Posted by: patenttranslator | February 3, 2012

They Don’t Know Me But I Know Them

Three different patent law firms called me today to ask about my rates for translating something from Japanese, German, and Russian. The German thing was a patent, and my quote was accepted. I will have to do it over the weekend. The Japanese thing was an article from a technical journal. I took the phone call on my cell phone in a supermarket. I had to cover my ears to hear what the lady was saying over the noise. I e-mailed her my price quote when I got back to my office and maybe I will hear from them next week, and maybe I won’t. I have no idea what the Russian thing would be, they just wanted to know my rate.

The people who called did not know me, they just found my website on the Internet. I know that because I asked them. Two of them did not know me for sure because I asked them and they said that they just used Google and they even told me the key words when I asked. The third one did not even want to tell me which firm she was calling from, she just said “from a law firm in California”. Which was kind of silly, I thought, because the phone ID displayed the name of the company, a law firm in California that has been sending me work on and off since 1993. Which would make it 19 years of a fairly solid supply of 1099-MISC tax forms year after year. Because I write the amount of what each firm paid me each year on the inner cover of the folder, I know that this particular law firm typically pays me between 5 and 12 thousand dollars a year.

And yet, the lady who called today from that law firm did not seem to know me. Probably a new paralegal.

It often happens that people who call me don’t know me, but I know their firm because I did work for a different lawyer, law librarian or paralegal at the firm. Lawyers, librarians, and paralegals come and go, freelance patent translators stay in exactly the same place in cyber space. If they are self-employed, they have nowhere to go. There is no other self that would employ them. Each and every one of us has only one self, except of course for people suffering from multiple personality disorder, also known as dissociative identity disorder, for instance like Norman Bates in the movie “Psycho”. I am not suffering from that particular disorder, I think. Maybe some other, less severe disorder, but not this one.

I have two filing cabinets with files for records about my customers, basically their contact information and hard copies of invoices. I mark in red ink the date when I got paid on each invoice.

One cabinet is overflowing with files because this is the cabinet for customers who I no longer consider to be “active”. If I do not receive anything from a customer for more than 3 years, I move the file from the “active filing cabinet” to the “non-active” one. But sometime I move them back again from the “non-active” to the “active” filing cabinet when a customer rediscovers my excellent translation services, usually through a new paralegal or a young patent lawyer who is doing some Googling for a price quote.

I received only three 1099 tax forms from translation agencies so far this year, as opposed to a dozen from patent law firms so far. There should be a few more of them during February. A few years ago I would still have at least a half a dozen tax forms from agencies, but not anymore. I think I am too expensive for them at this point.

Which is a good thing, I think, as long as I stay busy working for people who pay a little more. I still receive some work from new agencies, mostly when they find my listing in the ATA directory, usually for Czech. But I will have to junk the filing cabinet for old, non-active customers because it has only two drawers and I can’t really fit any more folders in it.

I need to buy a new filing cabinet for all those customers who forgot about me or decided to dump me that has 3 drawers. I wonder whether three drawers will be enough to fit all former customers in them before I finally stop working or drop dead, whichever comes first.

Probably the latter.


  1. Some ten or fifteen years ago I was constantly anxious to start looking for new customers. I used to keep a folder, an Excel file, all kind of paperwork with notes on potential customers. After all, I already knew some of them (they didn’t know me, though), not through translation agencies but due to the fact that I translated lots of trade fair catalogues for a German publishing house learning a lot about the exhibitors, i.e. German and international companies, already active on the Russian market and, at least theoretically, on the lookout for quality translation services. I learned their products, marketing policies, contact persons, etc. All this stuff is still kept somewhere in the basement, in filing cabinets and on book shelves, along with books, magazines, tax return folders, also modems, cables, some obscure legacy SCSI Mac adapters that I should have brought to a Recyclinghof long ago (talking about New Year resolutions). Somehow, I never got to use all those notes and contact addresses I so meticulously preserved. A couple of years ago, after I started to take care of my website, I understood why. I was planning to ‘chase’ (which I am not good at, I would be a disaster as sale rep). Now I (involuntarily) ‘catch’. Being visible by Google, you’re catching customers even doing your grocery in a supermarket. You cannot help catching. I’d rather catch than chase. I don’t mind being chased and getting caught once in a while, since I still worry about new customers even if I don’t plan to write letters, send emails, all this stuff any more. Well, you know the key words, you asked about them. These key words are probably more efficient than the stuff in your file cabinets.


  2. I too found my first direct customers through mailing campaigns starting from 1991.

    Nowadays I mostly rely on my website, but I still have cards that I mail to people from firms who called or e-mailed me when they found my website if they did not send me any translation after the call or e-mail.

    Key words are important. Google Analytics shows me which keywords people who end up on my website are using, but I understand Google will remove this feature from the free version that I am using.

    The new version of Google Analytics does not have key words in for websites that do not pay Google for advertising through key words, which would be my case.

    The key words are still shown in the old version which is still available at this point and which I am still looking at from time to time, but it will probably not be available anymore soon.

    Oh, well, at this point I know pretty well which key words people use.


  3. Chase vs. catch…

    “Nowadays I mostly rely on my website, but I still have cards that I mail to people from firms who called or e-mailed me when they found my website if they did not send me any translation after the call or e-mail.”

    In other words, still unobtrusively chasing those you were about to catch, but somehow didn’t… Another hybrid attitude definitely worth adopting.


  4. Very often agencies or companies think that they are the only ones doing serious research while taking on new freelancers or employees. As a conscious professional, I research them even more before sending my own CV. Where do take the assumption of our indifference from?


  5. Everybody is researching everybody these days.

    I really like your retro website.

    And thanks for tweeting my posts!


  6. […] Contain Pefectionist word artist vs. the real world 10 things your spell checker won’t catch They Don’t Know Me But I Know Them How to Tell if Your Translator is Legit Language Learners as Translators? Translation rates: a […]


  7. Hey Patenttranslator,
    I know what you mean, With all of the other things that demand your attention, sometimes the task of writing falls by the wayside. But if you are relying on article marketing to bring targeted traffic to your web site, then your goal should be to write at least one article each day. That might sound like a daunting task, because if you do not have a high volume of articles published in article directories, then you have not seen the kind of traffic and exposure they can bring you. The return on your article writing and submitting efforts can be delayed by thirty days or more, but you must continue to crank out those articles and take it on faith that they will be working for you for months and years to come.
    Great Job!


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