When should we apply extra charges to translation projects?

Article published on Nikki Graham's blog exploring the reasons why one could apply extra charges to translation projects (applicable to freelancers and translation agencies).
When should we apply extra charges to translation projects?

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For some, the answer is obvious. For others, it’s not that easy. I personally think that it is a case-by-case decision, depending not only on you, but also on the client and on the specific project. Let’s try to analyse this sensitive issue.

People usually believe that extra charges should apply for overtime hours, rush deliveries or complex jobs. I don’t think these concepts mean the same thing to each of us. Let’s explore these three points.

What are overtime hours?

I tend to consider that freelancers don’t really do “overtime hours”. They sometimes work more than they had planned or than they would like. But I always feel it’s a little bit strange to talk about “overtime hours” for professionals who are supposed to work “whenever they want”. That being said, should we consider that we are entering into the “extra working hours” area if we work over eight hours per day? In this case, what about the freelancers who decided to work six hours per day or ten? And what about working in the evening? Should this be considered overtime? When I was working as a freelance reviser, I occasionally enjoyed shopping during the day and checking translations in the evening. I never considered I was working overtime and I was happy to accept some interesting assignments arriving at the end of the day. I sometimes even enjoyed revising at night. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t do this any more and I might consider asking to be paid more if I had to be at my desk after 7 p.m.

We could probably say then that working hours could be charged more when they fall outside your own defined professional time frame. However, is this really linked to the client asking for the job? If the client is based in the same time zone as yours and requests a six-hour-job at 5 p.m., he could reasonably understand that you’ll have to work out of standard working time, and, therefore, agree to compensate you for this by paying you more. Now, what if you decide to travel, while continuing to translate, and receive a job at 5 p.m. local time while it’s still 10 a.m. for the client? They might not understand why you want to bill them more.

Your additional working hours might not be linked to a specific client either. If you accept too many jobs from several requestors and end up needing to work 12 hours a day to deliver them all, should you consider charging some of those clients more? Probably not. Or maybe yes if you warned them that you were already overloaded.

The same question occurs for weekends. Is it really normal to charge the same rates at the weekend? Most clients will agree to pay more if they send a request on a Friday evening asking for delivery the next Monday morning. However, if you decide to work at the weekend so you can enjoy some days off during the week, or to compensate you for lack of work the month before, you shouldn’t charge your client more. Some freelancers might even inform their clients that they don’t work on Mondays and Tuesdays but are generally available at weekends, so Saturdays and Sundays are considered as “normal” working days.

You’ll also have to take another decision. If extra charges can be applied, how much more will you charge? 10% more? Or 50%? Perhaps even 100% more? Will it be the same increase across the board or will it be higher for non-regular clients? Would you charge more regardless of project volume? Will the surcharge apply only to one part of the project? Many factors can influence your decision…

What is a rush delivery?

Whether a deadline is tight or not depends on your perspective. Personally, I would consider a request to deliver a translation of 250 new words within one hour a rush assignment. Having to deliver the same job within one day would be just fine, however. But of course, sending back a translation of 2,500 words eight hours exactly after the initial request might also be regarded as an urgent job. The overall schedule should also be looked at when the volume is quite large. For instance, it might be acceptable to handle 12,500 new words in five days, but it will definitely turn into a rush job if you have to deliver the same volume within four, or worse, three days. Especially if it all has to be checked by a reviser within the same time frame. The only solution might then be to ask a second translator for help.

Should all those cases entail extra charges? Probably. Or maybe not always. If you are fully available and happy to get some work, you might decide to keep your regular rates. On the contrary, if you have to stop working on some jobs to take on those new ones, or to work quicker to squeeze them in, not even to mention paying someone to help you, you might use rush rates.

The same question arises again. How much more? Is it reasonable to charge an extra 25% for translating 2,500 words within the day without any client pre-announcement? Would you charge 100% more if you have to put everything on hold and jump on 250 urgent words to be delivered asap? Once again, all this will be a case-by-case decision, and for the same client, you might apply 50% more to a project once and drop rush fees one month later for the same request.

What is a complex job?

For some translators, dealing with software interface localisation is very complex. For others, it’s a lot of fun. If I had to translate medical texts, I would find this highly complex, while I really enjoy working on marketing texts in the IT sector. Obviously, the complexity of a job might depend on our own experience. Does this mean we can charge more when we are not used to a sector? Probably not. Experience in a certain domain can be acquired, but the clients should not be the ones paying for this, except if they really insist on hiring you for the job.

The format complexity of some jobs might justify higher rates. For instance, translating application strings means working out of context, most of the time using specific software or finding your way in files full of codes, which takes more time than translating complete sentences in a simple document. It’s therefore logical to charge more, either raising your word rate or adding an extra percentage to the final job price. This would also be true for some projects with specific requirements, like limiting the length of the target sentences, adapting keyword lists for websites, respecting time codes for video scripts, etc. Extra charges could indeed cover the additional effort involved in complying with these specifications.


Some freelancers prefer to avoid extra charges for their regular clients. Or when approached by new clients with a high potential. Sometimes, for tiny rush jobs, they might even offer their services as a favour for a client contact who is really desperate. On the contrary, others will charge more whoever the client is, maybe hoping that they will drop the request. They might simply hate working fast. Or they don’t want to let their clients get into the habit of always asking for rush jobs. They might also consider that some project requests are too risky in terms of quality, which could then jeopardize their reputation.

As a matter of fact, there is no universal rule. Everyone will determine whether to apply extra charges to their translation jobs and how much to request. Whatever works for you, my only advice would be to make it clear to your clients from the beginning of the relationship. Don’t hesitate to include a section on extra charges in your price grid or contract. Make sure you state what you mean by overtime hours, how you define urgent deliveries and which additional percentage(s) will apply. Also include your range of rates for various kinds of project, adding some explanations if needed. And who knows? Maybe your clients will understand your priorities and hopefully they will try to avoid requesting “urgent” translations at the last minute.


Nancy Matis, July 2015


This article won the “blog post” category in the 2016 Proz.com Community Choice Awards

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