Tips for Starting a Translators’ Association
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Tips for Starting a Translators’ Association
advice from Fire Ant & Worker Bee (more columns in Translation
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
I live in a country many people see
as a translation backwater—but things are moving!
About a hundred translators here are
in the process of creating order out of chaos by setting
up a national translators' association. We've made a lot
of progress in establishing our structure and organization,
and are working on a code of ethics and other projects.
Would you have any input on client education and the like?
Actually, any tips at all on stumbling blocks facing new
associations would be most welcome (it sounds like you've
been there before).
What terrific news!
One hundred people may be a nightmare to
organize, but think of all the energy and good will you
can tap into, gushes Worker Bee. Think of how you can advance
together, promoting greater awareness of translation and
better working conditions for one and all! Think, too, mutters
Fire Ant, about the near certainty of dysfunctional loners
and government-issue gasbags in your midst, and act now
to ensure that your fledgling group does not get side-tracked
No sooner said than done: below are our
tips on what to focus on, what to watch out for, fascinating
projects that will get everyone on board, and heads to knock
together preemptively. (Readers' comments welcome).
- Some translator associations admit agencies
and companies, while others are limited to individuals,
either freelance or salaried (company owners can nonetheless
join as individuals if they are themselves translators).
We can see pros and cons for both models, but is important
to settle this early on, as there may be bad blood between
freelancers and agencies. Your new association will need
all its energy for moving ahead on concrete projects,
not for squabbles.
- Given the surge in online marketplaces
(proz, gotranslators, etc.) where sign-up is as easy as
clicking, paying your money and posting self-descriptions
of "professional" details, you should also decide whether
your group is focusing on "promoting the profession" or
"promoting the services of individual members". If you
want to do the two (why not), decide precisely where the
line lies and plan ahead to avoid conflict-of-interest
situations (e.g., if volunteers are manning your association
phone line, they should not be siphoning off clients for
their own business).
- Meetings: Translators attending your
meetings should go away with more energy than they had
when they arrived. Full stop. This means that if ever
a negative, nasty or simply needy individual or group
of individuals starts transforming your get-togethers
into moan & groan sessions or even food-fights, you
must rethink the whole set-up. It is worth stating this
explicitly right up front: meetings must generate energy,
not sap it.
- Training (1): Win-win! Training is one
of the most constructive options around, and something
a national association can do very effectively. Demand
is absolutely enormous, perhaps because translation can
be such a solitary job: people are generally eager to
get out and interact with others. Just as importantly,
specialized knowledge helps translators produce better
quality work and charge higher rates. We repeat: win-win!
- Training (2): By all means invite expert
colleagues to contribute to your training sessions, but
it is also important to bring in speakers from outside
the language services industry: at one blow your training
becomes client education, since a scientist, patent agent
or finance director who has spoken to a group of translators
in a training session usually goes back to his or her
own industry with a new awareness of what professional
translators can do for that industry.
- A listserve/discussion group (yahoo,
gmail or other) is free and a great way to get the flow
going. Colleagues remind us that most existing associations
have gone through ups and downs when aggressive individuals
or small groups have hijacked discussion lists with flames
and rants, chasing the rank and file away. The solution
is have list members sign an agreement setting out basic
netiquette up front. You must also have a moderator.
- Money (1): In a general way, tread carefully
on "money issues" (perceptions and reality) which can
be a catalyst for all sorts of disputes and time-wasting.
- Money (2): Some members/potential members
will complain about the cost of whatever you plan to do,
whether their contribution be $1, $10, $20 or $250 (refreshments
at meetings, room rental for training, chipping in to
finance a website, etc.). Let such comments go by, with
a smile. Base your priorities on what the most dynamic,
professional people want, and don't worry if there is
not 100% agreement. Let us repeat that: the poverty cultists
must not be allowed to set the agenda; with luck, they
may climb on board later.
- Money (3): Even the most dedicated volunteers
can get discouraged if they lose too much business through
the time they invest in the association. So decide together,
at the start, what is reasonable "volunteer" work and
what should be bought in (pooling costs). If your whole
structure is "financed" by motivated people
donating "free work", there will be burn-out
at some pointperhaps even bitterness and martyrdom
(loudly proclaimed or suffered in silence). Both are to
- Networking opportunities of all types
are important, and work best if there is a specific timeline
and objective. How about a joint writing project, such
as an adaptation into your language of the excellent client-education
brochure "Translation, getting it right" ?
(We admit to a vested interest in this particular venture.)
- Re codes of ethics, FIT-Europe recently
asked its member associations to contribute theirs to
a central repository, now online at www.fit-europe.org.
There may be some ideas to recycle therewhy re-invent
- At one of your meetings, create sub-groups
and go around the table having each person describe how
he/she sees the association "in ten years' time".
This (1) helps get everyone thinking beyond immediate
issues (where you might not all agree) and (2) creates
a positive atmosphere as people realize that what they
are doing now will have an impact in ten years.
Finally (3), it helps people get to know each other better.
We wish you the best of luck as you advance
with your new association. And we'd be delighted to hear
from readers with hands-on experience in this area.
FA & WB
Fire Ant and
Worker Bee have five decades’ combined experience
in translation. They believe that in addition to producing
consistently strong work, translators benefit commercially
from adopting an entrepreneurial outlook and exchanging
tips and experiences.
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