Why Can’t I Raise My Rates? The Wrap-up

This series of posts has laid the foundation for answering a question that confounds many freelance professionals. They know that they have some control over the prices that they charge, and yet, there are clearly forces working against them, limiting their ability to raise their rates.

The market for language services (and translations, in particular) is somewhere between the perfectly competitive ideal of a commodity and the highly limited constraints of a monopoly. There is competition among many language service providers, who make up the supply, and considerable demand from a wide array of consumers.

This multitude of economic actors has varying expectations, skill levels, and disposable income. They offer and pay for services on a global level, and their interactions over time have created the market in its current form.

There is no such thing as “the” translation market, because the service varies with the language pair, subject matter, deadlines, among other factors. Instead, there are many translation markets, each of which has a given number of suppliers and consumers, its own market price, and specific variables that affect rates over time.

Freelancers in these markets need to evaluate their own professional reality in order to determine the ranges of prices that they can charge. And it is important to note that it is always a range – not one specific rate – given that clients will have wildly different budgets, deadlines, and expectations.

In the end, the answer to why language service professionals can’t raise their rates comes down to the following factors: demand for services, the number of competitors, individual knowledge/skill level, productivity, and the ability to differentiate oneself from the crowd. The first two variables are exogenous, i.e. there is nothing that you can do about them. But the other three are within everyone’s control.

So the more important question, in terms of rates, is not why can’t they be raised, but rather, given the limitations faced in a specific market, how can these other variables be maximized to ensure the most earnings possible? Answers will vary, but the path for freelance language-service professionals is essentially the same: study your market; understand your competition; build your knowledge and skills; improve your productivity; and figure out what you, as an individual, can do to stand out among your peers.