On rates: #xl8 #translation #leedscts #t9n #consultancy #e-learning

On rates: #xl8 #translation #leedscts #t9n #consultancy #e-learning

I have recently seen a link posted by Ral (thank you, Ral!) to a really interesting article on setting consultancy rates. It is clear, helpful, and even if it does not teach you anything new (which would actually be quite a bit surprising because it approaches fee-setting from seven angles), you will still have a better insight into this topic after reading it.

The reason I mention it on this blog is because it applies to both e-learning professionals and translators, despite the fact that they do slightly different work. In the case of e-learning, its relevance is obvious. On the other hand, I do think there is a lot of overlap between pricing for localisation services and working as a consultant. Before moving to specifics, a statement that the author made reminded me once again about countless debates in both domains: “Knowing the value of your work can go a long way in helping you establish your fees”. So, so true! (as an aside, those of you collecting anecdotes will also be happy to hear that this statement follows a short amusing story involving Niels Bohr).

In the translator training classes I deliver, we start by talking about rates and how to set them. One strategy is to see what companies are paying for various services in various language pairs and directions. In many cases this is a bit of a Scottish shower: a cold one when seeing the rates themselves, and a slightly warmer one when learning about how to price differently depending, among others, on the nature and complexity of the job and the deadline (let us think of this as Rate 1 – R1). Then we’re back to the cold one when we see the impact of specialisation on rates and we deal with students’ tendency to ignore all the relevant work and experience that they already have, only to get back to warmth after learning to appreciate everything the students will have to go through during their year in Leeds: tens of thousands of words of revised translation work; membership of UK professional associations; over a dozen of networking opportunities with industry representatives every semester; access to well-known researchers in the field of translation studies; experience of several computer-assisted translation, software localisation, machine translation and corpus linguistics software; priority for certain internships, and more.

Being content with R1, however, regardless of all the motivational arguments, is not very helpful. We therefore do another exercise, which is to work backwards: how much do you need to earn (‘need’ being the operative word here as opposed to ‘want’, because then we get into a very interesting debate already fleshed out extremely well in How much is enough? Money and the Good Life; don’t worry, our version of ‘need’ is quite far from ‘need to survive’ and a lot closer to ‘need to lead a fulfilling, meaningful life’). We start by estimating how much is necessary to pay for all the overheads of a freelancer, plus tax, pension, as well as for food, leisure, and cultural activities every month. We then work out how much one needs to earn per day in order to reach that figure (and we certainly do not start off planning to work weekends and not have holidays). We then divide the daily rate by the industry expected output (which varies according to the type of job – i.e. translation, localisation, proofreading, DTP, software testing, etc.) in order to get a price per word/image/page/hour. Let us think of this as Rate 2 – R2.

R1 and R2 are hardly ever the same (shall we guess which one is higher? ;)), so an interesting discussion starts on how to achieve R2 rather than give up altogether. For some trainees, this means working only for direct clients. For others, it means only specialising in the higher-paid agency jobs (such as transcreation at this time). For some, it is a combination of both. For everyone, it means cherry-picking direct clients and agencies and refusing to work for low rates. And so on, and so on.

This being said, I still find the article on consultancy rates really useful because it quantifies the amount of administration, marketing, and non-billable work, while also preparing freelancers for the reality of non-paying customers (a much rarer occurrence if they really do their research before agreeing to work for a new client). The only proviso is that, of course, we are talking about estimates here and a lot more time and energy will need to be devoted to marketing and promotion at the beginning of one’s career than perhaps later on. However, we never stop learning and that is the main beauty of our work!