Translation Quotes: Charging by Time or Words?

Translation Quotes: Charging by Time or Words?
By Mark Kieran

Lately our Translation agency has been receiving requests to quote per hour as opposed to word. In this case we are expected to revise approximately 1,000 words per hour in order to be profitable. Translation Quotes based on time are definitely the safest option from the Translation services company point of view in that it covers unforeseen translation issues such as formatting. From a client point of view it involves bestowing a lot of trust on the translation agency, a trust of course, built up over time. For this reason in this article I would like to write in detail about the pros and cons of quoting per hour.

Charging per hour

In my opinion this translation quote method has certain advantages and disadvantages. On the one had if we charge per hour and we need more time than usual we can charge for this. For example with a revision, if the text is unusually sub-standard and we need extra revision time to bring the text up to standard we can charge accordingly and avoid the stress of explaining to the client the issue involved and renegotiating a higher translation price per word.

On the other hand most clients like to have the translation quote cost closed before the work commences and the renegotiation process is applicable anyway. This renegotiation process is very dependent on the knowledge of the client, their willingness to accommodate the extra work, their budget or their relationship with their immediate superior.

Also entering into play is another variable. In the case where the translation is excellent and the revision time is minimal we stand to lose substantially compared to a translation quote per word. In an ideal world for the translation services company the optimal solution would be to receive all the translation files before the translation quote process and analyze them accordingly. During the analysis the standard of the text or translation, level of difficulty and extra formatting issues could be taken into consideration and the most profitable or fairest translation metric for the quote decided upon. However, as we all know we don’t live in an ideal world and other factors come into play at the translation quote phase such as competitiveness, time pressure, client knowledge and consistency. By consistency, in this sense we are often constrained by the fact that the client will request the quote with a certain metric, for instance by word, which makes perfect sense in that it makes it easier for the client to compare quotes from different translation services companies.

In what cases should we charge per hour?

As previously mentioned this is dependent on a variety of factors. In most cases the translation quote should be charged per word but what are the cases where charging per hour is the best option. In some cases we have had to send our translators to the client offices for their work. In this case charging per hour is often the only option. The translator will be expected to work at a certain capacity. This form of charging the client can be very profitable in the case where the translator does not have a sufficient workload.

Another case is where there are unforeseen formatting issues. Recently we had a case where the client requested the translations in text boxes in a pdf and the text boxes superimposed over the corresponding target strings. The process of text box creation, superimposement and formatting accounted for more time than the translation itself. This of course added to deadline, extra resource and quality issues not accounted for in the original translation quote. As the original files were not received and the formatting issue not made aware to us during the original quote phase this lead to a complicated renegotiation of the deadline and cost for the extra formatting. Fortunately these types of issues are rare! From a translation services company point of view it is always wise to be weary of extra formatting issues when the files are not received in a standard format such as word, especially where translation memories are expected to be used in the translation process. Even in word there are extra issues to be weary of that add to the translation process workload such as graphics and tables.

The final case to be noted is in the case of revision. Some translations can be of such poor standard that their revision is in effect a total retranslation of the entire text. Of course this leads to the ensuing renegotiation of the translation price per word. The successful renegotiation will hinge upon the clients understanding of the problem, their budget and their relationship with their superiors.

In the above three cases it is clear to see that charging per hour avoids the issue of extra workloads not accounted for in the original translation price per word quote however we must consider that many clients may be unwilling to accept the time as a cost metric due to the lack of control they have when it comes to costing, the trust they must bestow on the translation services company and the fact that other translation services companies are willing to accept the translation price per word metric for quotation despite the unforeseen issues.

What should we charge per hour?

Many Translation services companies have difficulty deciding what to charge per hour and this is indeed a conundrum for many. This stems from the fact that some of the tasks during the translation process are more skilled than others. For instance translation is perceived as more skilled than formatting or desktop publishing, even some desktop publishing tasks are more complicated than others. Do we charge a different hourly rate for the various types of tasks. In this case we found that the best solution is the least complicated solution as it ensures consistency and a lack of confusion from both the translation services company and clients perspective. This is why we decided to charge a common hourly rate for all tasks in the Translation process whether the task be linguistic, engineering or publishing. In some cases we may miss out economically and in other cases we may gain economically but if a good average rate per hour is selected the costing tends to even out over time.

To conclude, quoting per word ensures that the quote process is consistent and measureable both from a client and translation services company perspective however the hourly metric for quotation is considered better when there are unforeseen or even foreseen issues during the translation process such as formatting, difficult source texts or poor translations. It is always best to analyze carefully the source files before submitting the translation quote!

Mark Kieran is the director of a translation services company

[] in Madrid, Spain. In addition to translation services in over 141 languages, the company provides localization, globalization and interpreting services.

One Stop Shop Translations S.L.

(Madrid) 0034 91 365 9608

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