A 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.