Pricing your services and negotiating with confidence: wise words from Susie Jackson

Even before I left Spain after METM22 (the Mediterranean Editors and Translators Meeting in Donastia/San-Sebastián) in October, I was eager to sign up for one particular CPD event taking place in December. This was a SENSE online workshop on “Pricing  your services and negotiating with confidence” in December. The presenter was Susie Jackson, a pricing and finance mentor for freelancers as well as a Spanish-English translator and copy-editor specializing in academic texts for the social sciences.

“If everyone tries to remain competitive according to industry averages, it will drive prices down over time”

Susie began her workshop with a poll on how we decided our current rates. Although many of us based them on what others charge, Susie quite rightly pointed out that this doesn’t tell you about the average translator’s circumstances and the relevance of said charges. Consequently, it makes more sense to set your rates according to your personal circumstances. Susie mentioned two types of value-based pricing: value to the client and value to your business. She also pointed out that if everyone tries to remain competitive according to industry averages, it will drive prices down over time. This struck a chord with me as I see this often in the Czech Republic, a market I work in less frequently nowadays for this very reason.

One indicator that you’re undercharging for your services is if you’re having to work really long hours just to stay afloat. Susie’s second question to the participants was whether we feel we are currently earning enough to cover our needs. The answers were mixed. Susie’s advice was to set a minimum depending on your personal circumstances: based on your financial requirements and your capacity. The income calculations involve looking at all expenses, both personal and business, including pension payments and taxes. Capacity is calculated as time spent on paid work not including holidays or sick leave. And, of course, we all know that freelancers work a lot of non-billable hours. This also needs to be considered when adding up the total income requirements and dividing this by the available working hours to come up with an hourly rate.

Spa at the Grand Mark Prague

Susie’s next poll asked us how much we would be willing to pay for a luxury spa day (for ourselves or as a gift) with access to a pool, sauna and steam room and a massage or other treatment thrown in. Some people said they don’t like spas and wouldn’t pay anything at all (not me!). What was interesting was that no-one answered less than €50 and everyone who does like spas was happy to pay higher prices.

“There are clients at all budget levels”

The point here is not just that I like to treat myself to some luxury spa treatment at a local fancy hotel from time to time but that there are always some clients willing to pay for a premium service. This also applies to clients looking for translation and editing services. What we need to do is find the right clients for us and market to them, bearing in mind that there are clients at all budget levels and there are also other factors to consider besides money. These include, for example, interesting projects and good working relationships. Does this mean conversely possibly charging more for a late paying client who makes you jump through endless bureaucratic hoops? When Susie assesses her clients around once a year, she considers whether or not they leave her to get on with the work in peace and meet the deadline without checking up on her progress, something I personally value, too.

The last question Susie polled was: How many of your clients do you think would feel bad if they discovered that the rate they’re paying you wasn’t enabling you to earn a decent living from your business? Again, answers were mixed but it was disheartening for us to see that some participants thought they wouldn’t care. I would like to think that the academics I work for would be shocked and, fortunately, they or their institutions are generally prepared to pay well.

“What is going to be your starting price, leaving room for negotiation?”

Susie recommended that we think about our client’s brief and decide what is going to be our starting price, leaving room for negotiation if necessary. She also advised us to consider whether there was anything we could do to make the price more affordable without reducing it, or if a client says our quote is too high, to ask for their budget before offering a lower price.  She also warned against lowering our price without asking for something in return.

“Don’t lower your price without asking for something in return”

The workshop participants were then put in breakout rooms to discuss a hypothetical quoting scenario and alternatives to offer a client in exchange for a lower price, for instance, delivering a translation that is not edited by a second professional or agreeing a longer deadline. It is also possible to ask clients to shorten the texts or send a smaller number of texts, for instance.

The final topic of the workshop was raising rates. It is generally considered easier to charge higher rates to new clients than raise prices with existing clients but this can also be done. Susie’s advice was to raise your rates with your existing clients one at a time so as to minimize risk. It is a good idea to start with the lowest paying client. Points to take into consideration include how much to raise you rates bearing in mind inflation and how long you’ll have to wait to do this again. It is also wise to ask for a testimonial from the client first and be prepared to lose them in a worst-case scenario.

“Raise your rates with your existing clients one at a time”

Susie’s session certainly gave us a lot of food for thought. Knowing how to price our services and negotiate effectively are essential skills for freelancers at the best of times but more so than ever in the current economic climate. I have also signed up for Susie’s Reflect and Reset Challenge which I am looking forward to working on next. In anticipation of this, I have already downloaded and printed the worksheets.

Blog post edited by Robin Finesilver.