What fees to charge for translation work

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The general minimum price that professional translators charge is 10 (euro-)cents per word. This increases for specialist texts, and works out at around €30 to €50 per hour. Much of that disappears on tax, health insurance, private pension plans etc. Sixty pages is probably a LOT of text, so don't underestimate how much time you will need to translate it and then go back and proofread it at least once.

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Let me say that translation work is hard graft. Those who have taken weeks/months to produce a document

in one language sometimes exepct you to translate into your own language with very little effort (& cost).

If you plug the text into some online translation tool the results will be interesting to say the least.

 

And when I hear "personal use" they probably expect not to have to pay much.

I've done such translating...

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Yes, and whenever people say "just do a quick translation", you know they expect you to do it for next to nothing!

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I have a business plan that needs to be translated. The document is about 3000 words spread across 16 pages (a few charts and graphs in there as well). It's not very technical, so it shouldn't be too tough to translate. Can any translators out there give me an idea on how much this would cost?

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Are they long or short words? ;)

 

Seriously, a character count with spaces is easier to assess...

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Here are the details on the document:

 

Pages: 16

Words: 2776

Characters (no spaces): 14798

Characters (with spaces): 17409

Paragraphs: 244

Lines: 511

 

My bank needs it translated. Its not technical, the words aren't very big.

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I don't suppose anybody has any idea of a suitable rate for translation from English into Hungarian? We have been quoted 1500€ for a 4000 word document. It is a user manual for a (medical) database so some vocabulary would be a little specific.

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Here are a few general comments - in no particular order and are based on my own personal experience - about freelance translating and what sorts of fees you can expect to be paid in Germany.

 

I have been translating on a freelance basis in Germany since June 2001. As the profession is not regulated here (or anywhere else, I suspect), anybody who thinks they can speak a foreign language can do translations, which basically means that prices are pretty bloody lousy.

 

1. If you're looking to get into the profession and don't have much experience, you may have to be prepared to accept lower rates for a year or so to get work. It also helps to have some sort of reputable/recognised translation qualification. Highschool German won't do it.

 

2. Your fees will depend on whether you work mainly for agencies (as I do) or whether you work for direct clients, e.g. firms, which I do, but only a little because such contacts are not easy to come by. Obviously you will earn less working for an agency as they will take their own commission off the top before paying you. On the other hand, agency work is far easier to come by so if you contact enough agencies you can expect to get more work. Fees from direct/company clients are roughly 50%-100% higher than agency fees. (I charge direct/company clients between €1.20 to €1.50/ line.) Before contacting agencies, prepare a one-page profile about yourself and your qualifications and translating experience and - equally important, what subjects you DON'T do. Also prepare a separate page on what software you have.

 

Essentially, agencies will either tell you what they're prepared to pay you for your language combination/direction and subject area/s ("Take it or leave it, mate!") or you can dicker with them to a slight extent and (do what I do and) say, "I have a general price ("Richtpreis") of €0.XX per line." If they demur and say that's a bit too high, you can then ask what sort of price they could envisage paying. If they say "€0.60" or €0.70/line, you may have to accept that to get work and experience. My general price is €0.90 but most accept only €0.80. I can live quite happily with that. One agency won't pay more than €0.75 but then I get a lot of work from them. But do be aware that your general price should be a bit higher than what you expect, or are prepared, to settle for. That way you can come down. (It's a bit like selling a car or a house.) Also set a fee-level below you will NOT go. A few agencies pay as little as €0.35/line. That's pretty crappy but if you have other sources of income or if you are not the main income earner, you should consider whether you want to work for fees of that level or not. I don't/won't, but my fees are my only source of income.

 

3. One important factor is your subject area. I "specialise" in business, law, logistics, PR, press statements, official documents and also do a lot of run-of-the-mill stuff. Clearly this does not command top rates. If, on the other hand, you do nuclear physics/medicine/pharmaceuticals etc. you may be able to command slightly higher rates because of the specialised knowledge involved. Just make sure you know your subject. But see also Point 7. below.

 

4. Another factor is your language combination. If (as I do) you do German to English, for example, you're going to earn a lot less than, say, Chinese to Albanian or Tagalog to Hindi or backwards. So the scarcity value of your language combination will also determine your fee to some extent.

 

5. I don't do a lot of proof-reading, but I used to charge about €25.00/hour, sometimes €30.00 if I could get away with it. For a direct client I would charge about €50.00/hour. If you can get more, let me know.

 

6. Another thing. I don't know how long you've been in Germany or how good your German is, but assuming your native language is English, don't fall into the trap of doing English-German translations, even if somone asks you to. Plead a general lack of ability in that area and leave that to the natives. Your spoken/written German may be absolutely bloody fantastic but you will probably not be able to do a sufficiently good English-German translation of an acceptable local standard. (I can't.) And many/most agencies will not let you do English-German translations for this reason, anyway. Live with it.

 

7. Another trap to avoid is to translate a subject area in which you have no real expertise. I've done this a few times and really pissed off the agency because they had to get someone else to fix the thing up again and I had to forego half my fee. So: only translate those subject area you know well. It's very tempting to say, "Well, I'll have a go", simply because the fee's bloody enormous or you simply "think" you can do it. Remember: if you do a lousy translation, you can generally forget the generous fee and you've also pissed off a client/agency. It's a lot more honest and less stressful to say that you don't actually know your way around nanotechnology or basket-making in 15th century Albania and decline the job. Your honesty will be appreciated and you earn brownie points for later.

 

8. If you're translating professionally, get a German tax consultant PDQ/ASAP. The Finanzamt told me that when I started. You will also need to apply for a VAT number and a new tax number.

 

9. Just in case you don't know, the above fees do not include VAT/MWSt, so you've got to whack that on in your final invoice.

 

10. Start up a business account at your bank for your fees to be paid into. Generally you can expect to keep half your fees for taxes and insurances etc. and the other half for yourself.

 

11. Don't try to cheat on your taxes. Since there's no longer any banking secrecy in Germany (like the rest of continental Europe, Germany is essentially a surveillance state), the Finanzamt will find out sooner or later. So pay the buggers what you owe them. It also earns brownie points if you have genuine difficulties later and need time to pay or something like that.

 

12. Be prepared to work a lot of anti-social hours, like late at night, weekends, public holidays etc. (As a freelancer, you will not, however, be able to charge extra as the market won't stand it - see Point 15.) And you can generally forget about annual holidays.

 

13. Be aware that clients take at least 4 weeks to pay; most agencies take between 4 and 6 weeks, som even longer. Make sure you can pay your bills in that period. Payment will be irregular and in differing amounts and at differing times. Consider offering discounts to early payers.

 

14. Generally speaking, do good-quality work (this point is not as self-evident to many translators as it should be), hand the work in on time, check it thoroughly before you hand it in and be available (see Point 12 above - you can sometimes earn good money by working anti-social hours) and you can be confident that you'll be able to earn a half-decent living as a translator. (If you want to.)

 

15. Finally, if you're translating professionally and living entirely or to a large extent (60%+) from your fees, it is absolutely essential that you regard your work as a business. That means firstly that you are a service provider, i.e., you are providing clients with a service (see Point 12 above) for which you expect to get paid. This means that if people are paying you for your work, they will expect value for money (the German market is very price-conscious). Secondly, as a full-time, professional translator, always bear in mind that you're a businessman/woman first and a translator second. This is because - to put it bluntly - if the money doesn't add up at the end of the month, you're in the shit. (I will presume for the purposes of this argument that you're currently not earning a salary.) So THE MONEY HAS TO BE RIGHT. Remember: if you're not working, you're not earning. And if you're not earning, you're not eating.

 

Here endeth the lesson. I hope these pointers are of some use.

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Thanks for that! I'm particularly interested in the bit where you say you do law translating, I've had a few requests I can pass on.

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Here are a few general comments - in no particular order and are based on my own personal experience - about freelance translating and what sorts of fees you can expect to be paid in Germany.

 

I have been translating on a freelance basis in Germany since June 2001. As the profession is not regulated here (or anywhere else, I suspect), anybody who thinks they can speak a foreign language can do translations, which basically means that prices are pretty bloody lousy.

 

1. If you're looking to get into the profession and don't have much experience, you may have to be prepared to accept lower rates for a year or so to get work. It also helps to have some sort of reputable/recognised translation qualification. High school German won't do it. University level is a minimum, in-country experience here in Germany is far better.

 

2. Your fees will depend on whether you work mainly for agencies (as I do) or whether you work for direct clients, e.g. firms, which I also do, but only a little because such contacts are not easy to come by. Obviously you will earn less working for an agency as they will take their own commission off the top before paying you. On the other hand, agency work is far easier to come by so if you contact enough agencies you can expect to get more work. Fees from direct/company clients are roughly 50%-100% higher than agency fees. (I charge direct/company clients between €1.20 to €1.50/ line.) Before contacting agencies, prepare a one-page profile about yourself and your qualifications and translating experience and - equally important, what subjects you DON'T do. Also prepare a separate page on what software you have.

 

Essentially, agencies will either tell you what they're prepared to pay you for your language combination/direction and subject area/s on a "Take it or leave it" basis, or you can dicker with them to a slight extent and say, "I have a general price ("Richtpreis") of €0.90 per line." If they demur and say that's a bit too high, you can then ask what sort of price they could envisage paying. If they say "€0.60" or €0.70/line, you may have to accept that to get work and experience. My general price is €0.90 but most accept only €0.80. I can live quite happily with that. One agency won't pay more than €0.75 but then I get a lot of work from them. But do be aware that your general price should be a bit higher than what you expect, or are prepared, to settle for. That way you can come down. It's a bit like selling a car or a house. Also set a fee-level below you will NOT go. One agency I came across pays as little as €0.35/line. That's pretty crappy but if you have other sources of income or if you are not the main income earner, you should consider whether you want to work for fees of that level or not. I don't/won't, but then again my fees are my only source of income.

 

3. One important factor is your subject area. I "specialise" in business, law, logistics, PR, press statements, official documents and I also do a lot of run-of-the-mill stuff. Clearly this does not command top rates. If, on the other hand, you do nuclear physics/-medicine/pharmaceuticals etc. you may be able to command slightly higher rates because of the specialised knowledge involved. Just make sure you know your subject. But see also Point 7. below.

 

4. Another factor is your language combination. If (as I do) you do German to English, for example, you're going to earn a lot less than, say, Chinese to Albanian or Tagalog to Hindi or backwards. So the scarcity value of your language combination will also determine your fee to some extent.

 

5. I don't do a lot of proof-reading, but I used to charge about €25.00/hour, sometimes €30.00 if I could get away with it. For a direct client I would charge about €50.00/hour. If you can get more, let me know. I'd love to get €90.00/hr but the market I'm in won't stand it.

 

6. Another thing. I don't know how long you've been in Germany or how good your German is, but assuming your native language is English, don't fall into the trap of doing English-German translations, even if someone asks you to. Plead a general lack of ability in that area and leave that to the natives. Your spoken/written German may be absolutely bloody fantastic but you will probably not be able to do a sufficiently good English-German translation of an acceptable local standard. (I can't.) And many/most agencies will not let you do English-German translations for this reason, anyway.

 

7. Another trap to avoid is translating in a subject area in which you have no real expertise. I've done this a few times and really pissed off the agency because they had to get someone else to fix the thing up again and I had to forego half my fee. So: only translate those subject areas you know particularly well. It's very tempting to say, "Well, I'll have a go", simply because the fee's enormous or you simply "think" you can do it. Remember: if you do a lousy translation, you can generally forget the generous fee and you've also pissed off a client/agency. It's a lot more honest and less stressful to admit right out that you don't actually know your way around nanotechnology or basket-making in 15th century Albania and decline the job. Your honesty will be appreciated and you earn brownie points for later.

 

8. If you're translating professionally, get a German tax consultant - fast. The Finanzamt told me that when I started. You will also need to apply for a VAT number and a new tax number.

 

9. Just in case you don't know, the above fees do not include VAT (MWSt), so you've got to whack that on to your final invoice amount as well.

 

10. Start up a business account at your bank for your fees to be paid into. Generally you can expect to keep half your fees for taxes and insurances etc. and the other half for yourself.

 

11. Don't try to cheat on your taxes. Since there's no longer any banking secrecy in Germany (like the rest of continental Europe, Germany is essentially a surveillance state), the Finanzamt will find out sooner or later. So pay the buggers what you owe them. It also earns brownie points if you have genuine difficulties later and need time to pay or something like that.

 

12. Be prepared to work a lot of anti-social hours, like late at night, weekends, public holidays etc. (As a freelancer, you will not, however, be able to charge extra as the market won't stand it - see Point 15. Then again, if you can, let me please know.) And you can generally forget about annual holidays.

 

13. Be aware that most clients take at least 4 weeks to pay; most agencies take between 4 and 6 weeks, some even longer. So make sure you can pay your bills in that period. Payment will be in irregular amounts and at irregular intervals. Seriously consider offering discounts to early payers.

 

14. Also related to fees is the fact that if you're earning most or all of your fees from translating, remember that your time is valuable (see also Point 16). So don't go wasting too much time chasing bad debtors. Either threaten them with the debt collectors (and if you make such threats, be prepared to carry them out) or fire them. Nobody's paying you for the time you spend chasing up these roosters. Try to find a few decent agencies and direct clients that pay well and stick with them.

 

15. Generally speaking, do good-quality work , hand the work in on time, check it thoroughly before you hand it in (these first two points are not as self-evident to many translators as they should be)and be available (see Point 12 above - you can sometimes earn good money by working anti-social hours) and you can be confident that you'll be able to earn a half-decent living as a translator. (If that's what you want to do.) And if you plan to be away, don't forget to tell ALL your clients. Email is usually enough.

 

16. Finally, if you're translating professionally and living entirely or to a large extent (60%+) from your fees, it is absolutely essential that you regard your work as a business. That means firstly that you are a service provider, i.e., you are providing clients with a service (see Point 12 above) for which you expect to get paid. This means that if people are paying you for your work, they will expect value for money (the German market is very price-conscious). Secondly, as a full-time, professional translator, always bear in mind that you're a businessman/-woman first and a translator second. This is because - to put it bluntly - if you can't earn enough to live off and pay all your bills at the end of the month, you're in the shit. (I will assume for the purposes of this argument that you're currently not earning a salary.) Loving languages and translating won't pay the bills. So the money has to be right. As long as you're earning fees and not earning a salary, remember: if you're not working, you're not earning. And if you're not earning, you're not eating. It's that simple.

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I'm glad I read this thread... a friend has asked me translate several long documents DE -> EN for his company. I was going to do it for free until another friend I was telling about it reasoned with me, then I thought €5 might be fair as it's a friend. But it really is a LOT of translation to do, plus the language is quite fiddly so will take a bit longer than normal.

The first few answers on this thread from a few years ago recommended from €15 upwards per hour for a non-professional. I've done a translation and interpreting course, but I wouldn't say I'm a professional translator in any way, plus it's for a friend. Now I'm unsure what to charge. Of course I'd love loadsa dough, but I don't want to rip my friend off, plus I feel guilty at asking for money in the first place! So now I was considering €10 / hour. Is this crazy of me? Or have rates gone down since 6 years ago?

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dunno, I did a 4 page job of complicated text for a friend for lunch and a 100€ gift voucher for shoes (which I didn't ask for, but she wanted to atleast give me something). Is it actually for the friend's benefit or for the benefit of the company he/she works for?

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You could agree on a fixed fee, which makes it sound less "greedy" than asking for a certain amount of money per hour. If you take an average professional rate of ten cents a word, see what it comes to and decide how low you want to go based on that. It depends who's paying; if it's the company, then charge the full amount. You're not a charity.

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My friend owns the company, so it's for the company's benefit. I think he sees this deal as a benefit for both of us; he saves money, I get some! I didn't want to ask for a fixed fee as I'm really unsure how long this work will take me due to the varied nature of the individual documents. 1 document was a 70-page presentation, another was a 4-page survey for example. I guess that his company is paying, but it's HIS company so... it's kinda him who's paying! At the end of the day, I'm happy with €10/hour but just wondering if this is really stupid of me.

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If you've done a course but are not active as a professional translator and the doc's are long, then I'd suggest you charge no less than €20.00 an hour. That's still less than the going rate for checking and it's still cheap. Remember, an "el cheapo" translation is usually a load of rubbish.

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How about you say - if you were paying a professional translator a rate of ten cents a word - it would cost you x - now make me an offer - and you can both come to an agreement based on that.

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Hmm yes I was trying to avoid doing that since the longest doc is pdf and to manually count 70 pages would take ages in itself!! Thanks for all your comments, I think I will ask for more than I was originally going to, and see if he feels comfortable with it.

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DDBug, if you've already decided to charge by the hour, OK. But for the future, charge by the line. Try about €0.60 (incl. punctuation & gaps). Here's how it works. Say you've done a translation with a total of 10,000 characters/strokes. Divide 10,000 by 55 (strokes per standard German line) and multiply that by €0.60 = €109.09. (Of course, you can always up the €0.60 line rate, too... !)

 

Also, if the agency your company uses does such rubbish translations (I assume Ger.>Eng), frankly I'd be happy to consider doing the work myself. I bet I could do better and for a bit less. Let me know. (Oooh, am I allowed to tout for business here?!)

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the longest doc is pdf and to manually count 70 pages would take ages in itself!!

Just copy-paste it into a Word file and look at the word count. Voilà.

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DDBug, if you've already decided to charge by the hour, OK. But for the future, charge by the line. Try about €0.60 (incl. punctuation & gaps). Here's how it works. Say you've done a translation with a total of 10,000 characters/strokes. Divide 10,000 by 55 (strokes per standard German line) and multiply that by €0.60 = €109.09. (Of course, you can always up the €0.60 line rate, too... !)

 

Also, if the agency your company uses does such rubbish translations (I assume Ger.>Eng), frankly I'd be happy to consider doing the work myself. I bet I could do better and for a bit less. Let me know. (Oooh, am I allowed to tout for business here?!)

:unsure:

 

Uhm, It wasn't me, but Urban Angel I think asking for advice.

 

FWIW - I don't charge by the hour for translation, but generally by the line (and considerably more than the amount you mentioned).

 

I do charge by the hour for conversion work (PDF to doc, for example), PowerPointless files and DTP/Layout work (Framemaker or even Word). And just as a point of reference, 10 - 20 Euros an hour is what I pay my cleaner; I need to earn more than that to be able to afford her.

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