Earlier in this blog series we’ve touched upon marketing yourself as a freelance linguist and maintaining a good relationship with agencies. In both of those blogs we mentioned networking as something to do to increase your profile. Here, we go into a bit more depth about active networking and provide some tips.
One way to get into networking is to join in online discussions. These can be found on various websites, forums and on social media outlets such as LinkedIn and provide a good way of getting to know fellow linguists and increasing your awareness of industry trends. Members of online groups and discussions often transcend the virtual confines of the internet and arrange meet ups in person, providing more opportunities to expand social and professional horizons.
Then there are local networking groups. These come in various forms and sizes which is great because getting up at 5am for a breakfast networking session is not everyone’s cup of tea! We at Atlas prefer the evening or mid-morning networking meetings. Local networking groups are easily found through a quick internet search. You can also check with your local Chamber of Commerce to see if they run anything. A personal favourite of ours is ‘Speed Networking’. This can be done in various different ways but, when done one on one (each participant has 1 minute to speak about themselves before moving on) it usually gives you a good opportunity to relate what you do to someone else’s businesses. As well as varying in form, networking groups vary in price so beware what sort of commitment you’re getting into! Everyone is different and what works for one person won’t work for another. Our advice here would be to go with whatever feels most natural for you. There is no right way, and (despite what some groups will tell you) one method is not necessarily more conducive to success than another. You’ll more likely find that you’re more successful where you feel more comfortable. So if pitching your services to a room full of people is your thing, great! But if you prefer to chat to people one on one over a cup of tea in a more natural environment, that’s fine too!
Conferences and seminars run by bodies such as ITI present other good opportunities to network with colleagues and potential clients. Universities and colleges (especially those with language courses) often put on events, so keep an eye out for these in your local area. At Atlas, we hold two Open Days a year for suppliers to attend, meet our members of staff and get to know us a bit better. Suppliers who attend usually receive an increased number of assignments from us!
Business Exhibitions provide a chance to chat face to face with potential clients. Atlas have exhibited at a number of events on both a local level, and also at larger shows (usually in London at venues like the Excel Arena and the Olympia). Often we meet translators who have taken an afternoon out of their busy schedules to come down for a bit of networking and many have ended up working for us.
So we’ve identified a number of ways you can get involved with networking, both online and in person. But what are some things to consider before going to your first networking meeting? You’ll need some professional business cards. You can get this done inexpensively by printers or websites. But do include your professional entity (if you have one) and all of your contact details. You may want to consider including your social media handles if you want to connect with clients and colleagues via this medium.
The exchange of business cards is still a standard of networking and you’ll probably come home from a networking event laden with business cards from people you cannot remember, despite having been in conversation with them just minutes earlier! This is ok – the intensive nature of some networking has this effect. Take a pen and write notes on the business cards people give you – this is not a sign of disrespect! Quite the opposite. In fact, it shows you are listening and care about what someone is saying to you. When you get back home or to your office, perhaps go through the cards and create a spread sheet or document listing the details of people you’d like to remain in contact with.
Try to add people on LinkedIn or social media (if you use these) then dispose of the cards – you’ll only lose them anyway, so don’t leave them cluttering up your desk! It is said that if you do not contact someone within 10 days of meeting them at a networking event, they will have forgotten the meeting and the opportunity will have been lost, so bear this in mind when meeting someone you think you could do business with.
Be sure to present yourself professionally. Even when the nature of the networking event is fairly relaxed, making a bit of effort will at least make sure you don’t stand out for the wrong reasons!
Finally the million dollar question – how to network your services effectively and increase your sales? Well I’m afraid there is no straight answer for this. But the more you do it, the better and more natural you’ll become. No matter how confident you are, speaking to complete strangers about what you do can seem unnatural and uncomfortable. But the more you put yourself outside of your comfort zone the better you’ll get, and you’ll soon be able to speak confidently and fluently about what you do, and how it can help the people listening. The selling part comes almost automatically. Language services can be difficult to market, but try to relate what you do to what the person you’re speaking to does. This can be done with any profession. Try not to go for the hard sell though – just be friendly and listen to what other people are saying. You can then relate your services to their business and demonstrate how you can add value to what they do.
Above all, try to enjoy it and have fun! So much of the daily schedule of a freelance linguist (especially translators) involves sitting in front of a computer screen in isolation. This is a chance to leave the office and meet some new people and perhaps make important contacts for your freelance business. We’ve met a vast array of different people in our time networking, from magicians to skydivers to former British Lions rugby players – you never know what opportunities may present themselves at a networking event.