Nov 6, 2012

Low quantity surcharges in translation

This morning as I downed my first double espresso and prepared to translate an equally stimulating interim financial report, I scanned a few recent blog entries by colleagues. One post by German translator Susanne Schmidt-Wussow about a conversation with her uncle, a businessman involved with sales in another field, was particularly interesting.

When the subject of volumes and rates for translation came up, he was quite clear about the difference between the sort of work we do and commodities which may be subject to some volume discounts and he asked „Sag mal, nimmst du eigentlich einen Kleinmengenzuschlag für so ganz kleine Aufträge?“ ("Tell me, do you apply a surcharge for small orders?").

An interesting thought. Though she, like many of us, has a minimum order value, apparently this practice, common enough in some sectors, had not occurred to her.

I've occasionally applied a surcharge for large orders because of additional quality measures some of these require. And years ago, before compromises in a partnership led me to change my policy, I avoided taking on jobs that would involve less than half a day's work, because these tended not to be worth the administration and follow-up at the rates I was charging at the time.

But a surcharge for smaller volumes? That is a step beyond the minimum flat rate charge which I will consider, and it certainly answers those silly questions some have about volume rebates for translation. What do you think?


  1. I'm not sure that, logically, there is a difference between providing a volume rebate and applying a surcharge for low volumes. How is it different to say "My rate is 100 Ruritarian Florins per word, but for projects greater than x, I'll actually charge you 95 RuF/word" and "My rate is 95 RuF/word, but for projects smaller than x, there is a 5 RuF/word surcharge"?

  2. I think you have a good point. However, I am pretty bad at enforcing my minimum charge, I'm not sure I would be able to request a surcharge.
    It is interesting that you didn't accept jobs that took less than half a day to do. I even accept jobs that take half an hour! Maybe I should seriously reconsider that!

  3. Hi Kevin,

    I was wondering about the exact same thing today. One of my clients always sends a long list of requirements with his projects. Today, a 250-word job came in from him. The zip file to download had 150 MB! And it came with this list of steps:


    0- Read the instructions documents.

    1- Use the appropriate DTD file during the translation.

    2- Translate and Revise the files - DO NOT check 100% matches at TRA stage

    - CHECK 100% matches at REV stage.

    3- Do not translate concatenated words.

    4- Take into account the non translatable elements for your language.

    5- Use the provided terminology reference.

    6- In case of conflict, apply this priority order:

    1- Style guide

    2- Glossary

    3- Translation Memory

    7- Consult the English reference file.

    8- Use the following website as reference:

    9- Apply the Microsoft terminology when you have exhausted all materials:

    10- Be consistent with the legacy material.

    11- Perform a tagging verification before your delivery.

    12- Ensure that the delivered translation is consistent and error free.

    Spelling and grammar mistakes are unacceptable.

    13- Perform a spell-check before delivery.

    14- Perform a X-Bench QA following spell-check and terminology adherence procedure.

    15- Send set the terminology and not translatable files as Key terms during Xbench QA.

    16- Insert your queries in the query log.

    17- Send the query log to

    18- When the task is completed, change the status to Supplier Task Completed.

    19- Deliver the project according to the instructions.

    20- Expect Quality Assurance queries on your deliverables

    Please follow these priorities:

    Style Guide > MFP Glossary > Generic Glossary > TM



    It was the first such small project that I received from this client. But I will have to consider raising my minimum rate for him. Otherwise, this kind of projects will not be worthwhile anymore.

    Have a good evening!


  4. @Riccardo, I think that's a good point. The way you phrase your rate difference tells your clients which work you value more: if I discount work for large volumes, I must want more work on larger projects (since the pricing is favorable to clients with long texts). Same if I add a surcharge for shorter projects.

    I'm more comfortable with projects under 10K, so adding a surcharge to smaller volumes would drive away my ideal client. Better for me to avoid this particular practice!

  5. Ditto to what Riccardo says. Or, rather, there might be a conceptual difference between minimum charge and surcharge for small projects, but the arithmetic could be made to come out the same. The only difference between a minimum charge and a surcharge could be the way the client feels about it.

  6. That's a good point you make about avoiding jobs that would involve less than half a day's work. Everyone has a different bottom line about what's just not worth the administrative effort anymore, but it's important to know and remember where that is.

  7. There's also a "long-run" perspective.

    We get jobs like Steffi's on a regular basis and happily take them on at our regular rate, but then we also get the 30K jobs with the same instructions. After a couple of those, following these instructions for a small update is routine anyway. But if they were one-off things, we'd renegotiate.

    Also, personal preferences weigh in. One of our regular translators loves the occasional "snack translation". It gives him energy and a sense of satisfaction if he can tick an item off the to-do list and he continues work on a longer piece with a smile, because "one delivery for the day is already out". He adapted his admin system to make it more efficient, so that these small jobs still pay off. His reasoning is that these snacks are about 15-20% of his income, but 40% of the fun.

    It can also make sense as "customer relationship management": taking on small jobs also allows you to touch base with PMs more often. Chances are they'll think of you more easily when they land a big fish. Of course, contact takes time. But then, it might also help you to hang on to a feeling of dignity and being human, in an age of automated job offers and MT.

    It's all about balance, I guess.

  8. It's interesting to read your views on small translations.

    We have a few clients who ask for very small translations on a regular basis. To avoid the extra admin (for both us and our translators) we set up running PO's which we update throughout the month. This may be something to consider asking your clients about.

  9. I may be guilty of necromancy here, but that's one of those posts that stay relevant for a long while after most people forget about them. I've been noticing a growing trend towards short jobs, with short deadlines and often a lot of admin, follow-up, tons of style guides, reference files etc. that the client has no current desire to compensate the translator for processing. I decline the worst offenders unless the whole package is peeled off or parts of it reduced to non-obligatory status and satisfactory consistency is left up to an editor familiar with that client's preference and taste to figure out and ensure. On the other hand, some jobs simply require research, style analysis and some other 'fixed time costs' even without the inclusion of any specific requirements or reference in the order. Obviously, certified and registered translations require a lot of admin, especially if actually mailing them is involved, but in any case there is hassle even when the client sends someone in to pick it up.

    So, I thought about charging a minimum rate corresponding to at least one hour of my time no matter what, more where relatively large specific time investments are involved.

    And that made me think about something: The minimum fee would correspond to quite some words. And with orders of that size, especially those with some PR/marketing relevance, or highly specialized, the word count to translate isn't really of much significance. So perhaps it might not be a bad idea to use something like Ed Gandia's copywriting price sheet and arrange items and options by type, with types defined according to what they really are and accounting also for time investments, not be wordcounts. 'Press release, short, simple (200-500 words).' 'Press release, short, complicated (200-500 words).' This probably makes more sense for marketing translators than most others, but even in our fields there are some standard types of text where wordcount is not too critical in determining the workload and arriving at the right price. There are probably many texts of somewhat standard lengths, e.g. because there is an industry standard or standard practice in place, or just a generalization based on experience. In the latter case clients won't know the wordcounts, so they'll be uncertain and all.

    Large orders, on the other hand, pretty much don't make sense pricing as rush jobs according to a volume to time ratio designed for smaller orders, so they might as well be priced in days or weeks, whatever, as units.


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