This Is Who You Should Blame For Low Translation Rates by Dmitry Kornyuhov via Best Russian Translator

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Me.

Seriously, blame me.

I’m that a-hole who is responsible for low translation rates.

I’m sorry guys, but I can’t help it.

It’s been a very bad habit for a very long time.

I developed this habit over the years by participating in never-ending price wars on all sorts of job boards and bidding platforms.

Of course, you have to understand that the definition of peanuts is quite different in each country and to some extent each and every one of us has his/her own number in mind.

To me, it’s anything bellow 0.10 USD per source word. Because everything below that hurts my bottom line. Plus, if we do some simple math, 0.10 USD per source word should be an absolute minimum for professional English-Russian translation no matter where they live.

Your story is probably totally different. My point is:

[bctt tweet=”In order to solve the problem of translation rates, you have to admit that you have one.”]

And that’s why I need to confess that every now and then I work for 0.09 and sometimes even 0.08 USD per source word. And I realize that this is absolutely unacceptable for someone living in Canada.

But I keep doing it.

Why?

Well, there are many reasons, actually. Let’s make a list and see. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself or someone you know in the items on my list and, who knows, maybe we’ll discover the ultimate cure by the end of this post.

Problem 1: I’m Terrible with Finances and Planning

Guilty as charged.

No rainy day fund.

Over 15k in credit card debt (yes, a credit card debt with a whopping 15% interest rate).

And a general “money comes and goes” philosophy that runs in my family. Which is not a bad thing, but sometimes you got have a cushion, you know. For emergencies and unplanned expenses, for example.

I don’t have that.

That’s why every now and then I find myself in situations where I simply cannot meet my financial obligations.

But how does that affect my rates?

When you’re not sure whether you’ll be able to afford to pay your rent next month, it automatically puts you in a very uncomfortable position.

The “I gotta get that project no matter what” position.

That dependency on money blurs my vision and pushes me to take the easiest route: offer a lower rate to get that gig.

All that financial pressure leaves me no time to think. No time for negotiation. No time to be proud and stand my ground.

So what’s the solution here?

Like I’ve said before: accept the problem. Try to understand it. Own it.

Get that savings account and start actually saving money.

Get rid of unnecessary expenses. Plan your budget. Learn to say “No” to some overly expensive things.

But more importantly: start and grow your rainy day fund, so that next time you’re going through a dry spell, you’ll at least you know that you and your family are covered. That way you’ll be able to focus on your business and discuss translation rates openly and with confidence, without any financial pressure.

Problem 2: I Suck at Sales and Negotiations

This is one of the biggest problems every creative person faces.

The small matter of selling yourself and proving to strangers that you’re worth it.

[bctt tweet=”We, as translators, are the definition of creativity.”]

Even if you translate specification sheets or legal mumbo-jumbo all day long.

That’s why I loathe sales and negotiating. I hate the process of finding and persuading people that I’m actually worth it.

Why can’t I just be a translator and do what I do best?

I tell you the price, you give me the money. I send you the translation. Easy-peasy.

Seriously, I just want to translate and devise and let my creativity shine.

But in reality I spend a lot of my time on mundane tasks such as finding and retaining clients, negotiating, looking for leads, following up with prospects, etc.

These are tasks that I’m not really good at. Both sales and negotiating are their own games. They have their own rules. Every sale, every negotiation I’ve ever had were different.

Because every person is different.

Some people like the casual, easy-going Dmitry. Some people like business-style Dmitry. Some people just like to be served and appreciate it when you go the extra mile. Others like the Dmitry who speaks from the position of authority and tells them what to do.

Figuring out what kind of buyer persona you’re dealing with at any given moment is not easy. For me, sales and negotiating are losing games. You lose much more often than you win.

That’s why sometimes I just cave in or let the prospect/client have their way. I get impatient and want to be done with it so that I can go back to doing what I do best: translating.

Even if it doesn’t pay that well, I still love my job.

So what’s the solution here?

I think reading books and taking courses on sales definitely helps.

At the very least it’s a good idea to read blogs about sales, the psychology behind the buying process, what kind of emotions are involved in the process, how to “connect” with your clients, etc.

Plus you have to be strategic and persistent.

One thing I can tell for sure:

[bctt tweet=”You won’t turn into a super-salesman overnight. It’s a hard work that requires 100% dedication.”]

I think that over the years my overall sales and negotiation skills will improve and that I’ll be able to talk about my translation rates freely without the fear of losing that game.

Because I know that I’m worth it, and I understand that I should be in charge of my prices and fees and not anyone else.

That’s the only thing that matters.

Problem 3: My Marketing Could Be Better

Many would probably disagree with that one.

I have a blog.

I have a gorgeous though not very informative and well-functioning website.

You can find me in Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and when you do you know that this fella here is an English-Russian translator because this basically everything I ever talk about on those social networks.

I have 219 amazing subscribers on my blog.

Overall I’m doing much better (marketing-wise) than the majority of English-Russian translators out there.

But is it working?

The short answer would be “Yes, but …”

Here is the thing: I’ve been doing all that marketing for about a year.

There was nothing before that.

Just me, Proz, bidding and an occasional emails sent to prospective translation companies and direct clients.

I cringe when I read my emails from last year. They’re just awful. No wonder I barely got any replies.

But then something clicked.

Something changed inside of me.

I realized that I needed to move forward. I needed to free myself from the chains of job bidding.

And this is how the Best Russian Translator was born about a year ago.

I’ve learned a lot about marketing in the past year and I feel like there’s a lot more to learn.

I need to find a better way of positioning myself in the market.

I need to find a better way to communicate my fields of expertise (which are video games, IT, marketing and e-commerce, thanks for asking).

I have to figure out a way to hang out in the places where my potential clients will be.

I’ll need to learn how to diversify my income streams.

Bottom line is: I need to learn.

Yes, my marketing efforts bring some leads and help me build long-lasting relationships and meet amazing people in my industry.

But I feel like there is a lot of room for growth. I feel like I’m at the very beginning of my journey.

Even though this website and blog bring new leads, those leads are not “pre-sold” meaning that we still need to negotiate my translation rates.

And as you already know, there are a lot of things that need to be improved in my sales department.

Problem 4: Lack of Confidence

Pretty strange to hear something like this from the self-proclaimed Best Russian Translator, isn’t it?

Even though that business name was a ballsy move and a great SEO trick, I feel that nobody is perfect and there are thousands of English-Russian translators that are better and probably cheaper than me.

And I’m sort of stuck with this feeling. It doesn’t allow me to be confident about my rates.

Sometimes I feel like there is always a better English-Russian translator somewhere out there, looming in the shadows, trying to steal my clients right from under my nose.

I know that sounds like paranoia.

And I realize that this paranoia was probably induced by job-bidding platforms that I’ve been addicted to for such a long time.

But I feel like I’m not alone in this.

Have you ever had a similar feeling? A feeling that you’re competing with the imaginary translator who is better than you every single part of the translation process, including translation rates?

Please, tell me I’m not losing my mind here.

The ungrounded fear of competition, the fear of not being good enough definitely affects my translation rates.

I’m constantly asking myself: “Should I charge more? Should I charge less? What if they find somebody better and cheaper? Should I tell everyone about my rates or keep them a secret?”

This is madness.

But this is the world I live in.

I guess the solution is embracing it. Trying to control those fears and demons.

Finding a way to persuade myself that I’m actually good and deserve to be paid accordingly.

Because I am good. I love my job.

All of my friends envy me (in a good way, of course) because I’ve found my true passion.

I’m married to this profession, I FREAKING LOVE IT!

There, I said it.

And you know what?

I feel much better now. I really do.

You’ll think that writing about your problems openly won’t help, but it does.

It helps me and I’ll hope it’ll help you.

[bctt tweet=”Don’t run from your problems. Embrace them. Own them. Be in charge of your life.”]

I guess that’s the advice I want to give you at the end of this post.

Oh, and one more thing:

[bctt tweet=”Don’t make such a big deal out of your translation rates. These are just numbers. They mean nothing.”]

People in this amazing industry really need to be more open about their rates. Do you agree?

I’ll start with myself:

“Hi, my name is Dmitry Kornyukhov, I’m an English-Russian translator and localization specialist and my rates are 0.12-0.14 USD for translation agencies and 0.16 USD for direct clients.

Sometimes I work for 0.08-0.09 USD because of the reasons described above.

I want to keep increasing my rates.

I deserve it. It’s a healthy and professional approach to doing business.

My goal is to get to at least 0.20 USD per source word for direct clients and 0.15 USD for agencies. I think it’s possible, and I’ll keep working my butt off to achieve that goal.

See?

That was easy.

Now it’s your turn.

P.S.: Thanks a lot for reading and sharing this post and sorry I hadn’t been around for the past month.

The truth is work has been kind of crazy plus I’m working tirelessly on designing a new free web-project that will shape the future of the translation industry.

I’m embarking on a seemingly impossible mission of uniting the brightest minds in our industry, with a strong emphasis on knowledge-sharing, CPD, inspiration, and online presence.

The project is in a pre-pre-pre-alpha stage, but it looks absolutely stunning. I’m really pouring my heart and soul into it. Plus, I’m a sucker for great web design, so it will be absolutely unique, clean and beautiful.

I feel like the translation industry needs something like this – new way to collaborate and talk about our problems together.

It will be absolutely free. Anyone will be able to join the conversation and change the way we talk about our industry.

This will be my way of giving back to the most amazing industry in this world!

I’m not sure about the launch date, I still need to prioritize my translation work (a man’s got to eat and provide for his family, after all). But if you’re interested in joining the private beta, just let me know here or via email. Let’s build something awesome together! 🙂

P.P.S.: This post was edited by the amazing Jesse Tomlinson from Tomlinson Translation. Check out her website!

You can follow her on Twitter too 🙂




Comments

  1. Hi Dmitry,

    I’m interested in the private beta. Let me know if you would like to discuss it before you go live. As a developer I might have some ideas or be able to help you.

    Kind regards,

    John

    • Dmitry Kornyukhov ( Author )

      Thanks, John! Yep, I saw your comment on Facebook 🙂
      I’ll keep you in the loop. That project will be awesome! Right now I’m dedicating nearly 100% of my time and want to make sure that I have the fully functional website by the middle of October or earlier. I’ll keep you posted! I’m having so much fun building it and I think our tight-knit translation community would love it 🙂

  2. Hey Dmitry,

    I enjoyed reading this and had a few thoughts.

    One of the things that helped me was to embrace negotiation, marketing and business skills instead of thinking these things are annoying I just want to translate. It’s a fun challenge and makes you feel at home hanging out with other freelance professions and entrepreneurs.

    Another thing that came to mind is that I am all for being open about prices with colleagues, but I don’t like the idea of listing prices publicly for clients,because it can take away your flexibility to tailor your quotes to each client.

    I think the price depends on their expectations, their budget, how urgent it is etc. With direct clients, try to avoid just responding to a how much will this cost and how long will it take inquiry without finding out more about them. Call them up and find out more about them, then include sales arguments with your quote tailored to them.

    • Hi David!
      Thank you so much for reading and sharing, much appreciated! Oh, I love marketing, and sales and negotiations are fun in its own way (especially when it brings results). I’m embracing it with open arms 🙂

      I just wish I did it earlier or even better – I wish they taught this in universities. I feel like there are a lot of people who have been struggling with these aspects of running a business.

      As for the rates – I love transparency and I feel like we, as professionals need to think about the needs of our customers. I don’t think that sharing your rates is wrong or takes away your flexibility. After all you can always say that rates are not set in stone and may vary depending on project requirements, but at least you can give your clients a rough estimate so they won’t have to wait for you to reply to their emails.

      Does it make sense?

  3. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in a lot of ways here. May I be a little more blunt than you’ve allowed yourself to be? For each of us, if we can’t command the rates we want, we have only one person to blame and that’s ourselves. There is no point in blaming other translators and there is no point in blaming agencies. The market demand for even half-way decent translators, let alone the Best Russian Translator, is enormous, and too much of that demand is being supplied with dross, translations produced by people who do not have the necessary linguistic skills or the polished turd of post-edited machine translation. Rates and incomes should be going up, at least for individual translators who are developing their skills and their businesses.
    Like yourself (or like you claim to be!) I am appalling at marketing and detest negotiation. But I don’t like doing my accounts either, and I still had to learn bookkeeping! Sales, marketing and negotiation are also things that can be learned, or at least improved through training.
    But I think an even more important aspect is quality. We can never compete on price alone; nobody who is selling their own labour can compete on price alone. We need to be brutally honest with ourselves about what we do well and what we don’t do as well. In a lot of cases we should simply stop doing the stuff we don’t do so well – for me, it is the marketing and general business texts – so that we can concentrate on the stuff we’re better at. The arguments in favour of specialisation have been made at length in many places, but examining our professional strengths and weaknesses is also a way of combatting the confidence issues you mention in your post.
    And as for rates, these things change, but my current new-client rate for unrevised translation (for agencies and similar professional clients) is 0.11–0.12 €/word; my rare direct clients receive translations revised as per ISO 17100 (i.e. a different service) and pay substantially more; legacy clients may pay substantially less, but I’ve only myself to blame for that!

    • Hi Nigel,
      Thank you so much for sharing you thought! And for that link to the online course! That one is pretty helpful!

      “We have only one person to blame and that’s ourselves”
      I absolutely agree with you. I don’t understand it when people blame it on geography, competition, scammers, agencies, etc. It’s our profession, it’s our life. We’re the only ones in charge here and no one else. Blaming the others never helps. And that’s a fact.

      “Rates and incomes should be going up, at least for individual translators who are developing their skills and their businesses.”
      Agree! And it seems like they’re going up, at least for those people who are willing to make an effort. Nothing will ever change unless we do something about it. Raising awareness, talking about the problems, trying to find solutions is the best way to go in my humble opinion.

      “Examining our professional strengths and weaknesses is also a way of combatting the confidence issues you mention in your post”
      True that! Finding a niche and finding a specialization is the key. It’s not easy, and I’m still trying to properly position myself on the market, but I think it’ll get better. I wish translation schools and universities placed a stronger emphasis on specialization.

  4. Hi, my name is Olga, I adore how open and real you are in this blog. And by the way, I’m breaking out of the 0.06 USD per word (which was considered a high rate in Kazakhstan) to have healthy income in the USA. And thank you so much for bringing up this pain-in-the-ass (pardon my French) subject. Off to sharing 🙂

    • Hi Olga!
      Thank you so much for sharing! Good luck with getting your translation business off the ground in US. It will be hard, but I think you’ve got what it takes! And don’t hesitate to contact me if you need any help or advice.

      Have you moved to Washington already? 🙂

  5. Hi Dmitry,

    Would be great to see a beta when it’s out. And 0.08—0.09 USD per word for a low end?.. Damn, I could get Rockfeller rich if I got at least a third of my orders at this rate…

    Cheers,
    Vladimir

    • Dmitry Kornyukhov ( Author )

      Hi Vladimir!
      Thanks for stopping by! I’ll keep you in the loop about the upcoming beta. As for the rates, I think it depends on where you live and what kind of financial obligations you have. For me, it’s the absolute minimum of what I should be making in order to make my ends meet. And I feel like it’s not right. We’re translators, our job is hard and requires a unique set of skills. We should be Rockefeller rich because we deserve it 🙂

      Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could make over 100k no matter where we live?

  6. Great post, Dmitry! I really “feel” you, and you are sharing exactly the same thoughts that I have been struggling with since the beginning of my freelance translator career back in 2007. On the rates. 0.20 for direct clients sounds like a realistic target, however, I am not so sure about the rate for agencies. Anyway, your new project sounds intriguing, so please keep me in the loop and let me know if I can be of any help.

    • Dmitry Kornyukhov ( Author )

      Hi Andrei!
      Thank you so much for stopping by. I’ll let you know when I’m closer to the beta stage. Hopefully, it will be out in the upcoming weeks.

  7. Hey Dmitry! Loved your post and idea! Please count me in.

  8. José Rodriguez-Olveira

    Hi Dmitry,

    I enjoyed reading your post. I am interested in the private beta. Please get in touch.

    I am experienced legal translator and interpreter in the process of developing my business further. I am creating a new website.

    Thanks

    José

  9. Hi, Dmitry!

    WOW. Now this is the kind of thing I like reading! A straight to the point, blatant article regarding rates. Oh, how I wish every single colleague would be so open about their rates. And admitting, that we ourselves are also the ones to blame.

    I myself am guilty of all those problems you mentioned, being the “lack of confidence” the worst. I believe I have the self-sabotage syndrom whereas I thought of myself as a rookie (and recently I was told I should stop making that “excuse” since I’ve been doing this for 5 years or so) or because I always feel there’s someone better than me. Oh, it sucks. But I can’t help it. Still working on it though.

    Anyhow, just wanted to tell you I found your post very interesting. I’m sharing it everywhere. Oh, also, keep me posted on the beta project.

    Cheers from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

  10. Hi everyone and Dmitry personally,

    Well, the rate problem is the one that almost every freelance translator sucks at. And I often do.
    The idea of “is there any English-Russian translator who translates as well (or even better) as I do and charge less” is the f….ing true one.
    Just a fact to think of: if you post a job ad on trworkshop.net (so called Gorod Perevodchikov, a Russian translators’ portal), you can easily get En-Ru translators doing their work at 0.015 USD per word whereas there are lots of En-Ru translators outside who won’t translate a single word at rates lower than 0.08 USD per word. And know what? The funniest thing about this is that… THE QUALITY OF BOTH GROUPS is similar!

    Now, let’s consider this and take our butts to do more, more and even more on marketing. And yet another time: more. There is no other option.

    • Thank you for your comment, Alexey!
      I absolutely agree with you that in order to break free from the low-rate market. And the only way to do it is to step up your game both in Sales and Marketing department. I believe that all English-Russian translators should be charing at least 0.12 USD per source word. It should be our bottom, not 0.012 USD. Because we deserve it. We bring incredible value to our clients. And the ROI of English-Russian translation/localization is insane. We should focus on that instead of undercutting each other so we could earn peanuts. Why ask for peanuts when you can ask for real money and make a decent living?

  11. Hi Dmitry,

    You are a perfect illustration of русский размах. You cover almost all of the anxieties that all of us translators experience. And I don’t think I could ever talk about my debts and finances so openly on the public Internet, though all of us in the developed world aspiring to lead solidly middle-class lifestyles surely face the same financial pressures. Bravo to you for being so open and honest.

    I definitely now feel inspired to update my website and do more to market my services.

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