Buddies Welcome Newbies at #ata55

By The Savvy Newcomer Team

belt-311820_1280The pre-conference event that was a resounding success last year, Buddies Welcome Newbies, is back this year and it promises to be an even bigger event!

Led by Helen Eby and Jamie Hartz, with the support of lots of volunteers, this program is designed as an ice breaker for those attending the Conference for the first – or even the second – time. The ATA Annual Conference is the biggest T&I event in the US, and walking around without knowing anyone can be a bit overwhelming.

In the same spirit of this blog, aimed at newcomers to the profession, Buddies Welcome Newbies is the session to attend if you are either a newcomer or an inexperienced conference attendee (or both!). Helen and Jamie have become the Fairy Godmothers of the Newbies and this session is sure to offer some great tips to help you navigate the Conference.

The plan is simple:

  • Attend the opening session of Buddies Welcome Newbies.
  • After the wonderful presentation given by Helen and Jamie, jam-packed with cool tips, Newbies are paired up with Buddies (final ratio will depend on number of participants in attendance).
  • Newbies and their Buddies make their own plans to attend a conference session together, have a meal together, etc. The number of activities and frequency is up to you.
  • Attend the wrap-up session for even more great information on what to do next and listen to presentations from guest speakers.

This year’s response has been tremendous and to this date, we have 60 registered buddies and 129 registered newbies. Haven’t registered yet? Not to worry, here is the link to the Buddies Welcome Newbies.

Although we often advertise this event as a great session for Newbies – and the benefits for them are apparent – the real stars of the program are the Buddies. We just can’t do it without their help, dedication, and willingness. A big shout-out to all our Buddies!

Registrations are still coming in, and we know they will continue even until the day of the event, but we wanted to take this opportunity to review some of the comments we have received so far, and address them the best we can.

Learn new skills Skills take time, but you will find lots of sessions that get you started thinking about how to do that! You may even find training programs represented in the booths!
Meet people Now, that’s easy! There are 1500 of them!
Tips about the ATA Certification Exam Hm… Scary. Yep. Many fail. You, of course, won’t! But really, just relax and do your best. Your business can go on whether or not you are certified!
Network Go to the Division dinners, the Résumé Exchange, the Brainstorm Networking right before the Business Practices happy hour, and see how you can connect with others!
Learn more about my field 175 sessions… Need we say more?
Negotiating and pricing techniques Sit down – coffee or tea in hand -, open your Conference program and study it! You are sure to find more than one session on the subject.
Tips from a friendly colleague, choosing sessions Your Buddy will be awesome for this! Buddies are there to help you break the ice with this scary crowd for a couple of days. Later, you might stay connected, or not! Maybe you will stay connected in a lighthearted way for a long time, no commitments.
I’m introverted Most of us are more introverted than we care to admit… Good thing you admit it! Just assume others are also looking for a friend. Your Buddy can help you at the opening banquet.
How to make the best of the conference This is our specialty! We are awesome at this! We set you up with a friend, who of course has all the answers (or not) but you will meet a friendly crowd. Just grab anyone with a red ribbon later in the conference, since they are the friendliest bunch in town!

Helen likes to go to these kinds of sessions:

Speakers she promised to support.

Topics she disagrees with.

Issues she is curious about.

Chances to just geek out (she did start out college as a med school student)

Take a session off and visit the booths when there is nobody there.

Take a session off to just go to something fun. An art museum, a walk along the lake, whatever. Take a break!

What you make out of the Conference is up to you, and your Buddy will be a friendly face who can provide general guidelines as to what to do, how to navigate the Conference, and perhaps share a tip or two about the trade; don’t expect him or her to be a Mentor, though!

So, get your notepad, tablet or whatever gadget you use for writing stuff down, and get ready to make the most out of your conference experience!

And don’t forget to leave us your comments below to tell us about your experience before or after the Conference!

Newbies and Buddies Survey: The Results Are In

checklist-154274_1280By Helen EbyJamie Hartz

Last year’s American Translators Association annual conference in San Antonio was the first to host two new sessions called “Buddies Welcome Newbies”. The Buddies and Newbies sessions were the brainchild of a few volunteers and some very eager supporters, and the events made such a successful debut last year that they will be taking place again at this year’s conference.

In this program, newcomers (both to the translation/interpreting professions and to the conference) are paired up with experienced translators, or “buddies”, at an opening session on the first day of the conference. The suggested commitment is simple: meet your partner at the opening session, have a meal with your partner (continental breakfast works), go to one session together (there are about 150 sessions to choose from), and come to the “where do we go from here?” presentation on the last day. We accommodate special requests when possible.

Newbies are able to ask questions and ease their minds early on, while buddies have the opportunity to meet someone new and contribute to the future of the profession. At the “where do we go from here?” session, we have a set of guest speakers from different divisions and chapters, talk about how to follow up on contacts, and give people the opportunity to ask any other pending questions. At this session, one of the “buddies” said, “Hey, this helps us oldsters too!”

As a matter of fact, some Newbies said that having this session helped them decide to come to San Antonio! The concept of meeting 1,500 people at once had been feeling overwhelming. In practice, we saw newbies and buddies going out for lunch together, people who wanted a buddy but couldn’t get to the opening session stopped us in the hallways, newbies wanting a buddy stopped us asking for green ribbons and a buddy, and some experienced attendees told us they really wished this had been available for them.

However, we wanted to make sure what the results really were. In March, the leaders of the Newbies and Buddies sessions at the ATA Conference conducted an online survey to poll registered attendees about the events. The goal was to hear from newbies and buddies themselves what their experiences had been and what, in their opinions, the positives and negatives were. In the interest of preparing for the upcoming 55th annual ATA conference in Chicago, and specifically the Newbies and Buddies sessions that will take place once again this year, the highlights of the survey results are compiled below.


59 of the participants responded.  33 were experienced, or “buddies”, and 25 were “newbies”. Of these responses, there were only 10 respondents who had worked in the translation and/or interpreting industry for fewer than 4 years (most, in fact, had 10+ years of experience). 78% of respondents were translators, 10% were interpreters, and 2 of them were students. We had noticed that our “newbies” were new to the Conference, but not to the field, and this confirmed it.


Newbies: 88% of newbies in the survey felt that having a buddy helped them at least somewhat. Responses from newbies to the question “How did having a buddy at the conference help you?” included comments on how their buddy introduced them to new people, made them feel welcome, answered their many questions, gave them someone to eat a meal with or call if they had questions, and gave them insights into the industry. Unfortunately, 41% of newbies reported that they did not stay in touch with their buddy at all after the Conference. 61% reported staying in touch for one week to 2 months, and 18% are still in touch with their buddy. Hopefully these numbers will improve next year!

Buddies: 84% of buddies felt that having a newbie enriched their experience at the conference. Buddies expressed that having a newbie helped them to see the conference from a different perspective, gave them a chance to meet someone new, reminded them of their own first conference or getting started in the industry, and generally gave them a good feeling about helping someone else. 40% of buddies reported still being in touch with their newbie.

In general, both newbies and buddies appreciated having someone to talk to. It helped to break the ice early on, and many felt that the benefit in this event was not just for the newbies, but that buddies could find value in having a newbie as well.

Points for improvement

The chaotic nature of the first Buddies Welcome Newbies session was one of the main criticisms of last year’s event. Having never done this sort of thing at the conference, handling the unexpected massive response was a challenge! There was no standing room in the room. People were sitting on the floor!  Next year, plans will be in place to make the opening session less stressful and a more satisfactory experience all-around—including the spatial requirements, number of ribbons available, and manner in which buddies and newbies are paired up.

This year’s Newbies and Buddies event is bound to be a success, as we know that newbies will continue to arrive looking for someone to turn to, and buddies, we trust, will be more than willing to lend a helping hand.

Both Newbies and Buddies are necessary for this event to continue to be a success! To register for this year’s Buddies Welcome Newbies event (registration is optional but recommended), click here. Last year we had about 1.5 newbies per buddy registered for the event, and we suspect that at the event it became even more lopsided… We look forward to helping again this year!

My Biggest Questions about Getting Started

By Jamie Hartzbillboard-63978_150

It seems to me that some translators and interpreters fall into the profession by virtue of their linguistic ability and prior knowledge in a subject area, while others aspire to the profession and gear their studies and work experience toward a career in translation and/or interpreting. For me, a student and aspiring translator, it can be hard to see what lies ahead. Even after hearing countless stories of how experienced translators have arrived where they are today, certain questions baffle me as I seek to get started in this industry and reach for my goals. For some of the questions, I have found satisfactory answers; for others, I am still searching! Here are just a few of those that have plagued me…

1. Do I choose a specialization right away? If so, how?

From what I know about well-established translators, many identify a specialized field in which they translate: finance, medicine, business, patents, you name it. Some of those people will say they worked hard to get into that field, while others will say it chose them. Knowing that, I have to wonder: should I be pursuing subject-area competence on my own, or waiting for a specialization to find me? If I am to pursue it myself, how do I know which area to choose? One possibility is to choose a field and find a way to work in it while I am in school to gain subject-area knowledge in the hopes of someday specializing in that domain. But is this the best way to specialize? And if not, then how else can I increase my knowledge in a relevant subject?

2. What kind of training do I need to succeed and be a good translator?

This is a question I think many people currently in the field disagree about. When I finished my undergraduate degree and decided to pursue translation, it wasn’t immediately obvious whether it would suffice, for example, to have a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish or to have spent a semester living abroad. I also didn’t know whether a graduate degree was a necessity—was it possible, I wondered, to be respected and successful as a translator without a T&I degree? Was it advisable? Another question I considered was what kind of degree to pursue and how long it would take. ATA’s “list of approved translation and interpreting schools” pointed me toward schools that would offer the kind of degree I wanted and felt I should have… but which would I attend? Online or on campus? A Master’s degree, Ph.D., certificate…?

3. How do I get experience if I have no experience?

This one still lingers on my more pessimistic days… I’m in school now and I do my homework, work hard for my grades, but when I graduate I know employers, agencies, and clients will want to see experience on my resume, not necessarily a high GPA. But then, if I don’t already have experience, how do I ever get it? The simplest answer I’ve found so far is to volunteer. There are a host of sites which give both new and experienced translators the chance to do pro bono work and beef up their resumes a bit in the process. Plus, the coursework I spend time on now isn’t just busywork; it will help me demonstrate to potential employers that I have the skills to do a job well.

money-167741_1504. How do I even begin to set rates?

Go to any conference or gathering of translators and interpreters and it won’t take long to hear the admonition that even “newbie” professionals should never accept low pay for their work because it undermines the industry. However, with all of the (understandable) silence surrounding rates in the ATA, it is hard for students and newcomers to get a feel for what a reasonable rate is.

Many U.S. translators charge per source word. To set a base rate for their translation work, some translators use CalPro, a document created by Asetrad (the Spanish Association of Translators, Copyeditors, and Interpreters) that enumerates the many factors that come into play when setting translation rates. In essence, it provides a framework for determining how much to charge based on your desired annual take-home salary. It even helps you figure out the business expenses that go along with running your own freelance business, like office supplies and computer software.

After going through CalPro with my particular case, I wondered whether I could really charge as much as I wanted to as an inexperienced “newbie.” I have my theories about this, but my attitude toward rates is still a work in progress.

Well, you’re thinking, she’s got a lot of questions, but not a lot of answers. Here are some of the ways I have found answers to my multitude of questions:

  • Attend the ATA conference. At a conference this big, you are bound to meet a huge variety of people from different backgrounds. Attending the ATA conference is an expense, but one well worth it—not only will you be able to sit in on sessions that help you to develop professionally, you will have the chance to meet others who are in the same boat as you are.
  • Check out the ATA website. Don’t take it for granted! The ATA website has tons of resources for translators, including free webinars.
  • Go to school. There is great value to jumping right in and starting a degree or certificate program. You’ll receive feedback, have professors who are willing to answer your crazy newbie questions, and meet peers with whom you can form strong professional bonds.
  • Join a local chapter. This is a good way to get face time with other translators and interpreters you wouldn’t normally meet in person. Many local chapters have networking events, webinars, and free online resources to help you get started.
  • Look up a school, a translation agency or a translator in your area. When my mind first started to buzz with all these questions, I went to the ATA Directory of Translation and Interpreting Services and looked for a professional translator in my language pair who lived in my area. Lo and behold, I found a Spanish translator living right in my neighborhood who was more than happy to meet with me and give me tips about getting started. I have found that oftentimes agencies are also willing to share with students and newcomers the types of qualifications they look for on contractor resumes and the credentials they expect from their translators, as a means of pointing us in the right direction.

What about you? What are your biggest questions about getting started? Feel free to post your questions in the Comments section or email us directly at atasavvynewcomer@atanet.org.

Helen’s Adventures in Translation, Chapter 3: Launch Time! Going from 20% to 80% Capacity As Fast As Possible

In my last post, I explained how I evaluated and met the requirements my potential clients might have, including qualifications, website and connections.

I said I would delve into how I set my rates next, but Giovanna Lester wrote an excellent post on that, and it reflected how I had done it!

After making myself known, it was time to ramp up my work. How did I do that?

I had been working as a part-time interpreter and translator for several agency clients for over 10 years. I had routinely accepted small assignments that fit with my commitments as a homeschool mom. During my youngest child’s senior year of high school, I realized it was time to start the launch. A business grows gradually, and my daughter needed to learn that her mother also worked. Besides, we were going to have college bills to pay!

I bought an iPhone so I could answer emails quickly, and a laptop so I could work from my daughter’s viola lessons. Then I sent an email to my favorite clients. I announced that I had completed the NYU Certificate in Translation and my daughter was graduating, so I had more time to work for them. In a month, my business tripled! Why?

  • I had always done quality work.
  • My clients now knew about my professional development.
  • I had always kept my word, delivered on time, and treated my clients professionally.
  • I always answered emails and phone calls promptly.

Pretty soon I saw that I was getting emails addressed to me personally, not addressed to “undisclosed recipients.” As clients found they could count on me, they started to call first and send the email later. Price became the last thing we discussed. This was the type of relationship I really wanted.

The next step was to prepare to work with direct clients. With one agency client, I realized that another translator and I always asked for each other as partners. I therefore called Gabriela Penrod and asked if she would be my primary editor/co-translator for direct client work. The fact that we both grew up in different places (Gaby is Mexican and I grew up in Argentina) enriches us personally and professionally. If we can both agree on something, the outcome is usually pretty good!  It has been wonderful!

Nothing ruins a friendship quite as effectively as an unclear work partnership. So, keeping expectations clear has been super important! Our professional relationship and our friendship have grown over the last few years because:

  • I treat her with the utmost transparency (I send her a copy of the invoice I send the client);
  • We respect each other and edit each other’s work, thinking only about creating the best possible product for our audience;
  • I pay her very promptly; and
  • I always discuss any changes in our relationship for a given project.

Working more, however, forced me to adjust how I used my time and organized my accounts. I hired a house cleaner, hired an accountant to help me set up QuickBooks, and developed a process to remember what projects I was working on and what was due when.

This also forced me to change certain family priorities. My children now did not always come before my work. (Of course they are still more important than my work, but I establish my priorities on a case-by-case basis.) Since my children were becoming young adults, this provided a healthy way to develop mutual independence. As an empty nester, I found I had interesting things to do with my time, and they found I was available to support them within reasonable limits, delegating more responsibilities to them. People asked me how the newly-empty nest was feeling, and I could honestly say it was great because my children were more mature and independent, and I was able to serve my community in a new and exciting way. It was a win-win situation.

This transition from part-time to full-time was very smooth because it was the natural result of a process that had been planned and implemented over about 10 years. What’s more, as a family, we had all participated by observing my training (great role modeling for my college kids), watching me gradually develop a client base, and seeing the positive outcome of all my efforts. We all enjoyed the process and were excited about it.

It wasn’t just a Helen project, but an Eby family project, where everyone had the opportunity to contribute some level of support and input. I have consulted with my husband, who is an engineer, on technical issues, with my children for support with some projects, and we have all been comfortable with the development of my business.

Next: Steps I took to connect with direct clients, and why I sought them out.

Helen’s Adventures in Translation, Chapter 2: Preparing to Launch

By the fall of 2010 I had done a lot of groundwork for launching:

  • I had acquired enough credentials to be credible so that potential clients could trust me.
  • I had the resources I needed. I had spent a few thousand dollars on dictionaries, plus another few thousand on training, a laptop and a smartphone with all the bells and whistles I thought would be helpful.
  • I had clients I had been working with part-time as it fit in with my obligations as a homeschool mom for years.
  • I had been participating in the ATA listservs, particularly Espalista (Spanish Language Division) and Business Practices.

It was time for the final countdown to launching as a full-time freelancer. I wanted local businesses in my community to know I existed. What were they looking for beyond credentials?

Business name: I found that people listen differently when we have a “business name.” So, I registered in the State of Oregon. I had two problems to solve with my company name:

  • English speakers not believing I could be a Spanish translator and interpreter because my English is so good.
  • Businesses not being interested in doing business with an individual.

Gaucha Translations was born. “Gaucha” is a reference to Argentina. I loved it when I got a compliment for solving a problem creatively! “Translations” is only part of what I do. I am also an interpreter and an interpreter trainer. However, many clients do not know the difference between translators and interpreters, and I figured I could explain that later.  As usual, not everyone agrees with my choice of a name. However, it has worked well and many people now use it as my nickname. Oh, my car has a custom license plate now: Pampa (Gaucha was taken). The Pampa is the land of the gauchos in Argentina.

Business cards: I went to the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce and networked, trying out several different homemade business cards as I went. I tested the type of information people would need to see and the type of card that was easy for me to use when others gave one to me. I also went to SCORE  to see what they recommended. I ended up with:

My business cards

My business cards

  • My business name and contact information on the front, with a brief list of credentials on the back.
  • White paper that would accept pencil and ballpoint markings
  • Reasonably thick card stock
  • Something graphic on the front. Lots of white space so they could write “Helen is Awesome” or simply “Wake Up Nov 5” and remember where they had met me
  • Professional printing

Website: Everyone has a website today! I paid for my domain name and my business name in the .com and .net versions. So, I own the following domains, and they all forward to the same web pagehttp://www.heleneby.com, http://www.heleneby.net, http://www.gauchatranslations.com and http://www.gauchatranslations.net.  A friend recommended that, saying people would search for me by my name as well as my business name. All of them forward to gauchatranslations.com.

I tested website content for months, with SCORE consultants and with the Hillsboro Chamber. Finally, I worked with a website designer to narrow it down. It cost money, but it was worth the investment. A few years later I landed a contract with a very interesting local company. I asked how they found me, and they told me I was the only local translator with a good website.

I view my website as a site people will consult after they hear about me elsewhere, whether through the Chamber of Commerce or some other means of networking. I always ask people how they found me before I do business with them.

At this point, I keep adding things to my website. Some things I do NOT put on my site:

  • Prices and sample contracts. I have standard terms in mind, but I want to introduce them to the client as part of the conversation.
  • My resume. As a friend told me, I am offering a service, not looking for a job. I send a resume to those who ask for it, but generally ask people to check my website first. I tell them they will find more information on my site than on my resume.

One thing I DID put on my website:

  • My street address. When I check a website, I like to know it is a real business in a real place. I do a Google Maps search of a potential business partner’s address before I do business with them, and have discarded some options because their address appeared to be an abandoned warehouse in the middle of the fields or some other unreasonable location. I have never had security problems because of this.

Other things potential clients check:

  • My LinkedIn profile. Many members of the Hillsboro Chamber have told me that they validate my statements by checking me out on LinkedIn. As they have seen the types of people I am connected with, they have felt more inclined to trust me.

So far, all these steps are working for me because they are consistent with who I am. In the Hillsboro Chamber they say that people do business with those they know, like and trust. With my marketing materials and strategy, I try to be real so clients can know me and trust me, and not be disappointed later when they meet me in person. I do not want to appear to be larger than I am or try to look like an agency. As a matter of fact, I openly state that I am a sole proprietor. When speaking to people in the translation field, I call myself “a freelancer with a business name.”

Next installment: How I decided what I should charge (a geek in action)

Update: This article was originally posted without the image of Helen’s business cards.  This image has now been included.  Apologies to Helen for the mistake!