Posted by: patenttranslator | September 20, 2019

Finding a Long-Term Client Is Like Finding a Life Partner and Keeping One Is Even Harder

Ce soir nous sommes septembre et j’ai fermé ma chambre

Le soleil n’y entrera plus

Tu ne m’aimes plus

Là-haut un oiseau passe comme une dédicace

Dans le ciel

L’histoire n’est plus à suivre et j’ai fermé le livre

Le soleil n’y entrera plus

Tu ne m’aimes plus

When we look for a romantic or life partner, there are certain personal characteristics that most people believe in, value and keep in mind during the fateful search for a life partner. Men generally attribute greater importance to other characteristics and personal traits than women. Men are usually easier to please: a pretty face, a shapely form and a sweet disposition, (which often eventually may turn out to be not so sweet after all, but for the time being the men have no idea), is all most male searchers want in their new partner. And if the woman can also cook, clean the house and maybe even iron a shirt – hey, she’s a keeper!

Women generally make their choices based on more practical and pragmatic criteria when it comes to finding a life partner. Sure, they prefer handsome men, if they can be found, with a charming gleam in their eye and a laid-back disposition. And, oh yes, he should be at least 6 feet (183 cm), preferably 6 feet and four inches (195 cm) tall to protect them from from the many dangers and vicissitudes of this cruel world on the theory that the taller the guy is, the more able he will be to ward off evil and protect them from nasty surprises of life.  It does not really work this way – short men, like Napoleon or Sarcozy often crave and achieve a lot of power to make up for their short stature, although very often they lose it all again in the end …. without gaining an in inch in physical stature.

But the most romantic feature that any man can offer to a woman who is looking for a life partner is the size of his …. bank account, of course!

Everything else, while kind of important and possibly also desirable, is secondary. Even if the man is old, wrinkled, bald, and fat, that is not a major impediment to being found desirable by a beautiful young specimen of the female gender, provided that all of these relatively unimportant personal characteristics are complemented by a fat bank account.

To the female gender, a true measure of a soulmate, or âme sœur (sister soul as they say in French), is the amount of liquidity available in the financial resources of the male that can be eventually accessed by a crafty female.

What I think is more important than alluring physical beauty, although of course I never realized it when I was much younger, is whether the prospective life partner genuinely appreciates you for who you really (or dare I say it, loves you!) and more or less values and considers important the same things in life  that you also consider important.

So now that I got this sexist rant out of my system, I will offer my analysis of important characteristics of a long-term client.

In this same way that it is important that your life partner to want the same things from life as you do and appreciates you for being able to provide them, it is very important whether the clients that you work for genuinely appreciate and value your work and more or less want the same things from your translations that you consider important.

Although I moved a year ago from America to Europe with only two pieces of luggage containing only my underwear, some clothing, and a laptop, I can tell easily how many years various clients stayed with me because I scanned (and backed up) into a folder on my laptop handwritten monthly records  of how much all of these clients have been paying me since 1998.

Most of my clients were and still are patent law firms, based mostly in the United States. Some stayed with me, which is to say that they were sending me patent applications for translation, at first only from Japanese, and later also from German, French and other languages, for quite a few years, let’s say for 5 to 10 years or so. A few of them stayed even longer, close to 20 years, as they still send me now the same kind of work from time to time.  

Several patent departments of large multinational corporations were among my best clients in the nineties and these large corporations kept me busy for about a decade, and some longer – until about the year 2015. But at that point, they switched gears and instead of bothering with very small, specialized translation businesses such as the one run by your truly, the managers probably started dealing mostly with large translation firms. I think that an important reason for this was the corporate groupthink was so ingrained in their brain and everything that was going on in the managerial culture that these managers (such as patent portfolio managers and librarians who are in charge of handling patents) realized that they are just much more comfortable dealing with another corporation than with a little guy like myself.

But even after the advent of the new type of “translation industry”, I still kept quite a few relatively small or mid-size patent law firms as my clients and some of them are still send me work now to my new location in Europe. Nothing really changed much for them since the work comes to me through the internet, they pay me by wire transfers to my US account, I kept my American phone numbers and I also have a mailing address in the United States should they need to mail me something.

Nothing really changed much for me either – I still do the same work for the same clients. The main thing that changed for me is that I will have to file two tax returns next year, one here in Czech Republic and one in the United States.

But there is much less work for me now from these and other sources than there was twenty years ago or even ten years ago. Fortunately, unlike a decade or two decades ago, I now really prefer my dolce far niente whenever I can get it. Just yesterday I turned a Japanese job (from an agency, I rarely turn down a job from a direct client), simply because it looked like too much work, and not really in my field, which is to say not in technical translation.

And I like it when I don’t have to accept as much work as possible because my American pension, which I have been receiving for about two years now, comfortably covers my expenses here, which are much lower now than when I needed to support a family of four, living in a big house in expensive California and later Virginia.

I still like to work, and some months I get a lot of work, but unlike in the past, most of it is for other translators who work for me as I have over the years basically became another tiny, highly specialized translation agency. But some months I get hardly any work at all – and I can’t quite decide which I like better, the busy months, or the slow ones.

I probably prefer slow months because I still am a tourist here: less than a year in a new environment, there are so many things to learn and explore here after 37 years of living in other countries, mostly in the United States.

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