How to Set Your Rates as a Freelance Medical Interpreter
If you're a medical interpreter just starting out as an independent contractor, otherwise known as a freelancer, and want to know how to decide what your rates should be, read on.
This article will equip you to set your rates with confidence and perspective by focusing on the following:
1. Deciding on your rates in advance
2. Basic factors to consider
3. Specific factors to consider
4. Creating a rate sheet (with sample)
5. Negotiating contract terms
6. How to stand out from your competitors
Have you ever agreed to rates you regretted after signing the contract?
1. Decide on Your Rates in Advance
Most freelance medical interpreters are contracted by language agencies. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to have a clear idea of what your rates will be before you sit down to sign a contract with any given agency.
Your rates should take into account many factors, including your experience, training, education, as well as your time and possibly traveling expenses. By not determining your rates in advance, you're setting yourself up for accepting rates you may later regret.
Keep in mind that once you sign a contract with an agency, you're bound to the rates on the contract for the duration of that contract, which is normally a year. Don’t make the mistake of winging it when you set your rates.
Click here for average hourly interpreter rates by U.S. state.
2. Basic Factors to Consider
Take the following factors into account as you set your rates:
- how much experience you have working as a medical interpreter
- your level of education and training
- whether or not you are a certified medical interpreter (CMI)
- whether or not freelance interpreting is your primary source of income
- the rates of other freelance medical interpreters with your credentials in your city and state
3. Specific Factors to Consider
Allow these specific questions to help guide you as you set your rates:
- How much do you value your time?
- Will you have a two-hour minimum charge per assignment to help cover travel time and expenses?
- What days and hours will you be available to work?
- Will you be available to work evenings, weekends, and holidays? If so, will your rates be higher for these times and days than your rates for your normal working hours?
- Will you have prorated fees for your services before and after your contracted time? (For example, when a patient shows up early or the assignment lasts longer than the anticipated end time.)
- Will you charge for the time between your arrival at each medical facility and the patient's appointment start time? (For example, when you arrive early for appointments.)
- How much prior notice will you require for each assignment? Will you charge extra for assignments you accept with less than 24 hours’ notice?
- What will your cancellation policy be? Will you request full payment for all assignments cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice?
- Will gas and mileage be included in your rates?
- Which of the factors listed above are negotiable and which aren’t?
4. Create a Rate Sheet
I strongly recommend creating a rate sheet in the form of a table, outlining your rates on it based on the factors listed above, and updating your rate sheet as needed.
A rate sheet provides you with a solid frame of reference when you negotiate and communicate with current clients and potential future clients, as well as when you send out your monthly invoices. It helps ensure accuracy, so you're less likely to overcharge your clients or shortchange yourself by charging less than you agreed upon.
Keep your rate sheet handy at all times and makes sure it's always current. For example, as you gain more experience as an interpreter, you may want to increase your rates.
Utilizing a rate sheet is a great stress-saver!
Sample Rate Sheet: On-Site Medical Interpreting English-Spanish
Charge (US Dollars)
per hour / 2-hour minimum (7am–5pm)
$50 per hour / $100 minimum
24-hour cancellation policy
Full amount due if assignment is cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice
Assignment received with less than 24 hours’ notice
Additional 50% per hour
Evenings (5–9pm), Weekends, and Holidays
Additional 100% per hour
9pm–5am (if appointment goes over anticipated end time, such as in the case of surgery complications, etc.)
Additional 100% per hour
Minutes before or after the contracted time
Gas & Mileage
Additional charge based on current IRS standard mileage rates
Click here for 2018 Standard Mileage Rates in the U.S. (from the IRS)
5. Negotiating Contract Terms
Be prepared to negotiate contract terms with agencies, as this is common and standard practice.
For example, an agency may tell you they won't agree to your two-hour minimum charge per assignment, or that they'll only prorate minutes once you reach five minutes beyond your contracted time per assignment.
On the other hand, the same agency may offer to pay double your usual rate for working evenings, weekends, and holidays. Or they may offer to pay some or all of your traveling expenses.
Anticipate some give and take, as this is part of the negotiating process. As an independent contractor, you decide which elements, if any, you're willing to compromise on. It's also clearly your decision whether or not you ultimately choose to sign a contract with any given agency.
6. Stand Out from Your Competitors
To some degree, your rates will almost inevitably be influenced by what other freelance medical interpreters are currently charging in your city and state.
Agencies want to make as much profit from their direct clients (medical facilities) as possible, so if your rates are higher than most freelance medical interpreters in your city, you need to give agencies a strong reason to hire you over contractors who charge less. In other words, you need to distinguish yourself from your competitors.
How to stand out from your competitors:
1. Get yourself certified. As a certified medical interpreter (CMI), you demonstrate that you've met a higher standard than most medical interpreters.
2. Conduct yourself with the utmost professionalism. Review everything you learned in your medical interpreter training program. Follow the standards of conduct and code of ethics for medical interpreters to a tee. Unfortunately, failing to follow these is not uncommon among less experienced interpreters.
3. Present yourself as a professional. If you want to be treated like a professional, you need to dress like one. It's an embarrassment to the profession when interpreters show up for assignments dressed as if they're going to a night club. Invest in professional attire—it will enhance your credibility as an interpreter, give you confidence, and will likely result in more work.
Be aware that the medical facilities you're sent to by the agencies you're contracted by normally communicate directly with those agencies in regard to your performance. In many cases, agencies ask their direct clients to complete an evaluation form to rate your performance after each assignment. Make this work to your advantage by distinguishing yourself from your competitors!
In the end, you may have to deviate from the rates you initially set for yourself, and that's okay, especially if it ends up working in your favor, such as lowering your rates but getting continual work with an agency. (In this case, if the company is pleased with your work, they may be glad to accept your higher rates the following year after you have had a chance to prove yourself.) The main thing is to establish a baseline of your rates in advance, taking all factors into consideration, and to decide ahead of time which elements you're willing to negotiate on.
Remember that when it comes time to sign the contract with a language agency, you want to do so with confidence.
© 2016 Geri McClymont