Clients prefer per-word pricing
If, as I’m often told, project, instead of per word, pricing is the holy grail of translators, I’m about as far from finding it as the Monty Python knights from Spamalot. Like most translators I have my per word rates, which are not always the same for every job but which have gradually been rising ever since I started. I know I’m not the cheapest in my combinations and that I’m not the most expensive. But I increasingly read that I’m doing it all wrong and that I should be quoting prices per project and not by the word at all.
I understand the arguments, of course. Translation isn’t a commodity. Texts are different and pricing should reflect this. If you quote a per word price customers find it easier to beat you down. It’s all true. I realise it would probably be better to switch to per project pricing. There’s just one overwhelming problem: customers won’t wear it, or at least mine won’t, however hard I try (and I’ve really tried). Of course, with agencies, the battle’s already more or less lost. They ask you for a per-word rate and want to stick to it. Unlike many, I have no qualms about raising my rates with agencies. I simply tell them that is what I’m going to do and they either come with me or they don’t. If they don’t, I look for new clients. It really is that simple. But breaking away from a per-word rate would be impossible.
In my experience that’s what direct clients want too. I’ll give you a recent example. An important professional association in Catalonia came to me to ask about translating its website. I was delighted. It seemed a good opportunity and it also seemed a good chance to try to quote in this new “per project” way. Of course, I had to have some sort of basis to work on. Because that’s the advantage to us of quoting per word. We know roughly how long a particular job is going to take us from the length of the text to be translated. So, like it or not. our price is going to be related to the number of words. So, I counted the words, decided to work with a slightly higher rate than normal because I thought the potential client could afford it, and then I knocked a little off to make a more or less round figure.
“There’s your price!” I told the customer. “Ah, that means your per-word rate must be X.XX per word” was the client’s immediate response. I’d said nothing at all about a per-word rate, but the customer – not an agency or anyone apparently used to buying translations – immediately boiled down my carefully prepared “per project” quote to that.
It’s not the first time that’s happened to me. Several times I’ve been asked by direct clients when I’ve tried to quote per project “But how did you get that figure?” When you think about it you can hardly blame them, because when we quote per project we’re really doing what I was always told off for doing in maths lessons when I was a teenager: just writing down the answer without showing the working out. And in my experience people much prefer transparency. They want to see your working out. It may, of course, have been the fact that my rate was too high that cost me the job with that association, because I wasn’t chosen to translate the website. But I wouldn’t mind betting that it was the perception that I had something to hide.
There are plenty of colleagues who swear they use per project pricing successfully, at least with some clients. I’ve spoken to some who say it really is the best way. Maybe I’m in the wrong sector of the market or have particularly awkward clients. But I’m afraid I’ve had enough for now. For the foreseeable future, my prospective customers are going to continue to get a straightforward, understandable, per word rate. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.