On a translators’ community website, someone has left a poor review on another translator’s page for non-payment of a €3 invoice for subcontracted work, despite much chasing. What is ridiculous isn’t so much the chasing of such a tiny amount; it is the amount itself. It is a sure sign that someone somewhere doesn’t know what they’re doing.
Your plumber typically charges a minimum charge of one hour to cover his travel costs and other expenses. Charging only for the 20 minutes he spends in your bathroom would not be worth his while. The same goes for any job, including translation. Even the shortest of texts will generate administrative work: by the time the document has been considered, a cost calculated, the negotiation emails exchanged, a new account opened in some case, the invoice raised and the payment eventually recorded (sometimes with bank charges deducted from it), we have probably clocked about 30 minutes already. And no work has been done yet.
Then one short paragraph alone with no context explaining what it refers to is more time-consuming than a paragraph in the flow of a longer document, and asking the client for clarifications will take yet more time. After checking any terminology, thinking about how to turn that tricky sentence and then proofreading the work, that little paragraph that some might expect to take “a couple of minutes” to translate may actually take as long as another 30 minutes. Add the two together and you have a full hour – hence the one-hour minimum charge.
For €3, a professional translator will not even switch the PC on, let alone do any work. Or they might do a good and regular client a favour and translate a couple of lines for free, but that’s at their discretion. Time and expenses must be covered for any business to be sustainable. Translation is no exception and low fees should ring alarm bells.