Freelance translators and quoting

anarkyQuoting is one of the very first steps of a translation project. With a new prospect, it could mean the beginning of a long-term collaboration and as such, it is a crucial step.
Sending a clear quote is essential. A document giving detailed information about a project means that all parties know exactly what the project will entail and their roles and responsibilities: the translator agrees to deliver so many words on a particular date and the client agrees to pay the price quoted. In order to do this, I analyse the document to assess its difficulty, the time it will take me to translate and how it will fit in with my work schedule. The more complex the document, the longer it will take me to produce the translation and so the higher the per word rate is. This hourly rate calculator is very useful and this wiki on determining your rates also contains interesting information.
I never take into account the competition when I prepare a quote. I decided long ago to remain a neutral observer of the price wars, for a simple reason: that’s all I can do. There will always be translators that are in a position to offer much cheaper rates than me, so my unique selling points are the quality of my work, my reliability and my efficiency. So far, this approach has worked for me, but lately, I’ve had a string of rejected quotes. One was strictly because of rates, another prospective client found someone with more experience than me, another decided to go with a translation agency instead of several freelance translators, another I’m not sure. I asked for feedback from my latest prospect and she told me that she liked my personal approach and my website, which made her feel welcome and aware of my process, but that her decision came down to budget.
I can’t help feeling that had I given her a call to discuss her project, she might have decided to pick me. Although her project was straightforward and didn’t necessarily need discussing, she clearly values a personal approach and creating a rapport might have made the difference. The other mistake I think I made was that I didn’t tell her how interested I was in her project and how I was looking forward to sinking my teeth in it – it required a creative touch, which I love, and I should have emphasised the need for us to have regular communication in order to get the right tone for the translation.
I always aim to make working with me as simple as possible for my clients: people are busy and the less maintenance I require, the more they can dedicate their time to other tasks, which they are generally grateful for. In some cases however, and definitely in this one, speed and efficiency must be put aside to favour a more personal touch: by firing an email with my quote without taking the time to talk to my prospect, I probably lost the “personal edge” she liked when she visited my website. In freelance translation, one size definitely doesn’t fit all.
Photo by StartTheDay

By | 2016-10-18T15:48:49+00:00 July 13th, 2010|Freelance Translation|8 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Franziska July 13, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Thanks for sharing your insights, Céline! As discussed on Twitter yesterday, I’ve been facing similar problems lately. I agree that calling prospects for the personal touch is a great idea, however, for some we’re simply at the end of the value chain – it happened to me a couple of times that an e-mail requesting a quote was sent out late in the afternoon, asking for reply by tomorrow morning. When trying to get back to them immediately after receiving the mail -of course- no one would answer the phone. If it comes down to mere price competition, I don’t think a call would change anything – but then do we really want to work with this kind of clients? 😉

  2. céline July 13, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Very true – for some clients, the rate is everything and the “personal touch” is irrelevant. For others on the other hand, the added value we freelancers offer does matter and it’s up to us to put it forward.

  3. Sarah July 13, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    The art, of course, is determining just what kind of client you are dealing with before sending the quote. It is nice to know that some people value the personal touch but how do you find that out before your quote is rejected?

  4. céline July 13, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    @Sarah: There were a few clues I could have picked up on, but they weren’t obvious. Maybe it’d be best to always offer to talk over the phone.

  5. steve vitek July 15, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    “I never take into account the competition when I prepare a quote. I decided long ago to remain a neutral observer of the price wars, for a simple reason: that’s all I can do.”
    IMHO, Each and every translator is a participant in what might be called “price wars”. Nobody is neutral- by quoting a price, you participate in the market place just like everybody else. And there is something called “the going rate” for just about everything, including translation. I know what the high range of the going rate is for somebody in my language combinations and with my experience, and I know what the low range is as well. It took me a while to figure it out.
    I think that we can basically influence the rate that we can get on a long-term basis only in 2 ways:
    1. We can work for agencies, or we can do what you do, Celine, and cultivate direct clients. If we can find them and are no longer dependent for work on agencies, we can charge on average about 50% more. I mostly work now for direct clients, but I will gladly occasionally work for less for an agency that pays fast and treats me with respect. But I only work regularly for about 3 agencies and I don’t really want to have more agency clients.
    2. Time is money. I always quote two prices to direct clients – 1 price is for rush and 1 price is for non-rush. Sometime I time the non-rush delivery very close to what would normally be rush if I suspect that I may be competing with other translation services, and I often am doing just that when potential clients send an inquiry to several services that came up on Google search along with my website. Most of the time the client will go for non-rush due to the price differential, which is 40% in my case, but about 30% of my work is on a rush basis. Since most of my direct clients are patent law firms, they don’t really care too much whether they pay rush or non-rush, they give both quotes to their client who will make the decision and in the end pay the bill.
    I just wanted to say that I enjoy your posts and add my 2 cents.
    Different translation fields call for different pricing strategies. I believe that my strategy works well in my field (patent translation), but
    not necessarily in other fields.
    Best regards,
    Steve Vitek

  6. céline July 16, 2010 at 11:00 am

    @Steve: I never thought of quoting two prices. I normally estimate a comfortable deadline and if the client wants the translation sooner, I do charge a rush price, but only if it means changing my schedule around or/and working outside of my preferred hours. Delighted to discover your blog!

  7. steve vitek July 16, 2010 at 11:41 am

    “Delighted to discover your blog!”
    As I was to discover yours, quite a while ago.
    Since you are writing about the art of quoting a price, maybe you should start a discussion about what translators can do to keep increasing their rates in order to keep up with cost of living increases. This is very difficult to do, in particular with old clients, and particularly difficult in this horrible economy, at least on this side of the pond. Maybe it’s better in Europe (or maybe it’s worse). My rates went up by about 30% in more than 20 years but the cost of living went up much more.

  8. céline July 19, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    That discussion is ongoing on other platforms, like Twitter…

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