23 Jan 2024

Freelance translator rates: the value of ITI membership

A new research report demonstrates that when it comes to freelance translator rates there is clear value in ITI membership. ITI Chief Executive, Sara Crofts explains more.

The majority of ITI members are freelancers and so the topic of setting rates and establishing sustainable working conditions is understandably close to members’ hearts. And a glance at LinkedIn quickly reveals that commercial pressures, competition, and fees are regular topics for discussion at the moment. The economic climate is undoubtedly challenging, and it is also fair to say that our sector is complex in terms of range of ways that clients can purchase translations services. Some ITI members may therefore work exclusively for direct clients, other may only work through translation agencies at a range of scales, and many will juggle a combination of the two. Some members may concentrate solely on translation while others manage a portfolio career offering a range of services.

So, after eight months’ experience in our sector, I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a typical translator. Everyone’s circumstances are a little different. However, there is still a great deal of value in being able to compare our individual practices against a pool of aggregated data sourced from our peers – and that’s what the recent Freelance Translators Survey allows members to do.

With the help of a talented research team of ITI volunteers we have taken the raw data from the Inbox Translations survey and looked at what this means for ITI members in particular. Gaining a more nuanced understanding of the economics of the profession will mean that ITI is able to bolster its policy work with evidence rather than anecdote, which will help us to speak with greater authority on behalf of the profession.

The good news

Almost 700 of the 2,800 respondents to the Inbox Translation survey identified themselves as ITI members and the message about their rates is clear. At the time of the survey ITI members were charging higher rates than non-members. Detailed analysis of their responses reveals that:

  • ITI members charge between 13% and 25% per word more than non-members
  • ITI members’ minimum charges are between 20% and 42% higher than non-members
  • ITI members charge between 13% and 20% more per hour than non-members.

Although the report points out that “correlation does not equate to causation” the authors go on to state that “ITI membership is likely a potent factor given the statistically significant differences uncovered.” ITI members are able to demonstrate their professionalism and their commitment to producing high quality work that delivers value for their clients through their ITI membership. This supports the argument that ITI members can command higher rates than they might otherwise be able to do.

80% of respondents considered the main benefits of membership of their professional association to include “professional recognition”. 

The challenge

While it is heartening to see that being part of the ITI community has a tangible benefit in terms of potentially increasing individual earning potential, we should not be complacent about the challenges that remain, or the concerns that members share with us. Although we have weathered the pain of Brexit and coped with a pandemic, the ripples of the cost-of-living crisis are still present are we know that some of our members are feeling the squeeze. So it was no surprise to learn that members would like more support from their professional body on the issue of freelance rates. Many respondents called for professional associations to raise the visibility and/or awareness of the profession and to advocate for increased rates of pay for freelance translators with a substantial number seeking “a clear policy on fees that we can apply”.

So, what can ITI do?

Unfortunately, the one thing that we cannot do is to set freelance rates or offer guidance to members on the rates that they should set, as this is expressly forbidden by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority. However, I wholeheartedly believe that ITI can and should continue to advocate for the profession, championing the commercial value of your linguistic skills and the high quality of the work that members do. We are already making good progress on the “Ambassadors” project, which is being led by our Chair, Nicki Bone MITI. The aim of this project is to introduce the value of professional translators to a wider range of client representatives and to engage in more active outreach activities across a range of business sectors. And, in direct response to the insights we have gleaned from the survey, we have committed to three key actions:

  1. Creating a new information page on the ITI website with a library of useful resources.
  2. Developing a new suite of on-demand training on the theme of financial management for freelancers, which will include topics such as approaches to setting rates and how to negotiate with clients.
  3. Setting up a working group to consider how we can better support our members and the profession with regard to rates and working conditions.

In addition, we will continue to engage with our colleagues at the Chartered Institute of Linguists and the Association of Translation Companies to consider how we can collaborate to achieve greater resilience in the language services industry.