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When I enter a new market, one of the first things I always research is fair market value for the professional services I provide. This is a slightly controversial topic as competing on pricing can lead to the commoditization of our services and open discussions about adequate pricing is prohibited by antitrust laws. However, there are some things to consider when setting your prices such as value and expenses.
Schedule flexibility, stipends or reimbursements, free or discounted training, proximity of assignments to home/office, etc. should all be considered part of the value or earnings associated with a particular opportunity. Once you know what is most important to you, it is easy to identify what each of those benefits is worth to you, which could change from time to time depending on your personal situation.
Consider preparing a check list with all of the value added items you are looking for from your clients: like schedule flexibility or distance to assignments and assign a monetary value to each. For distance for example, you could assign a fee per mile, like the IRS does, that takes into account not just the wear and tear on your property, but also your time. Other items may not be as easy to monetize, like schedule flexibility for increased quality family time, but assigning a monetary value to each item is key to helping you properly compare opportunities or consider rates. Remember to only consider items that are up for negotiation; if there is anything that is uncompromisable, it should not make your list.
We should also consider our own value. How much training, education, and/or experience do we have in comparison to other colleagues serving our market? How important are those qualifications to our prospective clients? What clients are more likely to value training, education, or experience? This can be a little more difficult to determine, but professional organizations can provide great insight.
The bottom line is that you need to be able to earn enough to live according to your comfort level. Once you know how much you need to make and how much you can realistically work, you have a starting point. This does not mean that our profession can support everyone's desired level of comfort, but knowing what you need to earn is key to setting fees (or rates) that will satisfy your needs. Whether the market can support them or not can lead you to consider next steps in your career.
Understanding the added value I bring and that of each opportunity, as well as the expenses associated with providing services in the new market can help us properly set our pricing. Additionally, a tool I often use when entering a new market as a community interpreter is the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) Language Access Programs by State map. I then browse local job postings and contact local professional organizations.