This article was first published in Targima, the journal of the Israel Translators Association, in October 2010, and is republished here with permission.
Networking for Translators
Having just completed four years of membership in a networking group, I would like to share some networking advice with my fellow translators. First I will provide some tips that anyone can use, and then discuss networking groups.
The premise behind networking is that each person is the hub of a net of other people. Networking happens when two individuals talk about their needs and think of ways to help each other through their networks of contacts. Ultimately, networking is a mutual experience, but sometimes it works indirectly rather than as a simple exchange. Successful networking is based on an attitude of giving. Instead of meeting people and trying to sell your services to them, think of how you can help them with their own needs.
The first step in successful networking is knowing how to present yourself. Take some time to think about how you would explain to a new acquaintance what you do for a living and what sort of customers or contacts you are looking for. Describe what sort of problems you solve, or what needs you satisfy, for your customers. Focus on the specific sort of work you want to do most.
Make sure all your relatives and friends know exactly how you like to present yourself, so they can listen out for opportunities for you and identify potential customers of the sort you are looking for. Take any chance to talk about your profession, even at social events. This is not inappropriate, since you are aiming to help people who may need your services. Our professional identity is an important part of who we are.
Always carry with you the essential tools: business cards, diary, address book, and pen. Today many people’s diary and address book are on their mobile phones, but it is important to carry a pen anyway. Business cards should look professional and contain basic contact details: name, profession, phone number, email address, and website. As translators, we may want to have bilingual cards. Always give people two business cards, saying: “One for you and one for you to give to someone else who may be interested”. You should also create a consistent system for filing business cards you receive. Some people scan them or type the information into a database; others file the cards themselves in folders or boxes.
When meeting a new person, remember to listen and ask questions. Some good questions to ask a professional you have just met: How did you get into this line of work? What do you enjoy most about what you do? What sort of contacts are you interested in meeting? And, most importantly: How can I help you? Then take their business card, and make some notes (either on the card or in a notebook, diary, or on your phone), recording where and when you met the person, and if you promised to do something for them, such as introduce them to a contact or send them some information.
Then, within the next 1-2 days, follow up. This is the most important stage in networking, and many people neglect it. The follow-up can be a phone call or email. Introduce yourself again, saying where you met, and if you promised to help, this is the time to deliver. One meeting does not make someone into a contact, and the relationship has to be developed and nurtured.
Sometimes, when meeting new people, you can already arrange a further meeting with them for a later date. This is why you need to carry your diary at all times. If you know you want a meeting, the sooner you make a firm appointment, the better. Then call to confirm the meeting the day before.
Attend meetings of professional bodies (like the ITA) and more general meetings, such as Chamber of Commerce meetings, and any conferences or lectures that interest you. I have found that many business people at these events consider translating an interesting occupation. At these meetings, wear your name tag on the upper right side of your chest, since when people shake hands, their gaze tracks from the shaking hands along the right arm, up to the name tag, then to the face. Never wear a name tag at waist level, as this is not a part of the body most people want strangers staring at!
Finally, for a more serious networking education, join a dedicated networking group. For four years, I was a member of the Haifa Chapter of BNI (Business Network International). The group contains one representative of each occupation, and members try to bring in new customers for each other. The group meets each week for a breakfast meeting. Members learn how to present their business and to interact with other professionals.
I learned a lot from my time in BNI. I started out rather shy and introverted, and gradually gained confidence in public speaking. My fellow members gave me useful feedback on my presentation of my occupation. Obviously, I made many useful contacts with a large number of local professionals from all walks of life. I also filled the various leadership roles within the Chapter, and even served as the President, chairing the meetings and running the group. This experience of leadership taught me a lot about myself, and would have been difficult to obtain in my normal position as a self-employed freelancer.
Networking groups are not for everyone. Membership requires a serious commitment to attend the weekly meetings and find customers for fellow members, and a willingness to learn and change. Most members cover the cost of membership, and more, from the referrals they receive. For two of the four years of my membership, referrals accounted for a third of my income. If you feel this might suit you, attend one meeting of your local group. You can find details of the BNI groups around the country at www.bni.co.il. There are also other similar networking organizations.
Ruth Ludlam is a translator specializing in academic material in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Heb-Eng and Eng-Heb).