Guest post: How to make sure you are charging enough

Welcome back to our guest post series!

This month Richard Lackey, of Contractually Speaking, explains how he conducts a rate audit to see if he is charging enough for what he needs and for what he is worth.

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Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

What am I worth as a freelance translator?
And how data can help you analyse your client list

A recent ProCopywriters survey came to a startling conclusion. Level of qualifications among copywriters appears to be inversely linked to earnings, in fact those who left school at 16 came out top.

This got me thinking. Could it be that many translators – who are generally highly educated – also charge too little?

Day rates, project fees, by the hour or by the word?

With the myriad of different ways to charge, it can be tough to compare rates from one client to another or from one job to another. A higher per-word rate on a tricky little project can be much less profitable than a fairly average rate on a much larger project.

The only way to truly tell is to break it down hour by hour and see what you are earning.

A two-week audit

Just like dieting, the only way to get really useful data is to track everything. You will need to keep note of exactly what you make and how long you spend working. This could be one week or, for a more accurate representation, I would recommend two weeks.

I created a very simple Excel to collect this data for me. You can download a copy of this Excel for yourself here. It’s very simple: all you need to do is fill out how many words you need to translate and the rate, then record how many words you have left to do after a half-hour or one hour session. If you are translating a non-editable file and don’t know the word count, I created a “Countup” page that provides similar data. This tracker is based on using the Pomodoro technique.

Screenshot

Image provided by the author

Did I change my rates after the audit?

Absolutely. Mid-way through last year I found I was working too much and needed to lighten my workload. Immediately after doing this analysis, I substantially raised my rates for two longstanding clients who had given me regular work, but at a rate that wasn’t giving me a good enough hourly rate.

Further analysis

The second analysis I performed, together with my business mentor, was an analysis of all my clients from the past 18 months. By grouping together all the jobs for each client, I created a neat pie chart. This highlighted my most important clients, but also showed that many profitable jobs are one-offs for new clients.

Moving forward

Project fees are now by far my preferred way to charge direct clients, but I’m still making the initial calculation based on the word count. I would like to move towards estimating the number of days a job will take and basing my fee on a day rate. Not only is it easier to compare with other professions, but it could also be a better way of allocating my working hours.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever done a rates audit to analyse your clients?

References

For more on the survey mentioned at the top, see John Espirian’s post for an interesting discussion of copywriting rates. Rates surveys like the 2001 ITI/CIOL survey (or the 2011 edition) or the BDU survey are still useful sources of data. There are also many calculators out there that help you to calculate how much you spend or need per month (such as this one by Luke Spears) although I disagree with this approach.

About the author
Richard LackeyRichard Lackey has been translating from Spanish and French to English since 2011, now as Contractually Speaking, specialising in legal and business translations. He is a qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI), Deputy Coordinator of the ITI Spanish Network committee, and a regular contributor to the bimonthly ITI Bulletin on topics such as legal translation, translation technology and co-working. You can contact him at richard@contractuallyspeaking.co.uk, via Twitter, @ContractSpeak, or his website: www.contractually-speaking.co.uk.

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