Professional Translators

Translator Survival Guide to Profitable PDF Pricing

by | Last updated Jul 22, 2020 | Business of Freelancing

lots of PDF files to translate
Translating PDF files doesn’t have to be hell. PDF translations are profitable, if you price them right.
Sooner or later most translators get stung when they’re asked to translate PDF files. In this article, I’ll share some of my experiences, to help you price PDF translations profitably. It’ll help you avoid problems and underquoting. At the end, I highlight one main takeaway from this article.

Why is translating PDFs different to translating Word files?

Format is a much bigger issue when you’re translating a PDF than with a Word file. Reformatting takes time. You have to charge for this time when you quote. Otherwise, you end up doing that part of the work for free. There are different types of PDF file, and so it’s essential to ask to see it before you quote. If you don’t, you could find you’re offering the same price for all these different PDF jobs:

• High-quality PDF with simple formatting, saved from Word.
• High-quality PDF saved from Word, but with non-editable images.
• PDF without images, but complex formatting.
• PDF with images and complex formatting.
• PDF created by scanning a good quality document.
• PDF created by scanning a poor quality document.

The time involved in translating a 500-word text in each of these scenarios will vary. All will take longer than translating the same text in a Word file. And what if it’s 20,000 words? We could be talking a difference of a day’s work. It all depends on what you have to do with the formatting.

My process when someone asks me to translate PDF files

If I get a request to translate a PDF, this is the process I follow.

1. I ask to see the file and say I can’t confirm a price until I’ve seen it. I explain that this is because I’m not sure how long the job will take me. I also ask the customer if the document is available in Word, and tell them this will make the job faster. I take the opportunity to alert them that there may be a surcharge for the PDF, to cover my time for making the conversion to Word. That way, they’re prepared for it.

Sometimes the customer is an agency and they tell me that the PDF is unavailable. If this happens, I tell them what my price will be if they provide me with the conversion into Word. I explain it must be a high-quality conversion. One where I won’t have to check the conversion against the PDF document. I also underline that I won’t be responsible for doing any type of presentation work.

I always double check the formatting of PDF conversions sent to me before I accept them. I do this because some agencies will provide a poor PDF conversion produced using a free tool. This will create formatting work for you. If you deliver a messy translation because you didn’t price for conversion work, the customer may complain about the presentation. Jobs like this waste time. This is one reason why it’s so important to have agreed everything in writing beforehand.

“I reiterate that the PDF job represents extra time for me.”
2. When I get the PDF, I look over it, to see what level of quality I’m dealing with. I then decide which solution I’m going to use to produce the translation. See below for a list of solutions. Based on the time I’ll need for my selected solution, I calculate the price.

3. I write to the customer to make my offer. This tends to take one of two forms. My preferred option is to give the customer a closed final price. This includes the cost of me dealing with the PDF conversion and translation. I tell the customer they will get a tidy Word document, but that it won’t be an exact copy of the presentation in the PDF. End customers and many agencies like this solution because it makes life easy for them. I’m happy with it because I get paid for my time.

The second offer is one I sometimes give to agencies and outsourcers. Most commonly, I give them a per-word price for the source text. To this, I add a surcharge for the PDF conversion, based on my hourly rate. I tell them that if they do the conversion work, then they won’t have to pay the surcharge. But, I make it clear that they have to provide a high-quality conversion. I explain that this means a conversion where I don’t have to look at the PDF document, or touch the presentation.

You’ll love this detailed guide to pricing PDFs for translation. Click To Tweet

Sometimes, the agency wants a target language per-word price. In this case, I estimate how long the job is going to take me. Then, I increase my standard per-word rate to reflect the extra work. My process for quoting a target language per-word price looks something like this:

Assuming I can get a word count for the source text, I add 15%, to cover the contraction of words from Spanish to English. So, for a 1,000-word source text, I would use 1,150 words for my calculation. I then calculate the total price by multiplying the number of words by my source per-word rate. To that number, I add my per-hour rate to cover whatever time I estimate for the formatting. I then divide the final amount by the number of source text words (in my example, 1,150). The resulting number is my target language per-word price. If I can’t get a source word count, I add 20% onto my source word price, as a general rule.

I don’t like working at a target-word rate and so I only do this if the customer insists. The reason for this is that it opens you up to disputes about the number of words you have written.

4. The customer accepts or refuses my offer. Sometimes, they’re unwilling to pay a surcharge for the PDF or do the conversion themselves.

In this case, the job doesn’t go ahead. If this happens, I reiterate that the PDF job represents extra time for me. To make sure they understand I can’t accept the lower rate because it won’t be profitable for me. I remind them that the higher price is because of the PDF format. Then I underline that I hope to work with them another day, on a different project. In the end, not agreeing about PDF pricing doesn’t mean we can’t work together.

Solutions for translating PDF files

Depending on the quality of the PDF and the tools you have, there are different solutions. Below is a list of the solutions I use.

1. For high-quality PDFs saved from Word, CAT tools are a good solution because they will process them directly. When I complete the translation, my CAT tool will convert the PDF into a high-quality Word document. Sometimes you have to translate images inside the Word document afterwards. I can get the word count for the PDF through my CAT tool and quote the customer based on the source word count. This scenario represents very little extra work for me, so I don’t add a PDF surcharge.

“I alert them that there may be a surcharge for the PDF, to cover my time for making the conversion to Word.”
2. If it’s a high-quality PDF, but I suspect there will be formatting issues, then I do a practice run. I open it in my CAT tool, lock all the segments (CTRL+L), and generate a target translation. I then look at it, to see if there will be any extra work for me. If I think there is, then I estimate the time and add it to the price.

3. If it’s an older PDF and my CAT tool can’t process it, then I convert it to a Word document. I do this using a professional PDF conversion tool. I find free tools leave lots of formatting tags and it takes ages to delete them all. That makes it unprofitable to work with them. This situation is improved by using a professional tool, like Abbyy or Adobe DC.

Do you convert PDFs before you translate them? Click To Tweet

I have a look at the Word document the tool produces. Normally, it’s good enough to get an approximate word count. And that’s enough to estimate a price. I also estimate the time it’s going to take me to produce a clean Word document, and add that onto the price. Of course, I don’t clean it up until the job is confirmed.

4. If it’s a messy PDF, I still have a go with the conversion tool. Sometimes, while the conversion may be rubbish, you can still get a rough word count. You can then use that to help you estimate the price. If it’s awful, sometimes there’s no option but to quote a closed price or target-word price.

I’d always prefer to do the conversion first and then process the translation in my CAT tool. This is because it’s a cleaner way to work. It also lets me leverage my translation memories. But, sometimes I give in, and dictate straight off the PDF using voice recognition.

One big takeaway for translating PDF files

One big error we make as translators when dealing with PDF files is not being clear with the customer at the start. If you take one thing away from reading this article, remember to explain exactly what your PDF translation price includes.

Do you have any stories about translating PDF files? Comment below. Want to get updates about articles on this blog? Sign up for a monthly email in the column to the right.

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