“Ask and you shall receive” is arguably the most powerful law of the universe. In fact, one of the most influential success books, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, teaches this principle as the primary key to success: whatever you ask of life, life gives you. If you ask for less and suffer from a scarcity mentality—well, scarcity is what you always get. If you dream big and demand more of yourself instead, you achieve more than you could normally expect. This principle works in the translation industry just as well as in every other walk of life. Let’s look at the two examples below to see how you can apply it as a translation professional.
We Keep Asking for What We Think Is a Fair Rate
A more general example of the two is how we kept increasing our rates over the years. Since the inception of our translation services company in 2005, our prices increased about 250%. This price increase has been driven by inflation and, more importantly, ever-growing experience, which translates into higher translation quality and better customer service. Every single time we increased the prices, we lost excellent customers who weren’t prepared to pay the new rates. I assume they were satisfied with the level of quality they were getting at the old price level while we felt we had to move on and take our services to a new level. The first few times, we felt nervous about the increase and hated seeing the clients leave. But then we got used and now see this as a natural process that you have to put up with to be in business! Yes, we still hate seeing great clients go somewhere else (who doesn’t!), but we aren’t scared anymore—it’s just a business decision. We calculate all costs, add a margin, and come up with a price range that we can accept to run a profitable business, rather than a sweatshop. Any other approach doesn’t make sense economically. If we hadn’t kept asking for higher rates along the way, we would’ve been at a very different destination now.
A More Specific Example
Here is another example, a more recent one, that actually inspired me to write this post. We received a request from a regular client who normally buys from us at our standard rate, let’s call it X for the sake of example. Although they don’t buy as much as other regular customers do, they are a top-notch translation agency and we enjoy working with them a lot. One reason they don’t buy from us is that they’re able to negotiate lower rates with other great vendors by offering them high volumes of work in return. They contacted us with quite a challenging project requiring an extensive set of translation skills and professionalism. Because of these challenges, our quote was twice as much as we normally charge them (2X), and we even reserved the right to increase the final price in case of unexpected costs! In fact, as we were preparing the quote, our PM said sending the quote made no sense whatsoever. Indeed, how could we possibly pull this off when this agency had other cheaper, yet very professional vendors? Of course, we went ahead and sent the quote anyway simply because we did what we always do in such cases, which is asking a simple question, “What do we have to lose?” This is a key question for you to decide upon in any negotiation. If you’re desperate to get your prospect’s business and you answer “A lot” to this question, your negotiation power is extremely low. But if you are able to walk away from the negotation when you don’t like the terms, it usually makes a big difference in the results of this negotiation for you. The end of the story is that the agency paid us 2.5X (initial price of 2X plus 0.5X for unexpected costs). In other words, they paid us almost three times more than we normally charge them.
The main point of the above examples is that we were able to receive the price we considered fair only because we asked for it. By asking for a higher rate than a client expected, we took the risk of losing a project or a client altogether. But at the same time, we knew there was no reason to take their projects at a price substantially lower than we estimated. Because we knew this was a way to an economic death spiral, we had the confidence to ask for what we wanted, and on numerous occasions, we ended up receiving what we asked for. In the next post, I’ll continue to look at this principle by discussing in more detail why and how translators should always ask for a price they find fair, rather than a price they know a client wants to hear.