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In my experience interpreters rarely or never charge separately for preparation time (with one exception: a formal briefing day for which one is present). A previous question - How do freelance interpreters charge for their services? - would seem to confirm this.

Other questions show that interpreters do spend considerable time preparing: How do conference interpreters prepare for an assignment?, and How much time do you spend preparing per conference?

And this one points out that cost-effectiveness is a consideration for some people: Is there a limit to preparation?

Much is being said about greater competition and downward pressure on rates, which in some circumstances might make extensive preparation financially unfeasible and/or a job offer less attractive. So my question - has the time come to consider charging separately for preparation time? For certain kinds of meetings? Does anyone have examples of doing so?

asked 21 Feb '13, 18:37

Luigi's gravatar image


edited 21 Feb '13, 18:38

Dear all, I have just returned from a job where I charged for prep time.

I agree 150% with what Almute has written.

at Manuel: there can be 1000s of reasons to argue against charging for prep time or changing our fee structure. And if you are not convinced of your fee or the structure you present it to the customer, it will be hard to make the deal. Don't do it. Raise your daily rate instead, if you feel that is the approach that works for you. Anything will do, as long as it helps me to be profitable and make the customer happy so that they come back.

If I look at my time tracking I simply know that I have to do something to somehow get more per hour spent for a specific client/project (I would not charge a client for overhead - overhead must be factored into your rate - this is how all other businesses do it, such as lawyers).

Showing prep time as an extra item in my quotation with an appropriate figure has turned out the way for me in some cases - not in all of them. I do it, whenever I feel it will work and make sense to me and the customer when I pitch.

Yesterday's clients were extremely happy with our work and they said we will be hired again next year.

A positive side effect: my client apologized several times for not getting 100% of the prep material to me (it was about 80% in fact), and that it came very late (50% came a week before, the rest 2 days before). Preparation gets noticed and appreciated a lot more if you charge for it, that's my experience.

I have so far managed to sell about 10 jobs (sim, team of 2), some of them 1-day, some 2-day, with prep time. I would guess I have tried to do so 15 times. Ah, I should also mention that some of them were repeat jobs. Unfortunately I am just about to lose one. Most of them are very technical, or cases like the ones described by Almute, where it is clear that prep material comes no sooner than the day before.

I would like to explicitly mention that the repeat clients never said they thought preparation should be reduced because it is a repeat job.

This is an argument put forward to me frequently. I do not feel it is valid, because if we ever argue that our rate "includes preparation" those clients would also ask us to reduce our daily "flat" rate next time, and they usually don't, do they? And even if they were, this is the point where sales expertise comes in, because if you feel it is justified and a benefit for the client, you should be able to explain it so that it makes sense to them. It's all about selling.

at Manuel: "preparation time would have to be believed ..." Do you stand behind your tax accountant while he is doing your tax return? Do clients usually stand next to their lawyers while they are writing opinions for them? Do you control your insurance company on the actual administrative work that goes into your insurance contract to verify whether the fee is justified? When it comes to services, everybody has to believe.

And, apart from that: if your client ever asks you for a proof: what is wrong with presenting the time sheets from your time tracking to them? They will see immediatley that you have spent much more than you invoiced to them.

Best of Luck Julia

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answered 22 Feb '13, 10:19

Julia's gravatar image


edited 22 Feb '13, 10:25

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck


+1 for

Preparation gets noticed and appreciated a lot more if you charge for it, that's my experience.

That's also my experience

(22 Feb '13, 10:26) Vincent Buck

Clarification: the one that I am going to probably lose is not a repeat job, it is a quote to a new client. Competition quoted a team of two for a conference of 11 hours. So I would have lost this one anyway (because I qoted for a booth of 3), if they only judge on the price. Best, Julia

(22 Feb '13, 10:35) Julia

Thank you so much for your trailblazing work and feedback, Julia! Let me just add that in case clients want to object to paying for prep time for repeat jobs (unless we are talking of road shows, for example, where literally the same speeches are held in different places), we should be able to convince them that the fee is justified since they would not organise another conference on the topic unless there was something new to report or present.

(22 Feb '13, 10:38) AlmuteL

You are taking the words out of my mouth...

(22 Feb '13, 10:46) Julia

I like the examples that have been given by all of you. I think the approach you are taking help expand the meaning of "professional".

(22 Feb '13, 14:46) Luigi

please see my comment hereunder, too long for a comment box :-)

(22 Feb '13, 17:11) msr

Thank you VERY much, Julia, for taking the time to explain and for your kind comments. I was not so much arguing against charging for :-) as I was voicing my concerns vis-à-vis the introduction of this practice as a practice, ie a standard operational procedure... against the unfortunate backdrop of a crisis situation in many markets, to boot, not to mention a changed/ing landscape for the profession - a concern I know all of you share :-).

I understand that your experience is still limited (and limited to double booths, for 1/2 days) and successful in about 50% of new cases - would you be kind enough to give me an idea of the time period these figures cover?

My two concerns you kindly addressed were:

  • the opening up of another source of dispute (my accountant does not sell her services by the hour, witnessed or not, and my lawyer sells all of hers that way, all "unwitnessed" in my case - no trial work so far... as to my insurance company, they do not charge me separately for prep. or admin. work, does yours?) :-) my issue was with the fact that we would have both kinds and the unwitnessed one would be "easiest" to dispute; as to time tracking, I do not do it (as yet,woe is me...and believe me when I say that I'm convinced of the upside of doing it and have been preaching the good word) and I'm afraid that applies to the vast, vast majority of colleagues: I was speaking for the present.
  • MY private market clients, I'm afraid, very much do indeed ask me to reduce my rates as it is: my concern is with providing them with yet another item on which to do so...

...and those you didn't:

  • the weakening of our full-day pay practice
  • how to quote for a large team with different prep. practices and despite not knowing how much "standard" prep. work would actually be needed, when quoting
  • how to collect (realistically!) for prep. work done and budgeted for in case of a cancelled conference... again,I'm speaking of today's markets...

Allow me to very sincerely say that I too wish you the best of lucks, in general and specifically with this issue, do keep up the good work and if at all possible keep sharing your experience, so that we may learn, ponder and perhaps be encouraged and emboldened by it :-).

(22 Feb '13, 17:11) msr
showing 5 of 7 show 2 more comments

I charge the equivalent of my going consec rate for one day of preparation time when I work for law firms who recruit me for arbitration hearings or IT patent cases.

We agree in advance how long the preparation should take.

I did not have to negotiate that. They (2 different law firms) made it clear that they were expecting me to know the cases inside out before I was to interpret.

I've had to charge as much as 5 full days for 1 day of actual interpreting work.

If it's an easy or repeat case I'll usually charge half a day for prep time.

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answered 21 Feb '13, 19:12

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

edited 21 Feb '13, 19:17

For some years now, following up on Julia Böhm's work

we have been looking into the subject of profitability of our interpreting assignments in Germany and have put together a working group on the subject. Time tracking over a longer period of time (which is highly useful for any interpreter who wants to get a better idea of how much time is spent on different job-related activities and which provides more "hard facts" for when we speak to clients) has really brought the message home to us more drastically than expected: Especially technical assignments (e.g. medical conferences, depositions, legal proceedings, engineering) often require much more time for preparation than for interpreting during the conference. If - once the assignment is over - you divide your interpreting fee by the amount of hours spent for the entire assignment (which even disregards the time you generally need to spend on bookkeeping, tax returns etc.) you will probably be shocked by what you earned per hour!

There are other professions where charging for preparation time is quite normal and it is easily understood by clients that this is no waste of time but essential (as Vincent's example shows).

So especially for the assignments where experience teaches us that we will be spending a lot of time to prepare (time which we need to free up accordingly and block in our diaries !!!) we should start to charge extra for the preparation time. This will probably be much easier than raising our daily interpreting fees drastically according to the actual needs taught by profitability considerations. Some colleagues in Germany have already managed to charge an extra day or two for the preparation time. Even if you need to spend much more time than suggested by the extra fee you have negotioated, this is nevertheless much better than not getting paid at all for the time spent for preparation.

This is especially true in cases where we know, we will not receive the documents for the conference until a day or two before the conference which means we cannot possibly accept another assignment on the day before.

I don't believe we should refrain from trying to change our remuneration system for fear of what clients may do or say. Changes for the better won't happen over night, but if we all think about it reasonably and do our maths, collect our arguments, factor in our needs for continuing education etc. and share our experience, we will be able to charge for preparation time as well - without any qualms. Our goal is to be paid adequately for our services so we can sustain a family, live a decent life and provide for old age!

We need to learn how to negotiate. We are passionate interpreters but there is a reason why most of us did not go for a career in maths or marketing... In Germany we are starting to hire coaches who will teach us how to negotiate professionally in a way that clients will know

  • they are looked after very well,

  • they will have professional and conscientious interpreters and that

  • every penny they need to spend is a penny well-spent.

Our first training course (no more than 12 participants so we can practise negotiation techniques) will be next weekend. Maybe other regions can try and find good coaches as well. Please feel free to contact me directly if you want to know more.

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answered 22 Feb '13, 04:36

AlmuteL's gravatar image


edited 22 Feb '13, 10:47

...:-) thank you for your answer, Almute - I'm well aware of Germany's interest in time-tracking, was actually only last week, at our regional meeting, drawing local colleagues' attention thereto. All of the arguments you put forward merit being considered - as all of yours always do :-) - as hopefully do mine, which did not stem from "fear" of what clients will say (...!) but from practical concers - granted, I was thinking more as a consultant than as an individual interpreter dealing with solo work... and if anyone cares to address them ;-) here goes another one: collecting for prep. work actually done for a cancelled conference... and I suppose this reasoning would imply charging for estimates/quotes - that other type of :-) - particularly when they do not result in a contract...?

(22 Feb '13, 05:08) msr

You are right, Manuel, we need to consider all these aspects. And your point concerning cancelled conferences is ONE of the reasons why we have contracts and charge cancellation fees. It is absolutely acceptable to charge for time spent on putting together quotations for large teams - you may think about discounting this once you get the job. Customers are used to this (e.g. advertising agencies) - and their benefit is that they will NOT get airy-fairy quotations but will know EXACTLY what they will have to pay. As I said - we need to learn to negotiate to end up with win-win-situations for the clients and our profession alike.

(22 Feb '13, 05:37) AlmuteL

It pays to know where your time goes: Tracking time spent on various professional activities can help interpreters in more ways than one. Here are some of the things we learnt about how we use our time.

Please read more here: AIIC Blog article by Hermo, Böhm, Löber

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answered 22 May '13, 13:34

Angela's gravatar image


edited 22 May '13, 15:31 examples here, Luigi - and thank you very much for the question :-) - because I don't believe one should: I of course stand to be corrected, but as I see it it's hard enough to fight for a day's pay for less than a day's conference - and preparation time is one of the grounds for it - with at most a "flower" ;-) if really a lot less than one full day.

If we also get into charging separately for prep time, bonjour les déb/gats: conference hours the client controls, but preparation time would have to be believed or otherwise... plus do we really want to have to deal with clients suggesting we prepare less, or faster, so as to make it cheaper?? What about charging different rates for prep time during, say, a flight?!...

Just thought of another angle: the added complexity (impossibility?) in quoting for prep.time for a team where every member will have different practices/requirements when it comes to such time, resulting from different levels of experience/familiarity with the subject matter, and furthermore - as so often happens - when quoting one does not really have a thorough grasp of the amount of preparation required, which one only realises when detailed program is disclosed and prep.material starts coming in...

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answered 21 Feb '13, 19:04

msr's gravatar image


edited 21 Feb '13, 19:47

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question asked: 21 Feb '13, 18:37

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