The Price Is Right

My readers will probably remember from a previous post that I am determined to slowly abandon the per-word pricing scheme for a more realistic model: the per-project fee. I have a few good reasons: it’s not just translation, and sometimes the project requires other services that add value to the job.

After a failed bid to secure a medium-sized project from an old customer of mine, I decided to take further initiatives, such as asking “What is your projected budget for this project?” instead of blithely giving a per-word fee and expect it to be accepted. These days, very few clients bother to email back asking for a lower fee because they go to a better (sometimes lower) bidder.

A few weeks ago, I found myself visiting my local Borders bookstore (I know, they’ll be gone; a pity). My curious and analytical mind usually takes me to magazines and books that have little, if anything, to do with translation or the translation business. That’s why I felt such a rush of feelings (surprise and pleasure) when I picked a copy of the July 2011 issue of HOW magazine. On page 42, I  found an excellent article penned by marketing mentor Ilise Benun titled “The Budget Game”.

In this feature, Ilise explains how to handle the discussion about project fees head on:

Broaching the subject of money as early in the process as possible puts you in the driver’s seat. It positions you as the professional you are, planting the seeds for the client to trust they are in good hands. It also allows you to weed out inappropriate candidates. Your goal in the first conversation is to determine whether you can provide what they need and, if so, whether it would be a profitable project for you.

Here are a few phrases to try:

  • “What budget have you allocated for this project?” The construction of this question presumes they have allocated a budget.
  • “What do you have in mind to spend?”
  • “What can you afford?”
    (Source:  Adapted from Ilse Benun’s The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money. Reprinted with permission from the author)

This is good, meaty advice for freelance translators like myself, and I plan on sharing it with other colleagues. While I won’t be adopting the aggressive model of lawyers, who charge by the half hour for phone consultations, I am applying some of these recommendations to current negotiations for projects, with good results. The customer needs to be persuaded that the services in addition to pure translation do add value to his project. At that point, the customer will find little difficulty in accepting the additional fees.

Fellow translator who is reading this posting: Keep in mind that there is good advice and kernels of truth everywhere, not just in translation-related magazines and books. Dear customer, please feel free to add your general comments to this post. If you have some questions or concerns after reading this post, you know where to find me.

For more excellent material by Ilise Benun, please click here.



Filed under Customer relationship, Negotiations, Rates

4 responses to “The Price Is Right

  1. But how do you determine the project fee? You’ve got to base it on something, either an estimate of the number of hours involved (in which case you’re billing by the hour ultimately), an estimate of the size (word count) of the project plus any additional services needed (which you then round off). I often bill on a project basis, but only for large, long-term projects. Most clients, and all translation companies, insist upon a per-word estimate. It’s easier for them to quantify if they have the source word count.

    • Good point: we have to use a mutually agreed basis with the client. An example to use a project fee as a unit may come in the form of a minimum rush fee or a minimum translation plus typesetting fee (which I happen to use). Once the client and I agreed on what constitutes a minimum project fee, then it’s easy to use it as a unit.

      Perhaps I should say that it’s best to deemphasize wordcount as a basis for fee negotiation. A translator performs non-mechanical tasks to render a translation: time to think and research, time to read or reread and review what she has translated, etc. These are billable times, or rather, we should make them billable.

      • Oh, couldn’t agree more about de-emphasizing word counts. Been trying to spread the word about that for twenty years. Typists charge by the word (at least they used to, when there were typists).

      • I’m working on a plan, on how to bring the thinking time to the fore with customers. It’ll probably take me 20 years as well. Thank you for your thoughtful opinion & keep them coming.

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