Posted by: patenttranslator | December 29, 2010

The Dog Days May Or May Not Be Over Yet

So 2010 is almost behind us. Professionally speaking, it was not a very good year for this patent translator. My record year in terms of income was 2007, which was my 20th year in the translation business, 2008 was slightly worse, 2009 was worse again, and 2010 was about the same or even worse than 2009, I have not run the numbers yet.

When you are a freelance contractor, there will be inevitably several slow months that will have to be dealt with every year. The question is: what do you do when dog days – days when work may be scarce – are here again. Some people lower their rates out of desperation. So far, I have been consistently refusing to work for rates that I consider too low. It really does not make much sense in the long run because no matter how low you go, there will be always somebody out there willing to do it for even less. I also got rid of a few customers who wanted to extend the payment term from 30 to 60 days. Three, actually, one corporation and two agencies. Sorry, I can’t wait that long.

2011 may be better, about the same or worse than 2010 for me and other freelance translators. Nobody really knows what is going to happen. What changed in the life of this patent translator was that sometime during this year, I stopped caring as much about the amount of work available to me on a daily basis. I try not to translate on Sundays even when I do have work, as long as the translation can be done on Monday or Tuesday, except if I get really bored. I used to work pretty religiously on Sundays to make sure that I can accept more work should it come on Monday. I think that I mostly don’t worry about work and money as much because my kids are almost grown now. Even if I should become a destitute, homeless bum due to lack of work, they should be old enough now to take care of themselves if they had to, so what the hell. After all, I came to America almost three decades ago without knowing a single soul on the entire continent as a pretty destitute homeless bum with 500 dollars in my pocket, and I got mugged within a couple of weeks in San Francisco because as a stupid European, I lacked finely honed instincts that most Americans living in urban areas develop by necessity. But I learned fairly quickly.

I think that the economic trends affecting many professions, including freelance translators, will be finally reversed in 2011 and that freelance translators will start complaining about having too much work again most of the time. Maybe it’s not just another pium desiderium of mine. My instincts are not that bad any more. When the real estate market was soaring, it looked as if I was making a lot of money on paper, without having to work for it, but I sort of knew that the market was going to crash and those wonderful gains on paper would quickly evaporate again. I just did not know exactly when the crash would finally come.

My prediction is that corporations and individuals will continue filing patents and suing each other over patents in 2011 and the years after that. Therefore, they will need translations of patents in various languages. There is no need to worry about machine translation. A lot of machine translation will be used and most of it will be free, but machines will not become any smarter in 2011 or thereafter. I also predict that I will probably keep more people busy with translations of patents from and into languages that I do not translate myself in 2011 and in the years to come.

According to this article in Philadelphia Inquirer, there were about 655 million people on the Internet in 2001, which grew to almost 2 billion, or about 29% of everyone on Earth by 2010. The key to making sure that the dog days are over and we have plenty of work at good rates from customers who treat us as human beings and pay us on time is to make sure that our website or blog will be found by Google or Yahoo among the thousands of websites and blogs of other translators because the content of our website is highly relevant to what the potential customer is looking for.

In other words, the dog days are over if we can figure out how to stay relevant, and how to keep making ourselves more relevant every year.


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