On Being the Underdog and Earning Six-Figures as a Translator


I recently finished re-reading Chris Durban’s book, The Prosperous Translator, and found myself questioning a lot of what I do and how I do it. That’s the great thing about good books. No matter how many times you read them, you always learn something new. This time, what appealed to me the most was the part where she questions why translators are afraid to talk about money. Meanwhile, a few nights ago, while checking out some older posts in Corinne McKay’s blog, I came across a post about translators with six-figure incomes, and one of the things Corinne pointed out is that these translators tend to talk about money quite a bit.

All this, while I was still processing some of the comments on a couple of related posts about premium translation markets in Kevin Hendzel’s blog (here and here). The posts themselves are must-reads, but something else that really caught my attention was a comment by someone who believed high incomes are unattainable for those of us who live in the developing world. I live in the developing world and I hear this all the time from my fellow South Americans. We’re too far. We can’t compete. We don’t have access to direct clients. They only look to Latin America when they want low prices… If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard “I can’t because Latin America,” I wouldn’t be here in front of my computer writing this post. I’d be living it up at some fancy beach resort in Bora Bora while sipping South Pacific smoothies through a curly straw and watching the sun set over the ocean as compounded interests turn my millions into billions.

I was raised in one of those homes where you simply do not discuss money, politics, or religion. My mother would rather swallow a battery than talk about money and my father could not stand braggers or show-offs, so he never dropped the M-bomb either, lest he’d commit the most Heideggerian of pragmatic inconsistencies. Talking about money is, to many people, just “too bourgeois” and “beneath the educated mind.” But money is one of the many things that stand between us and some of our dreams. We think about money quite a bit: how to make it, how to spend it, how to save it, and if we’re smart, how to invest it. We need money for basic essentials and even more money if we’re not the kind of people who are content with the basics alone. So at the risk of offending all the classy people out there who believe discussing money is rude, I’m going to talk about money in this post, because whether we like it or not, it’s there and it’s an issue for many people.

I don’t claim to be a particularly business savvy person and my beginnings in translation were quite humble. My rookie years were rocky and clumsy at best (almost embarrassingly so). When it comes to newbie mistakes, I could probably write the book (though for now all I’ve written is “the post”). I don’t have any magical formulas and I am in no position to tell anyone how to achieve financial success. However, I know what it feels like to be the underdog and, more importantly, I know what it feels like to rise above all odds, both personal and professional. I am, after all, a Latin American woman; and my rocky and clumsy beginnings in translation were due, in part, to the fact that I had bought into “I can’t because Latin America” plus some form of “I can’t because women in Latin America have it even tougher.” For those who are not familiar with current wealth distribution trends, living in Latin America basically means my piece of the pie is statistically prone to being significantly smaller than that of my counterparts in the developed world and even more so than that of my male counterparts. The odds, apparently, are stacked against me. But here’s the thing about stats and odds: they are just numbers. What matters in life is how you play the cards you are dealt.

So, last year I hit six figures and my numbers are still growing. And though I’m light years behind some of the really big names in translation, a six-figure income is more than enough for a comfortable lifestyle where I live. In addition, my numbers defeat all the odds that were stacked against me. Which brings me to my second point, not only is it possible to make a very decent living as a translator, but it’s also possible to do so while running your operations from Latin America. In all honesty, I cringe every time I hear fellow Latin Americans give in on the count of alleged geographical disadvantage. That’s just baloney! In the internet age, geography is not a handicap!

Hitting the six figure mark was not easy, but good things usually aren’t. I did it by simply charging each new client slightly more than the last one, while also dropping older clients who were not willing to renegotiate. This was a slow transition and it mainly meant changing the types of agencies I was working for from large brokers to higher-paying specialized boutique agencies, while also focusing all my long-term marketing efforts on direct clients, as my ultimate goal was (and still is) to work for direct clients only at premium fees. Of course, I’m not saying everybody should do what I did. I’m just saying this worked for me.

Because money is such a touchy subject, I am well aware of the positive and negative reactions that are likely to be sparked by this post. I know some people will crucify me for my rocky beginnings and unwillingness to condemn all brokers on the count of the bad ones. Others may think the aim of this post is just to brag about my numbers. But those who know me will hopefully read this the way it was intended: as an honest challenge against anyone who has ever said there is no money in translation, especially for those of us who live in the developing world. I never set out to be a business guru and I believe that each person has to write their own story. But if you’re in the place where I was a decade ago, working your little heart out 24/7 for peanuts, watching life happen outside your window, and wondering if bigger and better things are possible, I have two words for you: They are!

If this non-business savvy, human rights-oriented underdog can do it, so can anyone else who’s willing to put in all the extra effort, dedication, training, education, and hard work. So in the spirit of encouraging other Latin Americans to reach for the sky, here’s some bibliography I’ve found particularly helpful:

1) The Prosperous Translator by Chris Durban

2) Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations by William Ury

3) Mastering Services Pricing: Designing pricing that works for you and for your clients
by Kevin Doolen (still reading this, but finding it pretty useful so far and very grateful to Rose Newell for recommending it)

4) Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution (Collins Business Essentials) by Michal Hammer and James Champy

5) The Culture of Collaboration: Maximizing Time, Talent and Tools to Create Value in the Global Economy by Evan Rosen

Special thanks to my friend Ana Gauz (English to Brazilian Portuguese translator extraordinaire) for her help with this post.

125 thoughts on “On Being the Underdog and Earning Six-Figures as a Translator

  1. britbitchberlin says:

    This is such a brilliant, well-written piece! You should be very proud of yourself, I agree, if you have the skills and determination it is possible, even #because woman, and #because Latin America!


  2. Thanks, Paula, for such a great read!

    I’m still a newbie and have just launched myself as a full-time freelance translator 6 months ago. I’m about to read The Prosperous Translator and I believe we’re on the same page. Kinda. Not because of the six-figure of course. :p

    My goal is to work only for direct clients and at the moment I do not work with agencies, but one.
    I just wanted to thank you for shedding light on something that needs to be talked about and discussed.

    So there. Thanks! *I love your blog, by the way!

    Liked by 3 people

    • That’s very sweet of you, Florencia! Thank you!

      Chirs Durban’s book is a real eye-opener and the fact that you’ve only been a full-time translator for six months and are already open to learning from people like Chris says a lot of goods things about you. 🙂 I wish you all the best!


      • Rose Newell - translator, copywriter, geek says:

        I completely agree. You were already on my radar as someone who comes across professional and polite – you’ll go far, Florencia!


  3. First, talking about so-called taboo subjects in our profession is something to be lauded and fostered. Second, I’m quite familiar with Chris Durban’s book (I’ve read several pages, not all of it) and with Kevin Hendzel’s evangelism about premium markets.

    Third, I’m all for challenging the status quo, but within reason and always trying to live an examined life, which means trying to be as aware of my own motives for promoting or spearheading a challenge, and not just for my own benefit and fame. Or notoriety.

    Now, the phrases five-figure, six-figure in American English are both titillating and confusing. Some basic math first: a five-figure salary in US dollars would be anything between $10,000 and $99,999. Likewise, a six-figure salary (or earnings, if the readers prefer) would be anything between $100,000 and $999,999. See where I’m going with this?

    The problem is not talking about money but why we talk about it. It’s not always about liberating discussions and “empowering” translators to reach higher and higher. The American Translators Association bans all talk about rates in its magazine, at its conferences and on its online forums for a reason. A very legal reason. There are other venues for translators to discuss money matters, of course.

    I’ve lived in the United States and have worked as a full-time translator long enough to know that, when some people start nudging us into reaching for a six-figure earnings, they have an agenda that does not include us. They usually claim to be humble and to work for the betterment of their fellow translators and for the improvement of our professional conditions. Yes, they do that by talking about it. Have I received a referral from any of them? No. An introduction to a premium customer by means of working as part of a team? No.

    These are facts, not complaints. And I know the people mentioned on this blog entry by name and personally. I have spoken with them. So, it’s not hearsay or rumor.

    By contrast, a colleague in Canada who works with direct customers contacted me recently to do the Spanish translation of an ad for a famous beverage. This, on the strength of our team work a few years back for a radio station. I had no idea what to charge, but he asked me for a quote. In response, he suggested a fee EQUAL TO HIS OWN FEE. Now, this is a colleague who walks the talk.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As always, I respect your opinion and value your input, Mario. Your comment is an interesting challenge to my post and I wouldn’t expect any less from you. 🙂

      I also know Chris and Kevin and I don’t think they have an agenda. I do, though. You got me! And it’s three-fold:

      1) Every time a professional translator/agency/broker closes a transaction with an end client, they are indirectly telling the invisible hand how much a translation is worth. You know where I’m going with this: basic economics. It is in my best interest for everyone to reach for the highest price the market will allow. This does not mean price-fixing or any of the very serious legal considerations you alluded to and that I happen to agree with.

      2) The more translators reach for “premium” fees, the more precedents there are of prices similar to mine. The more precedents, the easier it is for me to go for the kill when negotiating with a client. So, yes. I’m Nozick’s self-interested utility monster. 😉

      3) But I’m also a person who’s had to overcome many personal and professional challenges; and back then, I didn’t have anyone encouraging me, showing me the ropes, or reassuring me that it’s possible. Those were sad and lonely times for me, my friend. I didn’t have anyone to go running to for help. After I lost my father, I spent many nights worrying about how I was going to help my mom or pay my rent or my tuition or buy books or other sad sobby stuff. So if I can use this blog to connect with other people out there who might be going through a bit of what I went through and I can encourage them to keep fighting for their dreams, I’m going to! As far as your concern about why we talk about money, I’m with you. We need to talk about it for the right reasons and I believe I’ve written this post for at least one good reason.

      The US Census Bureau still uses a ballpark six-figure benchmark to measure wealth and well-being, even though six-figures will not get you as far in the Big Apple as they would in Pawnee, Indiana (the fake Pawnee in Parks and Rec, of course). Despite the fact (as you rightly pointed out) that six-figures can mean anything from $100,000 to $999,999, I thought it was a vague enough figure to make my point without revealing too much personal information that as you know, can easily get you kidnapped and murdered in this country (and I’m only sort of kidding about that unfortunately).

      Liked by 2 people

      • Paula, even in this land of opportunity America is often called, many women, even professional ones, get paid less than their male counterparts, even if they make six figures. I wasn’t questioning your motives (I should have been clearer). I’ve had discussions with Chris and Kevin on premium markets and their pet topics in their writings and in the book you mentioned. But I don’t want to make my comments about them or make your blog a forum for outsider discussions.

        I know colleagues in Argentina who must be making tidy sums in earnings because they can go to conferences overseas, work full time, take care of their families, go on vacations, organize other translators, etc. I applaud them yet I don’t need to know EVER how much they’re making. I consider them successful not because of some dollar (peso or euro) number or because they tell me how to be successful or enter premium markets, but simply because they focus their energies on doing stuff; there’s never a shortage of observing eyes who will follow their example.

        These colleagues aren’t in the self-promotion business (I know you aren’t, Paula, I’ve sensed the nature of your blog long ago). Gosh, I loathe self-promotion! It’s okay to show one’s case as an example of a point, but if the person is always using himself as a “referente” (the recommended example), then I know I’m facing a self-promoter.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Rose Newell - translator, copywriter, geek says:

      Mario, regarding the point you made about referrals:

      People are likely to refer people who are already working on that level, or whose personality and skills they are very familiar with. Sorry to be blunt, but nobody is going to refer a complainer who is totally stuck in the bulk mindset!

      I myself have received referrals in the past, especially from someone who is not totally unknown on the English-German market, who also dedicated time to giving advice to newbies in a book written not for profit, but to help others. I won’t embarrass her here. But suffice that she ‘gets’ it, and knew I’d be capable of delivering work of the right quality, with appropriate customer service, to satisfy these clients. So there is an example of someone I know who does more than just talk the talk.

      Similarly, one person in particular has benefited from multiple valuable referrals from me. But it’s always been up to him to actually convince the client, just like it was for me with this other colleague.

      Without being too precise, I will say that these referrals discussed in the previous two paragraphs have resulted in clients worth up to 10k EUR in just a month, with rates of 30-100 euro cents per word, depending on circumstances.

      Of course, friends naturally discuss financial details with each other sometimes. And yes, then there are the colleagues we collaborate with. This is how everyone is so certain that there are many of us – we just know these things through the referrals we receive, invoices we happen to see, and projects we happen to cooperate on.

      I’m sorry to hear your disappointment, but please don’t assume that just because you’ve not had referrals like that that these people are lying about their own achievements. Please also don’t assume that people are telling you things to boast, either! Life is so much easier if we disappear and stick our heads in the sand. Just, as Paula said, it doesn’t help even us in the end if we do nothing to help our peers – and that includes the part about showing them what is possible (and that we are still working on achieving even more).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ms. Newell, your postings reveal a level of anger that makes answering your comments unproductive at this time. For what it’s worth, I didn’t accuse anybody of lying, and that’s all I’m going to say to you.


      • Rose Newell - translator, copywriter, geek says:

        There is no emotion, actually, but perhaps you perceived my responses as emotional because the numbers and positive anecdotes made you feel uncomfortable. That’s okay, just please don’t accuse me of having any level of anger in my responses to you. If someone disagrees with you and is correcting your misstatements, this does not mean they are angry. Please try not to project your own angry response to awkward truths onto the person whose words you are reading at the time.

        I was (naturally) trying to correct ill-founded assumptions in the interests of all readers, including you.

        I am a big girl, Mario, and I thank you for your concern, but it takes more than just a few easily corrected wrong statements to make me angry. 🙂


      • There’s a concept in psychology called transfer. Anyone who knows me personally knows I am very slow to get angry. And I wasn’t transfering anything to you. When you said that I was meaning that someone was a liar showed me a sense of emotion that prevents sensible discussion from taking place.

        You’re asking me not to “accuse” you. That’s an emotional response right there. When two or more people introduce words like ‘lie’ or ‘accuse’ in the discussion, emotions, including anger, risk taking over the tone of the conversation. Once I sensed that use of words in you, I determined that any interaction would be unproductive. So, please consider using a different approach. If you can’t, don’t expect a response from me.


  4. Just to let you know that translators, who have permanent posts in the European Union institutions, make between EUR 132,000 / USD 148,500 and EUR 156,000/ USD 175,000 per year. So yes, there is big money to be made in translation. It pays to study very hard for the selection procedures, which are based on written translations, mathematical and verbal reasoning tests and assessment centers. However, you have to be a citizen of one of the EU-member countries. But once you are in, you never have to worry about money again. I am not writing this to show off, because I am one of the lucky ones who is now approaching retirement, but to encourage young people to study translation or, better yet, law or finance plus two foreign languages and then go into translation instead of going to work in law offices or banks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for sharing this information with us, Maria! I really appreciate it. I truly admire the work that EU translators do and often use official EU documents and their translations as both teaching and learning materials. I would also encourage younger translators to study law or finance to add value to their existing education and skills. That’s wonderful advice.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Maria, you may be considered to be one of the lucky ones. However, a couple of questions:
      1) How many translators have the wherewithal and the time to study more than one foreign language? Not everyone decides to be a polyglot when they turn to translation.
      2) How many translators work in those permanent posts? I bet it’s a small minority, and I bet that many institutions in Europe do what many American institutions (public and private) do: they outsource translation projects to independent translators.
      3) What is the cost of living for a translator earning 132,000 euros a year? How much of that is paid in taxes? I bet the amounts you cited are gross earnings, not after-tax earnings.


      • 1) Many. I work out of three source languages. I suppose I was lucky in being able to combine my linguistic study with paid employment, but I hardly think I was “privileged” in that. I know many very successful translators who work within a single one-way language pair, and I believe that’s the case for Chris Durban for that matter.
        2) There are about 4300 translators and 1000 interpreters working in-house across the various European Union institutions.
        3) I will let others answer questions that relate to their own personal circumstances, but the tax and social security situation of EU employees is generally considered to be *more* favorable than that of other residents in the various EU member states, and to be earning more than 10,000 euros a month, even gross, is very good anywhere in Europe.

        Liked by 2 people

      • 1) To have two source languages is standard in lots of EU Member countries. For example, in Germany it’s mandatory to have two source languages in order to get your MA in Translation Studies. It’s not so hard, because almost everybody needs to study two languages for their high school diploma and then already has a very good basis in theses languages when they enter university. I think there is a cultural difference between Europe and the Americas. Our countries are small and we are exposed to different cultures and languages from a very early age.
        2) Nigel’s answer is probably correct. There are between 30 and 50 permanent translators per target language in the European Council, the same amount of translators in the European Parliament and twice as many in the European Commission. And there are 24 official languages. So these numbers need to be multiplied by 24. Plus there are lots of translators in the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors and other European agencies. I don’t have any information about the number of permanent interpreters but there are also vast numbers of them.
        3) The annual salaries are after tax.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Maria, for the additional information. The difference between European countries and the Americas is well known. My own BA program (English and Translation Studies) in Argentina did not have the 2 foreign language requirement until 1996 (I graduated in 1989), so now many of my younger colleagues with that BA are better prepared and are more competitive in the field.


  5. I’m so glad you took the time to write this, Paula. Especially the part about “I can’t because Latin America”. I work out of New Zealand and my clients are based in Europe, so I can really relate to the issue of being far from your target market. But it’s not an insurmountable barrier – thanks for confirming that it can be overcome!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Brilliant post – with the right balance of personal experience and realities. Maybe I’m a freak occurrence: I have always loved other languages and language per se and becoming a translator has been on my ‘to-do’ list, so to speak, since I was in high school. Only later I saw other inducements, such as a way to name my own hours, be my own boss and, yes, name my own fee. In a sense, I saw becoming a translator as a bonus to live the life I wanted to live. Both my mother and father were business owners, so I was quite used to hearing shop-talk about profits, margins, overheads etc., from a rather tender age. I really couldn’t say if there is a link here with my exposure growing up, but I have always been perhaps too comfortable talking about money and negotiating with clients compared to some others in the profession. I’m glad that I don’t feel the need to be apologetic about discussing and negotiating with clients etc. I haven’t ever considered (talking) money a dirty word. I believe, too, that extensive reading – both publications by industry professionals, as well as publications outside our profession will increase knowledge and awareness of potentiality and attainability. Thanks, Paola!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your insight and experience, Danielle! Being able to talk about money naturally and unapologetically is a great virtue in today’s world. For me, it’s still sort of an issue; and, therefore, writing this post was not easy. But I’m trying to overcome that, so I honestly appreciate hearing from people who don’t think money is a dirty word.


      • This is like a “mateada” to break the ice about money. I sense some issues from different corners:
        a) Money is a sensitive topic in some cultures.
        b) Some translators work under a part-time contract for a customer and they can’t divulge how much money they’re making because it’s confidential information.
        c) The topic of money is huge. So, different emerging discussions that are carefully framed (focused) should be encouraged.
        d) Individual circumstances vary: some well-heeled (high-income) translators have an outgoing personality to match, so making new contacts, cold calls or other ways of marketing their services become a very solid and ongoing activity that increases their earnings. And I suspect many of these colleagues have a spouse or partner, or there’s a second income earner at home. In that case, I surmise it’s relatively easier for the translator to take on more risk with his/her time and resources to increase his/her income.
        e) A subtopic would be whether a translator enjoys managing teams of translators and/or spending time doing project management or overseeing/building a translation concern or agency. If this colleague has good time management skills, she can make good money supervising others, reinvesting a portion of her income into her business, etc. I can see how our colleagues in this segment would make six figures in dollars, euros, rupees, pesos or reminbis.

        Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an interesting perspective, Danielle. I think the relative discomfort some of our colleagues feel when talking about money has nothing to do with the professional profile (translation as a profession) but with how each one is brought up, whether money was a taboo, or even if the parents were careful with money or spendthrifts.

      Basic business and commercial principles are, of course, part and parcel of any kind of profession, craft or occupation. Here’s the thing: I’m beginning to think that translators’ conferences and other events may not be the best place to highlight or share that business knowledge.

      But before you guys start hissing and yelling at me, hear me out. I’m not against the one seminar on business practices and marketing for translators, but I’ve seen so many presentations and large meetings at ATA conferences about those topics, that they risk overshadowing what we really need to know and exchange at those professional events: how to be/become translators and how to improve our translation (and interpretation skills). Otherwise, these conferences turn out to be large marketing seminars.

      Maybe we need a Translators and Money Matters seminar 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Thanks for your thoughtful post, Paula.
    Along the same lines, when I’ve chatted with translators or talked to groups, I’m often very aware of a gap between the people whose (knee-jerk?) response is “Yes, but…” (reasons X, Y or Z isn’t valid/can’t be done/speaker is selling us a bill of goods and not to be trusted/etc.) vs those who respond “Yes, and…”.
    I hope that doesn’t sound too gimmicky. But in the latter case you can *see* that people are in a space where they’re able to play with the ideas they just heard, examine how to apply them to their own situation (or not).
    FWIW, I also think that there is huge difference between reeling off “business tips” right, left and center and connecting these to a given profession.
    For example, in our industry one huge weakness of the generic business-tip school of thought is the assumption that translators are good at their craft. Whoa, huge soft underbelly of the profession right there: we are usually selling a product that our buyers simply can’t judge, so unless we ourselves are particularly conscientious and *prepared to submit our work to others — peers, revisers, editors* and take their comments to heart, we can easily get into an artificial space made up of superficially supportive happy talk — or angry, across-the-board calls to do away with [generic group of bad guys].
    Whence a hot tip that is behind just about everything I’m doing these days: psst, want to improve your client base and make more money translating? *Become a better translator.* Work hard at your craft; take the time and effort to do what Cal Newport calls the “deep work”. (Which may mean weaning yourself off social media :-)).
    As for awareness of money issues and readiness to discuss (or even consider) them, the ultimate reason I see in favor of applying high prices is that it enables you to bring together the conditions you need to produce a good translation. Possibly even an excellent one. When clients are paying you more, you’re more likely to receive texts that have been worked on at their end — and that matter to them. Which is more satisfying intellectually, surely.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Chris! It’s nice to hear from the person that literally wrote the book on this. 🙂

      I agree that we can’t just assume all translators are good translators. Becoming a good translator is a conscious decision that involves “the flare” as you call it in your book plus training, education, research, feedback from editors, etc. All that extra experience and knowledge is reflected in your price and, in my area of specialization, it is what marks the difference between being the person clients go to for their newsletters and being the person they go to for their amicus briefs or submissions to the United Nations. Of course there is nothing wrong with translating newsletters, but I personally prefer the challenge of working on hard cases where the stakes are high.


    • Chris, allow me to address this point, which your book also makes: “Along the same lines, when I’ve chatted with translators or talked to groups, I’m often very aware of a gap between the people whose (knee-jerk?) response is “Yes, but…” (reasons X, Y or Z isn’t valid/can’t be done/speaker is selling us a bill of goods and not to be trusted/etc.) vs those who respond “Yes, and…”.”

      I get the sense that criticism is not welcome, or at least seen with discomfort. All ideas and proposals that claim to be sensible or advantageous or true should be challenged, not taken at face value. Why shouldn’t translators or even outsiders question the validity or reasonableness of a proposal, such as doubling, tripling or quadrupling translation rates?

      Another point I’d like to address: “ the ultimate reason I see in favor of applying high prices is that it enables you to bring together the conditions you need to produce a good translation. Possibly even an excellent one.” Does that mean that a translator who charges less than the so-called premium market rates yields a not-so-good or mediocre translation? That’s quite a claim.

      One way to look at this last statement you made is that translators who charge less than, say $0.50-$0.80/word or $75/hour for translation projects, haven’t yet brought together the conditions required to create a good or even an excellent translation. That’s how I read it and I find this claim preposterous and hubristic to the extreme.

      Unless you meant something else, in which case I’d like to see you address this apparent misunderstanding.


      • Actually, I’m extremely comfortable with criticism, less so with misstatements of my positions, motivations and thoughts through various free-form “claims”. If these came about because I’m not expressing myself properly, I do apologize. I will try to do better.

        Here’s a thought: early in this discussion you wrote “I’m quite familiar with Chris Durban’s book (I’ve read several pages, not all of it)”. Can I suggest at this juncture that you read the whole thing and we can then pursue this conversation? (I’m happy to send you a new copy if, say, you threw the first one out in disgust after reading “several pages” :-)).

        In the meantime, I agree that the “claims” you cite are indeed preposterous and hubristic. One tiny detail: I never made them or even hinted at them. I certainly don’t think like that, as people who know me would agree. (I hope.) Again, sorry if I was unclear!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Chris, I didn’t misstate your positions, I quote your own words right from your most recent posting on this blog. The first argument is well developed in your book.

        For someone who wrote the ATA brochure “Translation: Getting It Right,” I find it surprising that you might have not expressed yourself clearly. Perhaps now you can clarify your own arguments, which I quoted verbatim? Thank you.


    • Rose Newell - translator, copywriter, geek says:

      Yes. This is what it’s all about. I’ve seen a direct correlation between the work I have put into developing my skills and the clients I have attracted and rates I have commanded. I second everything Chris says above on simply being better and never simply sitting back and deciding now you are good enough. That is the best business advice you will find anywhere: become a better translator.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m with Chris and Rose on this one. There is definitely a direct correlation between the work you put into your professional development and your ability to attract better paying clients.


      • Paula, of course any translator who hones her skills to a degree of competence will find herself with better-paying clients. How attracting those clients is a function of cultivating relationships, walking the extra mile (so to speak) for one’s clients and writing better translations no matter how much one is earning should be part of the focus.


  8. Jon Lilley says:

    Thank you for your positive blog article. I really appreciate all your insights and of course the books you mentioned sound great too. I lived and worked in Japan for many years and translated there, but stopped when I came back to the States. Now that I’m back, I want to give it a try, but really don’t know where to start. Your blog and some of the books sound like a good square one to me. Jon


  9. I recently found an article in The Wall Street Journal about dynamic pricing (More businesses are varying prices by the day, the hour, even the minute http://on.wsj.com/1O41g0N via @WSJ). There’s even a neat infographic about it. If you can’t see the article (because it’s behind a paywall), let me know and I’ll email you the PDF (I’m a subscriber).

    Although the concept that geographic location is not a handicap may have some truth to it, I have to challenge it for the same reason so-called globalization benefits can be easily challenged on facts. Leaving aside the translation mills —all of which are not necessarily located in Bangalore, India— I may live in Ohio and work with a client in, say, Brisbane, Australia, for a mutually-agreed high rate. But what if there are disputes, nonpayment and other issues? Any NDA or contract agreement will have at least two important clauses: the severability clause, which simply states that the agreement in writing supersedes and replaces any previous written or oral agreements or discussions (yes, that includes emails), and the clause about how contractual disputes are to be solved, either by arbitration or by local court.

    In this scenario of mine, working for a Brisbane client, chances are that the written agreement will stipulate that any contractual disputes shall be resolved in a court of law local to the Brisbane client. Those of you who work in Australia can straighten this out for me, though.

    Of course, I could try and negotiate those clauses to lean more in my favor, but the client is likelier to resort to any of my colleagues who are either getting started (and don’t know much about negotiating contractual clauses) or who are more anxious than me to get work.

    In essence, the globalization phenomenon is an illusion. We are tied to our local jurisdictions and local laws for our own protection. It goes back to framing the discussion and rooting our options on facts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d love to read that article, Mario. If you could send me the PDF that would be awesome!

      I have about a million thoughts on the legal issues that you brought up, which are very interesting, but I have to organize my thoughts a little before responding. This might take a bit… but a reply is coming. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve been thinking of some concrete frameworks for this money-centered conversation. Here are two:

    a) The in-house translator. Several translators have worked as such, and are happier to be freelancing again. However, many translators start on an in-house position. Assuming 40 weekly working hours, that’s 2,080 h x $30/h = $62,400, $30 being the top average gross hourly pay.
    b) The contract translator. Some software companies and startups can afford to pay $40/hour, which brings us to an ideal 2,080 h x $40/h = $83,200 as salary. But most contracts are 3, 6 or 12 months long and can be terminated at will by either party.

    Overpay is very rare in the above scenarios, however. So, unless the in-house translator is under a crunch time (impending videogame releases or software releases), he or she won’t be working more than 40 hours a week. This is consistent with the scenarios I’ve observed in America, however.

    c) The freelance translator on top word rates: Assuming an average of 3,000 words per day at $0.30/word, we have a potential of $900/day, which translates (pun intended) into $328,500 a year! The formula being (3,000 w x $0.30 * w) 365 d [w =word and d = day]. That’s your magic six-figure gross income right there. But, is this scenario truly realistic? Factoring in holidays, vacation time, sick days, weekends and downtime, even the most productive translator won’t hit 3,000 words a day every day of the week and/or the year. Admittedly, some translators claim churning out up to 10,000 words a day every single day of their workyear. But those claims are like the answered prayers of the devout religious: they may be sincere but they remain unproven and untested.

    I hope to have added some focus to the discussion.


    • Rose Newell - translator, copywriter, geek says:

      I’m enjoying my first quiet period in about half a year so please forgive me if I’m a little kurt – I’m going to comment on this post then take a long bath…

      a+b) There is an elite in-house market, too. Take the EU positions mentioned by Maria Loose below, or the government contractors Kevin Hendzel has mentioned. You’re basically looking at a section of the visible market and ignoring the invisibile part that – like in any industry – is recruited for without any position ever being advertised.

      c) Your calculations are off. Here and elsewhere you assume quite low productivity and low hourly rates. Even the word rates you assume to be the top are not outstanding – but 75 USD per hour is honestly around the hourly rate charged by most translators I mix with, and it’s honestly far too low. People price their time far too cheaply in this industry, and it often bears no relation to what people actually make per hour.

      The biggest problem I see with your calculation, however, is that you do not account for any time spent educating oneself or, to a lesser degree, acquiring new business. This is a big part of the job at the upper end of the industry – and indeed for anyone serious about getting there. One cannot be working hours like that because one needs to be working hard on one’s skills, to stay at the top of one’s game!

      On top of this, you’re completely stuck in a per word, per day mindset. At the upper end, people start experimenting more with pricing models (see that book I recommended to Paula, that is listed in the literature above). Value pricing, for example. Or rush fees. And fixed fees. Or even outcome-based revenue models. Everything is possible! The calculation just doesn’t work that way.

      There’s also an apparent assumption that there is an upper limit. There isn’t – there will always be progression and development of new pricing models.

      I am not sure how you want to bring focus here, because all your statements are based on facts pulled out of the air…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Mario, good to see you again.
    Q re your latest input:
    Where are the stats confirming that $30 is “top average gross hourly pay” and $40 a high per-hour rate for a contract translator?
    Likewise, what is the source of $0.30/word being a “top word rate”?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Stats? The averages come from my own calculations, from discussing contracting opportunities with headhunters. And I wrote $0.30/word as an ideal top word rate, based again on my own experience. Spanish translators freelancing in America usually command $0.08-$0.25 per word, even with direct clients.

      You are welcome to share your own statistics or calculations, Chris.


      • Sorry, am getting back late (busy day and I’m out all day tomorrow, too).
        Regarding statistics: SFT, BDÜ and ATA have all published rates surveys within the past few months, and they are worth consulting — not necessarily to target their their *average rates* but to get an idea of where the outliers are (since you refer to “ideal top word rates”. :-))
        In my own practice, I see word rates that are twice what you mention, for example. I also see freelance translators who charge by the hour or project, with rates equal to or only slightly below those of legal experts and accountants.
        (These are all gross figures, of course.)
        I’m not saying lower rates don’t exist, just that these others do, too, and they’re not as rare as you seem to think.
        David Jemielity and I gave a presentation in Maastricht last spring where we pointed out that many academics are not even *aware* of the high end of the market (their academic workload + teaching hours mean that they simply don’t have the time to develop the degree of specialization needed to tap into it). Often, too, their institutions pay adjunct staff so little that its no wonder high earners are busy elsewhere. Which is a pity, because their students are not just left in the dark, they are actually encouraged to set their sights low (witness all the hand-wringing about noble, penniless translators).
        Heck, if I were starting out as a translator, I know I’d like to be *aware of the existence of lucrative, intellectually stimulating market segments* — and would then be interested in learning what I’d have to do to move in their direction.
        So thanks, Paula, again, for writing this post.
        FWIW, I agree with you and others that the most attractive market segments are those where risk (perceived or real) is very high. Not for the nervous, and not for the newbies. Again in my experience: often buyers in these markets have little or no contact at all with the (dreaded :-)) bulk translation market (unless they’ve emerge singed and reeling from a clueless job delivered by someone paid peanuts, working too fast and out of his/her depth); my impression is that a price putting their supplier in the $50/hour league would be perceived as risky, imagine that.
        Lastly, whereas people who had a different (skilled) profession before translation probably have a leg up, an expert linguist who is prepared to get into deep specialization can stake out territory, too.
        BTW, I hope it’s obvious that I’m not making any of this up, and have no ulterior motives or indeed any particular interest in “notoriety”.

        Liked by 4 people

      • Chris, I’m familiar with ATA published rate surveys, having consulted them in the past. My impression is that those are surveys based on self-reported income, not on tax returns (not that tax returns would ever be available for such a statistical study).

        If you see much higher rates paid to translators is because your competence, schooling and expertise put you there, not to mention your connections and highly specialized financial knowledge (and degrees). If a translator can charge $0.50-0.70 or more per word is not because her marketing skills, awesome website, killer business cards or shiny resume, but because her highly specialized experiences and credentials in the aggregate make her a uniquely positioned professional.

        But economies are like pyramids, and these highly paid, premium-earning professionals are at the top of or near it. The moment most of the translators become part of a premium market, that market is no longer premium.

        Translation academics (and I’ve known and talked with a few) certainly have a heavy workload and administrative duties. I suppose that their students will continue to be in the dark until some professor comes up with a sensible grant proposal for a multiyear study of translation market economics, not just rates.

        What I see as silly is translators who work in a premium market (the magic six-figure earning potential market) who tell the rest of us their own variation of the well-known line, “I made my first million dollar when I was 22. So can you!” And self-promotion is there, and it stinks.

        Your good friend Kevin Hendzel once proposed, quite seriously, that translators start flying first class or business class in order to meet the decision makers of companies. Maybe he can afford the $1,045 roundtrip ticket from Cleveland to San Francisco or the $2,100 business class ticket on that same route. I couldn’t, and that only for the 1 in 50,000 chance (liberally speaking) of landing a potential client! Is that suggestion realistic even for translators based in America or Europe?

        I’ve known one case, reported to me by a colleague at work years ago, in which a translator was making a six-figure income because he was working very long hours and taking all sorts of projects. I’m familiar with the gist of your book, Chris, that we shouldn’t spend time complaining about how little we get paid and that we should take ownership of our translations by signing them, among other goals. The poverty-riven throngs of translators complain not just of that, but what bothers me is the disdain they are viewed by their more moneyed counterparts.


      • Rose Newell - translator, copywriter, geek says:

        Mario, let me get this straight: Are you saying that Chris, Kevin, Paula, and various others are lying, simply because you can’t figure out the maths or something? I’m genuinely a bit puzzled here.

        Chris does not need to share calculations here, nor does anyone need to share tax statements (how preposterous!). Instead, just look at the motivations of the people saying these things, myself included:

        Kevin and Chris in particular have repeatedly invested their own money and considerable time to educating translators. Unlike other fly-by-night instagurus (“Just add fluff!”), they are not charging translators for their advice. And before you go accusing Chris regarding those seminars and books, perhaps you should first consider that profits, where any have been made, have gone to translation associations. Also consider how tiny profits on books really are. Generally the only ‘profit’ to be gained is status, but that’s only worth something if you are making a profit from other offerings.

        In the case of Paula and, at one point in the past and perhaps some time again in the future, myself, we have both given considerable time to others providing advice both publicly through our blogs and on a one-to-one level. And Paula obviously goes a lot further here through her academic activities – which, when you are earning 100k a year, is not something one does for the money! (My contributions really pale in comparison, I know.)

        The point here is that none of these people who are telling you there are plenty of six-figure translators have anything to gain by telling you this. None of us are selling you coaching. None of us are selling you books for a serious profit (Chris also offered you a free copy, I see!). What do we have to gain?

        For there to be some big con, big illusion, and for you to be the victim, there needs to be a plan and some actual exploitation. There needs to be money changing hands.

        Instead what you’ll find is numerous people – far beyond the four mentioned in this thread in both numbers and scale of generosity – who have dedicated hours trying to help their colleagues succeed through sound business advice and perspective.

        I rebooted my business only a few years ago and it worked for me. I received the same advice everyone else did. The difference may be that I looked for ways to improve myself rather than excuses for why I could never succeed…

        Liked by 2 people

  12. Thank you so much for being brave and broaching this topic, Paula! I have always been surprised at the general unwillingness to discuss rates. In addition to your points above, I’d like to add an observation. From what I have seen, most high-earners in the translation industry had former careers (in law, in finance, in business, etc.). In my case, I worked in import/export and was a trade compliance manager while earning my post-graduate certificate in translation. I had a cushy job, but was not satisfied with the status quo and wanted to be on my own as an entrepreneur/translator. At my former job, I worked with consultants, trade attorneys, US customs, 3PLs (third party logistics providers), etc. Obviously, I knew my salary, but I also knew how much the company paid trade attorneys, consultants, etc. Due to this prior experience, I knew my worth BEFORE jumping into this industry, and I have never and will never be willing to accept anything less than what I feel I am worth. I think a lack of this awareness is one of the problems causing this immense divide in pricing. Skills are certainly a factor as well, as Chris stated. Professional development needs to be at the forefront of our minds at all times. There’s always room to improve our skills, and the better we are, the more we can command in terms of rates.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for your comment, Amanda! That’s a good point. I don’t have the stats to back this up; but from my personal experience, high-earners have backgrounds in other industries/professions. In my area of specialization, high-earners all happen to be lawyers, which makes sense because we come with added experience + contacts.


      • That’s a facet worth taking into account when discussing rates on these two fronts: with clients and with colleagues. As Amanda pointed out, she came into the profession armed with contacts, a long experience in professional settings and a sense of her professional standing in monetary terms.

        I would be careful to articulate these money discussions around what one’s worth because a) it can be ambiguous and bleed over the area of personal worth and b) it can backfire into unproductive discussions when self worth is confused with entitlements of any kind.

        Perhaps some lateral thinking is in order. I recently went for my annual checkup with a new dermatologist, a doctor with great bedside manner who came into the Cleveland Clinic system (a large hospital system here in Ohio) from private practice, where she spent almost 20 years in practice. I keep wondering: was her practice not lucrative enough? Were other circumstances, such as too many hours spent away from family vs. the set schedule of a hospital setting? I confess, I don’t know and I’m not going to ask her. But she certainly came to the system with a wealth of experience, not just fresh out of college.

        IT professionals and hospital residents often work very long hours (50-90/week) and command juicy salaries in the 6-figure range. As some of us would pursue this goal of monetary success, how willing are we to put in all those hours?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Rose Newell - translator, copywriter, geek says:

        Well, let’s look at it another way, Mario. Say someone has a perfectly achievable day rate of 1,000 EUR, so 1,115 USD and current exchange rates. To make six figures in EUR, that person only needs to work 100 days of the year at their *standard* rate.

        If for some reason I had to give up self-employment, I would rather simply earn less money than work the hours I see people working in conventional employment. Working crazy hours just isn’t for me, at least, not when I don’t see the benefit. I enjoy my work and I really enjoy the things I do to stay abreast of developments in my industry, too. Nothing feels too difficult. 🙂

        Thankfully, as freelancers, we can balance the amount we want to work with the amount we want to earn, to some extent.

        Liked by 2 people

  13. Kelley says:

    Hello Paula!

    Thank you so much for this post! As a wet-behind-the-ears translator, this gives me hope that I too can make a successful business out of my profession, especially if I ever return to Mexico. I will be honest, I never thought that I could make a decent living as a translator while I was living there, precisely because it is a developing nation and nobody there would accept my rates and/or clients in developed countries would try to take advantage. Thank you for imparting your wisdom and the additional sources! I will definently be looking into them!


  14. When I saw you had written a blog post, I saved it for later, because all your posts are so fantastic that a quick read never suffices. And here you are, once again, confirming my opinion. Bravo, Paula!

    I’m Latin American myself, from Brazil. Besides being from and living in a developing country, we are also going through a political/economical crisis. So, yes, I do hear you.

    My parents, especially my mom, never had an easy life. They worked liked crazy to raise my two sisters and I, and provide us with proper education. So I was raised knowing that life isn’t easy and that we must take the bull by the horns, because nothing falls from the sky. I did that, and it worked. I also had a rough beginning, but nowadays I earn enough money to have a rather comfortable life. And all that in a bit more than 5 years, nothing unreachable.

    It is possible, but people are too busy complaining, ranting and crying over spilled milk (or even yet to be spilled) that they do not have time to actually work towards their goals. They focus on the bad things instead of the good things. It’s easier to think it’s impossible and give up than to think it’s possible and work.

    Thanks a lot for such another great post! You are a gem of wisdom to the translation community.

    Warm wishes from your Latin American neighbor

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Carol! You’re the sweetest! It sounds like you and I have a lot in common; and our Latin American upbringing has taught us the value of commitment and hard work. I’m glad to know you’re doing well. You deserve it! 🙂


      • You too, Paula! Although we do not know each other personally, I always get a good feeling from your posts and do believe we have so much in common.
        Keep them coming and, by the time we meet in person again and get to actually chat a bit, I’ll feel like we’re besties. hahaha
        Take care!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Paula will forgive me for almost taking over the Comments section, but her points strike several nerves on us, don’t they?

    I was beginning to read an article about the missing inflation and the Federal Bank Reserve in the USA. I posted the infographic on my Twitter account for those interested (@wordsmeet). The article is a meaty one without being dense (The Wall Street Journal). My point is: no discussion about translation fees or rates should take place in a vacuum, whether it’s geography or local economic conditions. And inflation is a factor that nobody, I mean NOBODY in our professional community ever talks about.

    I see Proz.com job listings for $0.06 to $0.12 almost weekly for a number of European and Asian language combinations, and some of those listings include auxiliary services such as typesetting (I don’t call it DTP because, well, it’s misleading). If you see the posters of some of those listings, especially in the lower price band, they’re located in Third World countries (sorry, Paula, for the almost obsolete designation). I’m sure you’re all familiar with the complaints from translators about translation agencies that shortchange translators on a few cents per word. But nobody is paying attention to the macroeconomics of those regions.

    Of course, someone offering a job for $0.05/word located in Hong Kong or Chennai is one scenario; the same offering located in Oakland, California is quite another! A recent article cowritten by Anthony Pym points to market disorder and I think this cross-signal (offering a developing-country rate while residing in a developed country, for example) is pervading the translation markets.

    But, inflation? We’re living in a very low inflation era, from Alaska to New Zealand. Some Latin American nations, such as Brazil and Argentina, are faced with high inflation (10.5-28% —see http://www.tradingeconomics.com/argentina/inflation-cpi). One topic to explore in a different posting perhaps is the correlation between inflation conditions and translation rates as offered and demanded.


    • Interesting points, Mario. I don’t do my client hunting via Proz or any other portal, so I don’t have any knowledge of that anymore. I also work mostly in stronger currencies than my own, which means that Argentina’s crazy inflation does not affect me all that much. As prices go up for me, so does the value of the currencies I work in. It is an interesting subject though.


      • I think you’re missing the point, Paula. I work in one of the strongest currencies on the planet, yet the flattening effect of inflation in other regions affects me because it affects my clients, both agencies and direct clients.

        I once read an article about how wealthy people were able to weather the Big Recession. The answer, simply put, was that they had to face the same things as the less wealthy people, but the rich people had more resources to face the recession with.

        The upward/downward movements of currencies are a different topic than inflation. Seeing our lot through the eyes of a strong currency is, in my experience, akin to developing tunnel vision.


    • I really don’t get your point here (and elsewhere) Mario. Perhaps you could produce a thousand-word blog post about how your problems in raising your USD rates are affected by currency fluctuations in the Southern Cone? I would be delighted to read it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’ll try to elaborate, Visverborum. First, I didn’t say I was having problems raising my rates. Second, I mentioned that currency fluctuations and the current state of flat inflation across America and Europe may be one forgotten factor in why there’s a downward pressure on translation rates. I said, quite clearly, that nobody talks about inflation as being part of the whole picture.


      • I visited your webpage as invited, visverborum, thank you. Some brief comments in the interest of space:

        A) The paragraph “ Explanations for this phenomenon vary, but usually include some combination of rapacious agencies, miserly end-clients, competition from India and/or China and/or machine translation, young translators who don’t know their worth, translators without business sense or who don’t how to market themselves and a host of other excuses. Because all of these are just excuses, and it’s quite easy to see through them.” I have read some of these complaints in online forums, but I’m not sure they are all excuses as you claim.

        B) Your paragraph “And the one-cent translations from India and China are basically just the output from Google Translate or similar programs.” I don’t know about that. Where’s the proof?

        C) I agree with most of what you state are the advantages of CAT tools…but “ I should quickly point out for the non-specialists that TM software is not machine translation: instead, it is a way to be able to “remember” all the translations a translator has ever done, so that when a sentence comes up a second time, there is no need to “think” about the translation.” Different translators work with TMs differently. If I create the TM, then there’s much less need to “think” (i.e. review or reconsider) a segment already in the TM.

        D) Finally, your paragraph “The real per-word price of translation began to drop with the new gains in efficiency, just as classical economics would predict.” I don’t know what classical economics is, but the opening of the Internet in the early 90s and the globalization of economies of scale are more veritable factors.


      • I forgot to address your reply here “Inflation hasn’t been flat for the major reserve currencies over the last 15 years or so that *real* (inflation-adjusted) translation rates have been dropping in the bulk market.” I think there’s some confusion, as inflation is one economic phenomenon and how currencies go up and down is another (the latter reflecting the realities of the former).

        I keep hearing this bulk market thing and I can only surmise it’s a market where bulk quantities are being moved from sellers to buyers. I suppose a translation agency that invites CVs or new translators for a potential project of 2,000,000 words could be considered an agent in this bulk market. But, are there statistics or hard facts behind this bulk market theory other than pointed opinions? I’d like to know.


      • Hello, Jayne,

        Yes, I visited your blog posting and perused it: I’m familiar with all those arguments as presented and detailed by Chris Durban. Chris opens an argument about the bulk vs. the premium market. To me, that’s a reductive and overly simplistic analysis. With all due respect, Jayne, you’re just quoting Chris’ concept about the bulk market, which amounts to a set of observations and opinions. Anecdotal evidence.

        Have I seen what Chris calls the bulk market? Yes, in postings on several translation portals (let’s not demonize them, please). If by bulk market agents we are referring to agencies or individuals who are trawling the Net looking for translators’ CVs and inviting translators to go fill out a database form so that these agencies can bid on large contracts, then yes, I’ve seen the postings. I can’t claim I know the inside of such marketplace. Maybe we should ask those who are part of it so that we can get some field information and enlighten this discussion?

        And, while we are at it, maybe we can cite names, quantities, actual results. Sooner or later, we’ll all get tired of the hearsay and the theorizing.


  16. Evelyna Radoslavova says:

    Yes, but… my experience over the past 24 months contradicts everything I have always believed in regarding good pay for good work and fair business relations, and here are two very recent examples:

    Example 1: Just yesterday, an agency offered me a translation project… for a former direct client of mine who suddenly dropped me last summer after several years of never expressing anything but intense satisfaction with our relationship. Being friendly with the agency owner, I know that they charge the same rates or a bit lower than I do.

    Example 2: A few weeks ago, I submitted a proposal in response to a direct client call for tenders. I put together a team of highly qualified translators with extensive expertise in the subject matter and a total of 70 years of experience between us, wrote a detailed and professional proposal, had it reviewed and proofread by my colleagues – and lost. Here is the most important part of the answer to my request for feedback: “The deciding factor came down to price (per word cost, editing/proofreading cost, and rush rate). You were actually the least competitive on that basis. Many of the other respondents were larger organizations […]”. The shocking part is that our rate was the lowest we as translators/reviewers would accept to go while factoring in a tiny percentage for administration and project management, and I shudder to think of the quality the client is getting if they awarded the contract to a “larger organization” for a rate lower than ours.

    So you will forgive me for finding my perspectives a bit bleak at the moment. Oh, I am not frightened, and I fully intend to use my free time to develop my website, intensify my marketing efforts and improve my knowledge and skills. But facing this type of rejection after being a highly sought-after and well-paid professional for a number of years is rather disheartening. (Correction: I am still very much sought after, but mostly to fix other translators’ messes. And I feel like a lot of my time is spent haggling over rates.)

    I wonder if things are different in other markets and language combinations. I translate for the Canadian market from English into French, will not commit to deliver more than 1500 publication-ready words per day and touched on the six-digit income for a brief period a couple of years ago. As I see it, end clients are currently being “educated” in the opportunities offered by CAT tools, being wooed by agencies who negotiate low rates first and scramble to find someone – anyone – to translate later, and cannot judge the quality of what they are getting (and mostly don’t care). At the other side of the ring, with a few notable exceptions – translators who make high incomes by being fast, accept work in areas they are more or less qualified in and, even when they are good, don’t give themselves the time to do the job well (all of that, judging by the translations I am being sent to revise).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your experience with us, Evelyna. What happened to you (both examples) was very unfortunate. So I can understand why you are feeling a bit bleak. Who can blame you? But you said yourself you are still in demand, which means your remaining clients value your work. So not all is lost, right? Plus, you can always make new clients.

      I agree with you that there’s a lot of downwards pressure and misinformation that is very detrimental to translators; but perhaps that means we need to rethink our strategies and adapt to this extremely competitive new setting. This professional has changed a lot in recent years (and not always for the better). It seems to me that you’ve managed to run a successful business for a long time though. So there is no doubt in my mind that is just a downslope and things will start to look up again soon. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Evelyna. Those are very detailed real-world examples. One of them reminded me of a friend and client of many years who once sought me for one of those government translation bids. Nothing came out of that, however. Months later, she told me that her company’s bid had been rejected and that she was getting out of the bid game because it meant many hours of preparation for such little return of investment.

      There are translation companies that participate in government (municipal, provincial, state and federal) bids, and some are very successful in securing a multiyear bid and hire a bunch of translators for a while.

      Paula, one of the ingredients, I think, to keeping our rates high is not to allow ourselves to be part of a very long chain of intermediaries.


    • Hi Evelyna, as I read your comment a thought was running furiously through my mind: “But how much marketing is she doing?” :-)). (C’est plus fort que moi…)
      My own definition of a good client — or even a potentially good client — is one who cares what s/he’s getting. That really is a deal maker/breaker. While there are more of them out there than you’d think, I’m very aware that they swim in different waters than the hagglers. Which means translators have to strip down and get out of their comfort zone.
      Ah, but you’ve heard all this before… 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      • Evelyna Radoslavova says:

        Chris, the truth is that I haven’t needed to market myself for a long time, so yes, I will need to get out there. Unfortunately, there appear to be very few companies in Canada for whom French translation is more than a legally-mandated nuisance, or who can sift between true French and English-tainted French. Including some translators 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  17. Paula, I really enjoyed this post. I identified with the process you went through of moving up to higher paying agencies jobs in the short term while focusing long-term efforts on direct clients. Although I happen to live in my source language country, I really appreciate that your post empowers people not to make excuses about where they live and not to give up. I personally pay more attention to how much I am making per hour that per year, because sometimes I choose to do less billable work for personal reasons or because I am spending more time on non-billable activities to generate higher paying work. That being said, I have no problem with your use of six figures as a benchmark. I also like that you are using your own experience to make a point, to encourage other people in a positive way. I would say that is what I would like to do with my blog too, so thanks for the inspiration. As opposed to a guru who tells you how to meet your goals without having necessarily achieved the same results themselves, I feel that more of this type of example of direct, personal experience of taking your translation career to new heights is more of what we need. Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Thank you, Paula, for getting down to brass tacks, and mentioning the “hard work” aspect of the process (with a lot of that hard work not being spent actually translating, but on other aspects of one’s business). Your message is most encouraging for translators in any market experiencing downward pressure on prices, and not just for translators in third-world countries.
    As the sole breadwinner of a two-person household for 25 years, with no or very little recourse to be baled out by anyone should I fail to deliver the goods or bring home the bread, I would like to disabuse Mario Chavez (and others, if applicable) of the notion that those tapping into (or already in) the premium market have to have (or have had) a fall-back plan (such as a rich spouse/parent) or started out life with a huge dollop of privilege of some sort in order to “risk” jumping the divide between bulk and premium markets.
    My question is, how can you afford not to take the risk? With a well-formulated strategy, the risk can be like many risks taken in business; a calculated one, into which one can put as much of one’s heart and soul as is desired or required, of course.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your personal experience with us, Allison.

      It makes me very uncomfortable when people imply that those of us who have moved to better paying segments are somehow piggybacking on others. Sure, some people might have connections or family to fall back on (lucky them!), but that’s not the case for everyone. Some of us just work hard and make our own “luck.”

      Liked by 2 people

    • Allison, I don’t see the world, let alone the world of translators, as being black and white or as two bands or groups. I don’t know how you (or Paula, or others) are assuming that I meant that translators who take high professional risks are privileged (born into money, so to speak) or are piggybacking or taking advantage of a working spouse or family member.

      Chris Durban, Kevin Hendzel and others of a similar mindset talk incessantly about two things: the bulk market (low rates), premium markets (incredibly high rates) and the multitude of markets. Of course there are several markets, not just one. If there are translators who, by din of hard work, connections, degrees, credentials, expertise and a bit of luck, find themselves earning six figures or more, more power to them. But none of them have the right to tell others who earn much less that “you aren’t working hard enough” or “you aren’t taking enough risks for your career.”

      This bulk-and-premium market distinction to what you’re referring is one of the contradictions in the premium market gospel. If there are so many markets for a translator to choose from, why
      they’re harping on a divide or gap between a so-called bulk market and a so-called premium market?


      • Mario,
        I am not assuming anything. I am merely replying to something you did, in fact, say.
        You may have forgotten what you wrote in your fifth comment, or so, on this post. The second sentence is this paragraph is pertinent:

        “d) Individual circumstances vary: some well-heeled (high-income) translators have an outgoing personality to match, so making new contacts, cold calls or other ways of marketing their services become a very solid and ongoing activity that increases their earnings. *And I suspect many of these colleagues have a spouse or partner, or there’s a second income earner at home. In that case, I surmise it’s relatively easier for the translator to take on more risk with his/her time and resources to increase his/her income.*”


      • Allison, thank you for quoting from my own comments. However, I didn’t forget what I wrote. What I disagree with you is on how you seemed to characterize the intention with what I wrote about high-income translators.

        May I bring your attention to the adverb “some” (some well-heeled, etc.) and the pronoun “many” (many of these colleagues have a spouse or partner, etc.). I believe I took care in qualifying my statements to avoid making sweeping generalizations.


      • Mario, I’m sure you are utterly sincere in what you write. But in reading through the latest comments to this interesting thread, it occurs that there is something about the “technique” you use to present your concerns that is confusing — to me, at least — and may give rise to some of responses you’re getting.

        Bear with me. 🙂


        Mario continues: “If there are translators who, by din of hard work, connections, degrees, credentials, expertise and a bit of luck, find themselves earning six figures or more, more power to them.” [OK, I THINK WE STILL AGREE HERE — ALTHOUGH I NOTE IN PASSING THAT THE “HARD WORK” FACTOR (WHICH I THINK IS ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL AND WHICH TENDS TO GET SHORT SHRIFT IN THE DELUGE OF MARKETING TIPS SEEN HERE AND THERE) HAS BEEN DILUTED BY YOUR ADDITION OF ALL THOSE OTHER FACTORS, INCLUDING “CONNECTIONS” AND “BIT OF LUCK”…]

        Mario ends with: “But none of them have the right to tell others who earn much less that “you aren’t working hard enough” or “you aren’t taking enough risks for your career.”” [WHOA, I DON’T FOLLOW YOU. YES, THAT SOUNDS LIKE OBNOXIOUS FINGER-WAGGING, BUT WAITAMINUTE, WHO IS SAYING THIS? NOT “CHRIS, KEVIN & SIMILAR MINDSET” PEOPLE; THIS IS MARIO ADDRESSING HIS OWN DEMONS AND — AAARGH, PUTTING WORDS IN THE MOUTHS OF THE OTHER, NAMED PEOPLE.

        I don’t know if that’s clear, but it’s how I read many of your “claims” here. (“yup, yup, agree, yes, good point, OK… huh?! what?! I never said that?!) :-)).

        I also don’t get the “disdain” business that seems to be one of your key issues: I simply don’t see it in the writing or speaking of people who are pointing out some ways forward for anyone interested. (And pointing out, too, that working conditions at the bottom and even middle of the market are set to get worse; worth reflecting on that, I think.) I see those people as being helpful or even generous, as Rose comments. And I don’t see them being just talkers, since they offer plenty of concrete advice.

        If their description of the market doesn’t correspond to what you see and/or what you are worried about, it’s no big deal. But if it resonates with others, maybe it’s worth giving some thought to — something like that?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good morning, Chris,

        By “incessantly” I meant constantly, as in “the focus of their advice is.” I’ve read your articles, read chapters of your book, read Kevin’s postings on LinkedIn and on his blog. And I have heard both of you on conference presentations.

        One thing I’ve always agreed with you: the importance of writing skills, and that translation IS writing.

        There is disdain I detect when you refer to the “yes, but” crowd of translators you’ve spoken with. “Yes, but what about this?” they seem to say. It seems to me that you’re thinking: “On the outside, they may complain about their lot and the low rates they get paid. Surely they can change their situation, so here’s some business advice to them. However, they find something to object or criticize in my advice. I conclude they must be just a bunch of whiners who don’t know how to market themselves or choose the right clients.”

        That’s how your advice and the advice of people like Kevin comes across to me.

        For the record (and for the benefit of latecomers to this thread and those who haven’t met me), I never complained about evil translation agencies, barrel-bottom translation rates, or similar things.

        Please don’t throw back at me the words you said. I enclosed them in quotation marks for all to see that I was quoting from your writing here, on this blog. These were not my claims or arguments. They are yours.

        A Japanese translator I respect, who works with direct clients in Japan, told me last year that he had never heard of the phrase “premium market.” The bulk/premium market idea is only invoked by a few in our profession. I should think there must be a published paper somewhere but Google showed no results, just blog entries. If the bulk vs. premium market is such an important issue, then it deserves serious research, not just anecdotes and posturing. Maybe some academics (Anthony Pym, perhaps?) could be persuaded to write a paper, conduct research, etc. so that the topic can have the weight and gravitas it deserves.

        Now, let me probe: what type of clients do you translate for, Chris? Banks, financial institutions, government agencies, individual investors? If so, how did you cut through the HR red tape? How did you get started as a translator and what type of clients did you start with? How did you make the transition from those clients to the ones you now have?

        If you translate directly for, say, a certain bank or financial consultancy, how did you meet that client? At a bankers’ conference? A managers’ retreat? What methodology did you use that has given you the best results? (Note: these are both practical and rhetorical questions, and I’m not demanding actual information from you, naturally.) Now, detailed steps as to how to achieve the foregoing (in this paragraph) would qualify as concrete advice to me.

        I remember another piece of concrete advice you gave at the Chicago ATA conference, and I’m paraphrasing: “Translators, build a website and a portfolio and use it.” That’s sound advice, but I asked you for specific steps. Now, can you show us your portfolio, Chris? I can show mine. (Note: I’m being rhetorical here; I understand you use a printed portfolio to meet clients; I use a web-based portfolio.)

        My position on translators and markets is pretty simple:
        1) Of course there are multiple markets, but not all markets are made for every translator.
        2) If bulk market means being part of an effort to translate 1,500,000 words for $0.01/word, I’ve never been part of that market.
        3) There are always supporters and detractors to every business idea and professional method of doing things, but it’s a spectrum, from the “Yes, you are right, and I’m doing this next week!” to the “Yes, but have you considered this situation?”
        4) Clients don’t appear by magic; one has to work consistently and with focus on acquiring those clients.
        5) Different domains (software, finance, legal, medical, etc.) support different translation cost bands (hence, different translation fees or rates).
        6) My comfort zone doesn’t necessarily mean I haven’t exhausted every method, every avenue, every step to secure higher-paying clients. You couldn’t possibly know what my comfort zone is, unless you’ve been there.

        In short, your advice, Chris, and that of Kevin and a few others, can be a starting point for the translators who are willing to take high risk and get out of their comfort zones. But it’s NOT universal advice. There will be defenders and detractors, supporters and doubters. That’s what I meant by my statement about criticism.


      • britbitchberlin says:

        Dear Mario, I was just at a translators conference where there was a workshop on how to acquire clients. There was a guy in my group who always homed in on some aspect of something that didn’t work, wasn’t going to work, couldn’t work. I felt no matter what I said, I couldn’t help him. Yet he was there…I presume because he wanted help. Do you want help? Or are you happy as you are? Both of those options are fine. I am amazed at Ms.Durban’s generosity in her replies. I am also amazed that the wonderfully upbeat and yet grounded post by Paula Arturo has sparked such a crazy long discussion. Maybe it all boils down to “Life sometimes works out, and sometimes it kinda sucks.” And maybe we should all go back to our lives now and live a little…

        Liked by 2 people

      • Hello, Brit, I will go with what you described and try to respond. Maybe that guy was playing the devil’s advocate? Maybe he had valid concerns that couldn’t be addressed? Was he agitated, angry, upset, enjoying himself by finding fault?

        In today’s culture, especially in America, there’s an emphasis on being utterly optimistic or positive no matter what. Those who disagree with a course of action or submit objections are seen as negativistic, as bringing down the mood, at not being positive and just spending time complaining and finding issues with what the optimist is offering.

        Some people are very optimistic, take crazy risks and plow along with determination. The Late Pan Am president, Juan Trippe, took a gamble on a Boeing jetliner, the 707, which wasn’t being bought by the airlines of the day. So Trippe ordered 10 in secrecy, then casually announced it in a meeting with airline executives, who rushed to buy their own. More details on Mr. Trippe: http://bit.ly/1Xvoqhg

        Others are far more cautious. Of course, there is a continuum in human personalities, from the daring optimistic to the naysaying cautious person. The world needs them all.

        Am I happy as I am? To a point, yes. I welcome new ideas but I test them. Just because someone repeats a concept doesn’t make it right, true or proven. I’m a skeptic, and if I see something that doesn’t seem right with a model or concept proposed, I’ll offer an objection or question. I don’t particularly care if others see me as negativistic or a complainer, since I’m focusing on the arguments.

        Some might say: “Well, if you are happy as you are, why don’t you just keep your opinions to yourself?” Well, there’s always the group of people who don’t want to hear opposite opinions or arguments, only the complimentary and supportive ones. To me, a discussion that only accommodates plaudits, agreement and supporting statements impoverishes those who participate in it.


      • Rats, turns out I’ve already addressed every single one of your “probing questions”, Mario — in public, on the record, at many venues. Orally and in writing, imagine that. (I have actually spent far more time on them than on any discussion of bulk vs premium :-)).
        To save time, I’ve just posted you a copy of the book*, and would be happy to revisit the subject *once you’ve read it*. Until then, I’m going to continue on my friendly, inclusive way. 🙂

        *Oh, and If you should pass it on to a friend, make sure s/he is of robust character, please, and not likely to take umbrage at cheerful, upbeat suggestions. I would not want to offend.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Chris,
        No, you haven’t addressed my probing questions. Of course, if you don’t want to disclose how you got started as a translator, how you transitioned from having non-premium clients to premium ones, all you have to say is “I don’t want to share that information.”

        If, on the other hand, your point is “You will find all the answers you seek in my book,” well, that’s very shrewd self-promotion and a book sales plug. But your book is not a methodology but a collection of blog entries, questions and answers, answers given in a nice, folksy tone to make people feel at ease and, as you say, included.

        Maybe you should consider this: how come someone would still ask questions about my professional suggestions even after reading my published articles and reviewing my book?

        I used to think quite highly of you, Chris, but your refusal to engage in a sensible discussion about the pros and cons of your arguments leaves much to be desired.


      • I’m very sorrow to hear that.
        Perhaps try using that “Google” thing? The “mastermind” interview was fun and could provide a good intro while awaiting the book, at which point you can read beyond “several pages”. Have a great evening!


      • Chris, a compilation of blog entries a good and reliable book hardly makes. Second, the sarcastic jab about the Google thing is certainly beneath you. Perhaps you’re feeling increasingly frustrated and annoyed at my insistence. I have no need to read your book after sampling several chapters. Apparently, you think or hope that I should be utterly convinced of your reasoning and arguments only after I read your book in its entirety.

        Likewise, the methods you espouse should be independently put to the test and subject to critique, counterarguments and criticism, not just congratulatory notes on blogs. That’s why I said at the beginning that I agree with some of your ideas because I have put them to the test. I didn’t take your word for it, and I invite others to have a similar skeptic approach, not just to Chris’ out-of-the-box approaches but to anyone who goes around with a revolutionary-sounding idea.


  19. Thank you Paula for this inspiring read. I agree that geography is no longer an obstacle. I am, like Jayne, based in New Zealand and I can only relate to what you wrote. Thank you for taking the time to write this great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. this is an amazing piece. I personally evade the money subject even in my personal relationships. Money is part of life today, we can’t escape it and we need it. This is a great educative article. Thank you for nailing the jelly to the wall on the money subject.


  21. Paula and readers of this thread,

    By now you’ve probably heard of the death of the great Umberto Eco. I learned about it yesterday through one of my Italian colleagues, even before reading it on the BBC website (my go-to news outlet these days). As Twitter and other media begin to show their respects for the Italian master of letters and translation, I immediately turned to my memories of that wonderful movie, The Name of the Rose (Sean Connery was in it). I had the opportunity to read the book in English and Spanish.

    So I thought of quotes from the movie and/or the book, and I went to Goodreads to find one. The following struck me fully awake in more ways than one:

    “Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means…”


  22. Lakshmi Ramakrishnan Iyer says:

    Dear Mario,

    That’s an apposite quote. I couldn’t help thinking, as I read this very interesting discussion, that to some extent you’re using Paula’s blog to settle old scores. It’s quite possible I’ve misunderstood your intentions and if so, do forgive me – but since you’ve shared your impressions quite freely, I hope you’ll allow me to share mine.

    I really liked your comment about attempting to live an examined life, and that’s an excellent point about all of us being free to establish our own comfort zones. But for me, and perhaps for other readers as well, the cogent points you make are drowned out by what appears to be an embittered attitude towards various people, stemming from your own frustrations.

    I’ve read Chris Durban’s book, and enjoyed it – the “folksy” tone tickles my funny bone, as it happens. I read it the way I read various translation blogs – cherry-picking stuff that’s relevant to my situation. I would imagine that’s how most people read it too.

    Of course there’s a self-promotion aspect to all the books, blogs, Twitter feeds etc., but it doesn’t bother me. When you think about it, we’re all into self-promotion, one way or another. Nothing wrong with that, in my book. Like someone once said: “You have to blow your own trumpet. Nobody else knows the tune.”

    I’m a member of the French translators’ association, the SFT. We’re much smaller than the ATA, so I guess we have more opportunities than the average ATA member to chat with Chris at length at workshops, meetings etc. Unlike you, I don’t perceive any underlying disdain in her “Yes, but…” comment. I do get the impression she doesn’t suffer fools – or armchair ranters – gladly, but that’s not quite the same thing, is it. On the other hand, your comments about her book come across – to me, at any rate – as being rather disdainful. Not just of her, but of others, like myself, who’ve found it useful reading.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve heard Chris Durban give concrete examples of how she approached and won high-paying clients at her workshops – including one she does several times a year, with an SFT colleague, for translators in France.

    I don’t agree with all of Chris’s views. But I think it’s only fair, in this discussion, to also present the perspective of someone who’s had the opportunity to observe and interact with her perhaps more often than you have.

    You clearly feel strongly about the “bulk vs. premium” issue, and you have some valid points to make. Why not turn that into a conference talk? – i.e. get up there and put across your point of view, in the spirit of healthy debate?

    It’s always interesting and instructive to read a counterview, so thanks for your comments. And of course thanks Paula for writing the post in the first place. I’m glad you’ve got to where you are, and I wish you continuing success (though I have to say your comment about the possibility of being kidnapped and murdered sent a chill down my spine). It’s great to hear from translators elsewhere in the world.

    Have a good day everyone.



    • Thank you for your comment, Lakshmi! I also cherry picked the parts that were applicable to me. Even if you don’t agree with everything she says in the book, it’s still filled with great ideas that can easily be adjusted to other settings, which makes it very useful (while tickling your funny bone 😉 ).

      Liked by 1 person

  23. A fabulous piece Paula. So empowering! Well done you and may you inspire both women and Latin Americans (and of course Latin American women!) to believe they can achieve anything 🙂


  24. Sabri Croce says:

    Thank you, Paula. I’m just starting as a translator (I got my degree less than a year ago) and I’m also a Latin American woman. I totally relate to what you say about your rookie years because right now I’m there, in that place where you feel everything is difficult and you really need good advice. This post has inspired me a lot, so thanks! 🙂


  25. Thank you Paula! I really appreciated reading your post. I feel encouraged just knowing I am not the only one to be a bit clumsy and doubtful. It’s nice to be reminded that even the greatest and most successful people have made errors, and in fact, most times success is due to errors. It’s what we do with our errors that matters. Thanks again!


    • Thank you, Cathy! I’m glad my post had a positive impact. Indeed, we all make mistakes and it’s not the end of the world. I’ve learned as much, if not more, from each mistake than from each experience where I got things right. 🙂


  26. Hi Paula,

    I’m very glad to have read this. I think that knowing that “good” money can be made from translation work can only be in our best interest. Without people like Chris or Kevin we wouldn’t have a clue about what’s really going on out there (money-wise).

    However, is this “lucrative” potential of translation applicable to all language pairs and if so, how do you buck a low-bidding trend where 0.05eur per word is acceptable by translators themselves?!! That’s the “million-dollar” question or the “6-figure” question that tickles my mind. Of course (I would like to think) that low rates apply only to “cheap” agencies. But still, charging twice as much isn’t viable for a thriving business.

    And working with direct clients isn’t that easy or feasible for everyone. Not all translators are good marketers or have an entrepreneurial spirit. And what if the (ideal end-)clients a translator would target are more likely going to approach agencies? That can happen too.

    I would really love to hear what you (or Chris, or other colleagues) have to say about all these…

    Thank you!



  27. Hi Magda,
    It’s surely presumptious for me to comment on a market segment (yours :-)) that I have no direct knowledge or experience of.
    But hey, I’m gamel. 🙂
    I live and work in France and most of my client base is here, but I travel quite a bit and meet translators in many European countries. And in France and in those other countries (including the US, now that I think about it…) there’s a common refrain that I refer to as “the grass is always greener”.
    It’s a sub-set of the “yes-but” guys, i.e., reasons why targeting more demanding clients works for others but surely not for little ol’ me, ’cause I’m in the wrong place/don’t have the contacts/don’t have the wardrobe/etc…. You can see the link to Paula’s post here, right?
    As I’ve said elsewhere, I really admire many translators’ 120% commitment to their work: the good ones dig in and positively wallow in the language side of things. But one flip side of this is that whereas many of us know how our own market segment works, more or less, *from the inside that we “know”*, we don’t step back to realize that our comfort zone is a micro- and sometimes nano-segment.
    And within our nano-segment content-wise, if we’re stuck at the bulk end of the market we don’t know how more attractive clients think or buy.
    What I know for a fact is that even in supposedly saturated markets the low-ball suppliers are simply not good enough to meet the requirements of more demanding buyers.
    Translators owe it to themselves to become aware of this. And as I see it, the first step out of the bog is to become very very skilled in the areas those demanding clients require — which means doing deep research.
    That’s right: if we can’t imagine *where these mysterious, demanding high-end clients might be*, well, it’s time to do the spadework. The reading and analysis. And then get out of the house and head for their watering holes.
    I don’t claim this is easy, btw. It requires lots of focus and time. But the payback is there (as Paula has reminded us).
    All too often translators drift around in their comfort zone (or spin in their hamster wheel, say the fiercest critics).
    Want an example? I have three.
    1. Just this week a good client has asked me for a few names of translators specializing in food safety and manufacturing processes for a subtitling job. Two versions are needed: English to French and English to Spanish. I get no cut since that’s not my business model, am just helping out. So I wade in… and; why is it that when I google key words all I find is self-proclaimed “specialists” with 15-20 “specialties”? That’s the kiss of death for a demanding client. Because they know (and we know, when we’re being serious) that no translator can possibly be truly specialized if they’re stretching themselves that thin. True, there may be circuits that I’m not aware of and that don’t come up in a google search (very possible). But… shouldn’t serious specialists appear on somebody’s radar screen somewhere?
    2. The same thing happened last year when a serious, good client asked if I could recommend anyone specialized in Fr>Vietnamese and Fr >Arabic for documents relating to a sophisticated financial product. Again, a few hours’ search revealed translators “specializing” in everything but the g-d kitchen sink, oh, and financial services on top. NOT CREDIBLE, guys.
    3. Last example: specialized translators working Eng>Fr in fashion. Not just “I like to shop” but actual knowledge of the fashion industry, on a Percy Balemans level.
    Where are these people? Lots of generalists-with-20-specialties, but not a truly focused vendor out there that I was able to locate.
    Devil’s advocate now: if these so-called specialized translators are actually looking for clients, why are they diluting their offer to an extent that has good clients running in the opposite direction?
    As I see it, every translator has to start somewhere; we’ve all been there.
    You set up your stall, establish a minimal online presence, and start accepting work.
    But then the first step in moving up the ladder is knowing how to translate (and working with a reviser). Let’s not kid ourselves; you can get “work” without being very good at the job. And I’m increasingly aware that lots of translators eking out a living are simply not that good at the craft. Second step: build genuine subject-specialist knowledge. The hard slog part.
    Linked to this, in passing: invest the effort to identify areas that are worth specializing in; figure out who’s buying and how they make their decisions (hint: for premium clients, price is definitely not the most important issue).
    And then, only then, do you get into the business tip stuff.
    Because by then you have to have something credible to sell. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  28. I really enjoyed this article. Especially the part about making incremental improvements! I have been translating for around 13 years now, and I consciously “uplevel” about once every 3-4 years. I am in the throes of one of these “uplevelings” right now. And it is hard work (really homing in on where the perceived value is in what you sell, going back and re-tinkering with the delicate balance between specialization in certain subjects/fields vs. diversification into value-added services like copywriting or research that are related to translation, but not directly, etc., seeing if your customers have any new or emerging needs you can fulfil, you get the idea). It also means looking at pricing models (moving to value pricing rather than unit pricing, as someone mentioned) and — this is new for me this time around — examining your money mindset. I thought I was **really** clear with money issues, but I think we all create limitations for ourselves to some extent and sometimes you need to dig a little deeper into how you truly perceive money, what the relationship between “money” and “work” means to you, and, heck, even your definition of “work” in order to take your translation practice to the next level. I wholeheartedly agree with some of the previous comments that the rewards increase as you move up the food chain. Better customer relationships, more interaction with brilliant people at your customers’ companies, more interesting projects, and the conditions you need to do the job right…and always, always keep stretching your own translation muscles.


    • Thank you for your comment, Sara! I think the question you raised about how we truly perceive the relationship between money and work is essential for making better business decisions. Our perception of this relationship is entirely subjective and can affect our attitude toward business in general and pricing in particular throughout our entire professional lives. We need to examine and challenge our own perceptions from time to time to make sure we’re going in the right direction.


  29. I have just discovered your blog and am looking forward to reading through the archives! This post was really eye-opening and I think you are absolutely right to pinpoint our own mindset as one of our biggest limitations. This seems to be equally true of translators and of other freelancers (and perhaps humans in general…). Mindset IS a hard thing to change, but the empowering thing about realizing that we are approaching something the wrong way is that, unlike many things in life, how we think about things is something we can ultimately control. At least, that’s my takeaway from your post. I’m also Argentina-based and it’s taken me a long time to start tackling the “because Latin America” issue. Thanks for this!


  30. Thank you Paula for this wonderful post and thanks to everyone who contributed to this very illuminating discussion. I see that it’s been a year and half since the last post, how is everyone doing now? Any updates?

    I myself haven’t reached there yet and probably never will. I’m a slow (but very punctilious) translator, so even at my current rate of 50 Australian dollars (USD37.83) per 100 English words (for direct clients), which is already very high, I’m not likely to get there any time soon with my 1200 words maximum daily capacity limit, unless inflation carries me to six figures if I hang in there long enough.

    I’m particularly interested in any discussion about how to find high-paying clients and about language learning strategies at advanced level (with the goal set at native level proficiency) after hitting the language learning plateau.

    From my limited experience, it seems to me that aggressive marketing towards clients who don’t have the ability to judge quality is a waste of time. They may think they want quality translation, but they often end up choosing low quality and low price translators.

    Let me give an example of how this may happen. Before 1996 when China amended its criminal procedure law, if you used the term ‘suspect’ (a person who is suspected of a crime) in conversation with Chinese audience, they would probably be confused and didn’t know what you mean. I remember I used that word and also the term ‘presumed innocence until proven guilty’ in a casual conversation with a judge around that time, and she insisted that I must be a lawyer, not a translator as I told her I was, because the general public was not aware of these concepts at the time, and the legal world was just beginning to get exposed to such concepts. So, if you were a translator in those days and translated this term into Chinese as what it was, “suspect”, some of your less educated clients would probably feel unhappy because one of their employees who had learned some English in high school would advise them that your translation was wrong, the correct translation should be “criminal”. You maybe told that “nobody understand such translations. In China we call these people ‘criminals’. After all everyone knows that you wouldn’t be in police custody if you are a law-abiding citizen and not a criminal, right?”

    Similar experience still happens today. Just not long ago one of my translation work was unanimously trashed by a group of “translators” (not surprisingly, low cost translators) for ‘readability issues’ and using the ‘we do not say it in this way in Chinese’ argument, and all their suggested alternative translations showed glaringly that they didn’t understand the original English text.

    So what I learned is that it is a waste of time trying to educate your clients if they don’t already know their “suspects” and if they do not have a quality control system to guard them against poor advice from incompetent translators. Focusing on clients who have the relevant industry knowledge and who have a system to control quality is the way to go. (that is, if you are sure of your own ability in the craft)

    This belief has just been reinforced by a recent experience. A large client with a lot of departments and who is probably tired of all the poor translation service its various departments kept getting, ran a rigorous translator selection process which included some difficult exams. Passing this kind of selection process seems to be my forte since my university days, so I successfully joined their pool of translators to provide translation service to their various departments at the premium price I quoted during the tender process. And this has saved me a lot of hassles. I no longer need to do the nerve-wracking haggling and to justify my high (but reasonable) costs.

    At the moment another thing I’m working on is trying to improve my English language proficiency to the level of a well-educated native speaker. Not only will this help me to better understand the source material, but it also will open up an opportunity to enter the more lucrative Chinese into English translation (in contrast to my current English into Chinese rat-racing market). So if you guys have any experience to share in this area, I’d love to hear about it.

    I have some concerns about machine translation replacing human translators, but that is not relevant to this post and my post is already too long, so I will save that for my first article in my own blog.



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