How much is my time worth?

Translators and interpreters are a very creative bunch, and creative folk usually do not make good administrators. Yes, it is a generalization, so take it with the duly recommended grain of salt.

We have all heard of ROI (Return on Investment). That is what you get back for the money you are investing in your business – the cost of equipment, marketing, training, education, etc. The latest technological developments in our industry have turned this concept upside down: we are investing more and more in training, software and faster equipment to improve the quality of our product, and our clients want us to charge less.

How can we find the happy medium? That comes from knowing what our time is worth and adding a cushion to our rates so we can accommodate our clients’ needs without hurting our bottom line. Our main weapon is, as always, knowledge:  of  basic accounting, contract language, time management, office administration and negotiation tactics.

Let’s start with some basic accounting concepts.

A colleague of mine once said that the right price for your services is by nature different from the right price for my services. And that is so because we have different financial needs and our pricing structure should be based on that.

Basically, what I pay for paper, ink cartridges, software, internet service, power, etc. may be different from what you pay.  To these and other quantifiable tangibles we add quality, dependability, knowledge and other quantifiable intangibles. Since our operating expenses are different, then it is only logical that the final product will also be priced differently.

Step one in determining the value of my time is to identify my operating expenses and determine how much they cost me.  Examples of these expenses are taxes, ink cartridges, paper, power, cell phone, software (new and upgrades), books, health insurance, Social Security contributions, travel expenses, registration at conferences, membership dues, marketing, etc.

Step two is determining how much I want to earn a year and how much time I want to toil to reach that amount. The easy calculation is: you pick a dollar amount (desired income-DI) and divide it by 52 (the number of weeks in a year.) Then, divide that result by the number of hours you want to work in a week.

a) [DI]/[52] = $ per week
b) [$/Week]/[ h/week] = $ per hour

Now my operating expenses come into play. I have to take that value into consideration to ensure that [ $/hour] covers my cost of doing business, my salary and also includes a cushion (profit).

That cushion is very important. That is the amount I can use to negotiate rates with customers.

To make it easy, let’s say that my expenses equal 50% of my hourly wages – that is the portion of my earnings I cannot negotiate. The balance should cover my wage and profit. In my case, I’d say that ¼ of that balance represents my profit – and I can play with that number to meet my clients’ needs.

Remember that values will vary from market to market – both based on geographical and industry variables, as well as from professional to professional. Your cost of doing business may represent less than 50% of your hourly wage; your profit margin may be greater than 25%. Regardless of the values, your profit margin is the number you can reduce as you see fit to guarantee that you get the job.

So, we have roughly covered Basic Accounting. Next time, Basic Accounting II.

14 thoughts on “How much is my time worth?”

  1. Jennifer De La Cruz says:

    Well said, Gio! The cushion is where I think many end up selling ourselves short. The idea of a cushion is important to build into our delivery dates as well. I look forward to part 2 of your series!

    1. Gio says:

      Deadline cushion is so comfortable! You are right, Jennifer.

  2. Robert Finnegan says:

    You got my mouth watering for more! When’s the next post coming?

  3. Gio says:

    Hi Bob! How are Timor and Bali doing under your watch? :o)

    Thanks. The next one is coming next month.

  4. Excellent! This should be basic to any freelancer, but people usually have it backwards: they agree to a price, and then try to make ends meet.
    I’m also looking forward to part 2!

    1. Gio says:

      It took me sometime to learn I am not a crab and don’t have to walk backwards :o)

  5. Laura Torres says:


    Way to go Gio, loved it, very informative 🙂

    Can’t wait for part II

    1. Gio says:

      Thanks. Part II comes in a month.

  6. Gio says:

    I forgot to let you know that there is more great material coming up from the other authors. And a secret; they like when we ask questions :o)

  7. Yeni Davila says:

    This is a great question! When I am doing translations are not in plain text and the formatting consumes lots of my time so I cannot bill by the word.

    1. Gio Lester says:

      Yeni, more and more often I find myself basing my fee on the time it takes me to do the job than on the number of words. Not too long ago I was managing a project that required I sub-contract five professionals. And we all agreed on basing our fee on the volume/time equation. That made things a lot better for all of us, including the client. The material had a lot of repetition, which reduced output time and ensured consistency. The project was delivered on time, with minimal revision, all participants were happy and I can’t wait to do it all over again.

      Another approach is to have a DTP (desktop publishing) fee. Sure, the translation is X, to put it in the exact format as the original document, it will be Y. My contract states that I am not responsible for DTP; it follows that if I have to pay, I have to charge. Just like my fee to a direct client is higher than to an agency: I have to pay a proofreader.

  8. ziou SEKAKMIA Khalissa says:

    tanks for all this , but sometimes I tell the client that the rate is about 900 dollars but when I start translation , I find that it’s not the exact price, because the Task is too difficult and it takes me a lot of time , finally as judicial translator , I am not legal towards my self
    Ziou sekakmia khalissa sworn translator

  9. As a professional translator, I learned to check the text exactly and then give a rate. I will not set a rate immediately.

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