American Translators Association (ATA): Getting What You Are Worth

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American Translators Association (ATA): Getting What You Are Worth

Getting What You Are Worth

During times of economic downturn, small business owners may be under increased pressure to lower prices and to accept pay cuts in order to have work at all. Such concessions should be avoided, however, for strategic reasons.

Dear Business Smarts:

A major customer recently sent me the following message:

"Due to recent changes in the economy, we have had to become more competitive with our own clients. We are offering more discounts and lowering rates as needed in order to keep up with the changing times. As such, I am turning to you to see if you would be willing to do the same for us. Please let me know if you would be amenable to adjusting your rates. I can better guarantee work to flow in your direction with a more favorable rate in place."

I have been in business as a full-time translator and interpreter for over 12 years and have raised my rates over the course of the years to reflect my level of experience. Is it a good idea to scale back my prices in order to stay busy? — R.T., Wisconsin

Dear R.T.,

Naturally, the current economic downturn is affecting businesses of all sizes, forcing them to save on their expenses. The resulting price-cutting pressure is passed on to suppliers and service providers. But since you most likely do not have employees to support, and because a thinner flow of work will not lead to immediate financial ruin, take a little time for strategic deliberation before you make any hasty decisions.

Since it has taken you years to arrive at the price you currently charge, it would be a major setback to return to a lower base price for your services. Even if the client makes good on the vague promise of work flowing “in your direction,” responding to such a request by lowering your prices sends the signal that you are desperate for work. Why would this client pay rush rates or weekend surcharges after such an admission, and how would you ever be able to raise your rates again?

During your past 12 years of business success, you have most likely established a broad client base. This may be a good opportunity to take a detailed look at your business activities and to think about your long-term strategy. Draw a timeline of your projected business activities until your planned retirement. Where would you like to be in 10 or 20 years? What is your projected price development in that timeframe, keeping in mind inflation and specific savings goals for college or retirement? What do your clients particularly appreciate about your work, and how do you achieve those qualities? Try to answer these questions in detail, and record your responses in writing for future reference.

This analysis of your business situation will probably tell you what you already knew: Most clients are happy to pay your rates for the expertise you have built in your field, and now—more than ever—is the time to insist on getting paid what you are worth.


Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: March 2009, p 31