The Miracle of Saying NO

Don’t let the title of this post fool you – saying “no” is not a miracle, or it least it should not be. But many freelance professionals (specially translators, since this is my community) seem to suffer from a disease that impair them from saying “no”, plain and simple. And they should be saying “no” to that offer that will cost them their weekend (and no rush fee is being charged). They should say “no” to that offer that equals 20% of their current rate. They can’t say no. They feel only those with enough money have the luxury to refuse a project, as if saying “no” is a privilege. Becayse if they say “no”, that client will never come back. When they do say “no”, they feel so guilty that if the next project is being offered at 1% of their current rate, they will take it.

For some, the period they are in and their ability to refuse come hand-and-hand. When you’re in a famine period, it is hard to refuse that new project that will dump your price in 2 cents – after all, it is only 2 cents. But what happens when you’re back to the feast period? There are two scenarios here: (1) you will be busy with projects paying minus 2 that you will not have time to take on projects from that client that pays your rate and has interesting projects; or (2) you will be busy with projects paying your rate and will demand an increase of 2 cents from that initial client, who will laugh and never contact you again. And the reason they will never contact you again is because they believe someone else will accept lower rates.

Won’t it hurt if scenario 1 happens? You will do the math and find out you should be earning much more in that period. And thinking about it, this money (you didn’t earn) will be missed when you’re in a famine period again. And yes, feast and famine are a normal cycle in our translation lives. You should prepare for it.

And if scenario 2 happens, you will recall how hard you devoted yourself to that project, hoping to form a long-lasting relationship with that client. When you actually could be resting, studying, or doing anything else.

I am not judging you, person who take projects below your rate. Ok, maybe I am, a little. And that is because your actions reflect on the entire category – imagine what would happen if the 2-cents translators started demanding 10… The clients would have no “solution” (as if this were a problem!) but to accept your new rate. And with this new rate, you wouldn’t have to overwork, you could actually get some sleep!

Let’s do some math, this will get your attention:

Assuming 2500 words as a mean production per day, in one week (Monday to Friday, no weekends, no holidays, dear!) you could do 12,500 words. In 20 days per month (assuming there will be a holiday and some days when you’ll need to run your errands and won’t translate anything), that is 50k words. If you charge 2 cents, that is XYZ 1,000 (you choose your currency).

If you increase in 50%, that is XYZ 1,500 per month. Imagine what you could increasing MORE.

I’m not saying you should say “no” just because you can. Maybe you can’t, maybe you need money so badly right now (to pay the late rent, for instance) that you cannot refuse anything. But you do know you have the right to say it, right?

About Michele Santiago

Translation, localization, editing, subtitling. 7 years of experience in English and Spanish into Braz. Portuguese, specialized in Medical, Pharma and IT. Love rainy days, travelling and gadgets. Not necessarily in that order.

  1. Gustavo Villalobos

    Dear Michele,

    Translating 2,500 words per day, working 20 days a month, yields 50,000 words per month. If you charge just two cents, the end result will be only 1,000 dollars or XX currency. Am I right? If it were 5,000 of course you could say no to some not so well paid jobs, but it is not, it is just 1,000 of whatever currency, so it is difficult to say no under such circumstances.

    Best wishes,


    5 years ago

    • Michele Santiago

      Hi Gustavo,
      You’re absolutely right, thank you for pointing that out! My point was one should say no whenever the rate offered wouldn’t be sufficient to get you through the month (paying bills and also living a little). 2 cents was an example – 1000 is too little per month, depending on your region, of course. For most, it is not enough.

      Hope to hear from you again!

      5 years ago


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