A couple of years ago, my friend Francisco, who has also been my pool cleaner for about 20 years, decided to turn his hobby, photography, into a business. He has done everything correctly, registering his business activity with the Tax Agency, and started working on an occasional basis for a local government organisation, photographing events, concerts and festivals for publications and magazines and virtually running the Facebook page for them.
Unused to the world of freelancing, Francisco had no idea what to charge for his services, and set a really bad precedent from the start, charging them ridiculously low amounts (€35-€45 for an entire weekend taking pictures, including travel expenses). Then he was stuck. When he realised what rotten rates these were, it was ‘too late’ to put them up.
After cleaning pools for 20 years, Francisco finds taking photographs a far more glamourous and attractive occupation, but because he does not charge a professional rate, there is no way he will be able to hang up his hose and brush and devote himself full time to his art. The communication department at the local authority and the other businesses that call him to take pictures do not look upon him as a professional because he charges so little and acts too ‘grateful’. To add insult to injury, sometimes they don’t ask him to do anything for weeks and he gets hurt feelings, because this is not a traditional business relationship.
In my opinion, the problem is all down to the fact that Francisco has set his prices too low and, because of this he receives a large number of unreasonable demands, which are just not profitable. He does this because he is terrified of charging too much money. He accepts all their requests, which means he is working himself into the ground without earning a profit. At this rate, it will take him years to pay for the fancy full frame camera he has invested in.
Lower prices also attract lower quality customers who often try to haggle with you. It just isn’t worth working with cheapskates. Once the cheap customers go away, you can concentrate the ones who appreciate the quality of your work and are prepared to pay a fair price.
Translators are in danger of falling into the same pitfalls as Francisco. We need to get the price right and not short change ourselves. We need to target the higher end customers and resist the urge to please everyone. Just refuse to haggle. It isn’t worth the mental energy.