Take Charge of Your Rates

There’s been a lot written recently about raising rates. I’ve even seen it said that it’s impossible to increase them for existing clients. So, having just raised mine for a large group of clients—something I’ve done many times in the past—I thought I would offer a little inspiration and encouragement for those being put off by all the misleading noise. Because, however nerve-racking it might feel to actually do it, just like any other business, you can always decide to raise your prices. Let’s have a look, then, at the how and the why (not to mention the what, where, who, and when) of raising your rates.

Why Raise Rates?

This may be the biggest question of all. You’ve got clients who are happy to send you work at a particular rate. Why would you want to change that? The fact is there are lots of reasons why you should.

First, you know full well that prices go up all the time, which means your cost of living goes up. If, as a freelancer, you don’t raise your own prices, your standard of living will go down. Now you could try to find ways to improve your productivity to bridge the gap. You could, of course, work longer and longer hours to earn the same. But you can be sure that your clients will raise prices for their customers from time to time, so why shouldn’t you?

Then there are clients you’ve perhaps been working for since you started, when you didn’t know much about what rates to quote. If you don’t correct those anomalies with some increases, these clients simply won’t be worth working for any more.

And what if you’re always busy? You have so much work that you’re regularly turning jobs away, including things you might really have wanted the time to do. Raising your rates is a good way of thinning out that demand. You end up earning the same (or even more) and working less, and that surely can’t be bad.

Who Do You Increase Rates For?

Who are the clients who are going to be asked to pay your increased rates? All of them? That’s what I used to think. Now, though, I try to take a more strategic approach. This year, I’ve raised rates for one group of clients—agencies in Spain—who have not had a rate increase for a few years and are my lowest paying group of clients. Last year, I raised rates for agencies in other countries and some direct clients. Why divide them like this? My aim is to guard against an (admittedly unlikely) widespread negative reaction to the increase by clients. This way, even if some object to an increase, I have a whole group of customers who are not affected and who I can potentially use to fill any gap.

When Do You Raise Your Rates?

You can raise your rates at any time, although I like to do it at the beginning of the year, so I usually send out notices to my clients during December. But do it when you like. You’re in charge. You decide.

How Do You Do It?

I simply send an email with an attachment showing my new rates. In this initial mail, I don’t discuss why I’m making an increase or try to anticipate possible objections. I try to stay as brief and matter-of-fact as possible. And I definitely don’t apologize. I’m not an employee asking for a rise, I’m a professional giving notice of my new prices.

What Happens Then?

Clients react in different ways. The best is when they simply acknowledge receipt and get on with the professional relationship. Some do protest, though, and sometimes quite vociferously. With these, it’s best to be firm. Don’t get into an argument. That increase is going to happen whatever they say. Explain as much or as little as you like. You can remind them how long it’s been since you last raised your rates. Tell them you’re usually busy but if you can reduce your workload by increasing your prices you’ll have more time for their jobs. Very often, once they see you’re determined, they will accept your new prices.

Some clients make the very reasonable point that they won’t be able to send you as much work at the new rate. This is actually not a bad thing. It means your workload is going to be reduced, but you should still get the better-paid work from that particular client. Think of it this way: you’re becoming that client’s top translator; the one they go to when the budget allows. But if you’re worried about losing too much volume and you have a good relationship with the client, you could always suggest that you might be open to negotiating the price for certain jobs. That leaves you the option to take work at your old rate if things are a bit slow, as they can be, during the first few weeks after the rate increase. Don’t make a habit of it, though. To ensure your new rates stick, you need to make it very clear that any discounts of this kind are a one-off arrangement for a specific job.

You do need to be prepared to lose some clients when you raise your rates. They will either make it very clear to you that your business relationship is over or, more likely, simply stop sending you work. This is quite normal. If you think about it, you’re losing clients all the time, for all sorts of reasons, and replacing them with new ones. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do exactly the same for clients who stop working with you over price. Having said that, every time I increase my rates I’m always surprised by how many clients stick with me, very often without a murmur.

Where Next?

I think it’s always easier to increase rates if you know what you’re trying to achieve in the long term. In my case, apart from the need to protect my income against inflation, I want to move upmarket because I sincerely believe this is the best way for human translators to survive. However, my family responsibilities mean I have to carry on earning a living while I get there, so I can’t suddenly drop all my clients while I go looking for new ones as I might if I were young and single. Instead, I see gradual increases as the way forward, while looking for new clients at higher rates. You’ll have your own motivations, of course, but it’s worth bearing them in mind to help maintain your resolve if you feel any hesitation or awkwardness—as a lot of us do—when it comes to notifying customers of your new prices.

Ultimately, whether you want to increase your rates is up to you. There are times when it feels right to do it and times when it doesn’t, as well as times to be bold and times to be cautious. You’re the best judge of these aspects for your own business. But please don’t let anyone ever tell you it can’t be done.


Simon Berrill is a translator with 17 years of experience. He works from Spanish, Catalan, and French into English for agencies, universities, and private customers, largely in Spain but also in the U.K., France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and other countries. His specialties include journalism, history, tourism, business, sports, food and wine, and art and music. He worked as a journalist in England for many years. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, the Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters of Catalonia, and the Mediterranean Editors and Translators. You can find his blog at www.sjbtranslations.com/blog. Contact: simonberrill@sjbtranslations.com.

Business Practices will alternate 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.

2 Responses to "Take Charge of Your Rates"

  1. Oliver Lawrence says:

    Excellent article. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction at increasing rates, knowing that you should still be fine even if the client declines to accept. I”ve often used rate rises to thin demand. I’d add only that, while you are indeed free to chose when to up your prices, you may have more chance of success if you do so before the client has already set their budget – so perhaps a month or two before year end.

  2. Annie Brose says:

    Thank you for such an enlightening and encouraging article.

    Raising prices is one of the scariest things to do in our industry since no one knows how the customer will react, which brings up my comment regarding pricing. Why doesn’t the translation industry (ATA) have any pricing guidelines? I’ve read similar articles like yours, which mention when, why and how to raise prices, but no one mentions how to price a translation. Wouldn’t this eliminate the big disparity in translation estimates? Wouldn’t an industry pricing guideline help support that price increase?

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