How to make money as a translator

If you are a translator, I am sure, you want to make more money. Just like everyone. But well, the-milion-dollar-question is: how?

Well, there are basically 3 approaches to this problem. Let’s tackle them one after another.

1. More money per source word or source page

The trouble with the pesky competition

Yes, this is the most straightforward approach. The problem you are facing as soon as you ask for more money per word, is your competition. There are just far too many translators who would happily “cut your throat” to get your job. Just take a look at, the sheer numbers of e.g. English-Czech translators …. there are at least some 2500 of them there…

And your clients know this. As soon as you ask for a higher price, they will just ask someone else.

Everyone can translate

It is what it is. As we say in Czech: “Everyone with a hole in their butt can do translations”. And that’s just about right. Yes, I know this surely offends your translator’s pride, but let’s face the facts: Today’s customers are mostly not looking for a linguistically beautiful and perfect translation, they are looking for something that’s fairly understandable, reflects the source and has a reasonable price.

And of course, to be able to reasonably translate, you practically need just a B2 foreign language level…. and to be able to write in some reasonable quality in your own native language. Just the most important grammar rules, that’s enough, you don’t need to be an absolute linguistic expert in your own native language either. If you had good grades in your native language in primary/high school, you will do just fine.

And yes, I hear you screaming! What a bunch of bulls*it! Translators must be at the top, providing exceptional linguistic quality! Well, I am here to tell you, this is simply not the case. Sorry, guys.

A different perspective

Take it from yet another point of view: Among the car manufacturers, who do your think are the richest companies? The manufacturers of ultraluxury quality cars or exotic hypersports? Is it perhaps the Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari?

No! It’s the freaking VW, Toyota, or Renault! I.e. those who manufacture cars in reasonable quality for a reasonable price!

Do clients want a high quality translation?

So forget about offering high quality …. for a higher price. That’s not what clients want. At least the majority of them. They want a reasonably understandable translation for a reasonable price. And often, they want the price as low as possible.

Because who do you think reads those freaking coffee machine manuals?! Have YOU ever read it? Perhaps you read the part with button descriptions – to know what to press if you want to make a cup of coffee. But have you ever read the guarantee conditions? The EU conformity statement?

Seriously, come on. The translation is there just because the EU wants it. Customers never read it. From the customer’s point of view, this part could literally just read “bulls*it, bulls*it, bulls*it”… and they would be OK with it.

So don’t be surprised, the manufacturers only want to pay what is absolutely necessary… and ideally nothing at all.

When can you ask a higher rate per word?

But, well, there are situations when you can certainly ask for more. For instance, in case you started with a really substandard price so that you can just level it up with other translators, to a standard price for your language combination.

Or, you can also ask for a higher price if you posses some really rare knowledge. Perhaps an expert in nuclear energy? Particle physics? Highly specialized medicine? So, yes, you can ask for a higher price, because there are not that many translators with such a specialization…. all those experts obviously prefer working in their own fields, they don’t really want to do translations… or they do not know languages well enough to be able to do that.

2. Working with direct clients

Yes, this is definitely one way how to make more money. Cut out the middle man!

But of course, there are problems, too.

This is what I have observed on the Czech translation market:

Yes, here in CZ, you can get some 10 – 20 % higher rate on direct clients. But the problem is that direct clients do not understand (or better: they don’t care) translator’s work. So they do not prepare their documents in any way. Often, it is just: “Hey Jan, we have these PDFs here. Could you please translate them into Word and make the layout look more or less like on those PDFs? And yes, we pay you for the translation… formatting the target layout is included in your rate per word, right?”.

Well, no, it isn’t. Formatting the final docs to make them look similar to PDFs can take as much time as the translation itself. Sure, you can use some PDFtoWord converters…. they do work pretty well these days. But still – if you have lots of tables, complicated formatting, images…. there still will be some (considerable) work to be done on those resulting Word files.

And do the direct clients pay for this additional work? No, of course they don’t! Why do you think they started working with you in the first place? To save money! What a surprise…. You didn’t think they wanted you for the excellent quality of your work, right?

The effectivity of collaboration with direct clients

So you get 10 – 20 % more on your rate per word, but you spend e.g. 30-100 % more time on document preparation and finalization. The only thing that might save the day is that direct clients might not know anything on CAT tools. So you could possibly charge all those context and 100% matches and fuzzies for a full price. That could work … sometimes. That is actually the very original idea of all CAT tools and that’s what all CAT tool manufacturers will try to sell you these days: Buy our overpriced CAT (Trados and memoQ both always for some EUR 450… permanently discounted from some EUR 650… I hate these cheap marketing tricks) and it will save you your time! You will be much more productive so you make more money in the end! Yes, that might work well…. if your direct clients didn’t use any CATs themselves.

So, what’s the point of working for direct clients? Like it or not, translation agencies (mostly) do their part of work. They do prepare the documents for you in some translatable format, ideally a CAT format – and that saves you lots of work.

Partner with other translators

The only way to work with direct clients and to make substantially more money is to partner with other translators with various language combinations so that you can offer a complex linguistic package, translation into multiple languages at once. Thus, becoming a translation agency yourself. Then, you can ask for a higher price, because your clients will understand that it takes some effort to successfully manage several translators working on the same project at the same time.

3. Doing the volumes – the healthy approach for an independent translator

The Kaizen philosophy

The last option is all about the Japanese Kaizen philosophy. Optimize your processes to the maximum, remove all unnecessery steps, achieve maximum productivity.

That means you translate as effectively as you can to produce maximum translation output per hour… with reasonable quality. You make money on volumes.

Inspired by Henry Ford

This is the healthy approach most companies take these days. After all, that’s exactly what Henry Ford did to produce his Model T – the assembly line put into practice…. to produce as many cars with as low production costs as humanly possible.

And that’s what you should do, too.

But how?

Kaizen ruined by some CAT tools

Using just the CAT tools does not make too much sense these days, because translation agencies use them themselves, thereby removing the primary advantage such CAT tool can offer – the context/100% matches and fuzzies. They will only pay you some 10% for the context matches…. or worse, they won’t pay anything at all, saying those matches are already translated.

Rather than advantage, using CAT tools has became a necessity – you don’t use Trados? Well, sorry, we don’t have work for you.

Of course, to say the truth, using CATs still makes you more productive, even if agencies utilize the so-called “grid-payment-scheme”, i.e. paying different rates for different segment types (100% matches, fuzzies, nomatches…). It is still more comfortable and faster to translate a text in a CAT tool than in 2 Word windows positioned next to each other on your PC screen.

On the other hand, there are some tools, e.g. an infamous German tool that just causes more headaches than what it actually offers on productivity. For instance, try spellchecking a 50 page document in it…. Everything you might have gained on productivity so far will be lost during this spell check – due to its hilarious user-unfriendliness, it just takes a ridiculous amount of time to spell check the whole document. I can only speculate why they did not use the well-tried system know from MS Word or LibreOffice. It just seems that EVERYTHING in this German tool is made to be DIFFERENT, preferably more complicated and slower than what you might be used to.

Well, using such CAT tool does not bring any advantage whatsoever. On the contrary: due to decreased productivity, you are actually losing money.

Are agencies willing to pay you more to work in this German CAT? Ha ha ha ha ha…. don’t make me laugh please.

The solution

So what know? How to achieve high translation volumes?

Well, you have to outsmart the whole system. Or as we say in Czech, in a bit vulgar way: “You have to pi*s the system over.”

You have to use something that the direct clients or translation agencies cannot use themselves, because it actually makes no sense for them. It’s just like Henry’s assembly line – could his end customers use the assembly line to get the cars cheaper? No… how would they do it? Why would they do it? It would have made no sense. His customers actually did not give a da*n about his assembly processes, they just wanted an affordable car.

And that’s exactly where Bohemicus comes in. It’s a productivity tool that can make the translation work extremely productive for a translator…. but the end clients or agencies actually cannot use it to rip off their translators even more. Just like they cannot require a lower price because you just bought a new super fast SSD that makes your computer run 2× faster.

Because Bohemicus helps you produce higher translation volumes. It does it by providing on-demand machine translation, voice dictation and a bunch of very useful productivity-improving features (e.g. automatic look-up in your connected offline/online dictionaries and translation memories, useful editing functions, clipboard manager, unit conversion… and much more)…. all of this in ANY Windows application.

And boy, work it DOES. When properly used, you can achieve up to 300% productivity boost or even more. You can watch e.g. this Youtube video where I translated some 780 words in just 30 mins!

 So if you want to make more money, I cannot recommend Bohemicus enough. I made this tool myself a couple of years ago to help me work more productively. And now, you can have it too.

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