Congratulations on being ready to increase your rates! It might feel like a big step but it’s apart of any business. In order to survive you need to be able to compete in the market and you certainly can’t do that with a gas tank on E.

Unfortunately establishing an increase with your clients, specifically agencies isn’t always the simplest of tasks. It requires careful planning, often a negotiation and finally, the change of billing. Sounds like gobs of work, but taken step by step it’s quite straight forward.

When walking our clients through the process at Flamingo Interpreting, we have a few recommendations. Check them out for a short list of things you can start doing right now to get started on your own rate increase.

Get your portfolio in order

You should be reviewing your portfolio and updating it as often as possible but with this review make you’re not missing the good stuff. Look for impressive things you might be missing, like a news article that mentioned you (extra points if there’s a video). Pro-tip: set a few Google alerts for your name and it’s common misspellings to be notified when you’re credited online.

Ask yourself if it’s visually appealing, then ask people who hardly know you what they think. Why should you show a bartender during a slow happy hour shift if your portfolio is interesting to look at and easy to understand? Because you made it, you’re biased. Not everyone has your taste and while you might think bold wingdings are the answer to making a YouTube appearance stand out, it might be burying your talent behind fluff that’s not necessary. When it doubt, declutter your formatting and work in standard fonts. People love ease of use, don’t make it a chore to read. 

  • Add interesting things that round you out as a person
    • Are you volunteering for a dog shelter to make the adoption process more accessible? 
    • Do you have a podcast you listen to that made an incredible source for a sample?
    • Think outside the box of one voicing and one signing sample. Make your portfolio scream: You’ve gotta book them. 

Consider what agencies are currently looking for

Did they just sign a new contract for vocational rehabilitation and you’ve got 5 years interpreting HVAC classes under your belt? Make a note of that. 

Are they currently looking for interpreters in a college biology class and you just so happened to have aced bio in your undergrad?

The more value you can bring to the table, whether you outwardly express it or not can be a real game changer in talks about your increase. Having things in your back pocket that not only signify interest in a deeper relationship with them but display potential for even more collaboration can be more impactful than many other points of discussion.

Explore your competitors rates

Finding out that your colleague with half your experience, zero professional development and a bad attitude is charging $20 more hourly than you is never fun. Let’s try to prevent that chasm from expanding. While we can’t price-fix in the market and we have to be cognizant of boundaries surrounding collective action, there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking a colleague what you should expect to be able to bill for 8 hours a day of conference work when you have no experience. As contractors we have a right to work with other contractors and subcontract their services under our gigs. This means that you would pay them their “gig fee” and in order to book them, you’d need to know what that is.

With questions that ask more about the market, it’s fluctuations/trends and less about their personal income, you can reverse engineer the process. You can also use situations requiring a team as a way to gain important knowledge of your positioning in the market. I can’t hire a team not knowing what they would charge me as the lead on it. I can however, go through my list and get a rounder number from colleagues when I am screening for a team. Asking around for a specific gig can help inform your choices during the negotiation process and also give you a pulse of what’s happening in your market.

As an aside: when someone asks about your rate, remember that what you charge hourly/per gig and what you take home are two different things. Try to have a concise but comprehensive way to discuss the rates you’ve seen in the field and your business expenses. Nobody would trust a plumber who said “I’ll tell you what I charge after you hire me. Yikes.

When discussing with competition for a potential collaboration/partnership, remember to be cognizant that there are laws surrounding collective action and price fixing. With the right amount of homework and calculations, you shouldn’t need to have some shady discussion with a colleague in an alleyway but instead, be able to deliver an educated rate based on what you are worth.

Go back through some of the things you’ve done for the agency in the past that might merit an increase. 

Did you do a 3 month stint of accepting every last minute assignment that came through your email? This is helpful to know when you enter negotiations. If an agency fires back that they don’t think you’re worth that (which hopefully they’d never say) ask them why? If they say they can’t afford the increase you can absolutely work with that feedback and go for a number in the middle. You can also explain that you haven’t been charging a premium in all this time for accepting the last minute work and you’ve really enjoyed that. Now, it’s time to spread some of that hard work over your every day schedule to ensure you’re still available. Subtle, right? 

Having this information in the forefront of discussions can sometimes come off as slightly threatening, so just keep it handy and feel it out. Agencies can be sensitive creatures, make sure you’re entering into the talks in a collaborative manner. Using these citations of previous commitments you’ve had with them should only fortify an already great rapport and remind them of just how stellar you are. It certainly shouldn’t read as “You owe me money because I’ve laid down my life for you. Pay up or I walk!” Unless that’s the vibe you’re going for. If so, please do let me know how that goes.

As contractors the law makes it incredibly clear, we have the right to charge what we want and how we want when selling our services. To the other side, an agency has every right to turn you down. That’s not always an easy pill to swallow considering how many new interpreters graduate every single year and are willing to take less. This is why it’s key to carry private clients. When agencies need you, they’ll pay what you’re worth or they’ll up their own rates. Without the desperate need for the work they hold, you’re more able to walk away from a bad deal.

Put together a clean copy of your professional development

Compile all the education you’ve attained since the last increase, format it in a visually appeasing way and brand it the same way you would with any other materials.

I know plenty of interpreters who send this over with their updated rate and call it a day. I think that’s great for them, I also think it lacks personality. You might be surprised to remember just how much our clients and agency representatives specifically remember of our interactions. They remember these meetings and the grace we carried in them. If you can do it in person, I would absolutely recommend doing so. Though negotiating across a table in person can be much more anxiety filled than an email exchange you can leave and return to, you might find yourself getting more out of the in person meeting. I’ve negotiated rate increases in person and walked out with more than I asked for because of the warm vibe we had created over the years and our ability to just connect in a great way that wouldn’t have been possible over email.

Draft up an email notice

Check out our tips on communicating with agencies. Draft up an email and ask someone to read it. Colleagues are great, especially if they’ve been through the process before. Just be cautious that someone else’s fear doesn’t work to prevent you from arriving at the final product you’ve put in all this work for.

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