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All for one and one for all?

by Guest Blogger | August 30th, 2018


Stephen Rifkind





I recently attended a translation event hosted by Hever in Tel Aviv. I am not sure how many people were there but clearly over 100. The first thing that immediately struck me was the fact that that I had never seen the vast majority of them although I have been translating some 15 years. I also noticed that many, but not all, of them were young, in their twenties and thirties. Most strikingly, the vast majority of the translators I spoke with, at least ten and of various ages, also expressed frustration in their lack of knowledge of how to run their business. They did not know to find customers, set prices or work with overseas customers. I left the conference with the strong feeling that many translators out there needed help.

I also saw an opportunity for the ITA. By chance, I carried my documents in a small bag labeled with the ITA symbol. Several translators stopped me to ask about the ITA. I was specifically asked about the benefits of belonging. Their question was very simple and appropriate: Would ITA membership help them get work? The key for the future success is answering that question in a manner that creates realistic expectations and long-term membership.

My answer to them was that ITA was a group of colleagues, not an employment bureau. On the one hand, the ITA site, while occasionally leading to contacts, cannot and will not fill up a translator’s schedule. For that matter, neither does the site of the ATA, a much bigger organization, or any European translator organization for that matter. Client recruitment is not the primary or even secondary aim of translator organizations. However, that does not mean that I do not profit, literally, from my membership in the ITA. Through conferences and other meetings, I have gotten to know by name and face many of my colleagues as well as their specializations and vice versa. I have sent quite a few referrals to them when I have been too busy or the document was not in my area of knowledge. I have also received a large number of referrals and thus work, either through the translator or with the customer directly. I can honestly say that I have received my membership fees back, with interest.

Even in independent job searches, ITA membership is useful. New customers have no real basis to determine in advance if a translator is competent or not. By paying for membership in a professional organization, the translator demonstrates dedication to the profession. Faced with the choice between a non-descript translator and a “professional” one, the latter makes a greater impression and makes getting the first job with the customer more likely. This is the reason I belong to three different organizations. I financially benefit from showing my “seriousness”, i.e., my willing to invest in my profession.

However, the benefits do not end there. I have learned countless tips from my colleagues and expanded my knowledge well beyond anything I could have learned alone. The ITA has and still has the potential to create a community, which strengthens the individual translator in all respects.

This is the message that must be communicated, especially to new translators. The best way to build a business and increase expertise is to join the ITA. Membership is fruitful just not in the way many translators expect. By gathering together as collaborators, we all gain in terms of mutual help and external legitimacy.

Clearly, this post, placed on the ITA site, is preaching to the converted. Each meeting, scheduled or chance, is an opportunity to market yourself and the organization. While ITA urgently needs to attract new members, the opposite is just as true: translators gain from membership. The ITA and its members individually need to communicate this message at every opportunity. It is to our mutual benefit.