Money makes the world go round. Or so they tell me. And after 28 years of using money, it doesn’t grow on trees.
The importance of money was instilled in me from an early age. Always save for a rainy day. Maybe that rainy day could be a global pandemic or just a quiet time of year.
My Dad was born in the sixties in a small Yorkshire town to two working-class parents. After contracting polio as a youngster, his father was left permanently disabled for the rest of his life. However, that didn’t stop him working extremely hard to provide for his family, despite any obstacle that he faced. He was a cobbler and certainly instilled in my Dad the importance of a good pair of shoes. You wouldn’t believe how careful I am when I buy a new pair of shoes because I know at some point, they’ll be inspected by my Dad and they’ll need to pass the test. Few do.
My Grandfather’s work ethic was instilled in my Dad from a young age and I’m sure that this played an important role in my Dad being the first in the family to attend university and later go on to build his own estate agency business from scratch. I owe so much of my work ethic to my parents. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today without that work ethic.
I’ve worked since I was 13 years old but when I finished my undergraduate degree, I was eager to start earning some real money and get my ducks in a row. This was when I first encountered someone who wanted to stop me from getting on in life by controlling me through money. At one of the law firms I worked at, I had a manager who tried to pay me less than everyone else not because I was young and relatively inexperienced at that point, but because I had some good experience, I was over-qualified for the job and she didn’t like ambitious women. She even told me that I wasn’t allowed to discuss my salary with anyone else. That old chestnut. That was her way of trying to control me, but I know my rights, better than her considering she had no legal qualifications and no people skills either.
I didn’t listen to her because I knew how hard I was working, I knew how much my clients valued me and I knew that I was the only member of the team who had the inclination or the skills to draw up trust documents. This was the first time I openly discussed my salary with my colleagues and friends and as a result of a united front to discuss our salaries at the time, there is now a detailed pay structure in place at this firm (so I hear). The message here is a clear one- united we stand.
However, we can’t be united if there is no transparency. We need to be in the know. We need to know what other translators are charging for their services so that we all know, as a profession, whether we are charging enough for our work. That’ll help us to improve pricing structures in the profession as a whole. Concerns about “bottom feeders” who have extremely low rates can do serious harm to the profession by undercutting other professionals, especially if they are providing subpar service. I’ve always believed that you get what you pay for and there is a reason that you pay more for a highly qualified, articulate, professional translator rather than the weekend linguist who can get by with a few words of French on their summer holidays.
So, let’s talk about money, money, money. I first started thinking about the need to discuss what we charge after a fantastic talk from Chris Durban in 2019. I really like her no-nonsense approach to rates and her evident success in tapping into the premium market. This was the first time that I had witnessed anyone openly discussing rates in a room full of translators. Many see it as a taboo subject and don’t feel comfortable discussing it. I would never want to make anyone feel uncomfortable and it’s completely your prerogative whether you discuss your rates with anyone but your office pet. But I urge you to give it a try and have a good natter about it with your most trusted colleague. What have you got to lose…or more importantly, gain? Just imagine if you did talk about it and you realised that you were charging way below what you should be? Now I have your attention.
During Chris’s presentation, we completed an exercise where we worked in pairs to quote for an urgent, yet delicious lobster recipe for a major financial conference. Apart from making us all extremely hungry, it made us think about why we charge what we do and how we justify this to our clients. You would not believe the disparity in the rates, it was HUGE. Think as low as you can go to the dream fee. It couldn’t have been more different. I looked around the room to see twitching translators everywhere because we were discussing money. However, when we all realised how much we were all charging and why it created a fantastic topic for a conversation about why the lowest rates were just too low and how and why we should and could achieve the highest rates. That’s not to say that we should all charge the same, the market needs competition and variety in pricing for the huge variety of clients that we, as a profession, work with and the variety of services and expertise that we offer. An associate at a city law firm won’t be charging at the top end of the hourly rate scale to close that all-important deal, whereas a partner will. Newbie translators have less experience and perhaps fewer qualifications so it’s only natural that the wisest and most experienced translators will differentiate themselves from the crowd on price. Nonetheless, it certainly opened our eyes to new possibilities when we talk about money. So much so that the following week, I increased my rates. And more importantly, it made us all feel more comfortable about talking about money if we should choose to do so.
Since then, I’ve always really respected those in the industry who’ve been willing to talk about the elephant in the room when providing advice to newer members of the profession. Take Corinne MacKay for example, she even tells you how much she earned in her first year of freelancing. How useful is that?! Let me tell you, it’s crucial if you’ve just completed your first full year of freelancing and you need something to compare it to. Now I’m paraphrasing here, but she also thinks it’s really important to tell her peers what she earned then and what she earns now so that others can learn from that, believe that they can also achieve that and understand the context in which she is offering this advice. How refreshing!
Recently, I’ve noticed that a few translators even provide their rates on their websites. Now that’s not for everyone but that, coupled with a few conversations with some trusted colleagues, got me thinking about why we don’t talk about rates more often. I can tell you first-hand that in the legal profession, your hourly rate is like a badge of honour. Your high street solicitor will tell you their hourly rate, as will your magic circle Partner before you even discuss the legal matter and this rate may send a shiver down your spine. When I worked in legal practice, I used to tell my clients my hourly rate in my engagement letter and when I billed them every month and to practice what I preach, my hourly rate was £111 back then. That was five years ago, before a master’s at a top university, a whole heap of professional skills and plenty more life experience, but what am I worth now?
So, why is it that we don’t have the same attitude in the translation profession? We offer a professional service that’s just as important. For example, a French company and a British company can’t do the deal if they don’t understand the terms and conditions which will govern their contractual relationship. A translator facilitates international business, like this and in many other ways. Money makes the world go round, but translators allow you to connect with that world. And that’s where I come in. I know my value and even a global pandemic can’t diminish it. Maybe my value has even increased if I can ensure that coronavirus-related material is correctly translated and saves lives. I know the value of money and I’m still trying to reflect this in my rates.
A recent conversation with a trusted colleague of mine who translates from English into her native Spanish prompted me to write this blog. She is much more experienced than I am, but she was also of the opinion that we need to talk about money much more within our industry. She was even kind enough to tell me that she certainly wouldn’t take any less than €0.10 per word for a legal document. Now we’re talking! This gives you a starting point, rather than just stabbing in the dark and plucking figures out of thin air. I completely agree with her and it gave me the peace of mind that I wasn’t stabbing in the dark either. Just a ballpark figure or a bit of information can help you to structure or re-structure your pricing strategy.
One of the many reasons why I recently embarked on Susie Jackson’s Charge with Confidence course was because it concerned money and it sounded like the perfect opportunity to talk about money, with other like-minded translators. Forums to talk about money with other freelancers, particularly translators, is a rare opportunity so I grabbed it with both hands. I suggest you do the same and check out Susie’s fantastic course here.
On this course, we created two hourly rates: a minimum hourly rate which would pay all of our bills and an aspirational rate which would allow us to live our best lives. The beauty of this course is that we all agreed that one size does not fit all. We all have different priorities; we may want to work a 4-day week with 10-hour days or only work afternoons every weekday. Just like freelancing allows us to work the hours we want and where we want, it also gives us the freedom to charge what we want.
I’ve been lucky enough to find some confidants who I feel comfortable talking shop with. One colleague even told me that after attending a conference a few years ago, she was left reeling when a fellow translator explained that her hourly rate for some clients was €60 and €90 for other direct clients within a certain sector. And this was a few years ago. Stories like this aren’t uncommon but the fact that they can identify real disparity in rates means that it’s vital that we talk about them.
My closest confidant works in the industry too and we regularly bounce ideas and quotes off one another. This is reflective of our collaborative rather than competitive mindset, even though we work in the same language pair. This may not be for everyone; you need to find your own way but if it improves the quality of our quotes to our clients and helps us to make a better living then it’s a no-brainer.
Wow, would you look at that? I’ve just quoted actual figures from real translators and I haven’t been struck down by lightning. But let’s not speak too soon, as Storm Ellen has just arrived in the UK and 2020 has been an unprecedented year of pandemics and Trump’s showerhead issues.
I’ll leave you with this. “The closer you are to the money, the better off you’ll be”. So, make sure that the amount of money you’re charging, is the right amount for you.
If anyone feels like they aren’t sure if they are charging what they should be charging and wants to chat, I’ll be happy to have an open and frank discussion with you and it won’t go any further. I take secrets to the grave. Ask my friends. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I always love to share ideas. Talking about it might not be for everyone but if you want to talk rates, then get in touch and we can put the world to rights.
I would also love to hear your thoughts on what you are working on or blogging about and what content you would like to see in my blog. You can find me on all the usual types of social media or drop me an email at email@example.com. I don’t bite, I promise!