Posted by: patenttranslator | November 22, 2014

If Necessity Is Mother Of Invention, Simplicity Is Father of Common Sense

As I keep reading about nifty and inexpensive accounting software and translation management software packages, perfectly integrating the workflow of tasks and invoices in a small translation business, which are developed with small translation enterprises in mind and cost only a few hundred dollars for a yearly subscription, I thought I would the let the world know about my secret weapon in the daily battle for management of incoming and outgoing invoices of my translation business.

For about 20 years now I have been recording incoming and outgoing jobs in a slim, yet quite spacious daily diary called THE ORIGINAL DIARY (since 1812) from Letts of London, product code 11Y, the cost under 30 dollars. They come in three colors, black, brown, or if you are feelings frisky, you can also order burgundy. Last year I went with burgundy, this year I think I will go with brown. I never order black, although they did send me a black diary once by mistake and I hated them for it a whole year.

I note checks that I am sending to translators at the bottom of the page in my Letts of London diary, and of course I also print out invoices and keep them in file folders, plus I have copies of all invoices on my hard drive on several computers.
So that’s the classic triple-entry bookkeeping method that has been used by the greatest minds in the accounting profession for several centuries right there.

I generally have to correct customers who use expensive accounting software when they send me the wrong amount several times a year. Last month, for example, one customer who paid me 1,074 dollars for a whole bunch of small translations, although according to my Letts of London daily diary, product code 11Y, they should have paid me 1,247 dollars. Oh well, somebody entered the wrong amount into the software package, hence the error. I charge 3 cents more per word for Japanese, and they entered my rate for European languages. They will reimburse me next month, as they generally have quite a bit of work for me most months.

Due mostly to accounting software errors, some customers sometime miss an invoice, sometime they pay me less, and sometime they pay me twice. And sometime they pay me in Euros instead of dollars … and sometime I let them know about it – if I like them. Hey, it’s not my fault if they use some stupid software that can’t tell Euros from dollars!
It has been my experience that people who use sophisticated accounting software are prone to making mistakes like this … mais moi, jamais!

I realize that my accounting system is not ideal for the corporate type of translation agency, but then again, Gott sei Dank, I am not a corporate translation agency.

I am certainly aware that a simple system such as mine has its limitations. A few months ago I was working on a project involving translations of dozens of sets of patent claims from 4 languages into English. I was translating the German and French claims while working with translators who were translating Chinese and Korean claims that I was then carefully proofreading.

The problem was, the client wanted to have a separate invoice for each family of documents, and as I said there were dozens of families – some with only 1 document, some with as many as 5 documents in 1 family. At first, I messed up the numbers of the families of documents on my invoices and also in the file names.

The client was really mad at me, and justifiably so. When he called me on the phone after the first batch of translations was delivered, he was practically livid! Listening to his complaints, I felt like a retarded child who almost set a house on fire, although in my defense it is only fair to say that every of the documents that was sent to me was delivered simply as an e-mail attachment (the law firm evidently never heard of zipped folders), so that there were many such e-mails that I had to fish out one by one from the rest of the stuff in my mailbox and then save while making sure that I don’t delete accidentally a precious file along with numerous junk e-mails.

I felt pretty bad …. until he ended his almost completely uninterrupted complaint with these words (and I am quoting him word by word):”The good news is, the translations were very, very good” (he used the word “very” twice).

Fortunately for me, I got the hang of it and found the right procedure for proper identification of documents from the second batch of the documents.

As long as I printed everything out, copied all the relevant information on top of the page, and then put physically each family of the documents in a separate vanilla folder where all the relevant information was correctly recorded on the jacket of each file, I was no longer making any mistakes because everything was triple checked. A second batch of documents came and went to the client without an angry customer’s phone call, and then a third and a fourth. And then another lawyer from the same firm called to inquire about my rates saying that I was recommended to him by this client who was at one point very, very angry at me (but apparently only at first).

Simple, inexpensive solutions are often more effective and always less expensive than flashy, complicated ones.

My cell phone is another case in point. I have been using iPhone for 2 years until my contract with the phone company expired in January of this year. I really liked the phone, but I stopped the phone services because I realized that I don’t need to pay over a hundred dollars for a phone that I use only occasionally outside of my office since most of the time I am stuck working in my office. The phone was promptly confiscated by my son whose own iPhone had a cracked screen.

Instead of an expensive monthly plan phone iPhone, I now keep my old Blackberry in my car so that I would never be stuck without a cell phone. It came in very handy for example when I needed to call my insurance company when I got a flat tire a few months ago. But my current phone plan only costs a few dollars a month as I add dollars to it every three months when I need to add more calling minutes.

If I need data, mostly to check my e-mail out of the office, I use my iPad with the first 200 MB of data that is offered free of charge by T-Mobile to customers on its network. So far I had to purchase additional data for my iPad only once because things like e-mail and car navigation do not eat up a lot of data provided that you download the map of where you want to go while you are still connected to WiFi before you leave.

I believe that is important to be a discriminating customer when it comes to extremely sophisticated and very cool technical solutions that are offered to us by people who are so good at selling stuff to other people that they could sell refrigerators to Eskimos and sand-making machines to Bedouins in Sahara.

The simplest solution often works the best and it is always cheaper once we realize what it is that we actually need.


  1. The KISS principle!
    I agree, although I use (very simple) accounting software, mainly to show off, but also to deal with tax issues.
    Sometimes you have to demonstrate that 2 + 2 = (the square root of 25) – 20%

    Thanks for another great article.


  2. Thank you for commenting and liking my silly article, Louis.

    Maybe it’s because it is Saturday, but nobody bothered to like or tweet about my post today yet and it’s been about 12 hours.

    I would be crushed if nobody at all found it interesting. But fortunately, somebody did.


    • “I would be crushed if nobody at all found it interesting. But fortunately, somebody did.”

      Two of us, counting me, too. I’d only make a slight remark: hit the heart of evil, Steve! Acconting errors are nothining compared to the gross error of agencies plagiarizing your creative work by concealing your name and claiming they have done your translations. Translation agencies of this kind – and most of them are exactly of this kind, if not all – are like publishing houses claiming they have written all books they publish.


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