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Following on from a ProZ quick poll last week which asked whether readers were members of a professional translation association (over 60% were not!), and which went surprisingly undefended by the powers-that-be in the main translation associations, I thought it might be worth looking at things from a different perspective. I personally think it is well worth joining a professional translation association – the ITI in my particular case (see my views here – but I also think that ProZ membership is worth its weight in gold…. I should add that I have absolutely no affiliation with ProZ, so am merely speaking from my own experience!

I know a lot of my colleagues in the ITI take a very “sniffy” attitude towards ProZ – claiming they’re just out to make money and offer a “lowest price” marketplace for translations. There’s no doubt that ProZ is a commercial organisation, but I for one have benefitted from my membership over the years.

I first came across ProZ in 2004/5 when I noticed their term searches coming up in my Google research and a colleague in France commented that they could be quite useful. I joined as a non-paying member soon after and started to build up KudoZ points answering term queries and BrowniZ by commenting on peer answers and generally contributing to the site. I also found it a useful source of general information about the industry via the forums, which cover general topics such as inquiries from translators just starting out to specific fields such as speech recognition or individual CAT tools. Very soon after registering on the site, still as an unpaid member, I started to receive inquiries from clients – usually agencies, paying good rates, although I have been contacted by direct clients too – and I noticed my client portfolio gradually starting to expand. Looking at my client list today, I can safely say that 50% of my clients probably contacted me via ProZ in the first instance. I’m still working with many of these today as loyal clients providing interesting jobs on a regular and well-paid basis. I personally have never gone through the bidding procedures for the jobs advertised on the ProZ job pages, and I think these are where the site gets its reputation for low rates and bidding wars – but it certainly isn’t the only way of contacting potential clients!

Admittedly, I have a fairly unusual specialism in the nuclear sector, but provided you have a well-defined niche and a carefully-constructed profile, there’s no reason why clients shouldn’t come knocking at your door too. The key is the detail in the profile – take care to fill in all the fields, ask for WWWs (Willingness to Work Again) from clients/colleagues, describe your particular USPs and, crucially, add key words as these are what will help clients narrow down the search to your profile. I have my key words translated into both of my source languages as well as my target language – clients may not speak English after all! A good KudoZ record (answering term queries) will boost your position in the rankings, as will contributions throughout the site, i.e. on forums. This is about as far as an unpaid membership takes you.

If you really want to bulldoze your way up the search ratings, a paid membership will do just that. Paid members automatically take precedence over unpaid members, so if someone is searching for a French > English translator in the field of nuclear energy, someone who has paid for membership will be listed above someone who has not. More importantly, as Anne Diamantidis pointed out at a social media presentation at last year’s ITI conference, ProZ gets very high Google rankings: sure enough, when I searched for “French English nuclear translator” on Google, my ProZ profile came up on the first search page – which is pretty good going, and certainly better than my own website or my ITI listing! That in itself is probably well worth the £85 renewal fee….

Apart from its marketing potential, paid membership also gives free access to the Blue Board, which is a useful way of checking whether the agency contacting you is a viable proposition or not. As a rule of thumb, I wouldn’t touch an agency with less than a perfect rating (5), but you can always contact the reviewers and seek further clarification if you’re tempted to take a risk.

Then there’s the ProZ conferences and informal PowWows, which I’ve always found a very good way of networking and meeting other translators. I’ve attended four conferences over the years and always come away with useful knowledge about the industry, be it about specialist tools or different aspects of translation, made some excellent contacts (some leading to work!) and generally come away feeling good about the profession. Whilst the last two ITI conferences have certainly matched that “feelgood” impression of the industry, previous events used to feel “stuffy” in comparison. Similarly, the ITI networks can feel quite daunting for newcomers, whereas in the ProZ forums, there tends to be a much more welcoming, friendly approach – no-one need feel they’ll be shot down in flames for asking what seems to them to be a non-obvious question…. We all have to learn, after all.

More to the point, asking questions in the technical forums is often a sure-fire way of getting a prompt answer straight from the horse’s mouth: representatives of SDL Trados, Wordfast, Dragon, etc. do monitor the forums and will often answer specific queries where a posting on the respective Yahoo pages or even a direct e-mail haven’t been successful. I had this recently, when I had a problem with relicensing Trados after a hard drive crash and needing my licence reset manually. I had managed to contact SDL by e-mail (not an easy feat in itself!), and been told that a colleague would contact me, but in the meantime, helping another colleague with a question about contacting SDL by e-mail, a representative from SDL told me about a self-service option to “force the return” of my licence – problem solved! Equally well, colleagues may have experienced the same issues as you and reply with a quick answer.

Admittedly, there are a lot of “easy” questions asked on KudoZ and you do sometimes get the impression that some so-called translators are abusing the system by posting virtually every term in a tricky sentence! But in that case you ignore or block the people in question; you can choose which (if any) subjects / languages you see term queries in, just as you can elect which forum topics you’d like to receive notifications for. There are some extremely competent translators on the ProZ books, especially in the technical sector, who I’m always grateful to see come up when I’ve posted a technical term which is out of my comfort zone!

All in all, I find ProZ a useful resource, and one which is well worth my annuaI £85 subscription (at recent exchange rates). I don’t get involved with the bottom-feeding aspects of the bidding wars and I make sure that any clients who do contact me are clear about my rates and terms. For every couple who don’t come back after the initial enquiry, there are sure to be others who are happy to find and pay for quality work.

Edited October 2017: Please also see my post 2 years on for a modified viewpoint: https://clairecoxtranslations.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/the-great-proz-debate-revisited/
I also discovered today that non-paying members can no longer access the Blue Board by using Browniz, which makes the site even less useful if the quality of enquiries no longer makes it worthwhile…