Posted by: patenttranslator | June 8, 2012

Smaller Is Usually Better When It Comes to the Size of My Customers

I can think of many of examples when dealing with a large corporation proved to be an extremely unpleasant but revealing experience.

I completely forgot that the loan equity line of credit that I had opened a long time ago with Chase Manhattan Mortgage was set to expire in 10 years. When they sent me a notice that 10 years was up, I reapplied with them for the same line of credit. Although I have a stellar credit rating (807 to 825 depending on the credit rating agency), Chase told me that they would raise my interest rate from 4.5 to 5.25%  and lower the amount of line of credit from 30 thousand to 25 thousand dollars. I said OK, since that was still not too bad and I only wanted to have a line of credit for emergencies, and I applied by phone and e-mailed a bunch of filled out forms to 2 different Chase brokers in 2 different states, each of them an independent contractor just like me.

After all this work, Chase Manhattan sent me several unsigned form letters stating that the rate that they were offering me now had an interest rate of 6 percent, as opposed to 4.5 which was their original pitch, and that there was no guarantee that this rate would not be raised again before closing. In addition, the loan would include fees and penalties, such as a yearly fee and a penalty of 500 dollars for early termination. They are still using the same bait and switch technique that Chase and other big banks were so successfully using to steal the only thing of value that the middle class, or what is left of it, still had – namely the equity in their houses.

So I told Chase to go to hell and went to the small bank where I have my business checking account. I talked to only one person at that bank who seemed to know every person in this town, and once they ran a credit check, the bank gave me an interest rate of 4.25 on a line of credit of 50 thousand dollars, with no fees and no penalties.

Chase then sent me a letter that said that “my loan application was declined”.

This is the difference between how big business and small business is treating customers in America these days. Small banks still plays a vital role in local economy. Big banks are greedy, predatory and thoroughly dishonest gambling casinos.

I see a similar difference also between large and small law firms.

Whenever I bid on a translation project for a big corporation, I am now bidding kind of high as I don’t really like to work for large corporate customers. Since I am bidding high, somebody else usually gets the gig. Which is fine with me.

If the potential client is a huge law firm, I am usually dealing with a young associate who does not know anything about translation. For example, one of these young associates sent me a while ago back my translation with lots of redlined changes suggested by her with the “tracking changes” option in MS Word. The problem was, since the associate does not know Japanese, she did not know that it does not have things like a definite or indefinite article, singular or plural. And how can you change a technical term in English if you can’t read the original language? But of course, I could not have told her what I thought of her changes because I wanted to get paid.

We went back and forth 3 or 4 times before she was happy with my translation. I hope she never calls again, and if she does, my rate to her company will go up. My time may not mean anything to her, but it is valuable to me.

This large law firm bought out a smaller patent law firm that used to be one of my best customer for about 20 years. Before the firm was merged with a big  corporation, it always used to pay promptly and I never had any problems communicating with the paralegals or lawyers at that firm because I was dealing with professionals who knew what they were doing.

But once the small firm was bought out, it became a completely different kind of animal with a completely different corporate culture.

After the small patent law firm was merged with a mega law firm, I somehow knew that I would be paid for the frustrating job mentioned above in about 2 months instead of 30 days, which is exactly what happened.

My customers come in all kind of sizes. I may be working for an inventor who is paying me out of his pocket, for a patent lawyer who works as a sole practitioner just like me out of her house, or for a small firm that may have only a few patent lawyers and a couple of paralegals.

Small firms and sole practitioners are my preferred customers for a number of reasons. First of all, small firms usually pay very quickly. Since patent lawyers get the payment from their customer in advance, there is really no reasons for them to be sitting on the payment for 2 months and they usually pay me within a week or two, sometime right away, but always within the 30 days as per my invoice.

But a large corporation will be of course eager to get every cent of the interest that it can make from the payment  that is sitting in their bank at least for a couple of months if it makes its vendors such as translators wait a long time for their money.

Large firms also use schemes designed to make them completely unaccountable to small businesses. It is next to impossible to get an answer from an associate at a large law firm that owes me money. And if they do e-mail or call me back, they just refer me to accounting, and the chasing game can go on for weeks.

The corporate culture is really rotten to the core in this country. And I doubt very much that it is better in other countries.

Incidentally, I see the same difference between large and small companies also when it comes to “large” and small translation agencies.

I remember that when I still used to work mostly for translation agencies, small and very small agencies (think 1 or 2 persons) were usually much more pleasant to work for than larger outfits.

Although there are also very small translation agencies out there that treat translators just as badly or worse than large corporations.

But I think that they are mostly the exception to the rule that smaller is usually better when it comes to the size of your client.


  1. Kudos on your credit rating! As a foreign national, I have been trying to ESTABLISH a credit rating in the first place, which I have vented about here: My house bank, the one I’ve been banking with together with my husband for a couple of years, wouldn’t even give me a prepaid(!) credit card–and a smaller bank who’s never met me gave me a proper (not a prepaid) credit card, albeit with a very low credit limit. Which is fine because I only need it to establish credit. As an aside, I find it absurd that you have to get a credit card, take out a loan, etc. in order to establish credit. Paying your rent, your bills, and your taxes on time, not taking out silly personal loans, and saving up for pricier purchases apparently does not work in your favor.

    Regarding small vs. big, this is exactly what I have observed, too. Small companies (SMEs) 9 times out of 10 pay me promptly or within my 30 day limit. Bigger outlets set their own payment terms: usually 60 days, sometimes even 90 days, and there’s nothing I can do about it (other than get a lawyer). I no longer work for such cowboys and just recently crossed yet another agency off my list. What exactly is the issue with paying service providers within a reasonable timeframe? It can only be that they use the money they receive from their clients to make shady short-term investments–I can see no other reason. Greedy, in my opinion, is absolutely spot-on!


  2. 1. Try to see it from the bank’s perspective.

    Should you load up on credit, max out your credit cards and then move back to Europe without paying them off, the bank would be stuck with the debt without being able to recover the money from you and after 7 years all the negative information would be no longer in your credit record.

    At least this is how things used to work, I am not sure whether this is still the case. I had a friend who told me that he knew people who did exactly what I am describing above in San Francisco before moving to Japan.

    But once one bank gives you credit, even with a low limit, other banks are usually willing to give you a credit card too.

    When I lived in Japan in mid eighties I was able to use only American Express card which I got in US because only American Express allowed card holders to be billed at an address abroad. Again, I am not sure whether this is still the case.

    But I agree that payment of utility bills and such over the long term should be a part of your credit history. I think that the credit record only reflects unpaid bills in this category.

    2. The corporate model of big companies is so predatory that I think that in the long run it is not sustainable. It needs to be replaced by something else.

    In the meantime, I think that it makes sense to try to stay away from them as much as possible.


  3. Steve-I found your column about a week ago. Kudos to you–it is great! I am sure I will go back and read all your blogs, but I found this one particularly spot-on. I have been translating patents since (dare I say) the late 1960’s. And it seems “the more things change, the more they stay the same”–in terms of price, quality, big, small, and of course MT.



  4. All my blogs?

    I have 268 blog posts as of now, each at least a thousand words, and I am just getting started.


    • Sounds like a fun thing to do now and again over the next several months…especially after dealing with a difficult customer…which is why I started reading several of your blogs…

      By the way, do you handle much Chinese patent translation? These are my most difficult customers. I act as an agency in this case, and I have several very good (but not cheap) translators.


      • Yes, I am also dealing with a fair amount of Chinese patents. So far I’ve had no problems.

        By the way, I just realized that we cooperated on the Patent Translation Handbook published by the ATA a few years ago,.


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