Yes, once again we’re talking about rates in translation. As I’m sure you know already, my approach is to let everyone set their own rates. If a client asks for a rate I’m not comfortable with, I generally don’t reply.

But just this once I did: In this case, the agency in question not only tried to negotiate almost half my standard rate but also attempted to justify its actions.

And, honestly, I don’t know if they were knowingly taking the proverbial or are just completely disconnected from reality, but trying to justify your rates with “we think $150 a day’s not bad for a freelancer” (oh really?) and “I’m sure you can appreciate we need to make a profit” (I’m sure you can appreciate that’s not my problem) is simply, how can I put it politely…

Anyway, I’ll let you discover this epistolary exchange between an agency and a freelance translator for yourself.

The translation agency: “Allow me to explain why your rates are too high”

Dear Ms Gouzée,

(…) When considering your application, we noticed your rate is higher than we normally pay for this language pair. We usually pay our English <> French translators 0.06 USD per source word for translation.

We do everything to ensure our translators are satisfied with the rates they receive. (…)

[Spoiler alert: They aren’t.]

This is how we calculate our rates: We estimate that a translator can translate 2,500 words on average in an eight-hour day. At our rate of 0.06 USD per source word, a translator will earn 150 USD per day. For that amount, we expect the translation to be delivered on time and without any translation or formatting errors.

[Our calculation: We estimate you can translate 2,500 words per day perfectly, THEREFORE we’re paying you peanuts. We hope you’re satisfied—it certainly seems satisfying to us.]

As I’m sure you can appreciate, as a translation agency, we have to pay our translators less than we invoice our clients in order to turn a profit. (…)

[“I’m sure you can appreciate we need to make a profit.” Right, and I’m sure you can appreciate I need to eat!]

I hope that helps you understand our rates. If you are ok with this, we’d be delighted to continue with the application process. If you are unable to accept these terms, however, we completely understand and will terminate the application process here, but you can always get back in touch if you change your mind.

Yours sincerely,

Freelance translator: “Allow me to explain why your rates are too low”

Dear X,

Thank you for your detailed explanation. As you said, at $0.06/word, a translator earns $150/day and $3,000/month—on the condition they translate 2,500 words EVERY day, but let’s put that to one side for a moment. Just to remind you, as a self-employed person, I have to pay my own taxes and social security contributions, after which I would be left with around $1,500/month. That’s before deducting holidays (according to your calculation I’d need to earn $3,000 extra to cover 20 days’ leave per year), sick pay and all the other unpaid tasks involved in my job like prospection, accounting and continuing professional development. Then there are all the additional costs like buying a new computer or a Trados licence, to name just a few.

That would leave me with an average net salary of $1,000/month for a full-time job. The fact I have a master’s degree and ten years’ experience makes this proposition all the more ludicrous, but I truly believe absolutely no-one deserves to be paid just $1,000/month.

You say that as an agency you need to pay your translators less than you invoice your clients in order to make a profit. I’m aware of that, but perhaps instead of asking your translators to work for less, you could consider invoicing your clients more.

Yours sincerely,

In conclusion

What really bothered me in this case was less the rate itself and more the justifications the agency offered. If they’d said, “our texts are really simple, so you can translate 4,000 words a day”, then why not? Or “the quality doesn’t need to be as high as usual because we’ll proofread it after and that means you can translate a higher number of words per day”, then maybe. But, no, there was none of that. It was simply that WE have to understand that THEY need to make a profit.

I’d be really interested to see how much they invoice their clients and where the difference goes.

This is a translation of one of my French articles (“Chère agence de traduction, voici pourquoi ton tarif est trop bas“), kindly provided by the amazing Georgie Scott from Cf Language Solutions!


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