Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The pleasures of networking

Winter was still here for most of January, and more snow arrived in Rutland! In Bavaria, where I grew up, even the smallest roads were salted and gritted, and snow ploughs did the rounds regularly to ensure life could continue as normal. This being rural England, however, no such service seems available and our village transformed into a large ice rink. I feel very grateful to have a job I can do from home, instead of having to brave the icy conditions to commute into the office!

The pleasures of networking

Despite the poor weather, I have managed to get to three networking events so far this year. The first was a local business breakfast meeting held by the Rutland andStamford Business Network, the second was a get-together (or “fuddle”, to use the local term) of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting’s East Midlands regional network in Derby, and the third was a community networking event held in London by the ever-inspirational business coach Corrina Gordon-Barnes. This means networking has obviously been on my mind, and at one of these events a question arose that made me think about the reasons for and benefits of networking in more depth. In Derby, ITI Board member Anne de Freyman  mentioned that in the past she had attended meetings at her local Chamber of Commerce. One fellow translator, obviously somewhat bewildered by this, asked why you would go to a Chamber of Commerce meeting as a translator. Anne responded: “To make business contacts and get direct clients!” I agreed with her, but some other attendees seemed to find the idea of this kind of networking daunting. But does it have to be? And what are the advantages of the different kinds of networking we might engage in? I had a chat about this with local marketing expert Deborah King, a.k.a. “Mrs Marketing”, and here are our thoughts!

Networking with other translators
I love meeting up with other translators. They are such an interesting bunch of people – most of them have lived in different countries and cultures and have a wealth of interesting stories to share. If you work on your own and most of your work contact is via the internet (which is certainly true for most freelance translators I know), it can be wonderful to meet others who work in the same profession to reassure yourself that you are in fact not on your own. Furthermore, you can exchange industry news and tips and tricks for translation-specific problems. Last but not least, you may be lucky enough to pick up some referrals from colleagues, which can help you to gain business as Deborah King emphasises: “Think collaboration, not competition!”

Networking in your marketplace
If your niche or target market is fairly clearly defined, attending industry events in this field can be useful, too. Ideally, you’ll be interested in this industry and in the people who work in it, so networking means you get to spend time with interesting individuals discussing interesting subjects! This will help you to stay abreast of developments in the field, get to know some of the industry’s key players and connect with potential clients. You may be able to meet direct clients or people who are in a position to refer your services to others who need them. According to Deborah, one important thing to bear in mind is that at these events, many potential clients may not be in a buying mode, so a “hard sell” probably won’t be effective: “The best attitude to have is ‘What can I do for you?’ rather than ‘What can I get?’”

Networking outside your field
By taking part in business networking events outside of your field, you can help to promote the translation and language industries within the wider business community (aren’t we always complaining that translation has far too low a profile?). These events show you that you are not just a freelancer slogging away in her spare bedroom – you are part of a wider community of entrepreneurs, some of whom may be able to support you and your business (need a web designer? An accountant? You’re likely to find them here). Some of them might even need your services, or know of someone who does! Mrs Marketing’s advice is: “Connect with other entrepreneurs who can be a support network for you and your business – they are a bit like the ‘people you know at work’ when you have an office job!” From a personal perspective, these events help me to gain ideas and inspiration from beyond my “niche”, broadening my perspective and heightening my creativity. Best of all, explaining to other people what it is I do always reminds me how much I love my job, which means I return to my spare bedroom office full of enthusiasm.

Do you enjoy networking? If you do, what are the things you like the best? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Here’s hoping you enjoy the last days of winter,