How to determine your translation rates

Translation rates are one of the most discussed issues on social media and websites on translation. Have a look around on Facebook, Twitter or Proz and you’ll find hundreds of posts along the lines of “How much should I charge for translation?”. And it’s not just the newbies. I found a lot of the same posts written by experienced translators who have worked in-house for years and have no clue what freelance rates are like.

Calculating translation rates is not easy. Your language combinations and specialisms, the type of text and the deadlines, the market you’re in and the market of your clients are all important factors in determining the price of your services. There is no magic formula, I’m afraid.

You can, however, determine your basic rate.

What is your basic rate?

Your basic translation rate is the rate that you need to charge to cover all your costs. It is the equivalent of the basic salary you need to live comfortably when you work as an employee.

Let’s see how you can determine your basic translation rates.

how-to-determine-your

First of all, you need to write down all the expenses associated with your life and your work. This includes: rent, bills, transportation, food, household expenses, holidays, childcare expenses (if you have children, of course), clothing, gifts, education/CPD, software licenses, equipment (PC, dictionaries, books, keyboards, etc.). Then calculate the yearly total. Here’s an example:

Expense   Per unit Units Total
Rent £1,000 12 £12,000
Bills £100 12 £1,200
Transportation £200 12 £2,400
Food £100 12 £1,200
Household £50 12 £600
Holidays £1,000 1 £1,000
Clothing £300 1 £300
Gifts £300 1 £300
Education/CPD £1,000 1 £1,000
Software £500 1 £500
Equipment £500 1 £500

TOTAL £21,000

 

The total is what you should end up with after you pay all your taxes. The amount of taxes you pay depends on your country of residence. If you live in the UK, you can find out how much you have to earn (gross income) to take home the amount of your choice, in our case £21k, by using this calculator. Obviously this doesn’t take into account business expenses and the difference between income and profits, but it’s a good way to start if this is your first year in the industry. If you have already filed one or more self-assessment tax returns, then you’ll know the amount of tax and national insurance you pay as a percentage of your income, and you can make a more accurate calculation.

As said before, you need a gross income of around £26,000 to take home £21,000. But how does that translate to your hourly or per word rate?

Let’s start calculating again. First, you need to know how many days you’re going to spend working in a year. To do this, you simply have to subtract your holidays, weekends, sick days, bank holidays and any other fixed engagements (i.e. conferences you will attend) you know you’ll have from 365. Here’s an example:

Total days 365
Weekends 104
Holidays 20
Bank holidays 8
Sick days 10
Other 6

Total working days = 217

 

Then you need to know how many billable hours per week you are going to work. Assuming a week of 40 total working hours, you’re probably going to spend half of your time doing things other than translation, such as researching and contacting new clients, keeping in touch with existing client, marketing, social media, invoicing and general housekeeping. This means you will translate 20 hours per week, or 4 per working day. If you multiply this figure by the number of working days in a year, you’ll have the total billable hours in a year, in this case 4×217 = 868**.

This makes it super easy to calculate what your minimum hourly rate should be. Just divide the yearly net income by the total billable hours and you’ll get your minimum hourly rate*.

NET INCOME / BILLABLE HOURS = HOURLY RATE

£21,000/868 = £25/hour

£25/hour is the minimum translation rate you should charge in order to pay for all your expenses.

Now, a lot of clients, especially agencies, ask for a rate per word. To calculate it, you need to estimate the number of words you’re able to translate in an hour. If you divide your hourly rate by the number of words you translate in an hour, you’ll get the minimum translation rates you should charge depending on the type of text you are translating. Here’s an example:

Type of text Words per hour Rate
General 300 25/300 = £0.09 pw
Technical 200 25/200 = £0.12 pw

You rates should thus be no lower than £0.09 pw for general texts and £0.12 for technical texts.

 

That was fairly easy, wasn’t it?

Obviously, and let me emphasise this, these are only basic translation rates. These should be a starting point from which you can then determine your full rates by taking into account all factors other than covering your costs, in other words your added value.

Another good starting point is to do some online research to find out what are the average rates charged in the industry. You may not find the most up-to-date research (or you may find it, but you’ll have to pay for it), but you can still get an idea of how diverse rates can be. You can find some examples of research carried out by Fit Europe and by CIoL and ITI.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask. Freelancers are usually reluctant to share their rates on public fora because of the competition; if you engage in networking and build good relationships with more experienced colleagues, you’re more likely to receive answers to your questions.

*All figures have been rounded up for the purposes of this article. 

**There was a mistake in my original figures. The issue has now been fixed. Thank you Francesco for pointing that out.

Do you have any techniques to calculate your translation rates? Share them in a comment below.

  • I think there is a fundamental mistake in the figures.
    The 217 days are calculated as 30 weeks, but earlier you had taken out 104 days as weekend time off.
    In reality, in a normal week and working for 5 days (Mon-Fri), 217 days are equivalent to 43 weeks, which is reasonable, after taking out also some weeks for holidays and other reasons.
    This mistake alters the figures calculated on the following text.
    In particular, the minimum rate is calculated using the 30 weeks, but it should be based on the 43 weeks, or 860 hours..
    The hourly rate of £35 is not unreasonable, but the reason of calculating the minimum rate (at least the rate for paying all expenses and tax) is to determine the lowest rate necessary to break even.
    I’m not discussing the assumption that 50% of the time is spent in non billable tasks, which may appear too much, because we may consider to include into this all the time when there is no actual billable work to do.

    Fixing the 30 weeks aboe, and using 860 billable hours per year, the resulting rates are lower.

    Here ends, more or less, the factual part, and the rest can be easily adapted to personal parameters.
    For example, the average productivity, with a great variability in value, depending on subject, experience and phisical stamina.
    Thanks for the article.
    F.

    • Hi Francesco and thank you for your comment. You’re absolutely right, that’s quite the mistake (shame on me!). I’ll fix it as soon as possible!

  • COMMENTS

    1. Francesco Pisano
      Reply

      I think there is a fundamental mistake in the figures.
      The 217 days are calculated as 30 weeks, but earlier you had taken out 104 days as weekend time off.
      In reality, in a normal week and working for 5 days (Mon-Fri), 217 days are equivalent to 43 weeks, which is reasonable, after taking out also some weeks for holidays and other reasons.
      This mistake alters the figures calculated on the following text.
      In particular, the minimum rate is calculated using the 30 weeks, but it should be based on the 43 weeks, or 860 hours..
      The hourly rate of £35 is not unreasonable, but the reason of calculating the minimum rate (at least the rate for paying all expenses and tax) is to determine the lowest rate necessary to break even.
      I’m not discussing the assumption that 50% of the time is spent in non billable tasks, which may appear too much, because we may consider to include into this all the time when there is no actual billable work to do.

      Fixing the 30 weeks aboe, and using 860 billable hours per year, the resulting rates are lower.

      Here ends, more or less, the factual part, and the rest can be easily adapted to personal parameters.
      For example, the average productivity, with a great variability in value, depending on subject, experience and phisical stamina.
      Thanks for the article.
      F.

      • Martina Eco
        Reply

        Hi Francesco and thank you for your comment. You’re absolutely right, that’s quite the mistake (shame on me!). I’ll fix it as soon as possible!

    2. Anna Baccenetti
      Reply

      Very nice and useful article! Liked the way you put it simple, clear and effective.

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