Lump it and Like it

joy-1078270_1280A recent argument with an agency about the word count for a job handed in weeks previously has driven home just how sordid this practice of counting words really is. Thankfully, this type of situation doesn’t rear its ugly head that often, and this particular client is not one of my main sources of income. But when an agency forgets I charge by the source word because their arrangements with other translators differ, and they then send a series of short documents as they arrive from the end client with embedded text that the counter in Word doesn’t recognise, problems and tetchy emails can ensue. And I do so loathe any suspicion that I might be trying to pull a fast one by adding more words to the invoice than I am entitled to, especially when the difference we’re squabbling about is a laughably small amount.

Rate per word? Per character? Per line? Per page? Per hour?

If we don’t charge per word (or character/line/page depending on our source language), what are the alternatives? I expect most of us are familiar with the idea of a rate per hour rather than per word for revisions/editing (often erroneously referred to as proofreading). But charging for translation by the hour is still relatively novel. Although it does have a few advocates, many (including me) do not consider this to be a fair method. It does, after all, entail a number of problems.

Firstly, you can only estimate how long it is going to take you before you start. If you end up charging less, clients are bound to be overjoyed (and probably expect the same to happen next time). But if you end up charging more, it could put them off you for life. Most clients will not be thrilled to receive an approximate cost before they commit themselves and so they may just walk away into the embrace of a firm quote.

Secondly, translation speeds differ from one translator to another. Seasoned colleagues working in a field they know well will be able to translate a text much faster than newcomers with hardly any experience. Some CAT tools and memories (TMs) will also factor hugely in project completion times. And others of us dictate our work using Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS). With certain types of documents, DNS really does help me write my first draft quickly while allowing me to rest my shoulders, arms and fingers (double win).

if the faster translator charges per hour, they might be penalised for being better and for investing in technology to improve consistency and work flow

In all these scenarios, if the faster translator charged per hour, they would be penalised for being better and for investing in technology to improve consistency and work flow. Yet in most (all?) professions I can think of, the more skilled, experienced and proficient you are, the more you earn.

Charging a “lump sum” for our services, however, can ensure we get paid a fair price based on our expertise and analysis of the document (with or without a CAT tool). This analysis can include how many words (characters/lines/pages) there are and/or how many hours you think it’s going to take you to translate, and/or any other factor you care to consider, for example formatting, document type, more research than usual, writing translator’s notes, adhering to special instructions, having to use a massive style guide, risk factor for getting paid on time, rush job, weekend work, etc.

charging a “lump sum” for our services can ensure we get paid a fair price based on our expertise

I also think this figure should be a nice rounded sum so that it’s bold, clear and easy to remember. Whether you round it up or down might depend on how much you want to land the job and any discount you might want to include for high volume, repeat client, repetitions, 100% matches, how valuable the client is to you, how difficult/easy text is, etc. I’ve tried this approach a few times so far and it’s been quite successful. I know I’ve often charged more than my client really wanted to pay, but it was less than the per-word rate I might actually have wanted. It was a fixed-amount meeting in the middle that worked for both parties.

Moving away from a per-word model may also help to instil some respect for our profession and stop people viewing it as a commodity and haggling over every last word.

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66 thoughts on “Lump it and Like it

  1. Hi Nikki

    Must say, I agree with you about pricing per project as opposed to per hour or per word.

    I think it works best with direct clients, who probably prefer to be told a fixed number (without either having to work it out for themselves by counting words or having to sign something akin to a blank cheque with a time estimate). Agencies, in my experience at least, seem to like a per-word rate, so they know how much the translation will cost before they even ask you (leaving aside variables such as urgency rate, minimum charge and funny formats).

    And the clinching argument against hourly rate pricing for me is that it fails to reward efficiency: if I invest in tools, technology or training that helps me to work faster without compromising quality, then the person who is going to reap the benefits from that is me. With per-hour pricing, if you become more efficient, you simply earn the right either to do more work for the same money (in the same time) or to do the same amount of work for less money (in less time)!

    Best wishes

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Oliver,
      I’m glad we’re on the same page about this issue. It’s definitely easier to persuade direct clients to accept a fixed price for the project. In my experience, some have even suggested that to me themselves without any prompting. But I’ve also found that some agencies have been willing to forget a per-word rate as well during negotiations on price to get me to accept their job and it would be great if a fairer fee was paid for our work all round.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Nikki for this timely (for all of us) and thought-provoking post. I agree that a project rate is so much cleaner, and it puts us on a par with other professions. I sometimes think clients must be a bit bemused looking at a quote itemised by word count. I am keen to move to the project price model but still cling on willy-nilly to the word count idea as I feel it gives real transparency to a client. Any thoughts?


    1. Hi Catherine,
      Thanks for dropping by the blog. My project-price quotes are still based on the initial word count. But once I’ve established a minimum below which I will not go on that basis, I then play around with the figures to reach a rounded fixed amount. You can start off with quite a high per-word rate and then shave some off to make the client feel they are getting a discount or to arrive at a figure they will accept (which hopefully will be comfortably above your minimum). It’s about negotiation, about not being fixated with getting a certain rate per word, especially if you know you can deal with the text quickly because of past experience, tools you use, etc.
      Ultimately, what really matters to you is how much you are being paid per hour because you can only work so many hours per day. But I don’t believe we should charge per hour (as I explained in the post). By being open to juggling figures around you can land a client and still earn a decent amount for a job.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is exactly what I do Nikki, particularly if it’s a customer that gives me repeat business on a regular basis. I will tell certain clients that because of the repetitions or matches in my TM for them (though I don’t use such technical language with them; I can almost see their eyes rolling back in their heads as they read an email with terminology like this), I am giving them a discount. These jobs yield my highest per-hour rates, which, at the end of the day, is what a lot of us look at to determine whether we’re earning ‘enough’ or not. Agree completely about charging by the hour – every text, situation, etc. is different. Thanks for this post!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m really puzzled by the comments here, actually… You can round up as well as down. Why not? It sounds like you’re looking at ways of justifying rounding down and reducing your fee. I tend to go with just numbers that sound good. I had a large-ish project last month that came out at 5,050.50 or something silly. I rounded it up to 5,100.00 to cover the some formatting issues I anticipated in that document, given its size. Rounding down would have been short-changing myself and looked a bit too plucked out of the air.


  3. Agree with most of what you say. Since seeing Joao Roque Dias present on the subject at IAPTI Conference 2103 I’ve adopted the lump sum approach, split per file if the total is over about €300 (so clients can decide not to have one or two of them; avoids a take-it-or-leave-it approach to whole project).

    His argument was direct clients don’t care how the price is reached, just about the final figure. Only one client has so far asked how I calculated the fee. (Which was by word!)

    I read once, I forget where, that if figures are too rounded too often, they can look like numbers plucked out of thin air, rather than a fee with a sound underlying basis. This struck me as sound reasoning. It can also, frankly, help reconcile invoice payments if the numbers are a bit different! So this is the only point where I might take issue.

    You didn’t, I think (no-one ever does!), mention how it makes increasing fees less painful. “Rates increases” seem to invariably involve integers of (euro)cents/pence/etc. and as such are, depending on the start point, often in the 8-12% range. If you charge a lump sum, it’s easier to add 1-2% to cover actual inflation year-on-year, instead of keeping rates unchanged for 7 years and then hitting clients with a 10% increase.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Charlie,
      Splitting the price per file sounds like a great idea to me, especially as 5000 words in one file is totally different to 5000 words in 30 files. The latter will probably take longer to translate and the price should reflect that.
      The vast majority of my rounding (as far as I recall) has been downwards, so no client has ever queried this. I am not in the habit of arbitrarily adding more, although I like your idea of the yearly percentage increase for inflation. And if we give a brief explanation to the client at how we arrive at a figure, then it shouldn’t pose a problem.


  4. Hi Nikki,
    Great post, as usual, and I definitely agree about hourly rates. On the odd occasion I’ve charged by the hour (usually for editing, but occasionally also when translating fiddly diagrams), it’s been much less lucrative than using my usual word rate. And yes, different translators translate at vastly different speeds, so it;s not a fair comparison.
    If you can persuade clients to accept a project rate (based on the word rate and your assessment of how long it will take according to the faff factor, repetitions, etc), all well and good, but in my experience, clients like to have it spelled out in terms of base rate, any surcharge for pdfs, urgency, etc. Maybe it’s because I translate technical texts, so my engineer clients like to see a breakdown. There’s also the issue of contracts: most of my direct contracts clearly stipulate a word rate and I’m not sure how you’d replace that to incorporate a fixed price? Perhaps it would be easier for creative texts, and certainly fairer as the length of time a creative text can take you is as long as a piece of string!
    That said, I have a couple of agencies who always propose a lump sum for projects. I usually turn them down as I know it’s based on a low word rate, but occasionally the repetitions and subject matter might make it a worthwhile proposition. I usually issue a counterproposal (as a lump sum), so the ball is back in their court!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s great that you have agency clients suggesting a lump sum for projects (not so good if it’s not much, though). I often say to clients that don’t like my initial per-word rates that I’m prepared to evaluate each project on an individual basis (which I do anyway) as I might be prepared to accept a job by giving them a fixed price that is less per word than that rate, but which I still consider to be a fair price for the work involved (i.e. how much it would work out to be per hour).


  5. Hi Nikki,

    Like Charlie said (I also read that but can’t remember where), “if figures are too rounded too often, they can look like numbers plucked out of thin air, rather than a fee with a sound underlying basis.” This may be a problem with some clients, while others may have nothing against it. As an agency (and I do the same as a translator), we still give the clients a price based on the word count, first of all because most of them ask specifically for this, and secondly because it’s easy for them to see how the price is calculated.

    As an agency client, I don’t mind if a translator quotes by the word or gives a round figure, I really don’t see an issue here. Regarding the agency you had to argue with about the word count… this should have been discussed beforehand in order to avoid it.


    1. Hi Alina,
      Thanks for commenting. The problem with the per-word rate, as discussed, is that no two translations are really the same. Some require far more time and effort than others, and this should, ideally, always be reflected in the final amount charged. Continuing to charge for every word gives the same weight to every word when this is usually never the case. I didn’t mention slogans or marketing copy, for example. One thousand words of this can ot text can take far longer than 1,000 words of straightforward technical text, as I’m sure you’re aware.
      And as for the case I mentioned at the beginning of the post to get the ball rolling, as I said, the agency should have known that I charged per source word (this was not the first job for them, after all, in fact I’ve been working for them on and off for many years) and for words that are not counted automatically. The main problem was that it was a rush job and the client kept adding to it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You are right, “no two translations are really the same”, which means you can also have different per-word rates depending on the job (or the subject matter). With slogans on the other hand, it would make perfect sense to apply an hourly rate. Coming up with a slogan in the target language, even if the source one is only a few words long, will be more time-consuming.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve always found it really hard to enforce different rates for different subjects/level of difficulty, because clients seem to prefer opting for the lowest one and justifying a higher rate might not be easy. I also think a system whereby we have word rates for this, but hourly rates for that is ripe for a change to a per-project model. The quote/invoice can state a breakdown (so many words/hours/rush charge/discount/etc.) if the client isn’t happy just working out their own assessment of the total and considering it a reasonable price for the work they are requesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree with Alina, translating slogans or very high-level texts should be quoted per hour. Especially since in such a case, the number of words is often quite small. As for the word rate, I really think it’s important to have at least (at least…) 3: one for technical texts, one for marketing and one for software. I think it’s also needed to have one for subtitling and I’m sure there are others to think about… On my side, I have a basic rate, for technical documentation and I apply 15% more for Marketing (while I feel it could go up to 30% more), 30% more for software (up to 50% more) and I’ve just added a new one to the rate grid for subtitling which will be 15% more than Marketing LOL. It seems complicated but with a simple formula, it’s easy. Our rates include translation + revision + linguistic QA. If we need to revise one of our own text, based on a reliable TM, we charge 1/3 of the “full translation” price (according to the job category); if we have to revise a text translated by other vendors, we charge 1/2 of the “full translation” price. I usually apply the same principle to the subcontractors, but some of them have only one rate defined with us – marketing rate – and it occurred that we needed them to work on tech jobs. They didn’t change their rate but still we hired them for it as they were the most qualified. Not sustainable for big regular volumes but it was not the case. As Nikki, I feel that the hourly rate would be unfair for experienced ones… and unfair to the client when working with junior translators ;-). In any case, whatever the project, the client, the agency, etc. I think the most important is a proper analysis of the job before quoting (or accepting the rate) 😉 – this should take into account the domain, the category and the type of job. This analysis should also be used to estimate if other tasks than linguistic tasks are needed – DTP for instance – which have to be quoted apart from the word rate, I think…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Nancy,
      Many thanks for the detailed description of your pricing and for the points you make. This kind of information is so useful to everyone in the industry, yet very rarely given with such transparency.
      I still advocate that a per-project price would be better in the first instance you mention (slogans and high-level texts) because the copywriter/translator might actually only take very little to time to complete the work because of their skills.


  8. This is a great post on a very interesting (and also personal I guess) topic, thank you Nikki!

    I also agree with Alina. I have only been working as a translator for a couple of years, so I have been going through much debate how to price my services, and of course this is still a work in progress. Hence I am very grateful to read blogs and discussions about this!

    For now I have found that different per word rates for each of my subject areas work quite well, as they are so different (technical, science, tourism, all of which can be infused with marketing). I decided for myself on a minimum rate, which I apply for NGOs and sometimes also agencies, if their project is very interesting. No going below that. For direct clients I have higher rates, but also with a minimum for each subject area. I decide on how much/if to add on the minimum after seeing the document and calculating/estimating the effort involved. With every new client I try to go higher, so far they always accepted my quotes without complaint, so I guess there is still some room for improvement! My quote will always be a lump sum, but also includes how this lump sum is achieved (by per word rate and any additional charges and taxes). Never had a problem with that, and I have total freedom to “pick and choose” a price that in my eye reflects the time it will take to finish the project (e.g. more research, awkward file format or additional requests = higher per word rate). And the client is happy to see an explanation of how the costing is made up (and this is also a nice piece of client education as to what is involved in the translation process).

    To be honest, I am not quite sure I understand why a per word quote is not in itself also a lump sum quote? If a client asks to get 500 words translated and I say this will cost 10 cents per word, then the project will cost 50 Euro and we have a project quote. If there is additional words requested after starting the project (AND they are part of the same project), this has to be added of course – 300 more words, 30 Euros more on the invoice. As Nancy said – proper analysis of the work involved in a project before quoting is key. 🙂 If the client wants more done later, only do it if they also agree on additional costs.


    1. Hi Berit,
      Many thanks for commenting. A lump-sum quote is not the same as saying that 550 words = €82.50 (for example). A fixed price could say: I’ll do this job for €75 (i.e. 0.13636 – and I’ve rounded this down- per word). You drop the price because the client hears 80 something and thinks that’s expensive and is happier with a lower price. Saying that your per-word rate is 0.13636 would be ludicrous, obviously. And you’ve analysed the job, see it’s got some reps, that it’s a subject matter you’re well versed in and have a lot of experience translating, etc., so dropping the price slightly to keep the client happy is not a big deal.


      1. If the client is a regular then of course it is a nice gesture to round down the price, I have done this before, too. The client will be happy sure. However, I don’t see a reason to sell yourself short for a new client – unless you really need the money maybe. As long as I have a choice of taking the project or leaving it, I try to quote as high as I feel justifiable. If the client feels it is too much, I hope they will say and then I have some buffer to go down and negotiate. If they say it is too expensive and pull out, I still have other projects to keep the money coming, and maybe they would not have been the right client for me anyways. And if they accept the quote without saying anything, there is probably more potential to go higher with the next client.
        But as mentioned before, pricing is a very personal matter and everyone has to find what suits them best.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Working with German-speakers, I often use per-line rates, based on the characters in the source text. For a language like German, this is FAR fairer, as otherwise you end up discriminating against good writers, and effectively charging more for easier texts.

    How I price things for clients varies. For jobs that are not part of an ongoing project, I often go with a fixed fee. I am especially likely to do this if there is a creative, research, or formatting element that requires a bit more work, but would not make sense to include as a separate item. That said, I always state what is included actually on the quote and invoice.

    I also use line rates, like I said. I charge line rates that allow me a bit of wiggle room so I’m not too peeved if something takes longer, because it’s still a good fee.

    Like you, I think fixed fees, or quantity-based fees (for my source language, lines) are fairer than hourly fees for most work.

    I’m very, very fast in my specialist fields. I tend to find that the faster I am, the better the work is – because it comes out naturally with no need for research when I already know the topic like the back of my hand. If something takes me longer, I invariably find the reviewer has more comments to make… I have one colleague I work with very regularly and she would confirm this. The documents that have taken the longest are the ones she had to spend longer reviewing, and the ones that take the least time are the ones she leaves untouched.

    If I charged per hour, in most cases, my clients would be paying more for less high-quality work, and next to nothing for my very best work. 😀 The client should not have to pay for my time spent learning about a field, educating myself, or researching things I should already know. Similarly, if I am shit hot thanks to extensive research, specialisation, reading of related journals, seminars attended and academic study… Well, I deserve to reap the rewards. I don’t do those things on my time and my dollar just to end up earning less. 😉

    I DO charge per hour sometimes for adaptation, copywriting, editing and review. Sometimes this, too, can be part of the same job. Sometimes I will agree to translate what is there, and then once we are done, we have a call to discuss other ideas I had, which I then enact. They pay per hour for this, because it’s simply the easiest way to price things when you don’t know how large a job will be. I think this works at least right now, but over the years I may switch to fixed fees as I become better at working out how much work is involved.

    As we all know, hourly fees in translation tend to be rather low. I think part of this is because people do not charge based on what they earn per hour when translating, and part of this is just the effect of market trends, especially with agencies. My hourly fee is based on what I earn translating in an hour. It’s on the lower end of what I make translating for direct clients who pay good fees, and I am working on raising it. Happy to tell you privately what that is, but negative responses in the past mean I don’t want to write it here, and I’m not sure it’s relevant to the discussion of principles, anyway.

    I break the norm there a bit, because most people significantly underprice themselves on per-hour projects. I definitely get plenty of clients comment I am expensive, but they pay it anyway so it’s obvsiously not so expensive they don’t want me. I think it’s a bit illogical, really, as I am sure they can (a) work out for themselves how much I make in an hour based on delivery times of fixed-fee and quantity-based projects and (b) they should realise that will logically have an impact on my hourly rates for work that’s priced that way. Yes, some clients just turn their noses up at the rate, but plenty accept it. Or they try it, notice that the quality and speed are good (i.e. value for money), so they keep doing it.

    So the point there with hourly rates is *demonstrating value on an hourly basis*. This is not so vital with pricing per word or per line, or even with a fixed fee, as the value can be explained in your quote, and a certain amount is self-evident from the nature of the job. When pricing per hour, you have to demonstrate that your *time* is time well-spent – that you work efficiently and have good insights that make your time genuinely more valuable than someone else’s. A case in point: I also once won an American client after giving her 20 mins free copy review (she was a friend of a friend who I was happy to help a little for free) which allowed her to see what I could do in what time. That convinced her to book five more paid hours at a rate she knew was much pricier than industry norms, and she also offered to pay for the initial 20 minutes.

    So… I actually use all three pricing models and am not a clear advocate of any, but more realistically applying each model according to the individual situation. I find pricing absolutely fascinating, not only for my own business, but for my clients’ businesses. It relates so closely to marketing, positioning, and sales. It’s one of those things we can ‘afford’ to learn about for not only our own benefit, but that of our clients: these days, nobody can afford to position and price themselves too cheap. That applies to clients and translators alike.


    1. Ooh err, please excuse typos and malaprops. I’m still recovering from flu and not really working right now because my head is all fuzzy. 🙂

      Forgot to mention – YES, some things, like slogans, can really only be priced with a fixed fee. You have to be very clear about deliverables in these cases and be sure the client and you see eye to eye. But yes, that’s the way to do it.


        1. Yep! There are loads of fields like that. I do a lot of video scripts and use fixed fees for those. They generally are quite short, like maybe around 200 words. The base rate usually ends up at say 110 EUR, but I add around 40 to cover the notes, discussion, and minor later changes. (or English lessons… 😉 )

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes Nikki, I agree. I still have to (wo)man up when it comes to charging for later changes, too. Just recently I had a situation where I translated something – and I include one revision in my price – only to find that this one revision turned out to be totally sc…ed up by their “proofreader” and I had to basically correct half of the document back to my original translation. Surely I complained about this, but I was not brave enough to say, well, actually since I have to correct my own work that someone else destroyed I have to charge you for this. This was work for an agency that actually pays decent rates, but I felt I won’t be able to work with them anymore if they pass on utterly changed (and worse: completely wrong!) work of mine to their end client. I gave them one more chance, so we will see. But it was something I never really anticipated and will surely be more alert in the future.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I charge enough initially to allow for minor later changes, but if changes are extensive, I tell them in advance it will cost X to review and/or discuss them. I should probably get these terms written into my new contracts, though.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Rose,
      Many thanks for commenting on your experiences. I fully agree with you (obviously) about hourly rates not being good if you happen to be better and faster than others working in the same field, especially newcomers. Clients shouldn’t have to pay for people to learn on the job as you mention, and we should be properly paid for the expertise we have worked so hard to attain.
      I get your point about the rounding, it can be up or down. As long as the up is justified. And I’ve never known a client to complain about rounding that went down.
      Charging per hour for editing and review is naturally quite usual in our profession, but not sure I understand why you wouldn’t charge a fixed project price for copywriting and adaptation.


      1. Simple reason – some projects are completely open-ended. I’d even say that is very, very common. Often I don’t know how much time something will take, what precisely they will want, and what materials they will give me. VERY often they are still working on these things at the time of quoting. I’m generally quite accurate with my estimates. For example, a job I did for a large corporate at the end of last year… I estimated 10 to 13 hours, and it took 13 exactly, after final adaptations. A job last Friday, I estimated 8 hours, but commented it could be done in 6. It took 9 – because I was done after 6 hours but suddenly the client decided they need 3 more hours of work. 😀 This happens all the time in copywriting, in my experience.

        I have done set fees for some clients, but actually, those clients are more likely to try to haggle. I believe people are less likely to haggle with hourly fees, based on my experience. That’s obviously a huge advantage.

        Adaptation, as I explained above, varies. It depends on the nature of it. And we may also have different interpretations of the term. 😉 I usually use a fixed fee or a fixed fee plus a variable component. In some cases where it’s more like the case explained above – i.e. things are happening in close consultation with the client – then I charge an hourly rate. An example of that: an article was to be published in a magazine for start-ups to promote a well-known multinational. The original, approved version was written in German, but they wanted me to edit and reword things and add notes at the same time. So I did. It was around 360 words in total, and with the initial translation, comments, editing, phone calls and emails, the whole thing came to three hours. I charged my hourly rate, so it ended up at around one euro per word. I could have charged a fixed fee, but at the time of quoting they were initially planning to just send me notes and I’d do the writing – but they decided getting something in German pre-approved would be faster (and it definitely was). I didn’t change my quoting method to a fixed fee for the translation and am very glad I didn’t, as I probably would not have anticipated the extent of editing and adjustments to content desired. (It was a pleasant experience, I should add – it wasn’t them criticising my translation, more like, they really appreciated my feedback and wanted more of it, and then I worked with the German author to produce the final text). Yes, that’s on the lower end of what I earn per-hour translating, but it’s a lot higher than what I’d had got with a fixed fee.

        See, I think hourly rates can be the best option in a range of scenarios where consultation is involved. Using a mix is often ideal, too – that’s what I am doing with a publication I am working on right now (or will be, when feeling less muggy).

        Liked by 1 person

  10. And essentially:
    We all know what we earn in an average hour. We just have to charge it. I just charge the lower end of it with certain copywriting clients. I still get called expensive but right now, for the stage I’m at, I’m not going to cry about the fact I could go higher if I went through the hassle of always quoting a fixed fee and accepted the risk. Nah. I just make my value clear, and if the client is happy that I worked so quickly, then great! I still earned what I wanted to in an hour so no reason for me to be unhappy. Just means they will come back again. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Probably more sensible with agency clients and cultures that are prone to haggling. It doesn’t happen so much in the cultures I deal with… Thankfully!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true, I agree. Of course if they are not happy with the original quote, haggling on the per word rate level does not make sense. I would also take off a “bunch” of the original total.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Clearly, translating a pamphlet about tourist attractions isn’t the same as translating a clinical trial; the former could be more lucrative per hour than the latter even charging 25% of the latter per word. In any case, one thing I’ve learnt from sales courses is that it looks and feels more professional to give a round number fee than, say, €1,257.83, which simply looks messy, as if you drew it out of a hat. Thanks, Nikki. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There was a time when I would have felt fine using €1257.83 on a quote. Not so much because it looks plucked from thin air, but on the contrary, because (to me anyway) it positively screams nitpicky word count. An image I’m keen not to convey too often, not least lest word-trimming techniques are applied to save a few euros (I had one client remove all the proper nouns – there were a lot – which made the price a fair bit cheaper and yet my job much harder).

      Question is, how much rounding? Ceteris paribus, I’d probably use 1255.00 or 1260.00 in this case. I think 1200 or 1300, for instance, and even arguably 1250.00, would also look too much like I’d just “thought of a number”.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. As I said, only one end-client has ever asked how the price was calculated (the noun remover was an agency, and thus familiar with the word count basis, used an example of what might happen when any client realises the full implications of that pricing method). Hence my enthusiasm for quoting a single figure, devoid of words, hours or anything else.

          Hence it’s about impression, not negotiaton or explanation, I feel. That said, predicting the impression other people might or might not get is probably a mug’s game anyway, as we are all so different….
          (Yet we do agree on the impression 1257.83 creates!)

          Liked by 1 person

      1. As standard, I do what I did in my old firm, and round up or down to the nearest 50. At my normal rates, that never leaves any spare pence over, but for those clients who want to bill to the nearest word I’m afraid the total will always look messy. But I’d never *quote* with spare pence/cents, and probably never with anything apart from a 0 or 5 the other side of the decimal point either.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Glad you and the sales courses agree with me on the rounding. If you charge €1,257.83, it looks as if you are still basing the quote on a per-word rate.
      I couldn’t translate a clinical trial, but I imagine that medical translators that can do this type of work may not find it that complicated. In my experience of translating tourism texts, besides thinking of a nice way to express the info and changing sentences/paragraphs around sometimes, there’s also often a fair amount of research involved. It’s not necessarily as easy or as fast to translate as some clients think.


  12. As you say, there are so many other things to take into account, including possible phone calls with the client, all of which can simply be included in the rounding-up, so to speak (though technically all of our time should all be accounted for).

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks for this post, Nikki! I’ve also moved towards project pricing for some of my work, and find that certain clients prefer it. I base my pricing on my estimate of how long the project will take me – which is not always easy to calculate! But I’m getting better at taking all the different factors into consideration. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you Nikki for this interesting post – as it happens, I am actually working on my pricing strategy with direct clients at the moment, so your thoughts are very helpful – as are all the replies!

    I agree that for direct clients, a per-project price seems to be a better idea, and I think that this is what they usually expect and what they will understand better than the per-word rate. And I also agree with you that when charging on a per hour basis, we risk being “penalised” for being efficient or for investing in technology etc. I am not exactly sure about the argument saying that with hourly rate, we never know how many hours we will need in order to complete the project: to me, exactly the same thing goes for the per-project price – we still need to estimate how much work the project will take on top of the basic word count we start off with (if we calculate the project’s price this way, of course). So, whether hourly or per-project, we need to work on assumptions and estimates as to how much time the project will take to complete. But what makes me lean towards the per-project price and against the hourly rate is that it perhaps helps avoid the suspicion of working slowly on purpose – in order to charge more. I am not sure, but I think that perhaps clients may a bit wary of the hourly rate because of this.

    As for agency clients, I think I will stick to the per-word rate for the time being as it is what most of them use and what seems the easiest for me. And, after all, the agency will do a big part of the work for me – marketing, finding clients, negotiating, DTP etc., so I should be able to focus solely on the translation. I am aware that there is still the fact that all texts are different, and so, ideally, my per-word rate should reflect this (and change from project to project), but many agencies I work with are nice enough to offer an extra hour or so to be added to the invoice if there clearly is more work involved.
    But I do agree that we need to instil some more respect into our profession and that the per-word model might not help here – translation is not a commodity and translators are not machines for churning out words!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jadwiga,
      Many thanks for stopping by the blog and commenting.
      My argument about the number of hours was seeing it from the client’s point of view. If we say it’s going to take 5 hours but it then takes 8, the client will have to pay more, unless, of course, we’ve agreed to charge on the basis of the estimate. In the lump-sum project price, I take more than just the hours into account, as I’ll base it on perceived difficulty, my CAT-tool analysis, how many words there are, document format, etc. The time factor is just one piece of the price rather than the main focus.


  15. Hi, Nikki,
    I see some of my thoughts are converging to what you are doing. I’ll try to briefly explain.

    First, I remember reading an article on Multilingual (the mag) more than 10 years ago regarding how the per-project pay model may be the future for translators. I was intrigued, but not so much to the extent of keeping a copy of that article. Me bad.

    Second, when I started learning desktop publishing and multilingual typesetting (on my own), I felt I could offer those services in addition to translation. Thus, my own per-word/per-project fee was born (back in 2004-2005). I also used a per-hour fee for project management training in 2006-2007. I received no complaints or requests to lower my fees. Ever.

    Third, I think we have to work with different pricing models that meet different text criteria. By “text” I mean a brochure, a video script, a movie script, a medical report or technical report with graphics and without them.

    I have a local client who knows how to negotiate changes in budgeted hours. For example, he asked me to quote the InDesign typesetting of 9 languages, some European, some Southeast Asian. Given the extent of the document (36 pages), I proposed about 12 hours for European languages and 15-17 hours for the SE Asian ones. Boy, was I off! After spending 17 hours on one of the European languages, I immediately informed my client, who in turn informed his customer. After all, a quote or an estimate is just that, an estimate or an approximation. It’s not written in stone.

    Speed in writing translations should not be part of the quoting equation, ever. Why? For the reasons you gave: different translators write at different speeds, and it’s not just a matter of being a neophyte vs. a seasoned practitioner. Even highly experienced translators like you and me would need more time typing up a list of parts, for example.

    Finally, we translators need to understand two things: 1) a translation involves more than just the words on a page, but also the spaces between words and paragraphs and pages. A translator needs to view text architecturally, so to speak, and as a painter would as well; and 2) we translators can push back on pricing models or negotiation models that do not meet our needs or professional stand, all without neglecting a hard-earned business relationship forged with a customer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mario,
      Thanks for dropping by the blog and commenting on your experience.
      I fully agree with you that we need prices for different types of text. I have one client that sometimes tries to get me to do menus at a per-word rate, jobs I refuse, and another that pays appropriately for the time it takes to translate menus. A word cannot be given the same “weighting” across all contexts.
      And you make a very interesting point about viewing a text architecturally.


    2. “After all, a quote or an estimate is just that, an estimate or an approximation. It’s not written in stone.”

      I thought quotes were binding? If a client asks for a quote, I’ve always given them an estimate (usually on the generous side, to be safe – and then if the job comes in under that it’s good news for them, isn’t it?) It appears they just need to have some idea of price so they can budget for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Perhaps quotes (quotations) are not binding everywhere or it could be a case of the way these terms get translated sometimes. It’s probably best in our line of work to make sure the client knows when we are quoting a fixed price and when it really is just our best guess and might, therefore, go up or down after we start.
        I rarely give an estimate for lump-sum projects. If I make a mistake and end up out of pocket (so to speak), then that’s my fault and my problem. However, like Alison, I have sometimes invoiced for less than the quote to keep a client happy (in other words, in cases where they thought it would be less and I was indeed able to do the work faster than I had anticipated because it was not as complicated as I had originally envisaged).


        1. I am assuming that most business-minded customers know the difference between an estimate and a binding quote, but this conversation gives me an idea to add clarification to my email footnote.


      2. When I was a project manager, I tried to live by at least one rule: ask all the pertinent questions first, before starting the job. Saves time and energy, in my opinion.

        However, you may have a point, Alison: maybe we should use the phrase “non-binding quote” or the slightly redundant “non-binding estimate” in our quotes, especially when we might be off by more than 2 hours (or whatever feels too monetarily painful for us).


  16. My husband who is a freelancer recently was disappointed after a client never replied back when he presented which I believe was a fair round number for a month’s work. It was something that he really wanted to do even if the deadline was somewhat short, and his price was under what he makes in a month. I was upset just at the fact that the client never replied, but also that someone else would be doing that job for peanuts.


  17. Hello Nikki!

    I know it’s been a long time since this was first posted, but hey, the topic is still relevant and I’ve been confronted to this issue lately

    I’ve had a client asking me to translate his website and he had no real idea about the word count, nor had his web designer who could only tell me there were some 32 files to translate. As they both estimated it shouldn’t be much more than 10,000 words, we agreed for a first payment upfront based on this word count, and that there woud be a complementary invoice if needed. After processing and translating the files, I ended up with some 7200 words in total, so I offered to translate part of their blog or later updates as a compensation…

    But how can you estimate a quote for a website translation without any idea about the volume? I know you also have to take into account the format, research, terminology and so on, but all these are also related to the volume, aren’t they? I would really appreciate some tips on how to make a realistic quote for a website translation.

    And thank you so much for all these words of wisdom that you share with us!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the short answer to your question about quoting without knowing the volume is… you don’t. I don’t wish to sound facetious, but that’s how I see it. Particularly when it comes to websites.

      After a few queries from people essentially just asking me to “translate everything on whateveritwasdotcom”, in one or two cases where I really could not be sure the person owned the content I was being asked to translate (email addresses, I decided the simplest and fairest solution for both sides was for the person making the enquiry to supply me with a set of source files for the website, or discussion ends. With a set of source files, the volume is known, and your original question then does not arise.

      Obviously, if futher source files emerge subsequently, we can discuss changing the fee. But as a general rule, I only agree to open-ended arrangements (and I do have a couple of those) with clients I have known for a considerable time.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi Charlie, thanks for your reply. I can handle a bit of sarcasm, no worries. In this case I didn’t have any doubt about the content ownership, but the client wanted an estimate before the source files were even finalized since they were completely rewriting the website. He was the one insisting on paying upfront because of some cooperative funding, and that’s why he needed an early estimate. Hard to say no to someone insisting on paying before the job is done 🙂
        Thanks again for your advice.


  18. A couple of things that come to mind are: you could issue a credit note. See this post by Nancy Matis on the subject:
    You could have charged 50% of the estimate upfront and then the rest just before delivery (when you would have known how many words you were dealing with).
    I’m pretty sure there is software that can extract webpages for you and count the words, but I don’t use any and don’t remember what it is called (perhaps another reader can help).
    For websites I definitely would charge a per project price rather than a per word price unless the content is given to me in a Word document and I don’t need to do any of the fiddly formatting. It sounds as if the client was happy with your initial estimate regardless of the number of words and by introducing the “per word” concept, you have perhaps inadvertently created a problem.


    1. Hi Nikki. Thanks for your reply.
      A tool to extract the web pages and get a word count is exactly what I was thinking of, it would have been very useful. The client was the one insisting on paying upfront for the assignment because of some funding issues he had to comply with. But I think you’re right about him being happy with my initial estimate: I sent him a mail more than a week ago to give him the final word count and to offer different possibilities to make up for the difference, and I haven’t heard anything from him since then! So I don’t think we have much of a problem after all…

      Generally speaking, I think you’re right and that I’d rather charge a per project price next time I get this kind of work.
      If anybody knows about some software to extract and count words from html files, I’m interested!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi, Valérie. Regarding the word count in HTML files – I use Trados 2015, SmartCAT and MateCat. They all can handle HTML files and provide a word count. Of course, Trados and SmartCAT provide a more detailed breakdown. Another question is how to get HTML files of a website. For this purpose, you can use a special script that enables you to download the entire website: here is the link After you have downloaded the website you can select the pages and create a project in Trados to calculate word count of certain web pages (In Trados go to Project -> Batch processing -> Analyse files).

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Simon! This httrack tool might do the trick! Because my problem was to have an idea of the volume before I actually received the shtml files, which I had to rename to html before uploading them into Wordfast, and then I had the statistics available…
      Thanks again!


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