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If you ask any translator for their rates, you will get a number either per word, character, hour or page – depending on their preferences and the customs in their country –, but most probably there will also be another number that is labelled as their “minimum charge”. This is applied for small projects, let’s say, texts under 300-400 words.
“Why do translators charge a minimum charge, though? If I am asking you to translate 30 words, you shouldn’t charge the same as for 300 words, right? That’s not fair, is it?” you may ask.
Well, there are some practical reasons why most translators decide to have a minimum charge, here are some of these:
Nah. Just kidding, most of us are actually pretty decent people.
Small project =/= Small problem
Often small projects come in the form of word lists, tables or as a few sentences without context. Understanding the bigger picture – which is essential for an accurate translation – might mean more questions and queries sent to the client than in the case of a larger project. If the text is part of a longer document, the translator might need to see and read that file in its entirety, or have a look at any previous translations if they are available. Short texts can have just as complicated of a background as their longer counterparts. Getting to know this takes time which is covered by the minimum charge.
Research is key
Depending on the subject matter, a text of a few words might require the same or a similar amount of research as a larger project. This is related to the previous point as research most often involves inquiries into the background of a document, cross-referencing existing translations and doing terminology work. On the surface it might seem easy enough to quickly translate 30-40 words, however, the related research might double or triple the time that needs to be spent on the project.
Most often than not, short texts equal super short deadlines, and the translator has to drop whatever they were doing and focus on the new, urgent piece to meet the deadline. Jumping to a new project on such short notice requires great focus from the translator who might need to change their whole mindset, for example, when switching from translating a heavily-worded official document to a sweet children’s book.
Having a minimum charge allows for such unexpected, top-priority projects that might interrupt the day and in some cases it may act as a small urgency surcharge.
Although you wouldn’t think that it is directly related to translation, administrative tasks in a project are important. A well-organised translator who keeps a clear record of all the projects they have worked on will be able to deliver within their deadlines and they can answer your queries more efficiently.
Good record-keeping (be it in the form of a spreadsheet, a piece of software or a dog-eared notebook) helps with translation itself, too. With the aid of accurate records, translators can more easily reference previous translations, look them up, and consequently, keep terminology and style consistent across related documents.
It’s essential that a translator’s work (even the smallest piece) is accurately recorded for future reference, and setting up a small project involves the same steps and requires the same amount of time as setting up a large project. Although most translators don’t talk about this, our fees do include administrative charges, as well, and a minimum charge is no different.
There is one more thing we need to talk about in relation with minimum charges, and that is “freebies”.
Sometimes when your translator is in a good mood / likes working with you / it really only took 5 minutes / the text is part of a long, on-going project they are already familiar with, etc., they might offer you the small translation as a little freebie to show their appreciation towards you and your professional relationship.
However, please do not expect free work regularly from a professional translator. If they offer a small job for free, they most probably have a reason for it in that particular situation, so please don’t assume that for your next small project the translator would like to offer their professional services free of charge again.
I hope you found this short article useful. If you have any questions or want to know more about how translators work, charge their work and what they can or cannot do, don’t hesitate comment on this article or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
Originally I posted this article on my LinkedIn page on 28 February 2019.