Chapter 6

Your First Gig


How much should you charge?

Especially at the beginning of your career, setting rates is a delicate balance between trying to be competitive, while not underselling yourself – not only because you will eventually need to make a living from it, but also because clients (the ones worth having) are often weary of extremely cheap rates (and often with good reason).

You can generally expect to earn between 0.04 USD to 0.08 USD per word for translation. Also, remember to set a minimum fee that is reasonable. This tends to be around $15 to $30 USD to mitigate for the accounting and administrative work that goes into even a small job.

There are several ways to decide how much to charge. Here are some ideas:

Find your absolute minimum and your target income

First of all, find out what the minimum you can afford to charge is. Remember this is not how much you should charge. At the beginning, especially if you are doing it part-time, you might have to charge less until you’ve managed to gain enough work. Nevertheless it’s good to know the minimum you can sustain.

To do this, you can use the tool below. To calculate your minimum rate, fill in your business costs and, in the desired income box, your living expenses. Add the amount of hours you can spend translating (remember you will also have to market your services and deal with administrative tasks), how many words you can translate per hour and how many weeks of holidays you plan to take annually.

The tool will give you the number of words you should translate to cover your basic expenses and how much you can charge per word to achieve this.

Once you know what your absolute minimum rate should be, you should aim higher. In the ‘desired annual income’ box, put your earning target for the year and use the tool again.

It is not an exact science, but at least it will give you an idea of the effort involved to reach your desired income level.

What are other translators charging?

Once again, ProZ comes to our rescue: here you can find the results of a survey they conducted.

Obviously use this as reference only. It is not an exhaustive list, however it can give you an idea of how much others are charging (or, more precisely, how they are pitching their services on

Enter your language pair in the fields on the top left corner of the page (see fig. below) to display the data you are interested in.


At the very least this tool will help you avoid offer ridiculously low (or high) rates for your language combination and expertise.

Rush charges & weekend work

Does the project deadline force you to work antisocial hours? Then go ahead and add a surcharge. We suggest a 20-25% increase in your rates to reflect this. Obviously, you need to mention this before taking on the project.

However you decide to calculate your rates, it’s imperative that you work hard to get yourself above the first few rungs of the ladder as quickly as possible.

This should be one of your first goals (along with getting great reviews and building up your portfolio and reputation).

Tips for a successful first job

So you’ve made it. You’ve convinced that agency or direct client to give you a shot.

This is no time to relax, since this is where the “actual” work starts!

As returning clients are the best kind of customer, you need to make sure you deliver exceptional work that meets or exceeds your clients’ expectations.

Questions for the client before starting the job:

number1 Who is the target audience?
number2 When do you need it by?
number3Are there any previous translations/glossaries/translation memories I should use?
number4What format do you need?
number5Is there a style guide I need to read?

…and some tips for you:

number1This is your first job: so make sure it’s “perfect” for a chance of working with that client again
number2Make sure you can do the job before agreeing to it
number3Whatever you do, deliver on time
number4If you do run into problems, let someone know ASAP
number5Take constructive criticism on board without getting offended – it helps you improve

Remember that you are only as good as your last job. Competition is tough: so don’t let your standards drop!

Head over to the Advanced section for tips, hacks and other tactics to enable you to work faster, earn more and become a translating superhero.


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