You win some…

You win some…

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…you lose some

I was fortunate enough to return from holiday last week to find a healthy pile of work to be getting on with and a steady stream of offers and inquiries has been coming in ever since. Considering virtually the whole of Spain goes dead for a month in August, every year I worry that perhaps work will be in short supply just when I need is to start earning to make up for taking time off, and every year I am reminded that, although he total volume available may be lower, the fact that there are so many fewer translators in action means there is more than enough to go round. Somewhere here is a lesson about supply and demand.

Among all those offers and inquiries, a couple have made me think hard about the tricky topics of rates and negotiation. First of all, I was recommended by a colleague for a substantial and interesting-looking translation. There was just one problem: the rate offered was almost 20% below what I charge. As I was composing my reply, explaining that I would reluctantly have to turn down the offer of work, I started thinking that there was a time when I might have been tempted to accept. After all, it was August, there probably wouldn’t be much work about and maybe I’d once have felt it was better to be assured of having something to do than hold out for jobs that may never come.

Nowadays, though, I like to think I’m better at refusing to settle for less than I’m worth, so I sent the mail, explaining my rate and politely but firmly declining the job. I expected to hear no more.


At almost the same time I received a phone call and was plunged into one of those embarrassing situations that only seem to happen to you if you’re British. The voice on the other end was that of a woman, speaking good but accented Spanish and clearly as English as I am. But, as she was speaking Spanish, I automatically answered in kind, and we were talking for a minute or two before I heard her starting to struggle to find the words she needed and suggested that it would perhaps be a good idea if we switched to our own language.

We got on quite well after that. She had some personal documents she needed translating and she even explained how she had found me via Google (encouraging news) because she specifically wanted a translator who lived in the Barcelona area. We agreed she would send me the documents and I would give her a quote, which I duly did. The documents were scanned and couldn’t easily be wordcounted so I quoted a price based on the time I thought they would take. Nothing excessive, just enough to cover myself. After my chat with the client, I expected a quick confirmation of the job.

But things don’t always turn out as you imagine. The first reply I received was from the person with the big translation. Would I, she asked, consider doing the job for my normal rate? It turned out that she had some leeway on price after all. I, of course, accepted, calculating that, simply by sticking to my guns in this way, I had earned myself more than 120 euros.


Then I received a mail from the chatty Englishwoman. She had asked for other quotes and found “a bigger company” (obviously an agency) that would do the job 40% cheaper than the price I had given. I decided she was a client worth trying to educate. I wrote her an e-mail explaining the way agencies operate. I told her that if she went with them she would have no idea who was doing her translation, whereas if she chose me, she was guaranteed my experience and attention to detail. I asked her what kind of translator she thought an agency would find for her, if they were charging her so little and still planning to make a profit on the deal. I heard no more.

If there’s anything at all to learn from these two tales with their contrasting outcomes, it’s that, however hard we work for them, we’re never going to get all the jobs that come within reach. Some clients are driven by price and no arguments about quality will make any difference to them, others have bigger budgets than it first appears. Not only that, it’s often difficult at first glance to assess the true situation. In such uncertain, shifting circumstances, there’s little scope for negotiation and nothing to be gained by making concessions. Having a bottom line to stick to is the best policy.

Above all, though, it’s important not to be affected by these ups and downs. The trick is to ensure you have enough good clients and contacts so that for every job you miss out on, another will be along in a minute.



  1. Jason Willis-Lee MITI

    Thanks for the interesting post Simon. My experience returning to work is very similar. Very tempting to lower the bottom line but in the long term this is usually the wrong approach. See you in Breschia in a couple of months hopefully!

  2. Alison Hughes

    Good points, Simon. I have been fairly quiet in August too but have some work lined up for next month.

    As I’ve been kept pretty busy for most of the year so far, I havebdecided I will gradually increase my price for new direct customers. In fact, I realised that in the past I was trying to gauge the customer’s situation when pricing which – as you have shown – was a big mistake. From now on I’ll quote a price and if I don’t win the job it will be no big loss.

    • Simon Berrill

      Sorry for the delay in approving this one, Alison. I thought I already had. Thanks very much for your comment.


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