Guest post: Networking

Welcome back to our guest post series! This is the first one after my holidays, but they already seem so far, far away… I could use some break again, but, hey, the good news is I have a long weekend ahead of me! And this time I’m not working. Yay!

While I enjoy my three days off, I hope you enjoy our next guest post, by Alison Hughes.

Welcome, Alison!

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Softly, softly…

Networking: love it or hate it, it is part and parcel of any freelance business.

Does it fill you with dread or do you look forward to getting out and meeting real people in the business world? Have you family responsibilities and/or a limited budget that stop you getting to that all-important client event? Or do you just beaver away on your own and hope you’ll never have to do it?

Changing times

I began freelancing in 1997. At the time it was common practice to work for agencies who all paid roughly the same rate. Life for me was straightforward and I could earn a decent living. But in recent years, with the advent of machine translation and other price pressures, I found I was constantly battling to keep my rate and I knew I had to do something.

Although I had always been an active member of ITI and its local networks, I decided to specialise and up my marketing and networking endeavours. But where to begin? It was obvious I was going to have to go further afield to meet potential clients.

I decided to invest in one main conference a year plus a visit to my source language country, France, but beyond that I had a very limited marketing and CPD budget.

So I started looking for local events in my specialist areas and was astounded at how many there were. And most were either free or inexpensive.

But what is the value of a local event if you don’t live in your source language country? The chances of finding potential clients at these events can be fairly slim. So is there really any point?

If you specialise, I believe there is.

Why?

1) These events are wonderful learning opportunities. Listening to experts talking enriches not only your knowledge but also your vocabulary. The more you attend, and the more you learn, the more you gain the confidence to use the correct terms in your own translations. And clients are going to love a translator who speaks their language.

2) I won’t use the stereotype of the introvert translator but – let’s face it – we do spend a lot of our time alone in front of our computers so even the best communicators don’t get much face-to-face interaction. And often the pressure to make a good impression leads to panic and, ultimately, disappointment, when we attend a networking event.

However, if you know you are unlikely to come face-to-face with the ideal potential client, the pressure is off. You can be yourself, talk about your business naturally and listen to what other people say about theirs, without the worry of saying something that will ruin your chances.

3) While you are there you can use the opportunity to promote the translation industry as a whole. At smaller events you will be asked to introduce yourself and I always say:

‘I am a French to English translator working mainly for the creative industries. So this event is an excellent opportunity for me to learn about your industry and to reassure you that excellent, specialist translators are here to stay. Contrary to what you might think, we won’t be replaced by machines any day soon.’

4) And if you do this often enough, when you do splash out on an important industry event, networking will have become second nature. You will have some first-hand knowledge of the industry, you will speak their language, and you will have the confidence to approach important potential clients.

An example:

The Glasgow University College of Arts organises an annual industry day. This year I went to a breakaway session by the dress and textile department. As fashion is one of my specialist areas, this was of particular interest to me and I learnt a lot about Paisley pattern shawls and Singer sewing machines, both local to me in Glasgow. Also, one of the speakers happened to mention she had a background in fabric design and I happened to have a question I could ask her. We have now made contact so I have someone to approach with future queries.

Next month I have invested in the Costume Society Conference in London. I now feel confident I will be able to converse knowledgeably about at least one area of dress and textile design that will perhaps even be new to other attendees. It doesn’t make me an industry expert but does show that I’m taking a close interest.

So now with my well rehearsed introduction, my little bit of knowledge, and my practice networking at much smaller events, if I do come face-to-face with the ideal client, I would hope to be able to handle the situation professionally and see a return on my investment.

Soft networking

Yes, there’s even a term for it. Indeed, any sort of business ‘socialising’ without a strategy or strict targets probably qualifies as soft networking. Engagement on social media is another example.

Have you tried the ‘softly, softly’ approach?

Thank you so much for accepting my invitation to write a guest post for our blog, Alison! It was a real pleasure hosting you.

Alison has also kindly written a poem about the topic. Here it is:

Networking

Of course I’ll go, it’s something new
And definitely time my business grew

The event is free so that’s a plus
Networking? Don’t understand the fuss

I’m no shrinking violet, or so I’m told
So what’s the problem for one so bold?

New cards, nice suit and business head
I’m ready for action… what’s that you said?

No, it’s my first, of many I hope
It won’t be easy but I’m sure I’ll cope

Damn and blast it where’s the map?
Not yet a panic, just a bit of a flap

OK I’m not early, but not that late
Just remember it’s not a date

No-one is waiting just for you
But, oh my God, what do I do?

With a beating heart of increasing pace
I scan the room for a familiar face

I’m on my own, there’s no other way
I’ll just have to think of something to say

I approach a group deep in conversation
But stop in my tracks as the topic’s inflation

Deciding I need some time to think
I head for the table to have a drink

I grab a water and down it in one
Desperately fighting the urge to run

Group number two looks a better bet
Just need to do it, no time to vet

‘Do you mind if I join you?’ I say to be nice
It does the trick and breaks the ice

‘My name is Jan’ one says with a smile
Is this your first event in a while?

‘Yes’ I say, ‘well to tell the truth.
First event ever, shaky hand’s the proof.’

‘Only my second so I feel your pain.
But little to lose and lots to gain’

Her words of encouragement are all I need
I join the group and am soon up to speed

Explaining the work of a freelance translator
I discover a client who may need me later

Cards are exchanged and it’s time to move on
Somehow I no longer feel so forlorn

It certainly wasn’t as easy as expected
But a couple more and I could have this perfected.

So, did you like it? Nice, huh? 🙂

About the author

After 17 years in the wines and spirits industry, Alison Hughes embarked on a freelance career and is now a French to English translator and copywriter for the creative industries. Her specialisms are food and drink, fashion and cosmetics, tourism and the arts. She has been coordinator for the ITI Media, Arts & Tourism network since 2010.

This guest blog post expands on one of the points of the talk Alison gave at the 2015 ITI Conference in April: It’s not what you spend but the way that you spend it.

You can contact Alison on her website, Facebook, Twitter (@AHcreattrans) or LinkedIn.