Posted by: patenttranslator | December 12, 2019

Invisible Translators Continue to Stay Invisible

In the beginning, there were no Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). People seemed to trust each other more at one point, or maybe it’s just that translation agencies were not as much concerned about direct competition from individual translators as they are now, when individual translators can become quite easily as visible on the internet as mega agencies if they put some effort into becoming visible.

If there was an agreement, it was usually referred to as a Confidentiality Agreement (CA), which was drafted to protect confidentiality of clients who needed to entrust confidential documents to a translation agency. These agreements were very short, under one hundred words. Basically, all the translator had to do was to declare that the confidentiality of the documents to be translated will be respected.

I am talking digitally prehistorical times when I describe the period when I launched my translation services, namely the late nineteen eighties, from my apartment on 5th Avenue in San Francisco. The rent for the convenient and fairly spacious two bedroom apartment was 750 dollars a month; it’s probably at least four thousand now.

Next to dozens of Asian (although mostly Chinese) restaurants, there was a handy public library branch near Clement Street. So to become a little bit more visible on the early landscape of translation services, I went to the library, pulled out from the book shelves a few Yellow Pages books for San Francisco and other major metropolitan areas to start sending my resumés to translation agencies listed under letter T, which came just after Transmissions.

There was no Internet yet, although the US army was already using an early version of it as a military communication network, but otherwise nobody knew what the word meant. I certainly did not, all I knew was how to use email over a dial-up line with a special communication software.

Work started coming in from translation agencies in the area and elsewhere, by mail, Federal Express and fax. I used to get so excited when my fax machine started spitting out pages with Japanese text on them! Oh, those were the days. Little by little, as I was increasing my rates to the new agencies and dropping the lower payers, within a few years, I more than doubled the rates that I was able to charge to translation agencies.

About 5 years after the bold launching of my expert translation services originally aimed only at translation agencies (because they were easy to find and reach), I started increasing my visibility among potential direct clients by mailing letters offering my translation service to the early version of high-tech companies in the San Francisco area, especially to patent law firms when I realized that patent law firms in San Francisco and San Jose might be my ideal customers, especially when it came to translation of Japanese patents to English, which was my specialty.

Whenever I had no work during the week, I would start cranking out letters offering my translation services to patent law firms. As I was able to crank out about a hundred letters a day, all of which had to be printed to include the and addresses of the lawyers, signed and then stuffed into addressed envelopes, most months I mailed a few hundred letters in this manner. I think that the letters were opened mostly because they looked like they could contain new business, which was the plan. Slowly but surely, I started receiving email requests for price quotes, and more often then not, I would in fact in the end get the job. Although my roster of patent law firms who became my clients grew, about 60 percent of work that I was receiving was still from translation agencies, obviously at about half the rate that I was charging to my law firm customers.

But this changed after year 2000, when in order to further increase my visibility on the market for patent translations, the spirit moved me to start looking for domains suitable for my business and I found about half a dozen of them, the most effective of which turned out to be

For about the first year or two, there was almost no response to my new website, which I linked to the domains that I bought. But then, as my website became visible to Google, I started receiving many more requests for price quotes, so many that I no longer had the time for my mailing campaigns. I also more or less stopped working for translation agencies, with the exception of a few of them, most of which were small and run by  people, often also translators or former translatos that I considered more friends than just work suppliers.

I keep meaning to update the design of my website. It has a fairly prehistoric design now, but I don’t do anything about it because I am a lazy, parsimonious (frugal to the point of stinginess) person, but the main reason why I enjoy my decades-long procrastination is that the design still works and brings in new customers. I think that I would become more visible and I would probably be much busier if I finally spent some money and did something to jazz up the site a little bit, but the thing is, I don’t really want to be very busy. The work I do have now is enough to keep me happy (for some reason I am still unhappy if there is no work). After all, I am officially retired, and as I have two retirement pensions from two countries, I don’t really need to work at all.

If you type into Google or another search engine certain key words such as “Japanese patent translation”, or “German patent translation”, my website should come up at the top or towards the bottom of the first search page depending on where you are and your previous search history.

For many years it used come just about always on the first, second, or third position of the first page, even if you typed just “patent translation” into for example Google, but that, I think, is no longer the case. So in order to reinforce my visibility on the internet, some ten years ago I started writing my patent translation blog, and because I do write about translation of patents in some of my posts, the blog sometime comes up before my website in some web searchers.

So I do have the visibility that I need without doing anything right now.

I do want to say that I don’t understand why so many translators who for years remain completely invisible to direct clients don’t do anything about it, except for bitching on social media about how horrible translation agencies are these days.

Something like that may make them feel a little better about their miserable rates and miserable life, but how is that going to increase their visibility among potential customers, if that is what they need and want?

If they continue to stay invisible, I think it is for the most part their own fault.


  1. Erik Satie and Tulsi Gabbard. Now that’s an interesting combination! Love your video selections – and your posts too.


  2. Thank you. You clearly have a good taste.


  3. I really enjoyed your post. Especially the faxing and addressing envelopes part was interesting. 🙂 I became a translator a few years after the “internet age”.

    An answer to your question: there are fields (like medical) where some agencies may not allow translators to be so visible… especially translators that could provide better quality than those agencies.


  4. Thank you very much for your comment.

    I think that all or at least most agencies are actually trying to make the translators who work for them as invisible as possible. It is logical: if they were easy to identify, many agency customers might realize that what they need is a translator rather than an agency.

    I am not saying that agencies are completely useless …. but in many cases they are unnecessary.


  5. Yes, I’d say my main reason for starting a blog was to increase and maintain visibility online, and maybe also to showcase some writing skills in the process so potential clients have an idea what they’re getting. I do love to read other translation blogs like this one to find out what life is like for other translators and what they’re thinking. And you have certainly never been too shy to say what you’re really thinking 🙂 Glad you’re keeping it up in (semi-)retirement.


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