A reader sent me an email asking me several questions, including the following:
Do all translators give volume discounts for big projects?
I can see several reasons why a translator might be tempted to offer a discount on her work. First of all, the security of having work for a few months can be a real incentive when work has been patchy or your client base isn’t as secure as you’d like. Second, there is so much competition out there that price and "special offers", like a volume discount, can mean that a client will chose you rather than the other translators who are competing for the same job. Third, once you’ve been translating the same project for a few weeks, you’re bound to become quicker and more efficient: words come easily, terminology becomes second nature and your productivity increases, leading to more money being earned in one day, which cancels the lower rate.
These are all valid reasons, but having said all this, I never give volume discounts, mainly because I see it as a slippery slope. First a volume discount, then what? A 2 for 1 offer? Free translation in September? Volume discount makes complete sense in the manufacturing sector, because of economies of scale. You’ve invested in machinery and materials, so the more you produce, the cheaper each extra unit becomes, and you’re able to pass on these savings on to your customers if you so wish. This is not the case when you translate. Although you do become quicker as you gain expertise and knowledge in one particular field, this is due to your capacity to internalise new knowledge and skills, and this gain of productivity is very limited. To guarantee quality translations, you still have to edit, proofread your own work and generally spend a certain amount of time on it. Besides, other problems crop up with a large translation project: keeping the translation consistent over hundreds of thousands of words is a real challenge and might cancel out any improvement in your productivity.
Second, although clients may ask for a discount on large projects because they think they are very desirable, there are lots of risks attached to taking on a job which consumes all my attention: not only there is a real danger I might lose regular and valued customers by not being able to take on any of their projects for an extended period of time, but I also wouldn’t have time to acquire new ones. At the end of the large project, there is a real danger that I might find myself very quiet indeed. Also, from a day-to-day point of view, it’s not the most satisfying way to work for me, as it can be monotonous. One of the things I love about my job is its variety, chatting with different clients, grappling with varied types of documents, always being on the go. I did take on a large project last year (190,000 words at my normal rate) and enjoyed the challenge very much, but it was mainly because the deadlines were quite flexible, which allowed me to organise my workload so I could carry on working for my other clients.
So to sum up, volume discounts just don’t work for me. Working for less doesn’t make sense when the benefits aren’t clear-cut at all and the security that comes with a long-term project, besides being illusory, isn’t enough to convince me to lower my rates. I’d rather keep looking after my regular clients while expanding my client base, on my terms. To me, this is a much better long-term strategy.