When you choose the life of a freelancer, you’re choosing, to a certain degree, uncertainty and constant turmoil. In a salaried position you’re insulated from much of this tumult: Your sales division has to deal with slow sales or lost clients, all while you toil away in the back office, content and peaceful (at least until something happens and you lose your job, often with no warning because you didn’t know what was happening beyond your walls!).
Freelance translation services professionals, on the other hand, never get to relax, because we’re our own sales and client services team. That means that every job we take on is a fresh negotiation, from the rate we charge to the approach and policies we undertake in the name of our clients. One of the most difficult aspects of freelance language translation work, in fact, is this changeability: You have to constantly ask yourself if the rate you charged last time was correct, or if you shouldn’t, perhaps, raise it. Just be warned: While your rate is your business, there are some unwritten rules about changing it.
Never Change Rates During a Job
This is perhaps the most important rule of freelancing: Never, under any but the most dire circumstances, change your rate in the middle of a job.
It does happen that you sometimes miscalculate your rate and wind up not making much profit on a job, or having to work ridiculous hours that reduce your per-hour pay to below the minimum wage or other disasters. Even so, it is a terrible idea to change your rate. Once you bid on a job, you are making a commitment to your client. It’s up to you to know the proper rate to charge, not them.
The only possible scenario where changing your rate mid-job is permissible is if you are deceived or purposefully confused by your client as to the scale of the work. Otherwise, just survive and learn a lesson.
Always Review Rates between Jobs
The second unwritten rule is to always review your rates and consider raising them when you finish one job and are preparing bids or discussing further work with a client. This is your moment, this is the time when you can change your rates without rattling anyone’s cage or making enemies. Just be careful: Too high a jump and clients can get angry, and too-frequent increases can make clients feel like you’re scamming them.
Beware Long-Term Rate Locks
Sometimes a client will present a simple idea: They will offer you steady volumes of work if you agree to keep your rate locked-in for a period of time. Sometimes this makes sense, but be very careful: The longer you agree to lock your rates the more probable it is that you regret the decision. This is because over time your rate will be worth less as inflation works, and raised rates with other clients will do you little good due to a lack of bandwidth.