How to Defend Urgency Surcharges in Your Freelance Translation Service

Last updated Jan 22, 2024
By Gwenydd Jones

We all talk about applying surcharges for urgency. But how strict are we in doing it? This article gives you plenty of reasons to defend surcharges in your freelance translation service.

Translator on laptop offering an urgent freelance translation service with a clock face around him
An urgency is always an interruption. Lost time is a cost in your freelance translation service.

After reading Lucy’s article “8 Ways to Get the Best Freelance Translation Services”, I wanted to examine the surcharge issue she brought up. Lucy tells clients that freelance translators normally have some leeway in their day for urgencies. She also highlights that there is typically a surcharge of 25%.

Do you plan leeway in your day to fit in urgent #translations? Click To Tweet

I’d say it’s true that I can normally fit in something urgent, if it’s short. But, not without it having a knock-on effect on my finishing time. An urgent 10,000 words may be more problematic. Still, I guess I could do extra hours, find a trusted colleague to help, and/or work through the weekend. Of course, all this costs me more than a non-urgent job.

What is the cost of urgency for a freelance translator?

The physical cost of urgent translations

I work well if I get up early (as long as I missed that TV program and got an early night). I struggle from about 9pm onwards, though. I’d go so far as to say that working late is physically painful for me. The extra time also means more strain on my back, eyes and wrist.

The mental cost for the translator

The minute someone uses the word “urgent” they generate stress. If I’m working on an urgent job, then I’m less comfortable than if I’m working on a non-urgent one. The continual “need-it-now” attitude means isolated stressful events accumulate. On some days, several different clients may ask me to do something urgently. Burn-out is easy to reach if you work 15 days straight in this mentally taxing job.

The time cost for the freelance translation service

An urgency is always an interruption. If I’m in the middle of a lengthy legal clause, that may mean 5 minutes lost trying to understand it. Then 5 minutes afterwards to get back into the text. Responding to the urgent email takes 5 minutes. The loss and regain of focus takes time. So, you finish everything you had to do that day later, because of the interruption. It doesn’t matter if the urgent text was just three words. It took 20 minutes.

The cost to other translation clients

Fitting in an urgent job means another client has to wait. That benevolent person will also have to be interrupted so the translator can ask them if it’s okay to deliver their text late.

The cost to the translator’s family

Since fitting in an urgent job requires more time and creates more stress, the freelance translator will be less available to their family and friends. Physically and emotionally. They may have to change and cancel personal plans. Working through evenings, weekends and public holidays means they’ll miss out on some of the sweeter things in life.

Is a 25% surcharge enough?

When I started writing this article, I was ready to defend 25% for 24-hour turnover and work on weekends/public holidays. Having now gone through all the reasons that support it, I’m wondering whether I should increase my surcharges. Dropping everything at any given hour to enable a client to achieve their goals really does represent a great deal of value.

When it comes to surcharges, format is another controversial area. Check out this article on translating websites and this one about translating PDF files.

Written by Gwenydd Jones

Gwenydd Jones is a Spanish- and French-to-English translator, an SEO blogger and a course creator. She is the founder of The Translator's Studio and the lead teacher on its courses. Connect with Gwenydd on LinkedIn or contact her through this website.

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  1. Andy Schmid

    This might work in the Translators’ Wonderland, but in the ACTUAL, harsh, penny-pinching marketplace environment, where reverse auction is the norm and Procurement calls the shots when it comes to translation requirements, I’m sorry to tell you the plain truth: it doesn’t work.

    If a freelancer translator or an agency charges, say, 25% for a 20K-word job requested on a Friday, 5:45 p.m., and expected for final delivery at 10:00 a.m. of Sunday, don’t be naïve: the customer WILL have at least ten translators/agencies shortlisted, and at least ONE won’t apply the surcharge.

    Big bucks [and I mean VOLUME] come from companies with this reverse-auction mindset.

    • Gwenydd Jones

      Hi Andy, thanks for this meaty comment. I guess it’s up to the freelance translator at the end of the chain to decide on the working conditions they’re prepared to accept and what they can live with long term. One thing’s for sure, I certainly wouldn’t translate on the job you’re describing. With 20K to translate in 40 hours, whoever manages the project would have to split the job between several translators. That means the only one making money on volume is the agency/project manager.


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