As interpreters, we prep a ton and when working with a client that can cover the cost of that prep, it’s important to know how to work it into the deal. There are various structures you can utilize to bill for this time, below is a breakdown of the few I’ve successfully used in past jobs. 

Flat rate

Often you’re not entirely sure of the anoint of hours the gig might require in prep work. If you’ve never done an HVAC course and have no context for it, now could you know that you’ll pick it up quickly? You might dive in and have to spend hours understand the most basic of concepts. What’s important is that in both scenarios the billing amount is set as a foundation. If you fall in love with molecular chemistry and dive into a rabbit hole of information, don’t pawn that interest off on the client. One way you can ensure stability and reduce variables in the cost is a flat rate. Providing the client a clear fee allows you to exercise all the interest you have into the topic without any additional impact to the clients bottom line. However, key in these scenarios is discretion when discussing with the client for the sake of interpreters who may come after you. 

“I prepped 30 hours for this topic” when you are only billing $200 for the gig sounds like that’s what the average client can expect. “I started prepping for this and ended up getting lost in the topic!” or “I prepped for this, and then read 30 hours worth of material on it”. Certainly consider the responsibility you carry when there is financial connection to your time and you wrote the deal. 

Bulk buy

During a semester of a course you can usually count on a couple weeks getting cancelled for holidays, a midterm you might be able to spend on your phone in the back, a no-show or two etc… For that same class you might need to prep weekly for the content. You can offer a bulk buy in these cases because there is a large amount to cover over time. If you settle on two hours per week or three hours at a discount is entirely up to you. One thing to consider is that for those cancellations the professor announces for holidays etc… you’ll still be paid for prep if you’ve done the deal by week and not class session. If you’re structuring by class session, consider that an agency could argue the class is not in session if the midterm is in a different location and available at the student’s convenience. 

Absorbed into the rate

A few times over the years when I’ve simply not been willing to count hours and track etc… I’ve raised my rate by a couple dollars on the project to make up for the prep. On one specific project I prepped nightly, sacrificing time with friends, free evenings in the hotel and quality of life. The product they received truly was the product of all of that hard work. The product was worth much more than my standard rate, because it was highly informed.

Reimbursed – Post Gig

While this certainly is a tough one, when you can get this structure it makes things easier but also more complicated. In this case you’ll need to carry a provision in the contract that outlines just how much you can bill to (as a maximum in the aggregate) and I recommend having a minimum. Typically as a practitioner you can break down the hours you spent in the prep like you would as an invoice. While this hasn’t been common in my experience, it’s wonderful to receive that kind of trust and support from a client. 

If you’ve found another structure to be useful, please write in and let us know how it worked out! We’re always interested to hear the newest creative ways to structure deals to provide even more support for a fantastic product. 


  • Keep a journal of prep sessions you’ve had with notes outlining how you work, what was helpful and timing. Not only will it help you gauge a jobs overall worth in terms of timing but it will inform your other contracts when prep is required whether billed for or not. 
  • Check in with your colleagues to gauge how they’ve prepped and glean strategies to help you work smarter, not harder.

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