October 2, 2015 nativesinbusiness

NETWORKING – THE BREAD AND BUTTER OF OUR TRADE

If there is one primordial need that people crave right after breathing, sleeping and feeding, that need must certainly be connecting with a fellow human being. I would go as far as saying it’s even more important than reproduction – all things considered, you need to connect to someone in order to reproduce, at least the old fashioned way. Not only do we connect with each other for personal interest or gain but also for a fundamental characteristic that, along with intelligence, has made us the dominating race on the planet: cooperation. Imagine a writer, a musician or a sports team – they all rely on cooperation in order to succeed, in order to achieve a goal. The sports team’s members cooperate with one another so the team wins, a musician looks for other musicians in order to compose music, and the writer signs a deal with his publisher so his novels are read by as many people as possible.

Nowadays, and thanks to the proliferation of social media, some might think that connecting with others in living color is a thing of the past, much like vinyl was thought to be replaced by CD’s. After all, the technological advancements we have experienced in the last 25 years allow us today to press a button and start talking “face to face” with anyone on the planet. Come to think of it, even with someone that’s outside the planet. However, catastrophe soothsayers have been around for thousands of years, and they all were wrong. Yes, you may very well speak and see someone hundreds of thousands of miles apart, but why is it then that people still insist on live meetings and reunions? The answer is simple: because there’s still no technology that can replace human live contact.

Let’s imagine a comic book aficionado, an opera enthusiast and even a computer coder. They couldn’t be more apart from each other, and yet they all have a common interest: meeting with other people that share the same interest. Not only that, but how would the comic book aficionado sign his extremely rare copy of “The great Nerdenko” #1 without going to a comic book convention? And how would the opera enthusiast feel the real emotion of “Carmen” if not by attending a live performance? Not to mention the computer coder, who even though is so dependent on the Internet, has the need to meet other coders live in order to talk about something that feels like general anesthesia to any given normal person. “But I’m a translator/proofreader/designer, how is connecting live with others helpful at all?” Oh, but it is.

Networking 101 – Multiply your contacts, knowledge and income

Knowledge

Enter networking, a ubiquitous (and yet sometimes ignored) tendency that is in fact more valuable to a freelancer than it seems at first. Much like the examples given above, meeting with fellow colleagues is not only interesting from the personal progress perspective but also from the monetary one. Personally, all I can say so far is that the Standing Out meeting in Paris gave me a whole new perspective about translating and proofreading, thanks to the countless colleagues I was able to interact with. Not only that, but I also took the opportunity to acquire two books that have provided me plenty of insight for the last year, both in terms of market behavior and techniques to boost my income.

4 years ago I wouldn’t even dream of attending a meeting in Lisbon (let alone any other European capital) exactly because I thought that meeting with colleagues to talk about translation/interpreting/proofreading would be on my wish list only second to skydiving without a parachute. After all, what would I be talking about? CAT tools and schedule applications? Besides, and because I was just getting started, I wouldn’t know where to start, not to mention that I had the need to carefully manage my revenue in order to pay for the bills, food, an occasional night out and everything in between, which meant that spending some 1000+ euros on air travel, accommodation, food and in-town transportation would be prohibitive. No, that whole meet and greet thing was not for me. Except that I was very wrong and hadn’t yet started to understand the implications of seeing and be seen.

And so it came to be that I realized that social media was good at connecting all sorts of people, professional translators included – first came Facebook, then Twitter, soon followed by LinkedIn. In a short amount of time I saw people talking about how to raise fees, how to better choose clients and especially talking about this and that professional event. At first, I would enter any Facebook group that had “Translators” in its name, be it The League of Extraordinary Translators, Things Translators Never Say, Freelance Translators and on and on in order to read and learn. Not all that glitters is gold though, and that lead me to leave some of the pages I initially joined and look for other that would be healthier or more adapted to my style. This pointed me to a page called Standing Out. At some point I started connecting with other regulars and soon after I was asked to revise an urgent job, and some others followed steadily. When the owner of the page decided to do a meet and greet in Paris, I didn’t flinch.

Paris was a lesson that will lead me to two international trade events in October, the first in London and the second in Coimbra, Portugal (my hometown, poetic as it may seem). As for the money, I can now say that investing a given sum in one event is exactly that – an investment. Besides, I divide the investment over a period of 5 to 7 months, as after all I can afford to pay for air travel this month, accommodation the next, etc. But why was Paris so critical? Simply because I got to know plenty of colleagues from all over and discuss the state of the union, which in turn provided me with a list colleagues that would later on contact me whenever they were asked about someone up for a job, and because of that I actually got several large to very large translation and revision jobs since then. Would I get the same jobs if I hadn’t been there? Maybe. But I doubt it very much.

Networking is the way

I love to communicate. Ever since I started thinking and reading and writing, it was clear that I had been born to communicate, something easy to figure if you’d compare my vocabulary and general culture to other kids my age, even older ones. Talking and writing was as natural as breathing, and from that to socializing was just a small step. But how do you socialize and get to know other people with the same propensities if you do not go out and introduce yourself? Sure, you can always rely on the internet to keep up with your income and pay for the bills and fine vacations and whatnot, but will you evolve? I’m sad to say that you will not.

I know quite a lot of people that use translation as a means to an end – I work and I get paid for it. However, when it comes to drawing a strategy for the next couple of years, most will tell me something like “We’ll see when I’ll get there.” It also happens that quite a few of them will not be in the trade in the next couple of years, as “something” went wrong along the way, and so they will return to their 9 to 5 job of old or will try something new. There are those that will keep working off the internet alone since what they earn is more than enough for them – they stick to a rate, find a new client once in a blue moon and prefer not to risk their comfort zone. The first usually stops contacting, while the latter sometimes contacts offering a job and answering “You’ve raised your rates to HOW MUCH AGAIN?!” after I propose a quote. Finally, there are those that work off the internet and try to grab as much work as they can, even if sometimes they don’t have a clue of what they’re getting themselves into and then prefer to invest their earned money in fancy vacation trips abroad every year instead of investing it in education or networking. I’m alright with any of those, but none of them is me as I believe that my vision is a cut above theirs.

They don’t understand that I have raised my rates twice in a year because they stuck to the same old tactics, they’ve stagnated, while I preferred to evolve and keep going on. Yes, my last vacation was in 2000, and no, I still can’t afford to go on vacation and attend all the professional meetings that I want to at the same time. Next year I will though, but it took me almost 5 years of investment to sort things in order to allow myself a more than deserved one week holiday in the sun come 2016. The point of all this is simple: if you want to get better in all senses, sooner or later you’ll have to start showing up to see and be seen. Networking is not a question of being worth the investment or the time, but of when will you start. And yesterday would have already been a bit late.

Three reasons to get started

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Instead of going full throttle, I decided to base the article solely on my experience and the experiences of some colleagues, as I am not an authority on networking but understand that it is necessary in order to thrive. As is, you might digress on some conclusions or statements, but I can only say that it has worked and is working for me, so maybe adapting each to your views and needs may prove to be the best move. I would actually be very pleased to know that you have different opinions and would like to share them after reading the article, so don’t be shy!

SEEING AND BEING SEEN MATTERS

I cannot stress this enough: even though most of the times our work is done remotely, there’s nothing like meeting the person who is paying you, be it to discuss more intricate project issues, to let the person know who you are and, above all, to express your availability and interest. Whenever I can, I meet my private clients so they can associate the person to the work. I’ve done it only four times so far, sadly, as most of my clients live abroad, but I am seriously considering travelling through Europe whenever I find a premium client that accepts my rates and work methodologies. Let’s imagine that you have to go to Florence for a weekend to meet with one – given the shame low airfare prices these days, do you really think that investing 200 or so euros on the trip + accommodation & dining will leave you breathless every once and a while? This led me to think that if private clients are worth the effort, why wouldn’t professional colleagues be worth it as well?

After my moderately large first meeting, all I can say is that being there is essential. As above, a colleague gathered all the particulars of each attendee and made an excel file for each one of us so we could refer each other whenever needed. In the following months after the event, I had referred colleagues to other colleagues and even to premium agencies looking for particular specialisms. I also obtained little more than 10 projects in less than a year, and a single one of them paid about what I spent in between and in Paris. Letting others know who you are pays off. I do not believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I guess that you can complement an 800 word text piece with your picture and obtain an even better result.

KNOWLEDGE

The best way to learn tricks of the trade from other colleagues is in real life. Yes, there are far cheaper ways to try to learn them, like connecting to Facebook, but in real life your colleagues will consider you a member of the herd, so to say. This type of social intimacy is absent in social media, especially because we (wisely) like to build walls and fences about our personal and even professional lives. The same is not true when you meet with other like-minded fellows in an event, as it’s easier to make bonds. After all, you’re there, so you must be part of the same hive, right?

I have learned quite a lot on my last event, from ways to assure your clients that you’re worth every penny they invest in you to raising rates and having your clients thank you for accepting them as such. Yes, you’re not the only one who has to be thankful. If you think about it, and assuming that you are a professional, your clients should very well thank you for the fact that you have accepted to invest your time taking care of their jobs and not the other way around. Then, brainstorming with other colleagues is always better than alone (the “2 heads is better than 1” principle): you could get excellent ideas to renew your website, stationary and even how to raise your rates.

ONGOING PERSONAL GROWTH

If you’re planning to keep on translating, you’re aware that keeping in touch with the times is the only way to go. Much like you started to use CAT tools or Dragon when you realized that they would save you tremendous amounts of time, and what is that if not growth? Networking can certainly help you grow in a continuous but sustained way. By sharing your experiences and discussing topics with other colleagues, you will inevitably learn how to become better. What are your expectations regarding new clients? How can you get more? Is there a way to save on taxes? And what are the latest news about the trade? Are you sure that your tactics are in fact the best? And if they are, don’t you think other colleagues might praise you for the tip? Needless to say, everyone will cash in on one another’s experience, hence enhancing each one’s personal growth.

Three common problems that people face about networking

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A friend and esteemed colleague of mine complains regularly about almost everything, as nothing is helpful– if it isn’t the website that is not bringing any clients, then it’s because networking and mingling with colleagues is uncomfortable; if it’s not networking, then the problem is that being positive solves nothing; if it’s not being positive, then it’s being negative that solves nothing. See what I’m trying to say here? It’s easy to blame this or that, make up excuses and keep blaming everything else when things go wrong. But what are we willing to do for it to become right? Because it starts with us, see?

I’m not trying to establish a religion or a self-help act like some less positive colleagues suggest, mind, but if you don’t step forward, how do you plan to get new clients, more work and knowledge? In this particular trade, and unlike most, your prime is at around 50 or so years old. Mine will only come at least 10 to 15 years from now, but until then I will try to learn and mingle with others as much as I can in order to get there in fine shape. That is why I decided to pursue a college degree and a subsequent Master’s Degree at 38 years old. Late for this or for that is but a concept that YOU define for yourself.

PLANNING

As such, the first step is to find a group or even an association (e.g., Proz) and plan ahead. I started planning my London and Coimbra trips 7 and 4 months in advance, respectively. Because I had plenty of time before the meetings, I started to pay things up in fractions. I paid the air fare and accommodation in the first two months, for instance. By doing so, not only do you have plenty of time to plan ahead as you will discover cheaper alternatives. The part that usually hurts me the most is transfers. At first, I was tempted to go for the airline’s transfers at about 40 euros (roundabout), but then I discovered that some other airline would do the exact same service for… 9 euros. Easy decision, yes?

THE INVESTMENT

By now you’ve certainly noticed that I keep referring to money as an investment and not expenditures. That’s what it is, as I plan to obtain my investment back along with a surplus. Anywhere you go, any investor will tell you the same – you invest 1 to get 11 back. By meeting with other colleagues your work load will increase, it’s mathematical. Additional work inevitably leads to even more work, and so we can say that it is a mid to long term investment, but that always pays off in the end. I believe that the investment is in fact quite hefty in the beginning, but curiously enough, when I arrived from Paris last year and checked my balance I was appalled to verify how little I had spent there without ever thinking of saving money. Briefly speaking, a single large job or several smaller ones awarded to you by someone at an event can pay in one month what you invested over the previous seven, and then some. And what better time to raise your rates than at an event like this?

SOCIALIZING

No matter if you’re good with people or not, stop to think for a second that you’re in the communication business, meaning that you have the obligation to know how to communicate. Personally, people are my beach – I love to talk to and get to know new people, am quite the extrovert and have a robust knowledge about a bit of this and a bit of that. However, it’s OK if you’re the opposite: you don’t need to know how to address the Royalty, nor talk about Euclidian architecture in the Middle Ages or be smiling like you’ve won the lottery the entire time. A joke or two has its place, as does seriousness and professionalism. Just be yourself, and above all else remember that you’re certainly not the only one feeling unconfident. If all goes wrong, just have a few more glasses of that great Pinot they’re serving and soon enough you’ll be the star of the meeting (let’s hope for the better reasons).

To conclude, I decided to write a bit about my personal experiences of late because some colleagues asked what my thoughts on the matter were. Will it always be like this? I’m sure it won’t, we always find thorns along the way, but even their sting is helpful to remind us that they exist and that you can learn to avoid them in future events. On the other hand, I’m absolutely sure that opting to not network with other colleagues is a heavy toll that you’ll have to pay sooner or later. For those of the Standing Out fame, please check the Facebook page for a novelty that is related with this article. Even though the article may not be new to most, feel free to comment and discuss, I’m certain that I’ve missed something or that I’ll learn something from you too. Thank you for reading and aim for the stars.

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