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Apr 28, 2007

Prices, Service and Marketing about translation

(Edited by freelance Chinese translator li – English to Chinese or Chinese to English translation services)
This article was originally posted in Proz on the French Forum –in French– and, following requests from several members, I decided to translate it and submit it as an article to make it more accessible. However, understand this was an informal chat, and it remains pretty informal throughout.

I would like, first of all, to congratulate Jean Marie, who, first in Proz.com's history (to my knowlegde at least) brings up the question "Is there a limit to prices"?

Usually, we mostly discuss "how terrible" the rates are, and I am quite happy to take on a more positive viewpoint. A few thoughts:

Of course, the price must be on par with the service provided. However, I must admit that if my customers were inclined to pay 2 euros a word, I would probably be ready to accept. And if they insisted, I would even be ready to accept more.

I have never seen translation prices carved in stone by the Almighty, and obviously, there are all kind of prices on the market, from 0.01 euro to 0.6 euro a word (or even more). So, apparently, the sky isn't a limit – and neither is the floor.

Il all comes down to what you are able to negociate. The price you can charge depends 100% on what you are able to negociate. There is no other parameter in that equation. If you are able to negociate 2 euros per word, you have 2 euros per word.

We can therefore reformulate the question as:"How to negociate more?"

On a more pratical level, as it's up to the translator to make a quote, the price is limited by what the translator has the courage/audacity/temerity/decency* to ask for in the first place.

(*Pick one – it's a matter of viewpoint)

The first limit to what a translator can ask for, is what he asks for. The guy who systematically replies "0.08 Euros" doesn't stand a chance on Earth to ever reach 0.10 Euros.

Can you imagine the customer say "That's not enough. I want to pay more"? Corrupt politicians aside, the odds are long indeed.

Of course, the guy is gonna say "Yeah, but if I ask 0.10 euros, the customer is gonna say it's too expensive, and he is going to find somebody else"...

And that's the first barrier in charging more. To charge more, he is gonna have to start asking more. He will have to start by changing his attitude.

(This is *only* the first barrier)

Now, the guy who typically asks for 0.08 Euros feels comfortable with that rate. He knows he has reasonable chances to get it, and he doesn't want to work cheaper either, so he doesn't really mind to "waste" the customers who pay less.

I would call this his havingness zone. The quantity of havingness he feels confortable with. If he asked for a lot more, he would say to himself "Dammit! This is off the rails." And if someone offered him much less, he would laugh at him.

This comfort zone, is his ability to have.

There is a principle by which before one can have, he must be able to waste. It can seem strange to start with, but if you think about it...

Take for instance the guy who has a Ferrari, but in fact, that Ferrari is well beyond his havingness. What if he made a scratch? The guy terrified by the thought of an accident.

This guy is clearly unable to have this car, even if his name is on the registration papers. He can't waste this car, and he is therefore unable to have it, really.

He doesn't really own this car, you know. This car owns him. He couldn't tell himself "This car is a pain, I am gonna trash it" or "Bah, if I break it, it doesn't matter, I'll just buy a new one".

Can you picture yourself stepping aboard a car that's worth 50 years of your salary? That's enough to freak you out. Make a scratch on the seat and you be in debts for the next 2 years!

Before you can have, you must be able to waste. Getting back to our 0.08 euros a word translator, he is quite able to waste offers at 0.04 euro (and even laugh at them), but not at 0.08 euros. At 0.08 euros,... "Yes Sir. For tomorrow? Certainly, Sir. ..."

To increase his prices, he will have to be comfortable enough to risk wasting "0.08 euros a word" offers.

In other word, he must be able to think "Oh Well, if I don't get it, I don't care".

One of the ways to get there could be to get such an abundance of work at 0.08 that he doesn't care if he miss out on one. (It's just one of the ways). The idea consists of getting in a position where one can waste.

Once he reaches that stage, he can start asking 0.10 euros to his new customers, for instance. Since he already has enough work at 0.08 euros, he can afford to take a chance and miss out on that new customer. He is now at a stage where he can start having 0.10 euros. And by asking 0.10 euros to his new customers, he will start making a small list of customers who will pay 0.10 euros.

If he is capable of providing a service on that level, this small list will grow to the point where he will be able to raise his prices with his old 0.08 euros customers.

He is now in a position where he is confortable with 0.10 euros, and the cycle can start over, as long as he can provide the service on par with what is expected at that rate and that he is able to get an abundance of potential customers.

To sum up my opinion on the subject, there are three factors able to determine the price, by order of importance:

1. The havingness (ability to have)
2. The ability to get potential customers (Marketing)
3. The capacity to deliver the service (Quality/turnaround/CRM,...)

I hope you will find these thoughts useful. They apply not only to the translator but also to the agencies dealing with direct customers, and thinking about it, to any independant commercial activity.

I wish you a lot of success.


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