Pressure on rates continues - the Blog post

Post date: Jul 24, 2019 10:55:42 AM

At the time of writing, my standard rates for translation and interpreting, normally considered quite high for the UK market, have remained relatively static for a couple of years. Rates for some EU clients have even fallen slightly due to pressure from company purchasing departments, while, at the same time, UK rates have increased. There is some survey evidence from the past couple of years that there is a degree of optimism regarding rates in the UK market. See for example:

Anecdotal evidence from colleagues paints a relatively negative picture. My own experience is that translation rates in the UK have increased in the past two years, bringing them closer to European levels. However, I find that there is some downward pressure on translation and interpreting rates in Europe, particularly among corporate companies. It will be interesting to see what effect Brexit has on this situation.

Companies involved in the manufacturing and service sectors traditionally make cost savings by investing in greater automation, or streamlining their organisations, or cutting production and overhead costs in some other way. For translators and interpreters operating in a conventional freelance configuration, those options are only available to a limited extent. So what do we do to combat the situation of stagnating or falling rates? For what it's worth (more expert brains than mine have written extensively about maximising income, of course), here are my current short-term tactics, many of them pretty obvious (this information is provided for indicative purposes only, based on personal experience). Some points relate to translation and interpreting, some are specific to one discipline.

- Imagine you are a manufacturing or service company, and look at the options mentioned above: can I automate anything to save time and increase productivity (TM software, voice dictation software, accounting software)? Can I streamline my organisation? (Not much scope for this - but you might be able to reduce the time you spend driving to meet your accountant, for example, or reduce the amount of time you spend on invoicing). Can I cut production and overhead costs? (This area offers the greatest potential - cut out any spurious and unnecessary costs, which you probably already know about, and look at ways of sourcing things like printer cartridges, IT support, electricity, etc. more cheaply. See also below for related suggestions).

- Focus on higher-value customers. It's not rocket science. You may have a local customer who pays less but is friendly. Think about whether it is really worth prioritising them over a higher-paying but more demanding overseas client who takes you outside your comfort zone.

- Challenge yourself to produce higher volumes of translation without a significant drop in quality - it can be done. You will surprise yourself.

- Ascertain the purpose of a translation, and determine precisely what level of quality (and quality assurance) the customer wants. This can help you work faster if the customer specifies that the translation is for internal information purposes, and not for publication in a specialist journal, for example. At the micro level of individual translation choices, it can make the difference between five minutes spent wrestling with a sentence, or researching a term or expression, and using a perfectly acceptable substitute that is available instantly. Multiply that by the number of times such a situation occurs per thousand words, and you can work faster - provided the customer specification allows it, of course.

- Focus on your areas of specialisation, so that subject research requirements are minimised, and output is maximised. To do this, you need to develop a specialisation in the first place, of course. But one of the goals of specialising is to reduce the time it takes to translate texts on a given subject, so that you can be more productive.

- Set clear financial goals, and work towards them. Having this kind of focus means that you are more likely to tailor your output to your targets.

- As my brother puts it, "Top line vanity, bottom line sanity" - in other words, it doesn't matter what your gross sales figures are. It's profit that counts in terms of the health of your business.

- To achieve this, you have to minimise your overheads to maximise profit. Sounds simple, no? What I'm thinking about specifically here is making sure that your spending on CPD and marketing is optimised (or even minimised), and utilised as effectively as possible. Try and incorporate CPD into your work in a way that minimises expense, and maximises effectiveness. When you are on an interpreting assignment, try and obtain information, or even training, from customers as part of the job, so that you don't spend any money, and you do a better job for the customer, this time and next time. Or ask for information/training from a translation customer about a particular technical field, and try to turn that into a development opportunity by specialising in that area. Marketing expenses, too, need to be targeted as effectively as possible: do you really need to spend the money? How will you target the spend, and follow it up with further action, to turn it into concrete business? Too much of our marketing as translators and interpreters tends to be fluffy, untargeted, and simply a means of "putting ourselves out there". Try and move away from this by aiming for specific, measurable, realistic goals with your marketing, so that you are always focused on the business it will bring you. If it's not aimed at bringing in business, don't spend the money.

- Arrive at a sensible compromise between flexibility, wise investment, and sticking to your principles. For example, if a customer requires you to invest in a specific translation memory software package, calculate the amount of business you have received, and expect to receive, from the customer, and work out whether the spend is justified. Don't dismiss expenditure out of hand if it actually represents an investment that will boost your business. And don't dismiss customers out of hand if they ask you to jump through hoops in order to work for them. They may turn into important, and profitable, clients once you have completed the steps that they require.

- Some business is bad business: don't commit to large volumes of work from a low-paying and/or late-paying customer if other potential sources of higher and/or more reliable income are available.

- You can, of course, work with customers to help them understand and appreciate the value of what you are doing, so that they accept higher rates. My experience is that this is very difficult in the current climate.

- Lastly, don't be afraid to think about maximising revenues and profit in this way, or in any other way that does not infringe you professional code(s) of conduct. Many of us are scared to talk about our business in these terms. We shouldn't be.