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Translator Survival Guide to Profitable PDF Pricing

lots of PDF files to translate

Written by Gwenydd Jones

Translator, translator trainer and copywriter

Translating PDF files often takes longer than when you work with other formats. If you price PDF translations in the same way as you price other file types, you probably won’t make enough. This article will help you ensure profitable PDF translation pricing, so you can avoid underquoting.

Why is translating PDFs different to translating Word files?

Format is a much bigger issue when you’re translating a PDF than when you work with a Word file. This is important because reformatting takes time. If you don’t charge for that time when you quote, you’ll 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 the document before you quote. If you don’t, you could find you’re offering the same price for all of 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 low-quality document.

The time involved in translating a 500-word text in each of these scenarios will vary. But all of them will take longer than translating the same text in a Word file. And what if it’s 20,000 words? The formatting work alone could take a whole day. So, how do you decide what to quote?

Recommended process when someone asks you to translate a PDF file

When you get a request to translate a PDF, try following the PDF translation pricing process described below.

1. Ask to see the file

Ask to see the file and say you can’t confirm a price until you’ve seen it. Explain that this is because you’re not sure how long the job will take you. Also ask the client if the document is available in Word. Tell them that if it is, this will make the job faster and allow you to offer a lower price. Take the opportunity to alert them that there may be a surcharge for the PDF to cover your time for creating a clean conversion in Word. That way, they’ll be prepared for it.

Sometimes, the client will ask for a quote even though they still don’t have the final PDF file ready. When this happens, offer them your standard per-word price based on them providing a clean conversion in Word. Explain that this must be a high-quality pre-checked conversion that you won’t have to check against the PDF document. Also, underline that you won’t be responsible for doing any type of presentation work for the price you’re offering. Say that, once the PDF is ready, if they want you to work with that, there may be a surcharge on the quote.

Always double check the formatting of any PDF conversions you receive before accepting them. This is important 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.

Reiterate that the PDF job represents extra time for you.

2. Assess Quality

When you get the PDF, look over it, to see what level of quality you’re dealing with. Then decide which solution you’re going to use to produce the translation. See below for a list of solutions. Based on the time you’ll need for your selected solution, calculate the price.

3. Make an offer

Write to the customer to make your offer. This tends to take one of two forms: project or per-word price.

Project price

The best option is to give the customer a closed project price. This includes the cost of you dealing with the PDF conversion and translation. Tell the customer that they’ll 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. It’ll also work for you because you’ll get paid for your time.

Per-word price based on the source text + surcharge

The second option is to give them a per-word price for the source text. Then, add on a surcharge for the PDF conversion, based on your hourly rate. You can tell them that if they do the conversion work then they won’t have to pay the surcharge. But make it clear that they have to provide a high-quality conversion. Explain that this means a conversion where you don’t have to look at the PDF document or touch the presentation of the translation.

Click to Tweet: Avoid underquoting when you translate PDF files. This article will help you price PDF translations profitably.

Per-word price based on the target text

Sometimes, the agency wants a per-word price for the target language. If they ask for this, estimate how long the job is going to take you. Then, increase your standard per-word rate to reflect the extra work. A good process for quoting a per-word price for the target language looks something like this:

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

Working at a target-word rate isn’t ideal and so only do this if the customer insists. The reason for this is that you’re dealing with an unknown quantity. This opens you up to disputes about the final price

4. Get the order, or don’t

The client accepts or refuses your offer. Sometimes, they’re unwilling to pay a surcharge for the PDF or to do the conversion themselves. In this case, the job doesn’t go ahead. If this happens, reiterate that the PDF job represents extra time for you. This will ensure that they understand that you can’t accept the lower rate because it won’t be profitable for you.

Remind them that the higher price is because of the PDF format. Then, underline that you hope to work with them another day, on a different project. In the end, not agreeing about PDF pricing doesn’t mean that you 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 for translating them. Below are some suggested solutions.

1. Use your CAT tool (if possible)

For high-quality PDFs saved from Word, CAT tools are a good solution because they’ll process them directly. When you complete the translation, your CAT tool will convert the PDF into a high-quality Word document. You can get the word count for the PDF through your CAT tool and quote the customer based on the source word count. Sometimes, you have to translate images inside the Word document afterwards and so these may need to be added onto the quote. This scenario represents very little extra work and so you probably won’t need to add a PDF surcharge.

If it’s a high-quality PDF but you suspect there will be formatting issues, do a practice run. Open it in your CAT tool, lock all the segments (CTRL + L) and generate a target translation. Look at it to see if there will be any extra presentation work for you. If you think there will be, estimate the time and add it to the price.

Click to Tweet: Do you add surcharges for translating PDFs? Compare notes here.

2. Convert to Word

If it’s an older PDF and your CAT tool can’t process it, convert it to a Word document. You’ll get the best results if you do this using a professional PDF conversion tool like Abbyy or Adobe DC.

Have a good look at the Word document the tool produces. Normally, it’s good enough to get an approximate word count, which is enough to estimate a price for the translation. You’ll also need to estimate the time it’s going to take you to produce a clean Word document and add that onto the price. Of course, don’t clean it up until the job is confirmed.

You could send the conversion to the client. This will enable them to decide whether to accept a messy Word and clean it up themselves or have you do the presentation work.

3. Recreate

If it’s a messy PDF, you can 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.

It’s preferable to do the conversion first and then process the translation in your CAT tool. This is because it’s a cleaner way to work. It will also let you leverage your translation memories. But, sometimes, it isn’t worth it. In that case, you’ll have to give in and dictate straight off the PDF using voice recognition or type it up the old-fashioned way.

One big takeaway on PDF translation pricing

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

Another tough format to deal with relates to translating websites. Check out: “What to Do with Format When You Translate a Website“.

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