Posted by: patenttranslator | September 16, 2018

The Minimalist Business Owner

Minimalism is a very popular trend now. At the moment it has turned into something of a fashionable craze, especially among young people who like to travel and call themselves digital nomads, and who sometimes move to another country or keep moving from country to country while inventing new ways to make a living using simple high-tech tools, such as creating all kinds of different videos. I find it difficult to stay away from the Youtube videos in which fearless nomads, young and old, but mostly young, male and females, vegans and carnivores, describe and demonstrate their fascinating minimalistic and/or nomadic lives and experiences.

Older people sell their houses, which have become too big for them now that they are empty nesters, younger ones give up on the idea of ever owning a big house and move into a small apartment or a tiny house, which is often on wheels so that it can be easily transported. Everything is so well designed and the space available is the tiny houses is so well organized so that all that you need for your life and your work and all of your material possessions will fit more or less comfortably into a few hundred square feet of space.

Such a tiny house, currently a popular feature of the minimalist lifestyle, is not really for me at this stage in my life. After decades of the nomadic existence of a technical translator who was bouncing for more than 30 years between San Francisco and Tokyo, then from Tokyo back to San Francisco, with the last 17 years spent in a typical bedroom community in Chesapeake, Va, creature comforts like a really comfortable bed and a big comfy sofa where I can plop down with a beer and binge-watch another Neflix series on a big screen TV, are much more important to me than they used to be when I was much younger.

Minimalism is also one of a few avenues available to peacefully but effectively protest against an unfair status quo. Most current business models are organized so that regardless of how much we make, we have to pay so much in interest rates and many visible and invisible taxes that in the end we don’t really own anything, usually regardless of where we live. Unless we are very rich, things are set up so that the banks and the City Hall are the real owners of what we may think of as our own property.

One big reason why minimalism is now so popular is probably the fact that probably the only legal way for those of us who are not real estate moguls to pay as little in taxes as possible is to make as little money as possible, while managing to figure out how to live off a smaller income.

For young people who have no children, I think that temporary minimalism is a really good idea. Once they start having kids, it will probably not be such a good idea anymore. Fortunately, as my children are adults now, I don’t really have to worry about them at this point. (Maybe it’s time now for them to start worrying about me)?

For older people whose children have flown the coop a long time ago, a minimalist vision of the way they run their small businesses also makes a lot of sense. A few months ago when I was putting together my tax return, I was telling about my plan to stop working like a robot and to move to a country with a much lower cost of living to my tax accountant. He stopped looking at the numbers on the monitor, looked at me and said “If I could do that myself, I would do it in a heartbeat.” He is about 10 years younger than me, so he might go for it too at some point.

Being a minimalist business owner who now needs much less money than than during the maximizing phase a few years ago, in addition to my modest retirement income and savings, also means that I can be very picky about the clients that I work for because an additional income from my work is no longer a necessity.

I had already fired all translation agencies that I used to work for over the last few years and I now regularly work only for very few agencies, only occasionally and mostly on very small projects (I will do in a pinch, but I am usually too expensive for big projects.)

As a result of the bloodbath in the “translation industry” over the last two decades that pushed the rates per translated words down even for highly specialized translations, the ability to slowly transit to a more minimalist approach to making money could not have come at a better time for me.

I think that what the “translation industry” is doing by aggressively competing on prices and volumes while all but ignoring quality is crazy. The agencies may be making money in the short term by using a number of tricks such as “post-processed machine translations” as if they were the same thing as real human translations, or outsourcing work to amateur translators in invisible “back offices” in low-cost countries, but in the long run, the industry is digging the grave not only for us, translators, but ultimately also its own grave.

What the so-called translation industry has been doing for the last two decades by constantly devaluing its own product, which used to be recognized as important strategic information, and replacing valuable information by billions of cheaply generated words, many of which are copied and discounted because they don’t necessarily have much to do with the original information since they were generated by machines and sub-prime translators, and then measuring its prowess by the number of often meaningless words generated by algorithms, is clearly not in its own interest.

But the industry does not care. Everything is sacrificed in the interest of short-term profit.

There are very smart people in this industry and many of them must understand that this is the case. But they do not care, probably because it is greed (not love) that in the end conquers everything (Omnia vincit avaritia). I write about the peculiarities of the greed in the new “translation industry” all the time on my blog, so I will try not to repeat what I have said here so many times already in today’s post.

Can a small business owner who is a single translator resist the overwhelming pressure of the industry, which is urging us all to shut the hell up and join the faceless crowds of thousands upon thousands of propagandized and constantly manipulated, disposable translators who are forced to work for a suicidal industry (while it is still around) for lower and lower rates?

I believe that the best way to resist the modern business trends is to make the industry irrelevant by avoiding the worst actors in the industry and concentrating on highly specialized translations for a few direct clients, who need exactly the kind of translations that we are able to provide and who pay much better rates than what is available from the so-called translation industry.

It takes perseverance, a lot of effort and usually a long time to find such a client, and there is no single recipe for achieving a good result, because different rules apply to different people and types of translations and there are also many other variables.

There is no website or blog that would describe what to do and how to do it. The advice that I have been so selflessly dispensing for free on my silly blog here, along with inspirational Youtube videos for quite a few years now, is in any case now dated and possibly not very relevant anymore given the constantly changing landscape in the translation business.

Scio nihil me scire (I know that I know nothing). A strategy that worked for me 30 years ago may no longer be applicable to present time.

But since the rates that good direct clients (and they are out there if we can find them!) will pay are multiples of what the industry is generally able and willing to pay, a minimum number of good direct clients is all that a minimalist business owner such as myself needs to live and work, while keeping some money in the bank for a rainy day, and also to have some time for other things than just constant work and hustle to find more work.

Once a few such good direct clients have been found and won over, only a minimal effort is usually needed to keep the business of a minimalist business owner running more or less smoothly most of the time.

The alternative is to give up trying to establish long-lasting relationships with direct customers and join the ranks of thousands of disposable translators working very hard for less and less money for higher profits and greater glory of the “translation industry.”

And the inescapable fact is that every translator who depends on the middlemen, (or “intermediaries” as one of my blog’s readers likes to call them), becomes disposable as soon as another translator offers to do the same work for less money.

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Responses

  1. “generated by acronyms”
    Did you want to say ‘algorithms’?

    Like

  2. Yes, I did.

    Thank you.

    Like

  3. Ever the eternal, entertaining pessimist, Steve! The internet which has made the auctioning of our skills so easy is also the main route to finding new direct clients. Like you, we only work with a few agencies who treat us as valued colleagues, and we gain and nurture relationships with direct clients all the time. Recently we have also focussed on working more closely with other technical translators in languages other than French so that we can exchange direct client contacts for our mutual benefit.Keep smiling!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sentences and expressions I loved here above:

    “Minimalism is also one of a few avenues available to peacefully but effectively protest”

    “One big reason why minimalism is now so popular is probably the fact that the only legal way for those of us who are not real estate moguls to pay as little in taxes as possible is to make as little money as possible while managing to figure out how to live off a smaller income.”

    “I had already fired all translation agencies that I used to work for over the last few years and I now regularly work only for very few agencies”

    “the bloodbath in the “translation industry” over the last two decades”: yep…

    “what the ‘translation industry’ is doing by aggressively competing on prices and volumes while all but ignoring quality is crazy”: yep!

    “by constantly devaluing its own product”: yes, completely CRAZY! That’s the word!…

    Indeed, the role of an agency is to explain the difficulty of the job to clueless customers and defend quality, thus defend reasonable prices and deadlines.

    But nowadays agencies do exactly the opposite.

    Which is NOT in customers’ interest.

    As to agencies, I believe they are doomed to disappear, in the Internet age, in which most translators have a website and online profiles – which are exactly the same sources in which mostly useless – if not destructive – intermediaries fish their own preys, so…

    And if they “test” their preys, it’s only because, as any intermediary, they mostly see their role as increasing their margins at all costs and thus venture into muddy waters in which they fish amateurs – which they have to test…

    So nowadays agencies have a destructive role and must disappear – unless customers are crazy themselves.

    The worrying thing about customers is that they tend to entrust mere secretaries and lower personnel with the hard task of finding external translators.

    As a university-trained person, I have always found it insulting (and inefficient) to be supervised by profound idiots – but maybe their university-trained bosses are not that intelligent after all (university is too cheap in Europe: any asshole ends up graduating, it seems…).

    Of course, the said assholes were misinformed by other assholes: agencies.

    So the best way to flee the translation hell is to… minimize one’s lifestyle, as you said! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for your kind words!

    “As to agencies, I believe they are doomed to disappear, in the Internet age, in which most translators have a website and online profiles – which are exactly the same sources in which mostly useless – if not destructive – intermediaries fish their own preys, so…”

    I think the el cheapo kind of translation agency will probably survive. After all, we have been living in the internet age already for about three decades. These agencies will unfortunately survive and continue to fight it out among themselves in the bloodbath of the red ocean (https://patenttranslator.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/the-blue-ocean-the-red-ocean-and-the-yellow-ocean/), but only because they have learned how to cooperate with amateur translators who have no idea and are to lazy and unimaginative to create a website or at least a profile easily accessible to direct customers.

    And there are many such “translators” who on the cheap generate unbelievable crap that this kind of agencies will continue to sell their clients.

    But that is also an opportunity for the rest of us to do specialized translations and only work for direct clients and agencies that also specialize, treat us well and pay us accordingly.

    Like

  6. I really like your selection of videos. I particularly like the things Hans Zimmer has done. More, please!

    Like

  7. Thank you so much, EP.

    I have been attacked by a couple of angry readers recently for daring to share videos and music that I like with the people who read my block. There is no place for Youtube videos on blogs, they said.

    These trollish individuals called the videos “clickbait”. ???? But it’s OK. I am not some fragile, delicate flower, whatever floats their boat and makes them happy. They can probably use some joy in their lives.

    Some people for some reason hate the idea of music videos on a blog, some just don’t click on them, and some like them because they have a discriminating taste in music, just like you and me.

    Personally, I really enjoy the fact that I can share videos and music that I like with thousands of people from all over the world every month.

    I consider it a major privilege.

    Like


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