Set clear rates for your services and inform your client about them. Plan your lowest profitable rate in advance for each commission. Figure out what the best working methods for you are, as well as which text types and special fields you are most adept in. Some translators may knock together a raw translation quickly and then spend more time perfecting it later on, whereas others produce more or less usable text on the first go. In order to find out what kinds of jobs are most lucrative, you could, for example, keep a work diary for a year: write down all character, word or page amounts, time used, and your rates and the prices you’ve charged for each commission. Don’t get too fixated on the rate per word because it can be misleading. A low per-word rate rarely results in a high hourly rate, but even a high per-word rate in an unfamiliar text type can trick you. It may be more profitable to do something you know well at a lower rate. You should also keep in mind that on average, word lengths can vary a lot between languages, so you must always set your rates according to the language pair and the target language you’re translating into.

Make sure you know your pricing principles. Agency clients in particular may require pricing based on either page, row, character or word numbers. Once you’ve kept the diary and found out how much finished text you can produce in an hour, it’s easy to calculate how much to charge per unit. However, in general, you need a certain amount of income per hour/day/week in order to achieve your desired profit, i.e. income level. At that point, it doesn’t matter which invoicing principle the client asks for – you don’t have to use the same rate or basis for every language pair and text type. After all, only you can make sure that your rates are profitable. All commissions are not equally lucrative, but sometimes it’s better to take those less profitable commissions in the name of good customer service. However, if your entire order book seems unprofitable, something is wrong. Usually the problem is either with the rates or the client base.


Set a minimum price for your work. In addition to translating, with each work assignment you must receive the commission, deliver and archive the translation, and send an invoice to the client. Keep in mind that your minimum price should reflect all this additional work. Is it worth the effort to translate for ten euros, even if the translation consists of one single sentence? Regular clients often claim that they routinely offer you work and therefore don’t want to pay the minimum price. A translation agency may have a large direct client from whom they don’t demand minimum prices. But you might translate the said client’s texts only once or twice a year, and thus it is up to the agency to settle on a price with the client.


You should regularly do profitability estimates and adjust your pricing accordingly. For a client, minor annual hikes in prices are easier to digest than huge increases every five or ten years. If you offer discounts or charge extra, be sure to justify it to both yourself and your client. Apply discounts and additional charges consistently.