Charlie Bavington

French to English Freelance Translator - I.T. specialist

Bringing a pragmatic eye to meeting your needs

Review pricing reviewed

July 3rd, 2011 | Categories: business

Review here meaning the process of checking someone’s translation. Were I Samuel Johnson, I might be minded to define a reviewer as “an ideally, but regrettably not always, harmless drudge, that busies himself in comparing with the original, and detailing the shortcomings of others”.

We can also assume that Muphry’s Law will at some point apply in this post.

On to the meat (or lentils) of the issue. I was very recently engaged in a lively discussion about how to charge for reviewing. The basic question usually seems to revolve around charging per word versus charging her hour, but from the flurry of exchanges, it seems that there are perhaps three pairs of factors at play in attitudes to pricing, to wit:
a) charging per word or per hour
b) whether you see the translation before quoting, and
c) whether your relationship with the client allows you to determine the final price on delivery, or whether you are bound by your original estimate.

In terms of a), consensus seems to be that i) a ballpark rate is in the approximate region of 1/3 the rate you’d charge to translate it, and that ii) general texts that are not a complete dog’s dinner should take about one hour per 1,000 words. (Let us assume that either calculation method gives the same total earnings for the job, which it should, after all.)

It strikes me that if you are going to apply a word rate, you probably need to see the source and target text first to decide what your translation rate would have been, unless perhaps you always apply the same rate to everything for that client (but even then you could vary the fraction applied). If you apply ii), you’d need to see the translation, to apply a dog’s dinner test, and see if one hour per 1,000 words is feasible, and adjust the quote accordingly. Put another way, if you see the job before you are asked to quote on it, I contend it matters not a jot whether you quote per word or per hour.

Or at least, it matters not in terms directly related to the specific job itself. The view was expressed that, in general, charging per hour is a mistake in that you are penalised as you get faster and more efficient (since you would charge less today for than you did a year ago, say, for the self-same job), but I feel that the response to that is not necessarily to dismiss hourly charging, but how you apply it. For instance, charge more per hour as you get more efficient or, if the client is resistant to rate rises but was happy enough with the overall total per job in the past, charge as if you were your old, inefficient self.

I was pointed in the direction of the opinion of one Ed Gandia, who has apparently written a book on freelancing (he’s a copywriter, though). Our Ed – and I’m sure he is not alone – has three objections to hourly rates: 1. clients like word rates because they know how much to pay and don’t worry about you “padding” your hours, 2. if you tell them an hourly rate, they will no doubt compare it with their own rate that they earn, and you might not want that, and 3. “when I told clients I work by the hour, some would actually talk faster to me on the phone”.

In terms of reviewing specifically, I would say that 1. can be overcome by seeing the translation to be reviewed before agreeing the price (the implication of the “padding” objection being that the client can more or less tell you what they are expecting to pay when they send the job) 2. I actually don’t care who knows my hourly rate and I’m not sure what the concrete objection is, but plenty of other professions appear to have no such qualms, and 3. surely has to be the response of the price-obsessed client, and we don’t really want to be working too much with people whose only concern is price, to the extent they will talk faster to save 50 cents.

I see points b) and c) as connected, particularly as regards not seeing the job first (i.e. before the quote is given and accepted). If you see the job first and the quote is therefore reasonably viewed as binding, I say use whatever calculation method you like. But if you don’t see the job first, the key issue is then how is the final price determined? Are you permitted to give a non-binding estimate with the final price announced to the client on delivery? Or is your original estimate the price you have to charge?

Personally, having been caught out previously by the combination of not seeing the job first and having to stick with my original estimate, I just don’t do that any more. While I would never dream of telling others how to run their business, I cannot recommend it (unless perhaps you know exactly what quality of translation is coming on the basis of previous experience with that specific translator, or you have utmost confidence in the quality of translators used by your client – as you might if they are not some price-driven document shifter, and actually like to provide a service to end-clients).

So, if you don’t see the job first, you really do need to be in a position where you can announce the final price on delivery. Naturally, as was pointed out in the discussion, this works best if you can sometimes bring yourself to charge less than you originally estimated (however, I have done this myself as a spotty youth (metaphorically) and then got knocked back when I decided to see if this flexibility worked both ways – hence no more sight-unseen jobs for yours t. for the foreseeable f.).

Equally naturally, if only for legibility and ease of understanding (and maths), this price-on-delivery method works more clearly in terms of hourly rate rather than word rate. If you agree to review 5,000 words taking 5 hours at 30.00 per hour, but it only takes 4.5 hours, you can charge 135.00 instead of 150.00 and you look like the good guy. If you had said that you would review the same document for 0.03 (=150.00) and you decide that’s probably over-stating what it should cost (!), you’ll charge them 5,000 x 0.027 instead and look like an anally-retentive weirdo. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you are thinking in terms of words not hours, you are pretty unlikely to bother to recalculate your rate downwards like that, and clients would therefore lose out. I’ll go further and say you’re also unlikely to perform the calculation in the opposite direction if the work takes a bit longer, and you lose out. I’m edging in favour of hourly rates in cases where the final price is determined on delivery.

So, here comes a dashed handy summary on pricing review work, in the form of two Y/N questions:

1. Do you see the job (source & target) before quoting?:
Y (therefore assumption your quote is binding) = charge on whatever basis you and the client both find acceptable
N = go to question 2

2. Is the quote binding?
Y = binding quote on a job unseen = run away, run away…
N = hourly basis for charging seems easier to understand and fairer to both sides.

To summarise another way: hourly rates work well under all circumstances; per word rates work OK if the quote is binding (since the total is the key figure anyway), but my advice would be only give binding quotes if you’ve seen the job before quoting.

  1. Sycophantic Sympathiser
    July 4th, 2011 at 10:05
    Quote | #1

    Thanks for introducing me to Muphry’s Law. At first I thought you had accidentally misspelt Murphy’s Law…

    On the rare occasions when I do any reviewing (rare because I hate it with a passion), experience has taught me to agree an hourly rate up front, with the clear understanding that the client will pay for however many hours it takes to do the job. Occasionally I have agreed an estimated number of hours with the client and have committed to notifying them as early in the process as possible if I feel that it’s going to take significantly longer than the estimated number of hours (i.e. if the translation is more of a dog’s dinner than anticipated).

    Did I mention that I hate reviewing?

    • admin
      July 5th, 2011 at 11:35
      Quote | #2

      I’m not a fan of reviewing either, I must admit. Partly because of the disheartening quality of some of the stuff I used to see, and partly because it’s so hard to arrange circumstances such that I can see both source and target before committing to even do the job, let alone whether or not the quote I give will be fixed or variable. That said, I understand agencies’ desire to assign the task as early as possible in the process, and there must be plenty of people happy to go along with it, otherwise the arrangement would not be so popular.

      From a couple of other off-blog comments I’ve had, it certainly seems that a number of people equate “hourly” with “variable”. I’m not sure that I agree that hourly charging *necessarily* has to lack predictability and transparency in that way, even if it is very common. I think your point about early notification of changes in price, which I overlooked, is very much worth making.

  2. July 18th, 2011 at 20:17
    Quote | #3

    No-one’s a fan of reviewing, translation is Rock & Roll in comparison. I still don’t get the hourly rate thing. I’ve never done it either. I always take a look at the file and then get back to the client with an offer for the whole job. Has that never worked for you?

    • Charlie
      July 18th, 2011 at 23:26
      Quote | #4

      I’m sure it could work just fine and dandy, as could almost any method involving seeing all the files first.

      I should, in fairness, point out that not all arrangements where you don’t see the files first are necessarily bad. Only today I received an offer to review a translation as yet not done, offering a fixed overall sum for the whole shebang, as per your suggestion in fact, at an equivalent rate per word nudging €0.07. I can’t do it, but all things considered (probable quality, etc.), that does not seem so terrible.

      Not only that, I did a quick review this weekend without an estimated time or even a rate agreed in advance. I trust the client and she trusts me so everyone is happy.

      All I really wanted to do was to advise against making arrangements that might turn round and bite us on the arse later :-)

  3. July 20th, 2011 at 13:14
    Quote | #5

    Seems a pretty good summary to me, Charlie.

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