Minimum charges for translation

A while ago, a client sent me around 100 words they needed translated into French. As it’s quite common for UK-based translators to charge per word, the client was surprised to be charged a fixed fee (as opposed to a per-word rate) for what seemed to them like “such a small job”.
So, you might wonder, why do most translators and translation agencies set minimum charges?

1. Translation is about more than just words ...
... it’s about conveying a message into a different language. If a short text could simply be translated word-by-word, then a free online translation service would do the trick. Also, the number of words isn’t always representative of the work involved. I translate a lot of creative and marketing copy where 3 words can be harder to translate than an average page of general terminology.

2. A number of tasks need to be performed as part of the translation service
The original and translated copy (and sometimes the context) have to be checked, researched, translated and proofread. Even for a few lines, this process takes longer than a read through of the original copy would suggest.

3. Administrative tasks are required on every job
In addition to the nitty-gritty work of translating a text, administrative tasks come with each job, no matter how small the volume: checking the source text and discussing the translation brief with the client (e.g. context, intended audience), sending the quote and issuing a job number/invoice.

It’s easy to see how all of the above can add up to the total time the translator will need to spend on a job.

Typical minimum charge job scenario
> The client needs a 50-word email translated
>> Keeping in mind all the tasks mentioned above, the translator is likely to spend no less than an hour on the job, from quoting to delivering the translation.
>>> A per-word rate would only amount to a few pounds for what is effectively an hour’s work.

Hopefully, this scenario will help explain the reason most translators and agencies apply a minimum charge. As a final point, it’s worth noting that minimum charges are for one-off projects. Regular clients generally avoid them - with smaller translations included in a larger project.

Why choose me

Professional linguist with 15 years' experience
Translator, teacher & interpreter since 2004
Chartered Member of CIOL
Member of IAPTI

Translation experience
Certified translation of official documents:
- birth/marriage/divorce certificates
- diplomas, transcripts & references
- legal/medical/insurance documents
Academic articles/literary essays
Business/marketing communications
CRM software

Interpreting experience
Court hearings
Medical and work-related
Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010
Arts/cultural events
'Fixer' for French TV

Teaching experience
Language assistant at prestigious Fettes College
Teacher at 4 leading UK universities
- University of Oxford (ongoing)

First degree in English Studies
MSc in Translation Studies
Professional Graduate Diploma In Secondary Education (French & Spanish)