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Choosing Translation Rate Smartly: Per Word or Per Hour


At some point in their career, many translation professionals had to exclaim, “This seemingly short project is actually taking me forever! Why could not I bill by the hour instead of by the word?” Although per-word translation rates are an industry standard, they are not always fair. It is not uncommon for a translation job to take longer than the translator initially expected based on the word count, as is often the case, for example, with translating marketing texts. Other translations are, however, so easy that clients are better off paying by the hour than by the word. I came across a compelling article by Corinne McKay about this dilemma recently. Complete with readers’ comments, it provides an interesting perspective that I would like to build upon on in this post.

The per-hour translation rate causes anxiety.

From clients’ standpoint, the per-word rate for translation services is a straightforward and practical pricing model. Everyone wants to know the price upfront and may feel uncomfortable buying without knowing what costs to expect. I, for one, am very frugal (at least this is what I like to think of myself; my wife calls me a cheapskate), and the idea of a supplier charging me for the number of hours spent seems unsettling to me at times. When I am not sure about my supplier’s integrity or efficiency, I cannot trust that they will meet my cost expectations. Although I have worked with many outstanding suppliers who billed the exact amount of time that I expected or even less, I have also worked with people who charged me an unreasonable number of hours. This kind of misunderstanding leads to frustration and even hard feelings on both sides of the deal. Because of these experiences, it is my goal as a buyer to always know the price upfront. The agreed-upon translation costs give clients peace of mind whereas the per-hour translation rate can cause unwelcome uncertainty.

The per-word translation rate is a source of motivation.

The per-word rate is a powerful way to motivate translators financially. Imagine a translator producing 300 translated words per hour on average at $0.10 per word, thereby making $30 per hour. If she decides to earn more per hour, say $50, she has a clear pathway to do so, i.e., by speeding up translation through higher efficiency. In other words, with the per-word rate, there is a direct correlation between how efficient a translator is and how much she makes. By contrast, with the per-hour rate, a translator does not earn more by improving performance. In fact, she earns more by working longer hours; that is, less efficiently. Whereas the per-word rate encourages her to optimize her work and grow professionally, the per-hour rate gives her an incentive to slack.

Logging translation hours may be difficult.

Calculating the number of hours spent on a particular translation might present a challenge. When a translator concentrates on a translation project single-mindedly, logging hours is easy. If he translates a 2,000-word project working from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., he simply logs 8 hours. Fair and easy. But what about a freelance translator facing many interruptions during the day, such as clients’ emails or home environment distractions? He may take two days to translate the same 2,000 words, going back and forth between this task and other requests that come his way. To know the exact amount of time spent on the translation would require him to log each small time block in a time sheet, which takes tons of discipline that not everyone has.

In conclusion

At Velior, we prefer the per-word translator rate, because we want our clients to have peace of mind knowing the translation costs upfront. We also want to motivate our translators to grow professionally.

You can benefit from this pricing model by requesting a free quote from us.

2 comments

  • Cassy says:

    Great idea! I also prefer to be paid on a per word basis as it will motivate me to translate effectively and efficiently.

  • Malvin says:

    Great article. Very instructive for a new freelance translator.

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.