How big is your translation project, really? Let’s do some math!

If translating documents is not part of your daily activities, you might have a few questions. Is the amount on the quote a good deal? What deadlines should you set for your project? Should you negotiate the quotation you received?

If you’re not used to the process, the list of questions can certainly make you pause and wonder. So today let’s try to answer some of those and give you an insight into the translator’s point of view.

Disclaimer: Since Kotolingo is based in Canada, the answers we give in this blog post will be based on our Canadian translation experiences mainly. Things may be different where you are but in general this should apply to most agencies in Western Europe/North America too.

My project is 10,000 words. Is it big enough for a discount?

Asking for a translation cost estimate is okay, but go with your eyes open first.
You can use a little math to estimate the price before even receiving your quotation.

Depending on your industry, 10,000 words might represent a big chunk of text. That’s anywhere between 9 pages of solid text to 20 pages of illustrated text with tables and graphs. Nothing to sneeze at, for sure. But unfortunately, not that big.

We talked about translation speed before, and said translators average 2,000 to 2,500 words a day depending on their experience and expertise. For the sake of this article, we’ll take 300 words an hour.

So that 10,000 word project? Well, it’s a 4 to 5 day deal. Not small, but not huge either. At least, not the kind of project where translators will readily offer discounts and flexible payment terms unless you are already regularly giving them your business.

In fact, whether you deal with an agency or directly with a freelancer, unless you have a great relationship with your translators, don’t expect any discount for projects under 50 to 60,000 words. That’s about a month’s worth of work, by the way.

And of course, word count will not be the only element affecting the estimate you receive, but that’s a topic for another blog post.


Shouldn’t discounts be easy to get for guaranteed work?

Sure, on the one hand, it makes sense. Comparatively with a dozen small projects, managing just one big project saves a bit of time and is more efficient.

That’s worth something. How much exactly? It’s not clear, but the general consensus amongst the few freelancers we asked was 2 to 4%. If it doesn’t seem like much, here’s the reason:

Economies of scale are almost non-existent, and opportunity costs are.

Remember that 300 word-per-hour rate? Well, it’s going to be the same for the first hour of a project and the 160th hour. Your translator won’t go faster on a 20,000 word project than on one with 2,000. And you wouldn’t want that anyways. Translations run on brainpower. Trying to go faster, cut corners, or just work insanely long hours, will just result in shoddy work and extra time spent proofreading and editing.

There are no 2 for 1 deals in translation because that would mean cutting your salary in half. Following that logic, we understand why established translators are disinclined to offer 30, 15, or even 10% discounts.


Which brings us to opportunity costs.

Balance showing opportunity cost between projects in translation.
The cost of missed opportunities does play a role in the quoted amount you received from your translator

For translation agencies and freelancers, work can be cyclical in the first few months. It comes and goes. But as repeat clients and referrals increase, and new clients find you more easily, it eventually stabilizes.

Suddenly, accepting a project means delaying, refusing, or losing others.

In that situation, why would an agency or freelance translator choose a 10,000 word project at 7 cents per word over two 5,000 word projects at 10 cents a word? They wouldn’t.

The bottom line is, translation is not a commodity. You usually get what you pay for too. We’re not saying you can’t ask for a discount, but if your request gets denied, maybe that’s not such a bad sign after all.