Five steps to build a million-dollar court reporting business

By Cassandra Caldarella

Some reporters go their entire lives without earning a million dollars, so it sounds crazy that some court reporters might be able to achieve this milestone in a few short years. But it is possible. Plenty of court reporters have achieved this goal, and you can too!

Pay attention to the following tips and use them to help ramp up your revenue growth:

  1. Find a growing market

five-ways_1One of the simplest ways to build a million-dollar court reporting business in such a short period of time is to find a growing trend and ride it to the top. Take me for example. As a former official for Los Angeles Superior Court, I saw the privatization of the reporters in civil courtrooms and getting laid off from the County as an opportunity. I went from a salaried position making $97,000 a year with the county to making more than $200,000/year. I took my lemons and made a whole bunch of lemonade. Certainly, part of my success comes from turning out a great product and service, but it also comes from timing. When I was laid off in July 2012, a $75+ million-dollar market for civil reporters in L.A. opened up and more than 12,000 attorneys in the Los Angeles market were scampering for coverage of their motions and trials. Along with many colleagues, I experienced a 125 percent annual revenue growth that first year and ever since. Finding a growing market of your own like this can put you on the fast track to massive revenue growth.

  1. Think monetization from the start

It seems strange to think about monetization objectively, but some court reporters operate without any obvious monetization strategies. Twitter is one example of this phenomenon, but countless other companies out there are building up their free user bases, hoping that inspiration – and, consequently, financial stability – will strike along the way.

five-ways_2Most profitable companies operate from one of two models: either they sell a lot of inexpensive products to a lot of people or they sell a few big-ticket items to a more limited buyer list. Neither model is easier or inherently better than the other. What’s more important than choosing is having a defined plan for monetization. Knowing what the plan is to make money from the start will prevent wasted time spent hoping that something profitable will come together.

For court reporters, we have some limitations: what we can charge may be limited; we can’t give away our services for free; and we can’t participate in gift giving more than a certain amount each year. To work as a pro tem in court, most of the page rates are set by the Court Reporters Board in California. One of the free user bases court reporters can set up for themselves is a vast network of referrals. So when an attorney calls requesting your services, and you are already booked, you can tell him that you have a friend who just became available. And the same goes with agencies who call you for work.  It can be a mutually beneficial situation. Or, if you prefer, you can offer to cover the job for the attorney, find a reporter that you network with, and take a cut. Do whatever works best in your situation.

  1. Be the best

five-ways_3There are plenty of mediocre court reporters out there, but the odds are good that these reporters aren’t making a quarter of a million dollars a year. If you want to hit these big potential revenues, you’ve got to bring something to the table that wows customers and generates buzz within your marketplace.

How can you tell if you’ve got a “best in breed” service? Look to your current customers. If you aren’t getting repeat business from attorneys and agencies and getting rave reviews or positive comments sent to your inbox, chances are your clients aren’t as ecstatic about your service as they need to be to hit your target sales. Asking your existing customers what you can do to make your service better and then put their recommendations into place. They’ll appreciate your efforts and will go on to refer further jobs to you in the future.

Improve your skill level. Focus on getting your realtime certification and then offering realtime on every job. Get as many certifications as possible. Be a member of your national and state associations. Join the state bar associations and trial lawyers associations.

Beyond our skill level is making an emotional connection with your clients. We reporters have very little time to communicate with attorneys while we’re working. The entrances and exits are sometimes all the time we have with them. Make it count. Make eye contact. Smile. You’ll be surprised what an impact a simple smile can have.

 

  1. Hire all-stars

Hitting the $200,000 in revenue per year is no small feat. You aren’t going to achieve this goal alone and you certainly aren’t going to get there with a team of underperformers. Yes, hiring less expensive scopists and proofreaders (or none at all) will be cheaper and easier, but you’ll pay for this convenience when your end-of-the-year sales numbers come up short.

five-ways_4Instead, you need to hire all-stars, and the fastest way to do this is to ask around for referrals. The really good ones will be busy and will turn you down at first. You need to use your referrals to let them know that you know someone they work with and can be trusted. Get them on board with incentives such as higher than usual rates. This will not only get them in the door, it will ensure that you have them on your team when that daily trial starts tomorrow. They will make you a priority. And treat them like gold by remembering their birthdays, sending holidays cards, gifts, and bonuses, and just by having open and direct communication with them. If you have the time to “interview” scopists and proofreaders by starting them out with small jobs to test the waters, and you find one that has potential, this could be your opportunity to turn them into exactly what you need and want by gentle coaching and instruction and slowly giving them more and more to do for you. The training you put into them will be rewarded with loyalty. You need to be absolutely certain that you can go after those all-day, realtime, same-day expedite jobs because you can rely on your team to be there when you need them. You need to be able to get those jobs day after day after day without missing a deadline. One missed deadline could be the end of a relationship with an agency or an attorney. When every penny counts towards reaching your million-dollar goals, you’ll find your team of subcontractors to be worth their weight in gold.

  1. five-ways_5Consume data

Finally, if you want to shoot for the revenue moon, you need to be absolutely militant about gathering data and acting on it. If you want to make $250,000 a year, then do the math. There are 2,080 working hours per year, which is $120.17/hour. There are 12 months per year, which would be $20,833 per month. And there are about 20 working days each month, which would be $1,041.66 per day, 240 days per year. As the ebb and flow of reporting goes, so go our predictable numbers, so we must constantly take measure of where we are.

I keep an Excel spreadsheet with my running monthly totals of jobs invoiced and money received ,and I put that on a side-by-side comparison of the last year’s numbers. I always know where I stand each month. If my job cancels today and I’ve only made the $300 per diem appearance fee, and I know I still have to get to my $1,041.66 goal for the day, then I text message all my agencies to let them know I’m available. I try to double- and triple-book myself, so I’ve got 3-6 motions in one day or a trial with dailies and realtime. I don’t stop until I’ve hit my goal. But then there are days where I get 5 copies and realtime and roughs, and it makes up for those days where everything falls apart. But I never stop trying to hit my daily goal. Always check your statistics to see how your day impacted your revenue. Add up your per diems and make a note of how many pages and calculate how much you earned at the end of each job. It may not be too late to pick up another one before you head home. Check your phone frequently for text messages and emails from agencies. Keep track of your key performance indicators (KPI’s) and push your metrics even higher every day. Keep a score card for yourself. Always keep your numbers in mind and know where you measure up each day.

I’m constantly picking up new agencies and making cold calls to agencies I hear other reporters talking about. I send them a resume and list of references, but I tell them what I want. I send my rate sheet, work preferences, geographical areas, and tell them about my experience. I try them out. I always invoice agencies and don’t rely on their worksheet. I know down to the penny what I earned on each job. I always negotiate rates with new and old agencies, with each job. I know what the going rates are by constantly doing market research, talking to other reporters, networking. You have a veritable gold mine of information just hanging out in the various Facebook groups, so put it to good use.

Growing your freelance court reporting business to million dollar revenues isn’t easy, but it is possible. Stick to the tips above – even if you don’t hit this particular goal, you’ll earn the strongest sales results possible for your unique business.

Cassandra Caldarella is a freelancer and agency owner from Santa Ana, Calif. She can be reached at cassarella11@hotmail.com.

Mark your calendars for NCRA’s 2017 Firm Owners Executive Conference and Convention & Expo

 

Be sure to start making plans now to be a part of NCRA’s major 2017 events, the Firm Owners Executive Conference, Feb. 12-14, and the Convention & Expo, Aug. 10-13, each promising to offer attendees sessions on the latest trends in the profession laced with an array of exclusive networking opportunities.

NCRA’s 2017 Firm Owners Executive Conference is being held at the beautiful Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson, Ariz., a top choice among Arizona luxury resorts nestled in the stunning Catalina Mountain range. Watch for information about registration and hotel rates coming later this month.

According to Cregg Seymour, owner of CRC Salomon, with headquarters in Baltimore, Md., and chair of NCRA’s Education Content Committee for the Firm Owners, there are four reasons to attend the Firm Owners Executive Conference.

Networking with other firm owners: Attending this event helps build, solidify, and strengthen relationships at the personal level and also allows for the sharing of ideas, marketing, trends, and best practices in the marketplace. According to Seymour, the people you meet and the experiences you share create a return on investment of time and money you spend attending the conference.

Educational opportunities: No matter how experienced a person is in their field, firm owners should seek to expose themselves to the educational opportunities that suggest new ways of conducting business, new technology, and ways to be more productive, says Seymour. It can also help breath life back into the critical aspects of business or reignite ideas that you may have recently put on hold or been too busy to think about.

New vendors: Exposure to new vendors in court reporting who have created innovative products and services that will help firm owners stay competitive in today’s fast-paced world. It’s important to invest the time and get to know the sponsors and vendors who understand the industry at the national and global level. If their solution works well for your business now or in the near future, they can be great allies.

Fun: The goal is to have fun! The conference allows one to get out of the office, learn something new, meet interesting people, and have fun while sharing experiences with other leaders in court reporting.  Reconnect with old friends and make new ones at the conference events and parties while also taking advantage of the resort, local restaurants, and outdoor activities.

NCRA’s 2017 Convention & Expo being held at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, in Las Vegas, Nev., will be site of the largest gathering of court reporters, captioners, legal videographers, and others in the legal services, with a program menu bursting with new and exciting session content and networking opportunities. Watch for more information about registration and hotel rates in upcoming issues of the JCR and the JCR Weekly.

JCR Awards nominations open through Oct. 31

Nominate yourself or a noteworthy court reporter, captioner, videographer, scopist, teacher, school administrator, or court reporting manager for recognition through the JCR Awards. Conceived as a way to recognize and highlight the exemplary professionalism, community service, and business practices of NCRA members, the JCR Awards is a way to tell compelling stories that bring to life innovative and successful business strategies from the past year. In addition to nominations for several subcategories, NCRA is looking for a firm and an individual who show excellence in more than one category for an overall “Best of the Year” award.

Any current NCRA member in good standing, with the exception of students, may be nominated for these awards. Court reporters, captioners, videographers, scopists, teachers and school administrators, and court reporting managers are all eligible for nomination. Self-nominations are accepted. Firms, courthouses, or court reporting programs may be nominated as a group as long as they meet the criteria for membership for one of the definitions in the JCR Awards Entry Form.

To nominate yourself or someone else, submit a written entry to the JCR between 300 and 1,000 words explaining the strategies you implemented and why they were successful. Ancillary materials, such as photos, may also be submitted with the nomination. Nominations will be considered by the JCR editorial team based on the best fact-based story. Please be prepared to offer documentation, verifiable sources, or other assistance as needed to be considered for these awards. The stories of the finalists will be published as featured articles in the March JCR.

Nominations are due by Oct. 31. Read more about the JCR Awards.

Upgrade your online NCRA Sourcebook listing by October 1

The upgraded online NCRA Sourcebook is here, complete with new functionality and enhanced upgrade options. NCRA members* receive a complimentary basic listing in this search.

Doreen Sutton, RPR, a freelance court reporter from Scottsdale, Ariz., said she found the new online Sourcebook to be easy to use. “The profiles were easily accessible, and the process to update it was so seamless.”

If you would like to enhance your listing with additional information with items like your company name, social media links, service listings, and description, you may upgrade to a Premium of Premium Plus listing. Anyone who upgrades by October 1 will be eligible for savings of up to $100.

NCRA past president Sarah Nageotte, RDR, CRR, CBC, Jefferson, Ohio, said that the new Sourcebook was easy to navigate, while Melissa Case, RPR, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, said: “I was able to quickly and easily make changes to my listing. No problem.”

To check out the new platform and see your upgrade options:

  • Visit ncrasourcebook.com
  • Click “login” to view as a current member.
  • Click on “My NCRA” to view options for updating your profile.
  • To upgrade your listing to include additional information, click on “My Sourcebook Profiles.”

Questions about upgrading your listing? Email adsupport@ncra.org.

 

NCRA launched redesigned online NCRA Sourcebook

A newly redesigned online NCRA Sourcebook is now available through the National Court Reporters Association’s website. As the newly redesigned membership search site integrates directly with each record,  members can update their information online and see those changes in effect immediately. In addition, members can also add photos to their records.

TRAIN: No fear! Getting past realtime roadblocks

What’s preventing you from providing realtime? The Technology Subcommittee asked realtime providers through the TRAIN program for their best tips in getting past the roadblocks and into the groove.

How do you fight the fear of your realtime feed not being perfect? Breathe! After 32 years of reporting, I still get nervous for the first five minutes of any deposition. How in the world am I supposed to make my realtime feed readable when they are speaking at breakneck speeds (and they are often mumbling or their speech is unintelligible)? First, take a deep breath, and know everything will be okay. I promise! Once you administer the oath in a very slow-paced and methodical way, you set the stage for counsel to
continue in a slow-paced and methodical way.

Also, make sure you are prepared. Do your case preparation before the deposition starts. They don’t have a prior transcript? Get the complaint. They don’t have a copy of the complaint? Google the case name/number. There’s so much information out there these days, there’s no reason you can’t prepare (creating brief forms for tricky words you might come across). It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it!

Lisa Knight, RDR, CRR
Realtime Systems Administrator
Co-chair of the TRAIN Subcommittee
Littleton, Colo.

When asked what holds reporters back from providing realtime, the nearly universal answer is fear; fear that your writing isn’t completely conflict-free, fear that you aren’t comfortable with the technology, fear that your translation rate isn’t good enough, fear of having someone watching your screen, let alone judging your untrans and mistrans.

This feeling also applies to other areas of your life. Trying something new always causes some sort of anxiety, but if it’s something you want to do, excitement overrides that fear. Realtime is no different.

Take it one step at a time, and don’t expect perfection in the first week, month, or year, but go ahead and take your first step. Start by setting up realtime for yourself and get used to seeing your writing on your screen. Slowly address your untrans and mistrans, and watch for trends in your writing that you can improve upon. Once you’re comfortable with that, set up a second screen next to you so you get used to the
technology. Eventually, slide that screen in front of someone. Before you know
it, realtime will become your new norm, and you will be encouraging others to get started as well.

Merilee Johnson, RMR, CRR, CRC
Realtime Systems Administrator
Co-chair of the TRAIN Subcommittee
Eden Prairie, Minn.

Do you remember the first time you tried to ride a bicycle? When you knew the training
wheels were off or your mom or dad had let go of you, did you panic and fall to the ground? Many of us did, but we got up again, dusted ourselves off, and tried and tried again until we were sailing down the street on our own power. That’s how it is with writing realtime.

Nothing that is good, challenging, or worthwhile comes easily. It takes practice. It takes
perseverance. It takes endurance. It takes grit. Don’t be consumed by your fear. Embrace the challenge just like you did when you overcame the fear of riding your bicycle without the training wheels. Don’t let a less-than-perfect translation defeat you. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try, try again.

You can do it! It might not be easy, but it will be rewarding. As you see the translation
percentage on your screen getting better and better, you will be saying to yourself, yes, I
knew I could do it!

Mary Bader, RPR
TRAIN Subcommittee member
Medford, Wis.

I think this affects us all in individual ways. Some are afraid of making an error; others get nervous when they know their work is on display and they have to be kept on their toes at all times; some might feel intimidated walking into a medmal or a pharmaceutical case and are hoping the words come out right. Whatever the case may be, I have learned that fear can be a good thing.

I watched a TED talk once about stress and how you can make it your friend, and that put realtime into a whole new perspective for me. Instead of seeing stress as this horrible anxiety taking over your writing, you have to be the one to conquer your stress and fear and turn it into adrenaline.

As an adrenaline junkie, I can tell you that I absolutely love everything about realtime. I
love the way I get a little nervous, I love the way it keeps me sharp throughout the day, and I love that my writing is even better because I am editing on the fly, trying to make my transcript as flawless as possible for less editing time later. Grab ahold of your fear and don’t let it conquer you. Sometimes you have to fake it till you make it and simply believe in yourself and know that you are competent and capable of doing a stellar job.

In order to provide excellent realtime, you need to couple control of your fear with preparation. As good as you may be, you will be even better if you are well-prepared. Try to get a list of anything and everything that will be used during the deposition — names, esoteric terms, countries, etc. You won’t always have this luxury, but in most cases, if you are providing realtime, attorneys will be willing to inform you of the content and spellings of words that might come up.

Another way to prepare is to insert all of this information into your software the night
before instead of waiting until the day of. If you can make your caption page and even appearance page beforehand and a list of J-defines ready to go, you can spend your time before the depo making sure your connections are properly hooked up and less time inputting all of this time-consuming information before being bombarded with business cards.

Sharon Lengel, RPR, CRR
TRAIN Subcommittee member
Woodmere, N.Y.

If the fear is ever completely gone, then you’re probably being unrealistic about what you’re providing. Everyone runs into issues that are overwhelming. You lower your fear when you train to address those issues competently with the best effect that you can provide. Then that fear channels into energy to solve the problems that crop up.

Write realtime for yourself first, and practice on the methods that produce the best results on your screen. Mastery of your software and writing methods will reduce your fear.

Talk to other reporters who provide realtime. Expect mistakes to happen. Don’t discount them when they happen, and work to remedy and overcome them, but they will happen. And once you’re providing realtime, constantly work to better yourself with your knowledge, your skills, and your technical know-how, and always with the knowledge that what your clients are seeing is better than what they’d have if you were not there.

Jason Meadors, RPR, CRR, CRC
Fort Collins, Colo.

After more than 30 years of reporting, I still have that uncontrollable fear of providing
realtime. I get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach before each job — even though I set up the night before, have my job dictionary built, my EZ Speakers defined, input case-specific terminology, and have Googled industry terms on the case.

Fear is normal for everyone. Even the best of the best in our profession, I’m sure, experience that tug of fear every now and then. We must not let fear hold us back, though. Court reporters need to embrace the future of court reporting and move ahead — the future is realtime.

Some reasons cited by other reporters for not taking the leap to realtime:

• My writing isn’t good enough.
• I don’t want anyone to see.
• Hookups scare me.
• I don’t know where to start.
• The realtime feed is not perfect.
• I don’t know how to handle overlapping voices.
• I worry about how to control the environment.

When I do start having that feeling of fear, I take a step back and remind myself to do a few things in order to control the situation — and these are simple steps that you can take too:

1. I do my realtime testing and job dictionary building the night before in order to be ready for the next day’s job. A detailed prep session will relieve the perceived stress.
2. I control my breathing. It has a calming effect on the whole body.
3. I don’t overthink my realtime sessions. Fear and anxiety thrive when I imagine the worst. I go in the deposition setting with the confidence that I will do the best job I can.
I’ve already prepared and done the testing — I know I’ve got this!
4. I think about the last realtime session I provided and how well it went. Yes, the fear was present, but the client was extremely pleased with my output. I get a “high” for a job
well done!

In an article on Inc.com, Geoffrey James says: “Fear is the enemy of success. Large rewards only result from taking comparably large risks. If you’re ruled by fear, you’ll never take enough risks and never achieve success you deserve.”

The benefits of realtiming for your clients and yourself are many.

• improved skills
• less editing time
• improved translation delivery
• quicker transcript turnaround
• job satisfaction
• name recognition (people will ask for you specifically)
• increased income
• phenomenal readback

Overcoming your fear of anything will give you the focus to achieve great things and to do what you really want to do. It takes much effort to strive to become realtime-proficient, but the rewards are worth it!

Lynette L. Mueller, RDR, CRR
TRAIN Subcommittee member
Johns Creek, Ga.

Additional materials from TRAIN for developing realtime skills can be found at NCRA.org/Realtime.

Depo International and Spark Digital Marketing enter strategic relationship in Las Vegas

JCRiconDigital Marketing and Depo International, a court reporting firm with more than 40 years of experience, announced in a press release issued June 9 that the companies have formed a strategic partnership. The alliance will allow Depo International to gain needed exposure to grow its services in the Las Vegas, Nev., metropolitan area.

Read more.

Advanced Court Reporting partners with Spark Digital Marketing

JCRiconAdvanced Court Reporting, Boston, Mass., announced in a press release issued June 8 that the company has partnered with Spark Digital Marketing in an effort to achieve more exposure and grow its services in the Boston metropolitan area. Spark Digital Marketing is a search engine optimization, social media management, and website development company based in Winston Salem, N.C.

Read more.

Accuracy-Plus Reporting hires Spark Digital Marketing to increase exposure on the Web

Accuracy-Plus Reporting, Sacramento, Calif., announced in a press release issued on May 10 that it has partnered with Spark Digital Marketing in order to increase its visibility on the Internet.

Read more.

Firm Owners Executive Conference attendees take home new ideas, fresh approaches to business

The 2016 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference, held April 17-19 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, brought together more than 140 firm owners seeking networking opportunities and insights to the latest business trends.

Highlighting the schedule at this year’s event were two keynote speakers who each led two-part sessions. The first keynote speaker, Jane Southren, a former commercial litigator turned coach and collaborator from Toronto, Ontario, shared insights with attendees about recognizing and cultivating necessary relationships to fuel business successes. She also addressed the differences between transactional relationships versus loyal relationships, how to identify them, and how to build more loyal relationships.

The second keynote presenter, Ann Gomez, a productivity consultant and founder of Clear Concept Inc., Toronto, Ontario, addressed how business owners can improve time management by controlling chaos in their lives, planning priorities, and understanding how to own their time. She also introduced attendees to the key work habits needed to thrive in today’s busy environment and enable achieving more with less effort.

Connecting with old friends and meeting new ones, all while learning new and exciting approaches to business practices, are the major benefits of attending the NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference, according to Kathy May, RPR, owner of Alpha Reporting, which has offices in Memphis, Nashville, and Jackson, Tenn., as well as Tupelo, Miss.

“I have attended every Firm Owners Executive Conference since its inception. With each conference I am able to walk away with a new idea, a new opportunity, and above all a fresh approach,” notes May, whose firm provides services nationwide.

Other sessions on the schedule included a panel discussion about the findings of NCRA’s latest State of the Industry Survey report, led by NCRA President Steve Zinone, RPR; Kim Neeson, RPR, CRR, CRC, Chair of the Association’s Firm Owners Committee; and Mike Nelson, CAE, CEO and Executive Director of NCRA, as well as a two-part session led by Jeanne Leonard, CAE, NCRA’s Senior Director of Marketing, Membership & Communications, about market trends. The event also included a number of receptions that provided networking opportunities to attendees.

“In order to grow your business, being a part of something that is bigger than you, while at the same time the same as you, puts you on a path of growth and, with growth, success,” said May. “The reporters and firm owners attending the conference share something bigger, something the same, and they all walk away with renewed potential for growth and success.”

The National Court Reporters Foundation also recognized five new 2016 Angel donors, who pledged during the Firm Owners Executive Conference:

  • Michael A. Bouley, RDR, Bouley & Schippers, Tucson, Ariz.
  • Gail Inghram Verbano, RDR, CRR, Boothwyn, Pa.
  • Guy J. Renzi & Associates, Hamilton Township, N.J.
  • YesLaw, Santa Clara, Calif.
  • Visual Discovery, Inc., Chula Vista, Calif.

Funds raised through the Angels Program support NCRF’s initiatives, including scholarships and grants, the Oral Histories Program, and the Legal Education Program.

The 2017 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference is scheduled for next spring at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, Ariz.

See photos from the 2016 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference here.