Increasing your rates may be easier than you think. Below are a few helpful hints:
Start low enough that you have somewhere to go and high enough that you can eat.
Start low enough that you have a reasonable chance of beating out half of your competition. Make sure your rate is a true reflection of your actual work. Recent grads tend to charge too high sometimes, just because they can, particularly Asian language translators. On the other hand, if your rate’s too low, project managers (PMs) will wonder what’s wrong with you. Whatever you do, say no to the cult of poverty. You deserve an honest wage for an honest day’s work. Translators who offer themselves out at too cheap of a price just seem, well, cheap. In this business, we work with words; learn the difference between “cheap” and “inexpensive" and be inexpensive, but not cheap. As my brother says, “Buy cheap, buy twice.”
On the other hand, if you charge too much, you’ll never get any work, because while quality does matter, cost always factors in. Part of a project manager’s job is to meet or surpass budget. If that means not using you, well, unfortunately, that means not using you.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
Include a range with your resume, or a PM won’t call because she has to get information from you that she doesn’t have to get from other people. If another freelancer's entry in the LSP database is complete and yours is not, the PM won’t use you, because it means extra work for her. So include a rate range. Then, the PM will contact you to get a precise amount for that project. You should never quote anything sight unseen, but you still should have minimums and maximums of what you charge for your work. If a PM comes with an offered rate that’s too low, don’t say you won’t do the project--make a counter offer. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Which would you rather have? A cent less on work in the hand, or two cents more on work in the bush?
Develop client-specific rates.
Never charge two clients the same thing. Study the client. How much do you think you can get out of them?
Consider all the factors.
Is this a large project or a small one? Always have a minimum project charge. The LSPs do; you should too. It shows you respect your time and your work. Is this assignment a promise of more work? If it’s a birth certificate or other similar, personal document, probably not. Don’t be afraid to ask the LSP if this assignment is for a repeat client and, if so, if the PM is hunting a new translator for the client on a permanent basis. Just make sure you ask in a polite manner. Is the current translator for this on vacation and you’re a fill-in? Less work. Are they looking for someone else permanently? More work.
As many an incumbent has said, “Never change horses mid-stream.”
Of all the advice in this article, this one speaks most to character. Do what you say you are going to do. Be who you say you are. While any written negotiations, including the rates you offer, are legally binding in most US States, there’s a larger issue at play here. My daddy called it “your word.” Once you’ve given a PM or an LSP your word, keep it.
Even if the project takes longer or is harder than you thought it was going to be, do not raise your rate mid-stream. When you do that, you may lose the project. Even if you don’t lose the project, this behavior still messes up the LSP’s budget, makes you look bad, and might get you on the LSP’s “Do Not Hire List.” On that note, if particular payment terms are pre-agreed on, don’t try to change them after you’ve already started or have already completed the job. If you said up front that PayPal is fine, don’t ask the PM later for a wire.
So, all this being said, how do you truly raise your rate? Gradually. Do it in increments, so that you’re not constantly going up. If you jump your rates up really high, all at once, particularly after being offered an assignment, the PM will think you’re trying to cheat her. If you’re raising it just a little each time, she’ll think all you want is money and, again, that you’re trying to cheat her. You have to gradually build in raises for yourself, a cent or so at a time, over time, just as an employee would receive timely, cost-of-living raises. When you do change your rate, notify the LSPs you work with and the ones you have applied for work with. Then you won’t be caught not being able to raise your rates because of the reasons already explained in this article. These rate adjustments will already be entered into your database record, meaning the PM will know what they are before assigning you a project.
Terena Bell is the CEO of In Every Language, a Louisville, Ky (USA) based LSP.