Translation job portals in general, and ProZ.com in particular, are a controversial topic. There are many translators who complain that most users are incompetent and that the online marketplace is used by unscrupulous clients to drive down prices and hire the cheapest translator.
Personally I think that both assertions are over the top, but, even if they’re true, they’re just a reflection of the real world. The translation profession is fairly unregulated, and there are people of all types who advertise their services as a translator. Also, buyers trying to drive prices down is economics 101. So, would you boycott the real world? Or would you stand out as a professional, highly qualified translator among a sea of so-called incompetents? If you do stand out, you will be able to find clients who are not unscrupulous and who want to invest their money wisely — and, having been on both sides, I assure you there are many such potential clients roaming the ProZ.com profiles on a daily basis.
Other than posting your profile to be contacted for jobs, ProZ.com provides a few other functionalities worth the Benjamin I pay them once a year. One of the most valuable is the Blue Board, a useful database of language service providers where translators rate agencies on the basis of their payment practices. Several times have I been contacted by a potential client just to find out what a bad payer they were after reading other translators’ comments on the Blue Board. If the agency is based in the UK and you are an ITI member, you can further check on their credit-worthiness.
ProZ.com membership also comes with a free hosting account, complete with storage space, email account and analytics tools. Useful if you want to have complete control over your website without having to pay extra. Then there’s the infamous KudoZ, designed for terminology queries. Just as in the real world, there are many ridiculously easy questions, as there are ridiculously wrong and inappropriate answers, both of which have led many good translators away from contributing at all. Even so, the community has been going on for so long that it has generated a data base from which sometimes you may find useful information on your own language queries. Or, if you are a potential client, you can separate the wheat from the chaff and see who among the many contributors are real pros.
Finally, there are the conferences and powwows. For freelance translators who spend most of the time working alone at their office or at home, the idea of networking and meeting colleagues is always appeasing, and ProZ.com provides a good platform for that. Whereas conferences are usually organised by the website staff, and can thus have a commercial focus, powwows are informal meetings scheduled, hosted and attended by translators themselves, usually with no interference from ProZ.com staff, and that’s the place where you make good contacts and meet good friends.
I've hosted two powwows in Brazil, in 2007 and 2010. In both cases I was able to see some good old friends and make new ones, such as my colleague John O' Brien, whom I met many other times afterwards in Germany and South America, and with whom I attended an unusual powwow in Sweden in 2009 after flying from Budapest and taking an overnight bus from Göteborg to Lund. Quite an adventure!
On Thursday I’ll attend another powwow in Brasília, where I’ll meet three great friends who are also top-class translators: Leonardo Milani, Fernando Campos Leza and Marsel de Souza. The powwow page (here, in Portuguese), was written by Milani himself and is quite humorous, setting the tone for the evening, but we’re also looking forward to a discussion with other attendees about relevant topics such as marketing for translators, investment in software and continuous professional development.
In April, after the 3rd memoQfest, I’ll take a very early flight from Budapest to Eindhoven just to be in time for a very promising powwow to take place in Nuenen. The get-together will be themed around Vincent van Gogh, who lived there for two years, and we’ll visit a few places that have some connection with the artist, 14 of which he painted or drew. Since there are more than 20 registrants so far, I’m expecting to meet dozens of fellow translators and to have a very good time in the Netherlands.