Onward to DC and ATA58!

From the President-Elect

Corinne McKay
Twitter handle: @corinnemckay

ATA’s Annual Conference goes by many nicknames: “The language industry family reunion,” and “The experience you can’t download,” among others. However you look at it, attending an ATA conference—whether for the first time or the 30th—is an energizing, educational, and, some might say, transformative experience. We’re looking forward to welcoming over 1,800 language industry professionals to Washington, DC, at the end of October for another iteration of the one-of-a-kind experience that is ATA.

I attended my first ATA conference in Toronto, Canada, in 2004. At the time, I had been freelancing very part-time for about two years and was still in the “Is this really going to work out?” phase of my freelance career. I had already passed ATA’s certification exam, but my specializations were amorphous, my client base spotty, and my workflow a series of peaks and valleys, but I was lucky to have been taken under the wing of a few experienced translators in my local chapter, the small but mighty Colorado Translators Association. One of their key pieces of advice: “attend an ATA conference as soon as you can.” So, leaving my husband and toddler daughter for the first time—and with some instant noodles in my suitcase to save money—I headed off to Toronto.

That experience was, in a word, overwhelming. I knew the names of exactly three people at the conference, which left me to make friends with the other 997 people at the Opening Reception. Termbases, translation memory software, direct clients, and freelance financial management were all new to me, as was the concept of achieving a similar level of financial security to someone with a traditional job. But slowly, over the course of the conference, I started to find my groove—connecting with other French>English translators, attending Jonathan Hine’s presentation on how to run a profitable business (thanks, Jonathan!), and even braving a few social events.

Most importantly, a chance encounter in the hallway outside a session led to my first major agency client who started sending me a steady flow of work. Within three months of attending the Toronto conference, my workflow and income had increased dramatically to the point where I could confidently say, “I’m running a successful business as a freelance translator.” I still think of the 2004 conference as the critical turning point in my freelance career.

There’s still time to register to join us in DC. If you haven’t done so already, visit www.atanet.org/conf/2017 to register! If you’re joining us for the first time, I challenge you to:

  • Soak up every piece of advice you can get from more experienced translators. I tried to do this in Toronto, and many of those tips still stick with me today. “Have two specializations: one that pays well and one that you love.” “The best time to raise your rates is when you’re too busy.” “Always treat clients a little better than they’re expecting to be treated.”
  • Connect with the people you want to become. If you attend an incredible presentation, e-mail the speaker and let them know. Even veteran presenters don’t get sick of hearing this kind of praise! And they’ll remember you as the eager newbie who went out of your way to give a compliment.

If you’re attending your fifth, 15th, or 35th conference, I challenge you to:

  • Reach out to a first-time attendee. Don’t wait for that person to emerge from a corner and talk to you. March right up to them and find out about them and their story.
  • Mix it up. Refuse to stagnate. Learn a new skill. If you’re in your fourth decade as a translator or interpreter, attend sessions that will allow you to reinvent yourself in your fifth decade. With over 175 educational sessions, we truly do have something for every flavor of language professional.

It has been a privilege to serve as your conference organizer for the past two years. In my own life, taking on a major role in ATA is up there with being a mom as “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” As I move into my two-year term as ATA president, I thank you for your trust, and I thank current President David Rumsey and Executive Director Walter “Mooch” Bacak for their advice and leadership. And most importantly, I’ll see you in DC at the end of October!

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