Translation Billing: By the Word, the Hour, or the Project?

April 17th, 2016

Translation billing is always an interesting topic of conversation for translators.

Translation Billing: By the Word, the Hour, or the Project? | One Hour Translation

Translation billing is always an interesting topic of conversation for translators. By this, we mean: How translators should charge! We’re not talking here about the actual amounts translators charge, but whether they should charge by the word, by the hour, or by the project. So let’s have a look at these different charge-out rates –

Charging by the Word

In the translation industry, charging by the word still seems to be the norm, certainly in the translation agency market. The advantage of charging by the word is that, if you charge by the source word count, then there are no surprises because everyone knows in advance precisely how much the translation is going to cost – even before the translation project commences. In addition, charging by the word favours translators who are more experienced and more specialised and are thus quicker at their work. It also encourages translators to work with productivity enhancing technology.

However, the disadvantage of billing per word is that it does seem to work negatively for the translation industry. Some clients will argue about what they consider to be unnecessary words, discounted words, and so on. The other disadvantage is that billing per word discourages translators from completing thorough research, which is obviously time-consuming. The feeling is that: ‘We’re not earning if we’re not typing!’

Charging by the Hour

It does seem that charging by the hour is becoming more popular in the translation industry. Historically, translators have been charging by the hour for specific tasks, like proofreading and editing, but today we see translators charging by the hour for their translation work as well. The theory is that most direct clients are used to paying for professional services such as marketing consultants, accountants, lawyers, web designers, and so on, by the hour. Translators who work thoroughly, but slowly, favour billing by the hour because it allows time for doing in-depth research and for reading background material.

The disadvantage of billing by the hour is that translation agencies are resistant to paying an hourly rate that corresponds to what translators earn when they bill by the word. By this we mean, a translator is effectively earning $75 per hour when they earn 15c per word and produce 500 finished words per hour - which far exceeds the hourly rate that most translators state they earn for tasks such as proofreading and editing.

Plus, we have the question: ‘What is actually billable?’ Does it include email time, phone time, revisions, FedEx time and so on? So, unless your clients agree to commence a translation project without a binding quotation, or you know your exact translation speed for every document, it’s almost impossible to estimate any given job.

Charging by the Project

When you charge by the project, there’s no breakdown of words or hours. One of the advantages of billing this way is that the translator can play around with the per word or per hour rate. Perhaps the biggest advantage is to the client because they only have one number to consider. They’re not interested in words or hours or whether their translator is slow or fast compared to other translators.

The disadvantage is on the side of the translator because you’re locked into this fixed price; meaning that if the project takes a lot longer than you anticipated, there’s nothing you can do about it.

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