Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The curious case of the minimum fee in the translation industry

As some of you may know, I decided to introduce a minimum fee for small jobs, at the beginning of this year. Things have been going well so far. The clients who accepted my minimum fee, were - no surprise there - my best clients already in terms of rates, jobs, deadlines and payment terms. Unfortunately, I did turn some jobs down as well.  It is not yet certain whether I lost those clients altogether but one thing is certain, I will not be working on small one-off projects for a per word rate again. That being said, I am still flexible and will consider working for a mini minimum fee if there are frequent small projects from the same client or if I have already worked on a large project and need to translate a few supplementary words. 

Since this is an old topic that I have already written about in my previous blog, I would like to revisit the subject by copying-pasting my previous post here:

Dec. 6th 2012

"There is something that's been bothering me lately. Why do I have to work for 1.80 USD sometimes?  Yes, that's 1.80 USD for the entire project! It's because I do not have a minimum fee yet, which makes clients think they can get away by offering me a fairly reasonable word rate for a handful of words.  But at the end of the day, 10 cents by 20 words is still 2.00 dollars for the entire project!  There are several reasons why I have not managed to do that yet.

-Some clients won't accept it and have warned me I will not be receiving any more work from them, if I impose a minimum fee on them.
- Some clients offer me on-going work from the same client almost on a daily basis and to impose a minimum fee of say 20 EUR per word or per 2-3 words every day looks like a a rip-off, in my eyes.
- Some clients have already accepted a very minimum minimum fee of say 10 EUR and are not open to a sudden increase.

So, what is a good minimum fee for you? And how do you break it to clients? What's the best way to let clients know you will no longer be working for the amount they wish to offer you? Sometimes, the new amount may be ten times what they wish to pay you! And more importantly, how can you do that without losing them?"

There was great interest in my post and some people replied with some interesting tips, that I would like to include here:  (I only include here the comments that were posted on my previous blog).

Martina (Marty) from Germany said: I agree that, how things work in Germany, 10 EUR would be a good minimum fee. That's what a lot of translators charge and is deemed normal. Naturally your current clients will not like it because it is "more than before", "why change this now" etc.

Not sure how to break it to your clients, but in absolute terms 10 EUR is not too much to ask for. Maybe go along with arguments that you are adjusting to common business standards and that you feel your work should get appropriately compensated and appreciated.

Maria K replied:  When I first started in translation and was about to write my first invoice, I asked a colleague and friend to check if I had forgotten to put anything on the invoice. He gave me his template as an example and there I saw that he had a checkbox for a "Minimum fee", which in his case was 35 euros. That was in 2000. Maybe it's worth repeating: thirty-five euros in the year two thousand. That was back when translation rates were actually higher than today, in many countries. When I saw that, I didn't ask any questions, I assumed it was the norm. So I included that in my invoice as well, and I've had a minimum fee ever since. How do you determine the minimum fee? Even if the job is 30 words, you still have to: read the client's instructions, save the file, translate the file -perhaps import it in a CAT tool, translate it, proofread it (if it's a marketing text you have to read it multiple times), clean it up, check the final layout- and send it off. That takes time. It can take half an hour or even one hour. Then of course you have to prepare an invoice. I don't know about you but it takes me a while to prepare an invoice and make sure everything is accurate. My minimum fee is equivalent to my hourly rate. I know people who charge less (25 euros). When I outsource work, translators charge me a minimum fee of 25-30 euros and I pay it gladly, no questions asked. I find it more than fair. Of course there are exceptions: When a good client asks me how to say something in X language and I see that it will only take me 10 seconds to translate it, I do it for free. Again, in exceptional cases and for good clients only. If I do not know the person I don't offer a free translation even if it's one word.

How to break it to your clients: I think the easiest thing to do is tell them straight out: "I'd be happy to do this job. I'll charge my minimum fee of X, is that OK with you?" If they say anything, you could answer that you'll be applying a minimum fee starting in 2013. Don't be afraid to tell them that you know it's the norm in the industry, they surely know it already. 

I have some direct clients but they never assign me small jobs, so I've never had to charge them a minimum fee; I've only had to apply this fee for agencies. Maybe I've been lucky, but in my almost 12 years as a translator, no agency has ever complained about my minimum fee -for having one or for it being as much as it is. I assume it's because they expect it. 

I was under the impression that in Germany the rates are still decent and haven't hit rock bottom like they have in Greece or Spain (markets I'm more familiar with) so I'm surprised and disappointed to read that 10 euros is considered a normal minimum fee by a lot of translators. Anyway, I would start with 25 or 30 euros. Keep in mind that once you've set your minimum rate and informed your clients, it will be hard to increase it next year, you'll probably face some resistance, so don't start too low.  

Adriana Grigorescu said:  Well, I'm working on the same issue right now. I've also decided to apply a minimum fee starting from January 1st, 2013. In fact, I have already mentioned a minimum fee in my offers to new clients lately but now I'm going to apply a minimum fee not only to new clients but to the old ones as well. So, in this precise moment, I'm writing a communication to send to all my clients in this respect. Just like you, I usually issue one bulk invoice containing all my monthly jobs for each client so my minimum fee (let's say 20 euros) will be applied not to a single project but precisely to that "bulk invoice", that is, if the total amount of the projects is lower than my minimum fee, then the invoice will be 20 euros anyway. And I'm specifying all this in the communication which I'm going to send to all of them and I'll also mention it whenever a new client contacts me. Maybe this could work for you, too! 

Oliver Lawrence said: I have a minimum invoice fee, not a minimum job fee.

So if a regular customer sends me a big job and a tiny job in a month, I charge both pro-rata; but if they only send me a tiny one, then it's minimum-invoice-charge time.

Basically, I'm happy to fit in small jobs to keep regular clients happy, but if all I get is small jobs, then my admin overheads need to be suitably recompensed. 

Do you have any more tips and advice about this? What do you usually do?  

Photo credit:

Natali Lekka is an EN & FR into EL freelance translator and the owner of Worlds of Words. She tweets @worlds_of_words   


  1. Fees have always been a delicate issue in all jobs. How much should one charge for a service? what about if this service is a short one but difficult? what about if it is an easy one but long and will take time? How much should knowledge be sold? How much should time spent be charged? These are factors to be considered when establishing an invoice. Regardless the length and the degree of difficulty of a job, time also should be charged. Example is a problem with a had once with a leaking tap in my bathroom, I called the plumber, and he fixed it in three minutes exactly. When I asked him how much should I pay him for his service, he replied 30 Euros! Then I said: "but you only changed a small rubber piece which doesn't cost more than 10 cents! and his reply was "yes, but I charge a minimum fee of 30 Euros for my time!

  2. Well said! I hope everyone thought like that!

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