This might sound like a really complex question and, in some ways, it is. On the other hand, it can be boiled down to one really simple statement: You’re worth whatever someone will pay you. If you believe you’re worth $0.40/word, that’s awesome. I hope you are. If no one will pay you $0.40/word, guess what? You’re not. When I started out in my career, I personally think I was charging a bit much for my level of experience…probably the opposite of what most people do. But hey, I had an MA in translation from a prestigious university and I basically felt like people should be beating down my door to give me translation work. Ah, to be young and naïve.
The reality was a lot harsher and I ended up sticking to my rate but spending a lot of time waiting tables and doing other jobs that didn’t require the degree I had earned to get by until one day I decided that no matter what, I HAD to make this work. I didn’t have a choice. This was my career and I didn’t have the money to invest in a new one. Moreover, I really did, and do, love translation. So, I discounted my rate after a few years of waitressing and spotty translation work. I decided that even at the lower rate, I’d still be earning more than I did doing these other odd jobs and at least I’d be doing what I loved. I started getting work fast, and after only months—yes, months—of proving myself, I eliminated the discount option and was working full-time at the original rate I was trying to charge.
If no one will pay you what you’re charging, then your price is too high for your level of translation skills, marketing skills, business skills or some combination thereof. On the other hand, if everyone will pay you what you’re charging, then you’ve clearly chosen a rate that is too low. I’m not suggesting that if you’re not getting lots of work, you should immediately slash your rate. I’m saying that you need to make sure your service/business matches your rate. That might mean getting better at business, marketing, translating, or temporarily (you don’t want to get stuck there) dropping your rate to match your current skill level until it improves. In the end, that’s the complicated part—deciding what rate matches your current level of various skills.
If you feel a little overwhelmed by the foregoing, it might be worth it to at least get your translation skill level evaluated by a reputable organization such as taking the ATA certification exam or by having a professional translator review your work. If your skill level is up to par, it’s time to look at your business and marketing skills. You might have the ability to produce the best translations in the world, but if no one knows about it, it doesn’t really matter, does it?