Posted by: patenttranslator | November 11, 2011

Occupy Your Rates!

I have been asked a number of times to lower my rates by translation agencies both last year and this year. I foolishly accommodated one agency’s “special project” which lasted on and off for several months by charging them 15% less than what I used to charge for that particular project. When it turned out that they expected me to give them the same discount on unrelated projects as well, I stopped working for them altogether as I did for several other agencies in the last two years.

If I was 30 years younger, I would be probably camping out with the Occupy Wall Street crowd somewhere in this country, at least in the summer. But as I have a business to run and bills to pay, I can’t do things like that anymore. Plus I do need a really comfortable bed at night. That is not negotiable! And who would be walking our dog Lucy in the morning when I wake up? But I can support those mostly young people who are demanding a fair deal from a skewed and corrupt system by insisting on being paid what I consider a fair rate. Here is a scary thought: The unhappy young campers that I see now demonstrating, (although I can make out their faces only on Youtube, on corporate news their faces appear only for a split second if at all), seem to be the same passionate young people who were ringing my doorbell 3 years to ask me to vote for Obama and then patiently waited in a line that snaked for hours in front of a local church with voting booths to vote for him.

Although I basically lost all agency clients in this manner as I seem to be too expensive at this point to most of them, it’s not much of a loss for me. Most of my clients are law firms and they don’t haggle with me. They either accept my offer or go somewhere else. Not a single patent law firm asked me for a discount due to “bad economy”. I think that the economy is actually pretty good for the patent business, and the fact is that I already give a considerable discount in exchange for a longer deadline so that I can juggle rush translations with non-rush work at the same time.

I happen to believe that most freelance translators are seriously underpaid. They don’t know how much work they will have from one week to the next. If they have no work, they have no income. In the US, they have to pay 100% of the self employment tax in addition to income tax and other taxes (state, local, sales). The self employment tax alone can be higher than the so called income tax. Freelancers get absolutely no benefits such as pension or health insurance, etc. When they are unemployed, they can’t go to the unemployment office to ask for help. When you consider how much you will have left in your pocket after taxes on long projects for a low rate … it makes more sense to read a book instead because once you agree to a lower rate, it’s very difficult to raise it again.

Although I have been merrily shedding agency clients like an old dog sheds big clumps of hair recently, I already made 20 percent more so far this year compared to 2010. And probably between 20 and 30 percent of my income this year will be generated not from my own translations but from translations of other people.

So I am occupying what I consider my middle of the road rates. And although I am just as motivated by money as the next guy, the fact is that when I consider whether I want a certain translator to work on a project for me, I automatically reject people who ask for less than what I think is the going rate right away. Although theoretically, I would be making more money if I could use cheaper labor, I think that the main reason why people charge low rates is that they can’t get higher rates … because they are not very good.

And to work with people who are not very good would be simply too much of a risk for me.



  1. […] weeks LSPs are not just agencies! Interpreters: Life/Death Theft at conferences Welcome to my blog Occupy Your Rates! Subtitling – Part I How not to […]


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