By Christian Hansel

Virtual Networking

Céline kindly asked me to provide my 2 cents worth of input on techniques of self-promotion and networking. As a self-employed programmer and project manager I‘ve made my share of experience in this but still I am far from being an expert. Nonetheless, here’s my compacted knowledge of what networking means and how networks are created, maintained, and extended.

What is networking?

Technically, a network is a collection of interconnected unique entities allowing for and generating multilateral transfers with redundant ways and strategies of interaction. Translating this techie-jibberish: a network is made up of individuals communicating with each other. To use an analogy: like a spider in his web you can go from one spot to another using the paths that connect the individual positions: The more connections are established in a web the more stable it is. In fact, personal and business networks very much resemble the web of a spider.
Through networks new contacts are made: Imagine, your best friend’s friend introduces you to one of her acquaintances who will at a later point introduce you to your future chess club fellow whose cousin will turn out to become your wife/husband/friend – or may be a new client. There is a theory that you only have to know seven people who know seven others and so forth to know everybody on this planet. Believe it or not, networking is most likely what you do all day.
In real life everybody has social networks: your family, your friends, your business partners etc. These networks are the most valuable resource one has – not only in business. When it comes down to business, however, it is vital to understand that you cannot have enough of them. As a professional in your specific field you are most likely already networking daily: Making sales contacts, calling colleagues, showing up regularly at your local professional association meetings, knowing your links to the Chamber of Commerce etc. Through this, you certainly have gotten most of your jobs so far and will in the future. If you are experienced in this kind of networking you may also be a member of a business group, which usually only allow a small number of each profession to join. This is real life networking you are most experienced with if you have not just started freelancing yesterday.
I am going to concentrate more specifically on on-line marketing or self-promotion instead of repeating what everybody most likely knows. On-line self-promotion works along the same principles as its real-world sibling: You need to create networks, leave positive first impressions, and make sure your connections are redundant. In order to go into detail it is necessary to have an idea about user behaviour and of how search engines work.

Search engines and your virtual self

Search engines gather addresses from header information sent by browsers when user point their browsers to Google and Co, as well as from threads in Usenet groups, news services, and, of course, web sites they have previously indexed. These addresses are stored into databases and spiders and robots, little programmes that browse these sites automatically, are sent to these websites regularly. My own site, for instance, is indexed daily for new content (300-1.000 hits) and every 6 weeks completely (15.000-20.000 hits). When indexing websites robots usually call pages more than once depending on the number of internal links. In that sense, a website is its own little network. Search engines distinguish between internal, incoming, and outgoing links. Internal links help to evaluate the ‘weight’ of the single page and its content, outgoing links are relatively unimportant for the evaluation of the site itself but also represent incoming links for the sites linked to. Incoming links, however, represent the most important factor, apart from content, of course. The more incoming links a website has the more valuable it becomes: it is represented in Google’s internal database and robots index it more frequently. Like an introvert in real life a website without incoming links is practically isolated and virtually unable to network, hence it becomes vital for a business website to get as many incoming links as possible.
Apart from links a major factor that helps to promote your website – your virtual self – is well represented content. Search engines build their catalogues of key words from textual information you offer and combine them with the number of incoming links registered for your website. Of course, the information about you, your experience, expertise, products, services, and prices represent the core content. But surplus you offer on-line may be the key for virtual success. A news section, a web-log, or a glossary of your expertise represents such additional information. Larger companies offer forums, references, dictionaries etc. The important fact is that the content needs to be original – continuously reprinting is rather harmful. Blogs are good examples: Many offer little original content apart from copying texts found elsewhere; others, however, paraphrase and comment on recent publications, news, and events – thus, they create a surplus of information – an expertise. Remember, robots index your content regularly. It pays off to regularly provide up-to-date surplus information.
Content is best represented as text in plain html, with well-done but simple design. Company website should not have the most fancy design – in fact this may influence your ranking negatively – flash driven websites are more difficult to index and don’t forget that many users disabled such features on. As in real life a positive initial impression is everything. Users not getting the important information immediately will turn elsewhere – don’t expect them to spent minutes searching. Now that Google & Co have something to index you need to make sure they will find your virtual self. Here networking and on-line self-promotion starts.

Creating networks online

If incoming links are so important to your site – how do ensure you get them? First, by regularly providing content – if you provide valuable information visitors will link to your site. Virtual business networks allow you to create profiles and get promoted for free or little money. Second, find means to demonstrate your special knowledge: engage in expert exchange forums, publish articles about your area of expertise on portals, etc. whatever you do make sure you provide your unique signature your URL. Thus people will remember you more easily and you also become more “visible” (and your search engine rankings are improved).
Moreover, put a tagline to your signature in emails, forum posts, etc: A short but catchy slogan that represents what you do and how you think about the kind of work you do. See Céline’s : naked translations [neIkIdtrænzleI§n] Stripping a text bare to reveal its mechanisms, its internal logic and its meaning to then transfer it into another language as faithfully as possible while using appropriate terminology and style – A bit long but catchy. Make sure, however, you don’t put superlatives in there – calling your self the fastest, oldest, or best begs a challenge to this claim.
Joining business organisations and business portals is another major key to successful virtual networking, whether you wish to bid for jobs or not. There are numerous out there addressing translators (including my own) and some excellent general ones (e.g. openbc.com). Apart from the direct benefits of such platforms (creating personal networks, getting access to information, and, possibly, a job) you can only profit from signing up with a business portals like proz.com, or babelport.com. The reason is simple: Due to the amount of content, keywords, and incoming links portals like these are more frequently indexed than the website of a small business or freelancer. If you have a profile page on these portals, participate in forum discussions, or publish articles there your name, profile, résumé, tagline, and your URL will be indexed every time robots crawl the site completely.
Lastly, ensure a steady visibility on business platforms. Being advertised as featured member for only a day creates additional incoming links valid for some weeks if a robots indexes the page during that time (remember the 300-1000 hits a day). This will have more effect than paying for keywords on Google or banner ads in general web-directories. Also, the more articles and forum threads you post the more incoming links are generated for your own website. Redundancy only helps to strengthen your virtual networks (remember the spider analogy?). By creating profiles on and actively participating in multiple platforms your virtual self will be ranked higher in search engine results and connected to more keywords.

Continuous investment

As in real life, maintaining virtual networks is time and, sometimes, money consuming. You do not need to provide original content daily – but do it regularly. Give yourself at least three hours per week to write some content for your website and to participate in online forums. Doing this you gain expertise and reputation directly and add to your virtual network at the same time.
Joining business portals does not need to cost money – there are many benefits you get for free. Investing in annual member fees for two or three portals, however, may cost you a couple of hundred Euros per year, but remember it is investing into your business and may earn you more reputation than spending the same money in printed newspaper advertisement. It certainly creates more lasting links immediately and pays off in the long run. Especially if you a running a business with global reach – and as a freelance translator you are – you will need to promote yourself most likely as heavily internationally as locally.
Creating, maintaining, and extending your personal and virtual business demands continuous engagement and investment with success often not immediately visible. The benefits, however, will turn up at some point.
Christian Hansel
SiteFounder of babelport.com,
a Translation Industry Information and Project Portal
babelport.com
cpi service, Leipzig, Germany
w: http://www.cpi-service.com