Learning and spreading the word

Learning and spreading the word

Lessons from a client event

The new monthly rhythm of this blog takes some getting used to. It’s now a month since I went to the International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC to its friends) near Catania, Sicily, in the impressive shadow of Mount Etna, and time was when I would have already written about it and moved on to two or three more topics. Instead I’ve had four weeks to think about what I want to say, and plenty of time to forget it all again.

Anyway, here are ten things I can remember that I learned or relearned at my first real client event:

  1. It’s not about selling. As I said in my previous blog on the subject, my aim in going to the conference was not to find clients, it was to talk, and above all to listen, to people in the business of wine and tourism. That I managed to do.
  2. You never get as much work as you intend to done when travelling. I took work with me to the conference, but between planes, airports and chatty fellow passengers, I didn’t get anything like what I expected achieved on either journey. That meant quite a bit of evening working after conference events.
  3. If you can’t get a room at the conference hotel, stay as near as possible. The conference was in a small town called Viagrande but I booked too late to get a room in the main hotel. I specifically looked for the nearest possible alternative and ended up in a small apartment five minutes’ walk away. And I was glad of it when there were problems with a translation I’d sent and I needed to rush back to my laptop during a coffee break to sort out the difficulty.
  4. Shyness is a problem to be lived with and overcome. I admit I’m not good at talking to strangers, particularly when there’s no easy opening line like “What language combinations do you do?”, which always works at a translators’ conference. In Sicily, there were low moments when I wondered what I was doing there because I felt I was failing in my mission to make contacts. But sometimes you need to accept that you have a problem, regroup and try again. In the end, and despite those bad moments, I managed to avoid the temptation to latch on to one or two friendly people and in the end I managed to speak to everyone I wanted to.
  5. If you’re having trouble being sociable, talk to an American. At my most awkward moments during the conference, I was fortunate to run into outgoing Americans who were good to talk to and fun to be with. Just what you need to rebuild your confidence.
  6. A little preparation goes a long way. The week before going to Sicily I had been to a half-day conference about wine tourism in the city where I live. It was just the polish I needed to be able to voice some well-founded and sensible opinions among people for whom wine tourism is their living. I also made sure my new business cards were ready and my new wine translation website was up and running.
  7. The smartphone is a double-edged sword. Using mine, on one hand I could stay up to date with my e-mails and not let clients down. On the other, I ended up missing most of one potentially interesting talk doing an emergency job for one client. I only hope my frantic fingers on the virtual keyboard managed to convince the speaker that I was trying to flood Twitter with positive comments.
  8. If you want to do wine tourism in style, go to Australia or South Africa. The opening presentation of the conference showed some of the facilities available for visitors at wineries in these two countries, the clear leaders in this area of tourism. They were absolutely astonishing – years ahead of anything I’d ever seen in Europe. If I ever go to either of them, some winery visits will definitely be on the schedule.
  9. If you’re going to talk politics with an Italian, make sure you eat first. Most of the meals provided at the conference were stand-up buffets, which was fine, although a little awkward when it came to balancing plates, food and wineglasses. One lunchtime, though, an Italian wine expert decided to ask me for my views on Brexit before I’d managed to fill my plate. By the time I’d enlightened him (and it certainly does take some explaining) the food was gone!
  10. We can learn a lot from other industries. At IWINETC there were two excellent presentations by the social media expert Judith Lewis which could easily also be applied to online marketing by translators. She spoke of digital integration and using stories to connect brands with consumers. I was also surprised to discover just how overwhelmingly important Facebook is compared to other social media. Mind you, that’s not such a bad thing – when it comes to alternative networks like Instagram which rely on attractive photos, photogenic wineries certainly have a huge advantage over any translation business.

So was it worth it? First of all, I should say that going to the conference didn’t cost me all that much. The fee was reasonable, my flights were very cheap (and it’s worth checking all the options, my most cheapest tickets turned out to be Alitalia rather than “low-cost”) and my apartment was very reasonable. The problem is that, if you accept that you’re not at one of these events to sell, the benefits are difficult to quantify. But I learned quite a lot, I collected material for future client-aimed blog posts and I took the first steps towards making myself known in an area where I’m sure there are clients for me. I can certainly think of worse ways of spending the budget I set aside for professional development.

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