Mentors are the people we look to when we need advice, guidance or just a sounding board for our ideas and goals. They tend to be people we look up to, because they've accomplished something we feel to be noteworthy.
It can be hard to find the right mentor in any given profession, but I think this can be especially true for freelance translators. For one thing, we all have different specializations and language pairs, not to mention the fact that everyone is in a unique stage of business at any given time. Encountering someone who works in the same language pair(s), specialization(s) and is in the same (or has been through the same) stage of business as you is a tough combination.
This is why it's important to be flexible and take your time about finding the right person who can mentor you. You won't always someone who checks off every box. So, consider the option of having a small pool of mentors you can count on.
So, how do you find a freelance translation mentor who is the right fit for you?
Here are several ideas to get started. And if you have some tips of your own, please feel free to share them at the end of this post!
1. Join an association of professional translators.
Professional associations may seem the most obvious place to find a potential mentor for your translation business. Quite simply, you'll be exposed to a larger pool of people who do what you do or at least work in the same language pair(s) and/or specialization(s) as you. But it's not enough to simply join a professional association. You have to get involved and put in the time to get to know others.
Volunteer for the association in a capacity that fits your level of comfort and area of expertise. Take time to talk to colleagues to learn about their experiences as well. Whether or not you ask someone to be your mentor in a more formal capacity, you can still learn an immense amount from colleagues. So, don't put pressure on yourself to give such a mentorship a title. As the sage advice goes, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
If you want to find an association that has its own mentoring program, be sure to do some research about the eligibility criteria for mentees first. The American Translators Association has an excellent Mentoring Program, which is open to all members (regardless of country of residence). If it's important to you to have in-person meetings with your mentor, ask to be paired with someone in your geographical region, or seek a local association near you that also has a mentoring program.
2. Talk to peers and ask those you feel comfortable with for ideas and advice.
Peers are some of the best mentors available to us. Not only do they understand the day in and day out of what we do as translators, but many of our peers have knowledge about specific topics, areas of specialization or business strategies that they've found to be quite useful in their own businesses. This type of practical experience is truly valuable to learn from others. If you find yourself in a certain stage of your business and you think it's time to move into the next stage, talk to peers who have made this transition and ask their advice.
3. Put out a "mentor request" online to see if anyone fits the bill and is willing to mentor you.
If others don't know how they can help you, they probably won't. Be open and honest about what you'd like to learn or improve upon, and lay out expectations ahead of time. Most translators are happy to help their colleagues by imparting wisdom from their own experiences. So, make sure you tap all your channels to find the person or people who could best answer your questions and help you move forward.
You can also join Facebook groups related to freelance translation. If someone in the group seems knowledgeable about something you'd like to learn or accomplish in your business, send them a message. Let them know that you admire their work and professionalism. Remember that this process might take time, as you need to evoke trust in the person you'd like to have mentor you. You can use this same approach with translators you follow on LinkedIn or Twitter.
4. Request a referral from peers.
Ask others in your language pair or specialization if they know anyone who might be a good fit for you. Let your peers know what you're looking for in a mentor, and ask them if they can refer you to their contacts. Remember to thank the person who referred you by sending them a kind note or returning the favor in some way.
If there is someone you feel might be a good fit for you in terms of mentoring, offer to pay them for their time. This way, they will not feel like you approached them out of nowhere, requesting their time for nothing in return. Yes, I know mentorships are usually unpaid, but don't forget that mentors often have to stop doing paid work to answer questions from a mentee. So, it's not unheard of to pay someone for their advice. If paying a mentor is not feasible, then the professional association with the free mentoring program, like ATA's, is an excellent solution.
Final Tips for Mentees
Once you have a mentor, keep in mind that mentoring is a two-way street. It should be beneficial for both the mentee and the mentor. If you plan to take up another professional's time with your questions and concerns, be prepared with your questions ahead of time and get to the point quickly. Thank them for their time and try not to extend your meeting past the scheduled time out of respect. Make sure you follow through with any homework or tasks your mentor requests of you. If your mentor doesn't feel like you are listening to their advice, they may not wish to continue the mentor/mentee relationship.
For more tips on this topic, check out Speaking of Translation's recent episode, How to Learn from Colleagues. It was full of helpful ideas!
Have you ever sought a mentor for your freelance translation business? What tips do you have?