Thoughts on Freelance Translation: The Experiment (Part 1)

3 October 2016
Comments 1
3 October 2016, Comments 1

Thoughts on Freelance Transaltion: The Experiment (Part 1)

[Please note that this was first posted in 2014]


I remember spending a lot of time wading through an endless array of articles regarding translation rates back when I started working on a freelance basis. Most of them were pretty similar in content and form; solid piece of advice, food for thought, and a metaphorical injection of resolve.

What next, however? Besides the short-term boost in confidence, how much of what’s written lingers in the deepest recesses of our brains? Not much, I dare say, and I’m not excluding my own attempt at discussing the most important piece of information a freelance translator is trying to obtain.

About a year ago, around the same time I stopped writing in my blog (there reason for that “break” will be explained in the next article), I decided to conduct a fairly ambitious experiment for the benefit of myself and the community. Despite facing numerous problems that arose from day 1, the timeframe that I had set and the fact that what I was doing could be considered part of my work, allowed me to feel – now, more than a year after I’d started – that I have in my hands results that could shed some light in the muddy landscape of freelance translation rates.

Starting from January 2013, I contacted 823 agencies from all over the world that offer translation services in the English to Greek language pair.

The premise was clear. I presented my profile consisting of:
5 years of experience
Master’s degree in Health Sciences
Certificate of proficiency in English
Specialization in Medicine/Pharmaceutics, Computing & IT, and Science
Membership in a professional association for linguists
A couple of strong references
Simply mentioning reasonable rates

Now, bear in mind that this is by no means a global guide on how much agencies are willing to pay for your services, regardless of your language pair or your experience and marketing skills. I’m merely content to set a basis for you to take in to account when deciding on a plan on how to approach agencies. Don’t forget, Greek is currently one of the languages that are most affected by the economic crisis.

As you can see, out of 823 queries, I received a positive response from 517 agencies. This doesn’t mean that I received work from each and every one of them, but we’ll use that as our working sample.

For the next step, and depending on the market the agency is set in, I proposed a different amount per word. The absolute minimum I initially offered was 0.04€/source word for standard texts and that was targeted in agencies that are based in developing countries/countries notorious for their low rates. The maximum was 0.12€/source word for medical texts to the big players.


Out of all the agencies that responded, 219 either proposed lower rates or flat out rejected my offer and wished me good luck.

For the remaining 298 agencies, my offer was accepted and for quite a lot of them, my first project followed shortly thereafter. How many of them were actually priced at reasonable rates, though?


As you can see, surprisingly, the vast majority of agencies with a good reputation in the industry, coming from some of the better-paying countries, completely ignored my queries in the low-end of the rates table. Instead, they were more than happy (albeit, after gruesome testing and signing and reading and agreeing and NDAing and guide lining) to pay the big bucks for quality specialized work.

On the other hand, the agencies located in developing markets were for the most part bent on not accepting anything over 0.05€/source word.

What do these figures mean?

Perhaps we need to stop worrying about asking too much when the market calls for it. There are agencies and subsequently clients out there who value a good translation. They’re willing to compensate you for giving it your all. As for the other agencies, struggling to survive in markets that are still not ripe enough to offer quality instead of quantity, it’s always nice to know that if you want to be a good person, you can work for less.

Nevertheless, it’s up to anyone to draw their own conclusions from these results.

Part 2 of this experiment will follow tomorrow.


img_5216 By Konstantinos Stardelis

One response on “Thoughts on Freelance Translation: The Experiment (Part 1)

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