Do you need to have a website?
"On resiste a l'invasion des armees, on ne
resiste pas a l'invasion des idees".
I have been receiving directories of organizations of translators by mail every year since I decided to hang out my shingle and join a translators' association in 1987. I remember that in the eighties and early nineties, the NCTA's (Northern California Translators Association) membership directory was a bulky brochure the size of a small telephone book. Given how expensive it was to mail these things, after a few years they started mailing to members a PDF file on a floppy and you had to pay them $10 extra for the book. These days they send their members the membership directory and other documents and links to websites on a CD the size of a business card. Banks, manufacturers of products and providers of services, schools and institutions, everybody is trying to move as much as possible to a website on the Internet because it is much cheaper to do business with clients in this manner. Also other regional associations of translators are beginning to use increasingly the same medium. I find it fascinating to be able to stick a little silver disk in the CD drive and surf websites of translators in San Francisco or Prague. Some associations only send a single page with the member information and the URL (universal resource locator) of the website where you can go to correct your membership information if needed. ATA still, faithfully, mails out "the telephone book" to its members every year, along with a printed page containing member information and the URL for correction of membership information.
Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis
A few years ago it was sort of unusual to come across a translator's website in the directories of translators in this country or abroad. But every year I see more and more websites of translators listed. Some translators register a domain name ($35 a year or less), some simply maintain a web page that is usually obtained free from their Internet service provider. Many translators' websites are very simple (here is my resume, please send me some work). Some are quite elaborate, with colorful pictures of the translator engaged in his or her favorite activity such as mountain climbing or playing a geisha in the floating world of Kabuki or Noh plays. Unless you want to learn how to create web pages yourself, which, as I am told by my children, is not terribly difficult, you have to pay somebody to create a good looking website for you. However, you can easily find a freelance web designer who will create a professionally looking website for you for a few hundred dollars.
Now that you have a domain name and your initial website design, you're in business. All you have to do now is to figure out what the content of your website will be. Fortunately, you will have the rest of your life to tinker with what you put on your website. Because I specialize in translation of patents from foreign languages (mostly from Japanese, German, French and Czech to English), the central concept of my website was fairly clear to me from the moment when I decided to create my initial website:
1. Make patents in foreign languages easily available for free to myself, to my present and potential customers and anybody else through links to patent offices of foreign countries.
2. Because I also write about issues of interest to translators for a number of publications on paper and online, I also publish some of my articles on my site, adding my 2 cents worth to discussions about subjects that in my opinion need to be discussed.
3. Last but not least, my website is a marketing tool bringing new business to me from new customers just about every month, again, mostly from patent law firms and translation agencies, as well as e-mails from other translators.
Websites of patent offices abroad, in particular of the Japanese Patent Office (JPO), European Patent Office (EPO), German Patent Office, and French Patent Office are not only an important source for downloading of patents in the original language in PDF or HTML format for free. They can also replace a number of general and specialized technical dictionaries in your library. This is in particular true about the Japanese Patent Office website because every new unexamined (Kokai) Japanese patent application is eventually provided with an English summary. This means that you can save a number of complicated addresses in your favorites, such as "http://www1.ipdl.jpo.go.jp/FP1/cgi-bin/FP1INIT?1032710143748", or go to a handy link on my website to run a search for a particular technical term and see how this term has been translated by translators who work for a national patent office and therefore presumably have some technical expertise. The free reference that can be accessed from the website of the European, Japanese, German, or French websites is thus more valuable than a collection of expensive technical dictionaries because unlike a dictionary, the websites also provide a wide range of context. Another advantage of these websites is that you don't have to pack a thick technical dictionary when you are finishing a translation while attending a conference, visiting your family in Europe or Japan, or if you are a workaholic who has to translate while his family is enjoying some much needed vacation. As long as you have your notebook with you and access to Internet in your hotel or beach cabin, you've got your precious dictionaries with you too. You can also run a search in English on these websites to display patents in a foreign language to confirm that you indeed have the right term. If a certain term is translated in a certain way in a certain context on the official website, you really don't have much choice but to use the term that is commonly used on this website in this manner because this is the term that your customers would be using when looking for other technical reference.
Your website is a handy soapbox for your opinions on any subject
Your website, if you have one, is also an irresistible soapbox that you can jump on to express your opinion on just about anything. This can be an important antidote to the dwindling amount of information, more appropriately referred to as infotainment, that is made available to the public in United States these days by the official mass media. (Question: How many months will it take before they stop talking about Kobe Bryant and start covering real news? Answer: Only until they find a new Kobe Bryant or Lacy Peterson to sell more commercials). If you have a website, you can contribute your thoughts on any subject, including translation, by publishing your thoughts online on your handy little electronic soapbox accessible from around the globe. There are many interesting websites of individual translators offering a wealth of information useful to translators. If you are a Japanese patent translator, you probably know already about Bill Lise's website (www.lise.jp). His site has, among other things, links to technical glossaries and other references, information on translation rates (a taboo subject in the land of the free and home of the brave), including in-depth articles on this subject ("J-E Translator Profiling", "Why We Earn Or Don't Earn Big Money") and a lot of his personal opinions on a lot of subjects. It is interesting reading because this translator is at least as opinionated as I am. I met him once at a conference 10 years ago and the first thing he said to me, by way of an introduction, I guess, was that non-native speakers of English such as myself should not be allowed in his opinion to translate Japanese into English at all. (Allowed by whom? The American deity that solves instantaneously all problems, called reverently The Market)? Asako Mizuno, who has a website in both Japanese and English dedicated to her many strong opinions on the subject of translation of Japanese patents and many other issues (www.monjunet.ne.jp) would no doubt beg to differ. Her site also has links to technical glossaries, search pages of the Japan Patent Office, European Patent Offices, and US Patent Office, glossaries of chemical and technical terms, a "list of 400 websites useful when looking for something" and a number of articles in Japanese and English (or Japanese-English, as Bill Lise would say). Another interesting website of an individual translator, this time in Sweden, is Cecilia Falk's website at http://www2.sbbs.se/hp/cfalk/indexeng.htm. The site (more than 142,000 visitors as of July 2003) includes among other things links to dictionaries and glossaries, a list of translators with web pages from Argentina to USA (nothing in Zimbabwe so far), mailing lists for translators, etc.
It takes time before your website starts paying off
It takes time before your new website starts paying off in terms of new business. I put the first version of my website online about 3 years ago. I remember that I did receive a few e-mails asking me for price quotes the first year from people who found my website, but no actual work. To get work from people who need your services, you need to know the key words that people who are looking for a certain type of translation are typing into a search engine. Because I always ask people who found my website which engine they used (mostly Google) and what keywords they entered, I now have a good idea what words a typical patent lawyer (or paralegal or agency coordinator) will use when looking for a patent translator. Once you establish important keywords that your potential customers are using when looking for a translator, it is a good idea to submit these keywords to major search engines. You can do it yourself or pay somebody to do it for you.
As I said, I did not really get any work from my website the first year. The second year I got some, but not a whole lot. But this year (the third year), I usually get some work from new customers who find me through my website just about every month, and it is mostly from patent law firms who happen to be my favorite kind of customer. I think that at this point, about 15% of my income is from new business that is generated by my website, which is remarkable.
Have website, can move
Another advantage of a well designed and well functioning website is that since your existing customers associate your service with an Internet address, your actual address is really important only for mailing the check, which makes it easy to move your business to another location, state, or country, should you decide to do so, without losing your customers in the process. Since my website address, e-mail, and 800 number did not change at all after I moved two years ago from California to Virginia, I am happy to say that moving to another state, 3,000 miles away from California's Wine Country, had virtually no influence on my existing customers. As they were mostly e-mailing me the patent numbers through Internet anyway, I just had to make sure that their accounting departments had my new address. This means that should I at some point decide to move again, I could probably continue working for the same customers from the new location without major disruptions.
Lord, I was born a ramblin' man
I have done a lot of moving in the last 22 years: from Prague to Nuremberg, from Nuremberg to San Francisco, from San Francisco to Tokyo, from Tokyo back to California and then from California to Virginia. But up until my last big move 2 years ago from California to Virginia, I had to find a new job to pay my bills every time I moved, which tends to complicate things a bit. I am really sick of moving at this point. But since I could do it again now without having to look for new customers, who knows what I'll do in 10 or 15 years? It is comforting to know that I always have the option of selling my house and other earthly possession and moving again, whether it is only a few miles across the border to North Carolina, or back to Tokyo or Prague again. To tell the truth, I kind of miss the feeling of being on the move to some place else again, singing the old Allman Brothers' classic: "Lord I was born a ramblin' man -Tryin' to make a livin' and doin' the best I can - So when it's time for leavin' I hope you'll understand -That I was born a ramblin' man."
After all, my website is not going to move any