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All the tweets from last weekend’s translation conference in Budapest and a recent quick poll on ProZ which suggested that just under 75% of respondents spend no more than 200 euros annually on CPD (!) have prompted me back onto my soap box on this topic very close to my heart. Apologies now if I seem rather evangelical about the subject of networking and professional development, but I truly believe that we can all develop, no matter how many years we’ve been translating (30 in my case!). Networking is a very important way of doing that, be it informally at social get-togethers or training events or at the large industry conferences.

I must admit that when I first went freelance 25 years ago, I had small children so time and funds were limited. As soon as the children were of an age when I could entrust them to my then husband, I joined the Scottish Network via a local colleague and really enjoyed my trips over to Edinburgh for our various social events – the joy of real adult conversation with like-minded individuals, untrammelled by demanding toddlers! When I moved to the South-East over ten years ago, I joined the Sussex network and ProZ (virtual networking!), then eventually got round to joining ITI and my language networks as I was able to work full-time. Over the years I’ve attended a number of conferences, both ProZ and ITI, as well as a range of training events and social gatherings organised by my local and language networks. I’m certainly no extrovert, but I find such events really boost my confidence and self-esteem as a professional translator.

As I’ve written before, translating can be a very solitary profession, and for all that many of us relish working on our own, in reality it does us good to get out and meet fellow professionals from time to time. I firmly believe that by attending events, large or small, we can keep in touch with what’s happening in the industry and ultimately improve the way we work.

Over 35% of the people who answered the ProZ poll spent nothing on CPD – I find that quite shocking! Are these people so arrogant that they believe they are perfect and no improvement is possible?! For me, conferences and training sessions are an opportunity not only to learn about different aspects of the profession – from CAT tools, to legal matters, to how to use social media effectively to promote your business – but also a huge opportunity for networking. And by networking with colleagues, we can keep our finger on the pulse of the profession, the latest trends in software/tools and even (dare I say it?) the latest rates. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the people who don’t attend conferences or CPD events are often the ones complaining longest and loudest about the poor rates in translation….

Again, at a recent workshop I attended, one delegate was bemoaning the high cost of conferences and maintaining that they were beyond the budget of the “average” freelance translator. I could barely believe my ears: at £300 or thereabouts, plus admittedly the cost of travel and accommodation, translation conferences are often well below the price of comparable conferences for other professionals. Quite apart from that, they are tax-deductible and entirely worthwhile in the light of an invaluable investment in your business and a marketing tool in their own right. To say nothing of the opportunity for visiting fascinating places and socialising, topping up your source language(s) as well as learning alongside our peers (I knew I should have gone to Budapest….).

I don’t think I’ve ever attended a conference or training event or even a social gathering of translators and come away empty-handed. You meet colleagues with whom you can exchange notes and strike up a rapport – useful for future crises when you just need someone to brainstorm with, or even rant at! You can learn from experienced translators or impart your wisdom in turn if you’ve been in the business some time – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve extolled the virtues of Dragon or Wordfast and subsequently helped colleagues to get started with new programs. It all oils the wheels of our professional world and in my view makes it a nicer environment in which to work. As for gaining new clients, I know for a fact that I’ve been offered quite a few jobs as a result of meeting outsourcing translators/clients at conferences and have also placed some jobs myself by chatting to colleagues – meeting someone in person doesn’t necessarily guarantee someone will be an excellent translator, but it certainly gives you something to go on!

Having established these networking opportunities, both in person and also, these days, via social media like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, you can keep up-to-date with professional developments and make sure that you are not falling behind. I find it staggering that some translators haven’t changed their rates in years – often the same translators labouring away in their garrets, unaware that the world is passing them by. And yet, in so doing, they are doing our profession a huge disservice – if we all work away in isolation, charging rock-bottom rates and letting ourselves be walked all over, we can never hope to boost the profile of translators – or earn a decent professional income. By getting together – at conferences, or events like the ITI walking weekend or Christmas parties – we can compare notes and work together to achieve greater things.

Inevitably, I’m probably preaching to the converted – people who attend conferences and partake in CPD are often the ones who are doing well, and go on to do even better. But I hope we can spread the word in our own little groups and amongst our more reticent colleagues that networking/conferences are good for us – and definitely the way to go if we want to get on!