agency should do for its freelancers.