The true value of translation work isn’t always reflected in the standard rates of our business, but you can always choose to do go work no matter what the pay.
It seems like no matter who you are, where you live, or what work you do, you believe you’re underpaid. I base this entirely on the casual research I have conducted tirelessly at endless cocktail parties, dinners, conferences, and professional gatherings I’ve attended through the years: Everyone I talk to, with an occasional exception, thinks they should be earning more money for what they do – and believe me, your typical language translation professional is no different.
The translation industry, however, has reached a point where our rates are more or less fixed by the market. None of us can possibly offer any service or add-on that significantly changes or improves the service we’re offering: Speed, accuracy metrics, and other measurable aspects of the work have already been established. I can’t work significantly faster than my competition and vice-versa, and so all I can do on that front is meet the standards that exist and charge within the range of acceptable rates.
The Value of an Industry
Of course, what you get paid in any industry doesn’t always have anything to do with the value of your work – the true value of it – but rather has everything to do with how saturated the market is. There are a lot of translation companies and freelancers out there. If I decide to charge a few pennies a word more than my competitors, very soon my clients will decamp for someone else.
On the other hand, there’s some protection there: Since the rates are more or less standard, clients can’t really threaten to leave unless I lower my rates, because realistically all they can do is defect to someone else – and end up paying the same amount there. That may be more of a moral victory than anything else, but I’ll take it!
My advice to all of my fellow translation professionals is to concentrate on the aspects of this business we can control: Quality.
After all, there’s only one real reason a client hires us – or stays with us, long term, or might someday consider paying more for our work than our competitors, and that’s because we do superior work. If you attack your business with the goal of doing better-quality work than any of your competitors the money will eventually follow. It might not be immediately, but it will come eventually, because quality is the only metric that you have full control over and that can’t be mechanically matched by someone else. If you work faster someone will match or exceed your turn-arounds. But working better isn’t so easy – and that’s how you set yourself apart.
And it also just makes you feel better about what you’re doing. Pride in your work, even if it doesn’t necessarily lead to more money, is always a better way to live than simply grinding material out for pay.
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