How Much Should I Charge for My Service?

Tulisan Vina N Andriani

15 November 2012 at 20:19

Money has always been my favorite topic in conferences because, whether you like it or not, how much money you’ve got is one of several criterias to define if you’re successful in your profession or not. Why would you wanna do something that doesn’t make money? That would be stupid, unless you’re filthy rich and you just work for pleasure to keep yourself busy. Well, that’s not me. That’s why when I attended American Translators Association – ATA’s 53rd annual conference, held in San Diego – California on 24th – 27th of Otober 2012, I was tempted to attend sessions about “Prosperous Translators”, “How To Market Your Service to LSP (Language Service Providers)”, “How to be Effective Succesful Translators”, etc, etc. Having the conference held in Hilton Bayfront, San Diego, where rich people park their yachts, surely inspired people to want to be successful too :).

On her session, as one of the pre-conference seminars (I didn’t know at that time that pre-conference seminar cost additional $100/sessions….but I paid anyway, because my friend recommended it, and it turned out to be a great 3 hour seminar), Corrine McKay gave basic things every freelancer needs to know, not just how to start, expand, but also how to manage their business. For comparison, she mentioned that there are freelancers who are thriving, but some others are just surviving. That means some people do things right and the others not. Some translators are overloaded with work charging $0.20/sw and the others complain that they hardly find clients with rates less than $0.10. The statistic data, provided by (Nataly Kelly) and some other surveys, still shows that the cake for translation industry is so big, so translator should not lower their rate just to get more work. Other study (presented in another session) also shows that whatever crisis happened between 2009-2011, where most industries seemed to lower their budget for translation, now has been improving.

But talking about rate, how much exactly should we charge our clients for the services we provide? That’s a question lingering my head for quite sometime. My friend, a Spanish translator, said that a certain rate was too low (and I was currently charging that much). I know most translators/interpretes I met charge so much higher than me, but I understand that’s because they live in 1st world countries where the expenses and tax are crazily expensive. I live in Indonesia and my expenses are nothing compared to them. But of course, I wanna enjoy the same comfort and convenience as my fellow translators living in Europe and US enjoy, and it won’t be fair for them if LSPs prefer to outsource work to translators who live in 3rd world countries just because they’re CHEAPER. So, I think I need to know the market rate and how much I should really be charging my clients.

As the conference went on, I then realized that even in ATA, people are not supposed to talk about rate. Member of ATA consists of 11,000 individuals and organizations, means not only freelancers, but also agencies/translation companies, and setting up a certain rate would create problem with both sides. The best things McKay said is: “Set your own price”. Don’t ask how much other people charge, or how much is the standard rate in the market for your service, because for everyone it might be different. Here’s the guidelines for the RIGHT RATE according to Mckay. You have to ask yourself these questions, is it:

  • The rate that motivates you to do an excellent job?
  • The rate where you and the client both feel happy?
  • The rate that you arrive at after some good natured negotiations?
  • The rate that 50% of clients accept without negotiating?


  • You have to be translating all the time; no down time
  • You are probably not saving enough for taxes, insurance, retirement and vacation
  • You cannot plan for or think about the future of your business
  • You devalue your work and the work of other translators
  • You cannot afford to take enough vacation; risk of burnout
  • You cannot afford to upgrade your skills or equipment
  • You cannot take time off for professional development
  • Where does it stop? Someone will always go cheaper

Remember, QUALITY COMES WITH A PRICE. So if you’re doing a good job, don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth.

Here’s how you can calculate the RIGHT RATE for you. If, for example you wanna work only for 9 months and have 3 month vacation, and you’re looking to have $60,000/year to cover expenses (paying bills, holiday, insurance, saving for the yacht..hehe, conferences, etc), then you can start calculating how much you wanna charge your clients. 52 weeks – 12 weeks (holiday) means you will only work for 40 weeks. In that 40 weeks, you will work total (40 weeks x 5 days x 8 hours) 1600 hours. Out of this 1600 hours you have to deduct at least 40% for non-billable hours (overhead) that makes the total billable hours 60% x 1600 = 960 hours. The final number would be different too if you’re looking to work only 6 hour per day, for example.

To make $60,000, means you have to make ($60,000/960 hours) $62.5/hour. This can be achieved by translating:

521 words per hour for 12 cents/word

417 words per hour for 15 cents/word

313 words per hour for 20 cents/word

208 words per hour for 30 cents/word

125 words per hour for 50 cents/word

*Mckay mentioned even though her rate is around $0.20/sw, she knows people who do charge $0.50/sw (mostly they work for direct clients. On some other sessions we discussed the difference of working with agencies – who are mostly budget-oriented, and end clients who are mostly quality-oriented. To get more money, translators should try to work directly with end clients to cut the cost for middlemen – agencies).

So, based on this simple guideline, you can start calculating how much you should charge for your services next time. One important point to remember is, being a freelancer means you are your own boss. BE THE BOSS YOU WANNA WORK FOR. If you wanna work for a good boss who pay attention to his/her employee’s quality of life, i.e. give enough vacation time, humane workload, year end bonus, be THAT BOSS to yourself. Buy the new Ipad you always want as appreciation/bonus for your hard work this year, give yourself the holiday you deserve (computer-free holiday), etc. Learn to manage your finances and know how much you should value your work.

Good luck!

Vina N. Andriyani

*Read Corrine McKay’s writings on her blog:, also recommended to check The Prosperous Translator (Chris Durban), and The Enterpreneurial Linguist (Judy and Dagmar Jenner).

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