Why and How We Charge What We Charge. It’s About Time.

parrot scan0001One of the best tools I learned about running a business was calculating the value of my time. It helped me to manage my time by spending it in ways that created or led to future income. Placing a dollar value on your time is key to success as a freelance interpreter or translator. This is a common fact for all small business owners.
But our clients can benefit from learning how we charge and how we spend time on a job. Recognizing the value of a freelancer’s time helps you put an added value on the work we do for you. And when you see that time is not being spent efficiently by the freelancer you chose, then you know you have to find a more professional service provider.
We freelancers have to spend a lot of time that is not paid in order to complete a project. We are not paid for giving an estimate for translation or transcription work and that can take a long time. If our estimate is more than the client budgeted for, then we have lost the time as well as the job. After reviewing the task, if the deadline is shorter than we can finish the job, then again we lose the job and wasted that time. People who charge for estimates soon lose that client to those of us who don’t.
Having a finely tuned system for estimate development works for me. It is based on knowing how long it takes me, individually to translate or transcribe specific assignments. I ask the client to give me those details and they are outlined on my website. I also am free to say no to a job instead of performing that work poorly. Rushes are charged according to the value of me working on weekends and during non-business hours. But I never accept a job that I know, even with overtime hours, I will be so rushed I could make mistakes.
Interpreters measure our paid time in hours of the duration of the assignment. Longer jobs are preferred, obviously, but the duration of a deposition or hearing can’t always be predicted by the client. That’s why we have a minimum charge and the standard is two hours. Also it is common for interpreters to get last minute calls, or “pop ups”. Since we have to try to schedule enough work in advance to make a living, we often have to revise our schedule to fit those in. It is good business for us to be flexible and accommodate the client. Unless the client is continuously calling at the last minute. Whether it is an agency or law firm, it is obvious that they only call you when they have exhausted their list and that is disrespectful. I simply tell those people to take me off their list.
The biggest culprit that wastes time for both interpreters and translators is the cancellation. That is why we charge a fee for that. For interpreting it is completely lost income that we counted on and lost through no fault of our own and we don’t have time to replace it. For translations, we already spent time reviewing for the estimate and setup and we blocked off time for the work. Cancellation terms and fees should be presented up front when scheduled and agreed to in writing before leaving for the interpreting job or starting the translation job.
I learned these lessons when I first started doing this work thirty five years ago. Like all novice freelancers, I felt the obligation to say yes to every job that came my way out of fear of not having more work soon thereafter. We freelancers are basically unemployed at the end of each day unless we have the skills to develop a clientele that relies on us. There is another key to success, provide the best language work on time and you will be trusted and relied upon by the client. I have learned that it is a relationship based on mutual respect and trust.
Here is a good way for a full time employee to understand how the freelancer values time. If your boss assigns you a task and then takes it away and refuses to pay you for that time during your regular pay day. Or if you are called the night before and told not to come in the next day and that day’s pay will be deducted from your paycheck. Full time employees are protected by law against that, including unpaid overtime.
We freelancers have to negotiate those waters with tact and skill. Hopefully we are sailing a well-built ship.