I am in the process of digitizing my paper files so that I can take all the information with me—easily and without a moving truck this time—if we decide to move.
Or rather when we decide to move. The house is way too big for us now that the kids have left, which happened a decade ago. I have to admit that it felt nice to suddenly become what is called “empty nesters”. I luxuriated in the amount of space available to me. Once the kids left, I naturally claimed the entire second floor with four bedrooms and two bathrooms for me alone.
My wife spends most of her time on the first floor anyway, so I let her keep that floor. We do visit each other frequently, but it’s clear who owns which floor. As I learned in Latin classes, Clara pacta, boni amici (Clear agreements, good friends).
I started digitizing my fascinating (even if only to me) past and current professional existence almost two years ago, first by scanning files from manila folders on my translation clients into my computer – mostly invoices with notations in red ink when they were marked paid. I finished most of that scanning as well as occasional correspondence and other printed information with the exception of the last section of files on current clients because I keep adding new files to this section and will continue to do so for a while.
Whenever I have some free time and feel like reminiscing a bit, I scan pages from my highly treasured Letts of London Diaries, which I have been using for 28 years in lieu of accounting ledgers. I tried several desktop diaries for this purpose in the early years, but switched to the familiar format of Letts of London Diaries in 1989 and have never regretted my decision.
For a small operation such as mine, there is plenty of space in this large, desktop type of diary for entering invoices with customer names, amounts owed and invoices in blue ink. When the invoice is paid, I enter the amount in red ink in the space for the proper date, which is usually more than a month after the date when the invoice was first entered, and I circle the blue invoice information in red so that I can tell with one glance at the two pages of the diary covering one month which invoices have been paid and which are still due.
I also record invoices as MS Word and PDF files on a hard disk in subdirectories for each year, which means that I have created my own, highly innovative and sophisticated version of a triple book keeping record going back to the late eighties. Not to mention that I can also find relatively recent invoices in my email if I know the approximate date when I emailed them, which makes it a quadruple book keeping record.
I also put yellow stickers on the pages as special notes to myself, such as how much work I received in a given month from major clients and in which languages, while projects translated for me by other translators are written in green ink. On the bottom of the page I note the amounts paid to translators who worked for me and how I paid them (check number, PayPal, etc.).
I know there are several software packages that some people use for exactly this kind of book keeping, but I don’t think I would feel the same emotional attachment that I feel when I view and touch the colorful information stored in the desktop diaries as I would for some silly software package.
There are many advantages to recording one’s financial information on paper in this time-tested manner.
First of all, although I am digitizing this information now, even if somebody hacked into my computer, it would be impossible for the hacker to make much sense of the information.
The information is entered in my handwriting, which is perfectly legible, but generally only to me.
And I use abbreviations for names of law firms because some of them have very long names when they have numerous partners and the amount of space in my desktop diary is limited. So I know exactly for example which patent law firm is MDK, and which one is BST, but nobody else can know for sure what the letters mean since dozens of firms could in fact be hiding behind these initials.
I’d say my encryption method is pretty solid.
If I am too busy, I have to pause my scanning activity, sometimes for several weeks, but then I pick up where I left off again, as I did today.
I started scanning pages from this year and now I am at August 2005. I find it hard to believe that translation projects that reside stored in my mind as something that happened very recently are actually from more than a decade ago.
This one, for instance, I remember very vividly, although it is 12 years old now. An elderly Japanese engineer who was translating patents for the corporation he was working for found my website, called me and then sent several long Japanese patents which he did not feel doing himself to me instead.
It was the middle of a very hot summer with temperatures in the nineties, August or July, and because my office is on the second floor, it gets too hot in the summer even when the air conditioning is on full blast. So I put my laptop on the cool vanity counter in one of the bathrooms, the one that has plenty of space for a laptop, a mouse and external keyboard, because that’s the coolest room in the house, and I finished one of the translations there. Most of one wall in the bathroom is made of thick plate glass and there is a big window next to the vanities, so there is perfect light in there for translating.
And then my brother called me on Skype and I wasted an hour talking to him despite the tight deadline.
As I scan the pages, I see how much has changed over the last 12 years in the field of patent translation.
In 2005, almost all the patents I was translating were in Japanese. I see there were a few German ones in July, but not nearly as many compared to Japanese. And I see some other languages there too, but not many. I translated some Russian, some Czech and some French.
In contrast to that, last month I translated 11 patents from German for three different law firms, and although I was also translating Japanese patents, it was only for one project: I was asked to translate the claims sections of 12 Japanese patent applications because these applications were originally filed by US and European companies in English in the United States or Europe and then translated to Japanese, so only the claims were changed in the Japanese version.
Twelve years ago, I was translating mostly Japanese patents and only a few patents from German. The situation is completely reversed at this point.
Twelve years ago, about 30-40% of the work I did came from translation agencies who paid good rates, relatively speaking. As a result of the progress of the corporatization of the translation industry, only about 10% of my work now comes from translation agencies.
When the agencies that had kept me busy on and off for many years (more than a decade in some cases) started lowering their rates, I had to stop working for them. Most of the time I am unable to work for new translation agencies that approach me for the first time because most of them are based on the repulsive, predatory corporate model that I have been describing in my posts on this blog for many years now.
I can’t work for these people!
Fortunately, although I have also lost many direct clients, often represented by the patent departments of large corporations over the last decade or so, smaller law firms have stayed with me and I have been able to keep replacing the direct clients that I’ve lost with new ones.
Had I been content to work only or mostly for translation agencies, which is how I initially structured my translation business 30 years ago, I would probably have to work for significantly lower rates at this point.
Fortunately, I realized early on that I needed to avoid working for the corporate translation industry model at all costs, and through all the ups and downs, that was what I did, by concentrating on keeping my existing clients and also finding new ones.
So these are some of the thoughts that are going through my head as I scan the pages of my Letts of London monthly diary into my computer.
Incidentally, 2005 was a pretty good year for me in terms of receivables, as were 2006, 2007 and 2008.
2016, on the other hand, was not a good year for me, especially compared to 2005-2010. But now that the children have been on their own for almost a decade, I don’t need to make as much money as I used to, and it looks like this year will be very good again for my translation business, perhaps even better than the very busy years from a fondly remembered period of time more than a decade ago.