Translation budget: how much should you really pay for your translations?

It’s easy to budget for a conference. You add up the booth and tickets costs, the hotel if necessary, the marketing materials, the transportation costs, and daily allowances for your employees. All this information is readily available and you can make comparisons almost instantly. But if your company doesn’t get content translated on a regular basis, it’s likely you’ll have a harder time estimating your translation budget.

Translation costs seem to vary quite a bit out there. You may get quoted vastly different amounts from company to company. Why is that exactly? And is there any reliable way to estimate how much you’ll have to put aside for content translation?

Let’s have a look at some ways to do just that.

Your translation budget depends mainly on who your translators are

Translation budget example with calculator and spreadsheet.
Many things will affect your translation budget, but first, it will be your translators.

Let’s start with the one person you can’t translate without: your translator.

Because we are from Montreal, we’ll take a salary of 50,444 CAD to do our calculations. That’s the median salary for translators in Montreal and it’s about 39,500 USD. So we know exactly half the translators earn more, and half less than 50,444 CAD. Of course, this will vary from city to city, just use PayScale‘s data for yours.

Good translators, since that’s what you’ll want to work with, can translate on average 2,000 words a day. Technical translations will be a bit slower than the ones with general vocabulary.

So we have about 10,000 words a week for a salary of 970 CAD. That’s 9.7 cents a word.

Now, whether you work with an independent translator or an agency, they will both have overhead and other fixed costs.

As a general rule, these costs will include office space, software licences, equipment and general admin. The company providing these services will budget for a net profit of 5 to 10%. That’s what they need in order to keep providing the services without going broke.

Of course, you could find much lower rates in some other countries. Much much lower. But keep in mind they are probably not hiring native translators at those rates. At least not in language pairs like English to French or English to Japanese translations. Plus, Canada is one of the biggest consumers of translatied content, so you can bet you’ll also find some of the most experienced translators here.

Skimping on quality is not always an option… but in some cases it might lower your translation budget

Penny pinching is not always the best way to look at your translation budget
Just like translation agencies, you also have to be realistic with your budget.

So sure, two things might spring to mind:

  1. You don’t need go through an agency.
  2. You don’t need a senior translator.

Both are true, but not always true.

In the first case, remember that individual translators also have their own overhead costs to take into account. They might be working with translation software. They have accounting and other activities budgeted. And they have to work from somewhere.

And what if you have a multilingual translation project? Do you have enough time to keep track of all the independent translators you’ll hire? What is the review process going to be like?

But if you find a freelance translator who has experience in your area and will not break the bank, go for it. Otherwise, agencies tend to offer a wider range of specialties and services.

Hiring a junior translator

That’s another option you have. Entry-level translators have a starting salary of 41,992 CAD on average in Montreal, Canada. For simple projects and non-specific translations, that should reduce your translation budget a bit.

But because they lack the experience and the expertise necessary, you’ll want someone to proofread your translation. And in many cases, they tend to have a lower word count than senior translators (around 1,300 to 1,600 words a day in Canada). That will prolong the translation process and could impact your costs.

An example of what your translation budget could look like

Picture illustrating that the translation budget is a balancing act between time and costs.
Save time but pay more, save on costs but face longer delays.

Let’s say you have a translation of about 8,000 words.

It would take about 4 days and $776 to get it translated by a professional translator.

You’ll also want to add 4 to 5 hours of proofreading by another translator. That’s a cost to the agency of about $900, and you’ll pay anywhere from $1,350 to $1,800.


Of course, if your content is easily understandable and easily translated, or requires no formatting, you could reduce these costs.

The corollary being that if you request a translator specialized in Safety Data Sheets for chemical products, or add another translator, prices will go up. But that’s often worth it.



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