Changing the Conversation on Pricing

by Michael Schubert

What’s in a word? Precious little. We all know that we don’t translate words, or even sentences and paragraphs: We translate content, in all its context. (Worte and not Wörter, for those of you who know German.) And yet, most of us bill our services by the word. Why? And what message does this send?

The why is simple: It’s the easiest way to assess the volume of the task and provide a price in advance. And the message? To our clients, it says we are selling a commodity — the very message that, elsewhere, we keep trying to contradict. To ourselves, the message is that the faster we can translate, the more money we will earn. It incentivizes speed, not quality.

Moving away from word rates toward hourly or project-based fees better reflects how we actually work — and how we want our work to be perceived.

LSPs

When I entered the profession, I worked mostly for language service providers (LSPs) and charged by the word. As I moved upmarket, this model became unsustainable for me: Since my word rate had risen to become higher than most, LSPs saved the tricky or sensitive jobs for me, leaving me feeling underpaid. Or they peppered me with smaller jobs that, even with a minimum fee, led to death by a thousand cuts. And then came the dreaded conversation about scaled word rates based on TM analyses (more on that below), which is what really drove me away from that model. Word rates also discourage, or make it difficult to bill for, value-added services: documenting errors or ambiguities in the source text, consulting with the client about the objective and target audience of the text, suggesting adaptations (“transcreation”), and so forth.

I began phasing out word prices in favor of hourly and project-based fees in 2010 and have not used word rates at all for many years now. LSPs generally ask for a word rate, since this is the dominant model and allows them to more easily compare translators by price. My response is always that I cannot offer a one-size-fits-all rate for future jobs sight unseen, and this argument resonates with LSPs that truly care about quality and have this same conversation with their end clients. Hourly and project-based pricing changes how clients think about our services, underscores that a 500-word internal company memo is not the same as 500 words of website content, and opens the door to offering and billing for value-added services, which helps us move upmarket.

Direct clients

As we approach and begin working with direct clients, we need to think carefully about how we present ourselves. Are we like the paper clip vendor who deals in unit prices, discounts by volume, and works with some low-level vendor manager? Or are we more like the consultant who provides professional services and interacts with department heads and senior management?

Word pricing mischaracterizes the nature of our work and leaves us talking about pennies. And that defines us as vendors of a commodity with a low unit price.

The businesses I work for don’t think in terms of word count, anyway. My clients never say, “Can you translate 2,000 words by Thursday?” They say, “We have a white paper we’d like you to translate.” And from there, I ask them about target audience and deadline, not budget. Only after I’ve seen the text and talked with them about the project do I offer a price quote. By then, I’ve amply demonstrated that I care about their baby. This is how we change the conversation from unit pricing to value.

Technology

I would (and do) argue vehemently that translation environment tools do not, on balance, make us faster — they yield smarter and more sustainable workflows, improve internal consistency, and give us more versatility and efficiency in working with complex file formats. Proficiency with state-of-the-art translation tools should never be a trap door to lower prices. It is, in fact, a rationale for higher prices. (Please reread this paragraph three times. I’ll wait.)

So instead of trying to hide my use of TEnT tools from my clients for fear of opening up the dreaded conversation on scaled word rates, I make sure my clients know that I use state-of-the-art translation technology to organize their bilingual content and harmonize their corporate style over a relationship that will last years, even decades.

Last word

We know that translation is not a commodity, and we need to demonstrate that in how we frame the conversation around our services with clients. Word count may be the metric of choice in the language services sector, but we translators are the largest group in this sector and have it in our power to steer the dialog away from individual words and toward content — away from quantity and toward quality.

This article first appeared in Jost Zetzsche’s Tool Box Journal for people in the world of translation and is reprinted here with permission.

Michael Schubert is an ATA-certified German-to-English translator based in San Francisco providing premium translation services with a focus on corporate communications, information technology, and finance.

Interview with Susan Vo – Part 2

By Jonathan Goldberg

Note from the editors: We are taking the unusual step of presenting this interview of interpreter Susan Vo by Jonathan Goldberg in two parts, the first covering her early life and introduction to the interpreting profession, and the second covering her work as an interpreter at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Publishing the interview in two parts also resolves the issue of length: as it stands, the text is quite a bit longer than our limits for Translorial.com articles, which we set for online readability.

While the two halves of this long interview reveal Vo’s depth as an interpreter, each can stand alone in its own right. The insights she shares in Part 2 were directly influenced by her early life. Growing up in a culture other than her own, which she knew only secondhand through her parents and other refugees, she came to understand her Vietnamese birth culture more fully by comparison with that of her adopted country (Canada). This might well have given her the perspective that made her capable of an ethical approach to persons who had done great harm: no culture is without its moral outliers.

We see the parallels between Vo’s professional life and the panel discussion about ethics in interpreting conducted by 6 experienced interpreters at the NCTA September 8 General Meeting. The panel was held in response to the impassioned discussion about the role of interpreters in crucial political meetings, sparked by the circumstances surrounding the Putin–Trump summit earlier this year. The Khmer Rouge Tribunal took place after the fact; the Helsinki summit between two world powers has portent for the future. Part 1 of this interview reveals how Vo reached an understanding of differences between cultures; Part 2 brings the past into the present and the future, emphasizing the importance of skill and ethical stance in interpreting.

You can find part 1 here. A French translation of this interview is available on Jonathan Goldberg’s blog, Le mot juste en anglais, here. → continue reading

Interview with Susan Vo – Part 1

By Jonathan Goldberg

Note from the editors: We are taking the unusual step of presenting this interview of interpreter Susan Vo by Jonathan Goldberg in two parts, the first covering her early life and introduction to the interpreting profession, and the second covering her work as an interpreter at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Publishing the interview in two parts also resolves the issue of length: as it stands, the text is quite a bit longer than our limits for Translorial.com articles, which we set for online readability.

While the two halves of this long interview reveal Vo’s depth as an interpreter, each can stand alone in its own right. The insights she shares in Part 2 were directly influenced by her early life. Growing up in a culture other than her own, which she knew only secondhand through her parents and other refugees, she came to understand her Vietnamese birth culture more fully by comparison with that of her adopted country (Canada). This might well have given her the perspective that made her capable of an ethical approach to persons who had done great harm: no culture is without its moral outliers. → continue reading

The Principle of Confidentiality – Do interpreters have the right to remain silent?

By Monica Lange

The Principle of Confidentiality

Members of our panel (L to R): Angie Birchfield, Andrea Hofmann-Miller, Johanna Parker, Robert Finnegan, moderator Olivia Reinshagen-Hernandez, Holly Mikkelson, and NCTA Events Co-Directors Monica Lange and Fernanda Brandão-Galea.

I will never forget my first meetup with the Linguists, Translators and Interpreters from the Bay Area. I had recently moved to California and wanted to connect with colleagues in San Francisco. It was there that I first heard about NCTA. I joined the association a couple of weeks later, and I dare say it was one of the best things I have ever done. I have learned so much and met so many amazing people at NCTA’s General Meetings, workshops, and meetups. Among everything NCTA has to offer, I personally believe the General Meetings are its most generous gift.

For the September General Meeting, NCTA brought together a panel of high-level interpreters: Angie Birchfield, Johanna Parker, Holly Mikkelson, Andrea Hofmann-Miller, Robert Finnegan, and panel moderator Olivia Reinshagen-Hernandez. The topic discussed was a very important one for interpreters and translators: interpreter–client privilege, or our right to remain silent. With the Global Climate Action Summit just a few days away, a crowd was protesting on the streets of San Francisco—and the big names on our panel brought a crowd of our own to the NCTA meeting, including a group of interpreting students from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies who had driven up from Monterey. → continue reading

Translation Scams Reloaded and More – Translorial Fall 2018 Edition

Translorial Fall 2018 Edition

NCTA members can now enjoy the latest edition of Translorial in print and downloadable PDF versions, covering a variety of topics.


If you are not an NCTA member, you can join here.

 
 

Selected articles from Translorial Fall 2018, Vol. 40, No. 2: → continue reading

Protecting Interpreters and Their Clients: An Introduction to the Interpreters Guild of America

By Johanna Valle Sobalvarro

Protecting Interpreters and Their Clients

The Interpreters Guild of America (IGA) is a unit of the NewsGuild-CWA, a union representing journalists, interpreters and translators, social justice workers, and nonprofit and public-sector professionals. Its main purpose is to protect the rights of interpreters, who bear tremendous responsibilities and are vulnerable to a number of professional challenges. → continue reading