When Should We Apply Extra Charges to Translation Projects?

For some, the answer is obvious. For others, it’s not that easy. I personally think that it’s a case-by-case decision that is not only dependent upon you, but also on the client and the specific project. So, let’s try to analyze this sensitive issue.

People usually believe that extra charges should apply for overtime hours, rush deliveries, or complex jobs. I don’t think these concepts mean the same thing to each of us. Let’s explore these three points.

What Are Overtime Hours?

I tend to consider that freelancers don’t really do “overtime hours.” They sometimes work more than they had planned or would like. But I always feel it’s a bit strange to talk about “overtime hours” for professionals who are supposed to work “whenever they want.” That being said, should we consider that we’re entering into the “extra working hours” area if we work over eight hours per day? In this case, what about the freelancers who decided to work six hours per day or ten? What about working in the evening? Should this be considered overtime? When I was working as a freelance reviser, I occasionally enjoyed shopping during the day and checking translations in the evening. I never considered I was working overtime, and I was happy to accept some interesting assignments arriving at the end of the day. I sometimes even enjoyed revising at night. Nevertheless, 15 years later, I wouldn’t do this anymore and I might consider asking to be paid more if I had to be at my desk after seven at night.

We could probably say that we could charge more for working hours that fall outside our own defined professional time frame. However, is this really linked to the client asking for the job? If the client is based in the same time zone as yours and requests a six-hour job at 5 p.m., he could reasonably understand that you’ll have to work out of your standard working time, and, therefore, agree to compensate you for this by paying you more. Now, what if you decide to travel while continuing to translate and receive a job at 5 p.m. local time while it’s still 10 a.m. for the client? They might not understand why you want to bill them more.

Your additional working hours might not be linked to a specific client. If you accept too many jobs from several clients and end up needing to work 12 hours a day to deliver them all, should you consider charging some of those clients more? Probably not. Or maybe yes if you warned them that you were already overloaded.

The same question occurs for weekends. Is it really normal to charge the same rates for the weekend? Most clients will agree to pay more if they send a request on a Friday evening asking for delivery on Monday morning. However, if you decide to work on the weekend so you can enjoy some days off during the week or to compensate for a lack of work the month before, you shouldn’t charge your client more. Some freelancers might even inform their clients that they don’t work on Mondays and Tuesdays but are generally available on the weekends, so Saturdays and Sundays are considered “normal” working days.

You’ll also have to make another decision. If extra charges can be applied, how much more will you charge—10%, 50%, or perhaps even 100% more? Will it be the same increase across the board or will it be higher for nonregular clients? Would you charge more regardless of project volume? Will the surcharge apply only to one part of the project? Many factors can influence your decision.

What Is a Rush Delivery?

Whether a deadline is tight or not depends on your perspective. Personally, I would consider a request to deliver a translation of 250 new words within one hour a rush assignment. Having to deliver the same job within one day would be just fine, however. But of course, sending back a translation of 2,500 words eight hours after the initial request might also be regarded as an urgent job.

The overall schedule should also be considered when the volume is quite large. For instance, it might be acceptable to handle 12,500 new words in five days, but it will definitely turn into a rush job if you have to deliver the same volume within four, or worse, three days, especially if it all has to be checked by a reviser within the same time frame. The only solution in that situation might be to ask a second translator for help.

Should all those cases entail extra charges? Probably. Or maybe not always. If you’re fully available and happy to get some work, you might decide to keep your regular rates. On the contrary, if you have to stop working on some jobs to take on those new ones, or work quicker to squeeze them in, not to mention paying someone to help you, you might charge rush rates.

The same question arises again. How much more? Is it reasonable to charge an extra 25% for translating 2,500 words within a day without any client pre-announcement? Would you charge 100% more if you have to put everything on hold and jump on 250 urgent words to be delivered ASAP? Once again, all this will be a case-by-case decision, and for the same client you might charge 50% more for a project once and drop rush fees one month later for the same request.

What Is a Complex Job?

For some translators, dealing with software interface localization is very complex, while others find it a lot of fun. If I had to translate medical texts, I would find this highly complex, while I really enjoy working on marketing texts in the information technology sector. Obviously, the complexity of a job might depend on our own experience. Does this mean we can charge more when we’re not used to a sector? Probably not. Experience in a certain domain can be acquired, but the clients shouldn’t be the ones paying for this, except if they really insist on hiring you for the job.

The complexity of the format for some jobs might justify higher rates. For instance, translating application strings means working out of context, most of the time using specific software or finding your way through files full of codes, which takes more time than translating complete sentences in a simple document. Therefore, it’s logical to charge more, either raising your word rate or adding an extra percentage to the final price. This would also be true for some projects with specific requirements, like limiting the length of the target sentences, adapting keyword lists for websites, and respecting time codes for video scripts. Extra charges could indeed cover the additional effort involved in complying with these specifications.

Whatever Works for You—Just Be Clear

Some freelancers prefer to avoid extra charges for their regular clients or when they’re approached by new clients with high potential. They might occasionally even offer their services for a small rush job as a favor for a client who is really desperate. Others will charge more for rush jobs regardless of the client, perhaps because they hate working fast or don’t want to let their clients get into the habit of always asking for rush jobs. They might also consider that some project requests are too risky in terms of quality, which could then jeopardize their reputation.

In the end, there is no universal rule. Everyone will determine whether to apply extra charges to their translation jobs and how much to request. Whatever works. My only advice would be to make it clear to your clients from the beginning of the relationship. Don’t hesitate to include a section on extra charges in your price grid or contract. Make sure you state what you mean by overtime hours, how you define urgent deliveries, and which additional percentage(s) will apply. Also include your range of rates for various types of projects, adding some explanations if needed. Who knows? Maybe your clients will understand your priorities and will try to avoid requesting “urgent” translations at the last minute.

Business Practices alternates in this space with “The Entrepreneurial Linguist.” This column is not intended to constitute legal, financial, or other business advice. Each individual or company should make its own independent business decisions and consult its own legal, financial, or other advisors as appropriate. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of ATA or its Board of Directors.


Nancy Matis has been involved in the translation business for more than 20 years, working as a translator, reviser, technical specialist, project manager, and teacher, among other roles. After earning degrees in translation and social and economic sciences, she worked for an international language services firm for several years. She currently manages her own company based in Belgium, specializing in localization, translation project management, consulting, and training. She also teaches translation project management at Université Lille 3 (France), KU Leuven (Belgium), Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium), and through webinars. Besides publishing articles on project management and the importance of teaching this subject to future translators, she has also written about terminology management in projects and quality assurance in translation (www.translation-project-management.com). She is the author of How to Manage Your Translation Projects, which is available on her website. Contact: nancy@nmatis.be.

2 Responses to "When Should We Apply Extra Charges to Translation Projects?"

  1. Helen Eby says:

    With one client, we have worked it out this way. I charge by the word for the translation, and then by the hour for the time it takes me to format the text in their preferred program. They like the results, and the breakdown is clear to them.

    1. Nancy Matis says:

      Hi Helen,
      I fully agree with you.
      On our side, we charge layout per hour or per page, and our rate per page depends on the program to be used as well as on the complexity of the layout. Any work on illustration is also charged separately per unit. It’s generally clearer for our clients :-).

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