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It’s that time of year when, even for isolated freelancers, opportunities for actual face-to-face networking abound. We may not have office parties, but there’s nothing like meeting up with colleagues old and new and putting the world to rights over a glass of wine and a mince pie or two. With recent events in the translation profession understandably making some of us rather wary of over-engaging online, it’s almost a relief to talk in person and put real, live faces to names for once.

A colleague on one of my networks posted a link to an article in the Guardian a while ago about the perils and vulnerabilities of being self-employed and how so many new one-man bands fail because their founders are ill-prepared for the isolation of the freelance lifestyle. I do firmly believe that supportive online communities can help alleviate this isolation, as I’ve said many times before, but I also think we really do owe it to ourselves to get out and about and meet other translators, and maybe even clients, from time to time too! I’m a huge advocate of translation conferences and workshops, as you probably know, but social events also have an important part to play.

Even if it’s just meeting up with a local colleague for coffee, it’s immensely reassuring to meet and chat to someone who understands the frustrations of your particular job down to the last letter. You may be surprised how often there will be someone in your line of work not too far away. I was amazed, when trying to outsource a Chinese translation for my former employers last year, to find a translator in the relevant field listed in my (small) village – he turned out to be my doctor’s brother of all people, although admittedly he lives in China most of the time nowadays. I met another translator in the village at a local keep-fit group (we were introduced as sharing an interest) and another translator who goes to the same dance class got in touch after recognising me from my blog – we haven’t yet had that coffee, but it’s absolutely still on my to-do list if she’s reading!

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So often, when we interact online, misunderstandings can swiftly arise and before you know it, the situation has flared up into a storm in a teacup. I’m convinced people post before they stop to think: would I really say that to someone’s face? Without those vital visual clues you get when meeting face to face, it’s far too easy to misinterpret a colleague’s wry sense of humour, British understatement, continental directness or witty self-deprecation. Once you’ve met people in the flesh, it’s far easier to give them the benefit of the doubt: they’ve become real people, not cardboard cutouts masquerading behind a pompous posting style or flippant off-the-cuff remark.

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This past month has been a busy one here, starting off in late November with the ITI German Network annual Christmas lunch at Happenstance in London, with plenty of opportunities for mingling, exchanging notes and reminiscing. A few days later, I’d been invited to attend an advanced workgroup-cum-focus group at SDL Trados’ headquarters in Maidenhead (of which more next time) – not a social event as such, but a great chance to meet up with people whose names I’ve only ever seen online. Then, the last couple of Fridays have been regional group gatherings, coincidentally enough both hosted in members’ own homes: first the Sussex Translators’ group in Worthing, hosted by Lucy Brooks, and just last week the ITI Surrey Group met at Liz Sinclair’s house in Woking. Amazing food, as you can imagine, with members contributing their specialities to the spread, and often a quieter, more personal environment to exchange small talk and pass on tips.

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I’m well aware that full-blown conference attendance and workshops, often in far-flung locations, are beyond the reach of many translators just starting out in the profession, or juggling looking after small children with a fledgling part-time career. Yet I feel that local groups are often the answer, getting you back in touch with like-minded colleagues and reinforcing that sense of joy in your chosen career. Even if linguists are thin on the ground near you, there’s bound to be a local business group where you can find support and speak to real people going through similar issues when setting up and maintaining a freelance business. My own village has a business hub which occasionally puts on interesting meetings and events, and they in turn put me in touch with another organisation specifically for working parents in the nearest town. With my boys now grown up and left the nest, I haven’t felt the need to go (plus it clashes with yoga!), but I should imagine it’s a lifeline to many newly freelance parents.

All that remains is for me to which you a very happy Christmas and a prosperous and healthy New Year – and I look forward to meeting many more of you face-to-face in 2017.
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