In one of my previous posts, I wrote about how unfavorable the stagnant USD/RUB exchange rate is for translators residing in Russia who are paid in dollars by foreign clients for translation into Russian.
With inflation across the board in Russia, the cost of living is already close to that in the U.S. In some major consumer spending areas such as cars, gas, and real estate, it’s even higher in some locations. Translators residing in Russia today need much more money to maintain the lifestyle they are used to than, say, five years ago.
In theory, they have two options to earn more money. Translators could either keep making the same amount of money in dollars, getting more rubles when they convert those dollars into rubles if the USD/RUB exchange rate increased. Or they could increase their rates.
The fact is that the USD/RUB exchange rate doesn’t increase in proportion to inflation. This means that $1,000 today is worth the same 30,000 rubles as five years ago, but the 30,000 rubles can now buy much, much less than it could then, leaving translators with the second option only.
As a result of this trend, Russian translators residing in Russia who increase their rates to keep up with inflation end up being less competitive than Russian translators residing in the U.S., who benefit from this situation.
How can Russian translators tackle the challenge of increasing their rates?
In theory, this is an unresolvable issue for most translators. There’s no reason why a client, in particular a translation agency, would want to pay more when it has translators working out of other countries with lower rates. Increasing rates wipes out most of a translator’s competitive edge.
For example, we are already losing clients who want the lower USD rates that we can’t provide. All we can do now is to offer them a lower level of service, because we can no longer provide premium service for the money they’re paying.
Another option is increasing productivity, but I don’t really see how an average translator can increase the level of productivity by 10% per year to cope with the 10% inflation.
What’s going to happen?
Even though, as a translator working out of Russia myself, I’m unhappy about the situation, I’m fascinated by it. It’s a true paradox: the prices can’t increase, but they have to. Two scenarios seem most likely:
- Our prices will remain the same, and the quality will go down, because translators will have to make up by volume what they lose on price.
- Clients will grudgingly yield to higher rates, making Russian translators residing in Russia the highest-paid in the world.
The first scenario seems more realistic to me. 🙂
What can we do to keep our competitive edge?
This depends on how proactive you are. If you’re blaming the exchange rate, what you can do is hope that it will change radically. This isn’t completely out of the question, but I wouldn’t count on it. The exchange rate is a function of government policy. For the exchange rate to change radically, the government would have to change its course radically. With the same government in office as in the last ten years, however, I don’t think the policy is likely to change. I would be delighted to be wrong, though, that’s for sure.
If you’re more proactive and feel responsible for what happens to you, then you could do at least three things:
- Consider working from a country other than Russia. This would allow you to spend your hard-earned cash where it has the highest buying power.
- Spend as little as possible in Russia and buy as much as possible from abroad.
- To be able to sell more expensive services to the clients that have a choice of cheaper translators, you must be much better in every respect than those cheaper translators. Make professional development your highest business priority.
Regardless of what happens to the exchange rate, it is your job as a professional translator to make sure that the quality of your Russian translation never drops, but only increases.