Pros and Cons of Charging by the Hour in Translation Industry

In this post we want to touch on a subject we have been thinking about much during the past few months. We are confident that it will be of interest to our translators who are reconsidering the way they charge for their services.

Traditionally, translation agencies like ours bill by the source word. The model is relatively straightforward because the translator always knows how much they will be paid before the process starts. This practice has its advantages for clients, too, who know in advance the exact figure.

Any change in this pricing structure, which is familiar and entrenched, is going to be difficult. Most agencies and translators have established processes based on per-word rates. It will be unreasonable to ask them to adopt a new system right away. Change, if comes, will be slow. But that does not mean the current system is perfect and cannot be improved.

Pros of Charging by the Hour

Let’s start with the advantages of adopting the new system.

Easy on Clients

To start with, few clients have an idea of how many words they are going to need on a document or a website. Even when they know, counting words is not always easy or feasible. Counting words is easy on Microsoft Word documents but scanned PDFs and websites present challenges of an altogether different nature. It is difficult for clients to imagine which words are important, thus have to be translated, and which are to be left out. Few clients think about texts on a per-word basis. A more natural way, for them, is to pay an hourly fee. They understand it quite well. Adoption of an hourly model can make life easier for them.



Lawyers don’t charge on per case basis and accountants’ fees don’t usually depend on how many calculations they will have to perform. They either ask for a fixed amount or charge an hourly fee. Translations adopting this approach can put their profession on par with other services.

Beneficial for Complex Documents

Some translation agencies and freelancers are moving to per-hour pricing because it is more flexible when it comes to incorporating surcharges for complex work. All of us know that translating a scanned PDF full of tables and figures is vastly more difficult than a blog with no tables in Microsoft Word. It can be more difficult for agencies to convince clients why they are being charged more per-word for the PDF. But in a per-hour system, this is relatively easier. You can simply ask for a surcharge if scanned documents or tables are involved.


Now that we have talked about the advantages of charging by the per-hour system for translation services, let’s take a look at some of the downsides which have been preventing it from mainstream adoption.

Also Read: 3 Ways to make money as a translator

Cons of Charging by the Hour

The current system has some advantages. Two of them are the following.

Estimates are Tough

Telling a client that you will translate a 1,500-word document for $1 per word is easier than estimating yourself how many hours you will spend with the text. If it’s a short story by a teenager, you can complete the work in under 10 hours but if it’s a landmark paper in physics or computer science, you may end up spending a week and still not complete the job. Although you will become good at estimates after some experience, initially it is going to be tough. And it will not make a good impression on clients if the job ends up lasting longer than you imagined. A way to play safe is to quote the higher end of the range. That way you can pleasantly surprise your client if you turn in the translation faster.


You Come Off More Expensive

Sticking to the recent example, it sounds less expensive to pay $1 for a word for a 1,500-word text that takes 10 hours to translate than $150 an hour. A lot of your clients will ask you to reduce your rates even though they are not paying more in the new system. This can be a disadvantage today when translation is a competitive field.



While the per-word model is deeply entrenched and unlikely to change anytime soon, we think the per-hour model has some advantages which may result in its adoption in the next few years.

Currently Overseas DTP provides inexpensive and reliable translation services in European and Asian languages. Prices start from 10 cents a word and discounts are available. Call us at +91-9888957143 to find out how we can assist you in your translation needs.

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