Firm Owners Executive Conference registration closes Feb. 3

The last chance to register for the 2017 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference is Feb. 3. The conference promises attendees the perfect networking and getaway opportunity filled with educational sessions, social events, and outings sprinkled with fun and relaxation. The event is being held Feb. 12-14 in Tucson, Ariz., at the Lowes Ventana Canyon Resort.

Attendees can also make the most of the conference experience by downloading the NCRA event app for Apple and Android devices to put event planning, learning, and social networking at their fingertips for all NCRA events. The app allows users to receive up-to-the-minute event updates, customize their schedules, access session documents, view speaker and exhibitor profiles, connect with other attendees, and more.

  • Keynote speaker Susan Solovic will take center stage and share with attendees her insights and secrets to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Solovic is an Internet pioneer who cofounded and grew one of the first video-based Internet sites to a million-dollar-plus entity. She is also an award-winning serial entrepreneur and best-selling author. Her experience also includes being a former small business contributor for ABC News and hosting the syndicated radio program It’s Your Biz. She appears regularly as a small business expert on Fox Business, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal’s “Lunch Break,” MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, and other stations across the country. She has also hosted her own PBS special called Reinvent Yourself Now: Become Self-Reliant in an Unpredictable World. Solovic is also a featured blogger on numerous sites, including Constant Contact, Entrepreneur, AT&T Business Circle, FoxBusiness.com, MasterCard, Intuit, The Pulse of IT (HP), and Samsung. Learn more about Solovic’s presentation.
  • Laurie Forster, one of America’s leading wine experts and author of the award-winning book The Sipping Point: A Crash Course in Wine,will host a special fun-filled networking sessionForster has been featured in dozens of publications and has appeared on Oz., Fox Business, ABC News, and other outlets. She also hosts her own show called The Sipping Point, where she explores recipes, wines, food, travel, and more. Attendees at this session will enjoy teaming up to identify wine selections and then battle to see who can really Name that Wine.
  • Mike Nelson, NCRA CEO and Executive Director, will present the findings from NCRA’s 2016 Firm Owners Economic Benchmarking Survey.
  • “Mobilizing Your Dreams: A 21st Century Strategic Plan,” an interactive session that The Varallo Group will present, is designed to teach attendees how to establish a long-term vision for their firm and more. The Varallo Group will also present “Journey to the Center of a Client Decision,” which explores the court reporter–hiring decision process.
  • Strategic Business Directs will lead attendees in two sessions: “Understanding and Using Financial Statements as a Management Tool” and “How to Compete.”
  • NCRA President Tiva Wood, RDR, CMRS; President-Elect Chris Willette, RDR, CRR, CRC; and fellow firm owners will also lead teams on a poker-run nature-hike networking event.
  • Attendees will enjoy a special Valentine’s Day comedy night and closing reception.

Only attendees of the Firm Owners Executive Conference can take advantage of the special resort room rates, which have now been extended to Feb. 11. Multiple registration discounts are also available as long as they are accompanied by one full-priced registration. These discounts include all education sessions, networking events, and access to the exhibit area.

Make this event even better when you arrive early or extend your stay, and take advantage of special room rates that apply three days prior to and three days after the conference, negotiated for attendees by NCRA.

Attendees can also take advantage of an array of amenities, including waived resort fees on self and valet parking, fitness center access, yoga classes, and tennis court rentals. Other amenities include a free shuttle service to beautiful Sabino Canyon, discounts on golfing, spa facilities, and more.

In addition to networking opportunities, award-winning speakers and authors, cutting-edge educational content, and vendor speed dating, the schedule includes more free time in the afternoons for attendees to network with each other on their own.

For more information or to register for NCRA’s most elite event of the year, visit NCRA.org/FirmOwners.

Set your business up for success in 2017

As entrepreneurs close one year, many use the opportunity to set themselves up for success in the following year. One way to do this is to start looking at maximizing tax opportunities at the end of the year. Some of the top tax write-offs for self-employed people and business owners, according to TurboTax, are IRAs, home-office use, and educational expenses. Work-related memberships, such as to a state or national organization, are also common write-offs for many entrepreneurs.

“I get my court reporting machine serviced before the end of the year, and as a company, we pay our tax bill before the year turns, top off our office supplies, and reorder tchotchkes in our marketing closet,” says Debbie Dusseljee, RPR, CRC, reporter and owner of CompuScripts, located in Columbia, S.C.

Kathy A. Cortopassi, RMR, CRR, CRC, of Crown Point, Ind., had a long list for the end of the year, partly because she’s finding more reporting work even as she continues working as a CART captioner. Her list includes a new laser printer, a scanner, a new lightweight screen for CART, an LED display sign, and a few more iPads for realtime. She also mentioned that she bought a new machine at the NCRA Convention & Expo this past year, which will be part of her tax deductions. When asked why, she responded: “All the kids are gone, which means I don’t have those deductions anymore, so I have more room for deductions — er, toys!”

“I purchased a new scanner/photocopier/printer — it does everything but fly — and we will be purchasing a new telephone system by the end of the year,” says Jan Schmitt, RPR, of Schmitt Reporting & Video in Vancouver, Wash. “We also pay all bills and taxes and attempt to liquidate the checking account.”

“Our server is five years old so we are upgrading to the next level to handle our predicted growth pattern,” says Christine Phipps, RPR, a firm owner based in North Palm Beach, Fla., and an NCRA Director. “We also pay all outstanding invoices, in addition to rents due in January.”

Tax deductions don’t always come in the form of buying office supplies and equipment. For example, Robin Nodland, RDR, CRR, a principal in LNS Court Reporting based in Portland, Ore., says: “We give a sizeable donation to Oregon Lawyers against Hunger, which works in cooperation with the Oregon Food Bank. This is a wonderful way to recognize our clients, many of whom are on the board of this organization, and also make a donation to a worthy cause in our state. It’s a win-win.”

Schmitt mentioned that her company picks out a different charitable group each year. Michael Pace, CEO and president of Argen Blando Court Reporting & Video in Denver, Colo., mentioned that his company plans to give to both Justice and Mercy Legal Aid Clinic and Dolls for Daughters this year. Many charitable contributions can qualify as tax deductions against a business’s annual tax liability.

Pace suggested an article on charitable contributions from the Small Business Administration for those considering making donations.

Since each person’s personal and business situation is unique, it’s important to remember to assess the each individual’s personal situation.

“In all cases, seek the counsel of your tax advisor before making an important decision regarding taxes,” says NCRA CEO Mike Nelson, CAE. “If you do not have someone to provide guidance to you, consider consulting an Enrolled Agent. They are federally licensed tax experts who specialize in tax matters.”

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.

The court reporter’s easy guide to LLCs, S-Corps and other taxing questions

 

By David Ward

For any court reporter, starting up a firm can end up being more than a full-time job.

In addition to actually recruiting clients and scheduling and handling what hopefully is a steady stream of depositions and transcripts, there’s also the daunting tasks of marketing your business, hiring staff if needed, lining up freelancers willing to step up and take overflow work in a pinch, and in general making sure the checks are coming in and expenses are getting paid.

It’s no wonder many end up putting off the big step of formally incorporating their business for as long as possible.

But any accountant or financial planner worth his or her salt will recommend that decision be made sooner rather than later — and how that’s done can have huge repercussions not only on the reporter’s tax bill, but also how well-positioned the firm in the future for a possible merger or sale in the future.

In general, the consensus seems to be that once a reporter begins generating more than part-time cash flow, they need to start thinking about incorporating — and that decision usually comes down to a choice between either an S-Corporation or an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation).

Phil Liberatore, a certified public accountant based in La Mirada, Calif., who has worked with hundreds of court reporters during the past 30 years, said: “Generally I recommend the S-Corp because it’s a lot cleaner — and even if they have an LLC, I get them taxed as an S-Corp because it’s more favorable for tax purposes.” Liberatore says court reporters making less than $75,000 annually can probably still comfortably operate as an independent contractor and pay their taxes under Schedule C as a sole proprietorship.  “Definitely over $75,000 I would strongly encourage an S-Corp. The IRS is targeting Schedule C filers and the court reporters that are independent contractors are more exposed to an audit than a W-2 court reporter working for a county, state or federal government. That audit exposure is greatly reduced when you incorporate,” Liberatore said. Rhonda Jensen, RDR, CRR, CMRS, founder and president of Jensen Litigation Solutions in Chicago, Ill., said that’s the exactly the advice she got when she first started her business several decades ago. “I’m the sole owner, and right from the get go my accountant suggested I set up as an S-Corp,” she explained. “The benefit is that the company pays the owner’s FICA and Medicare tax and, as an LLC, you must pay Medicare tax on all of your profit.” Jensen’s firm now has 20 employees in addition to the independent contractors who work with her companies as well as others.  “We do a lot through the company,” she explained. “We have 401Ks; it’s a “Safe Harbo”, which is beneficial for the owner of the company. But we also do a 401K match for our employees, matching up to 4 percent of their contributions.”

Lori Luck, an accountant based in Portland (ore. Or Me.), has worked with a number of different small businesses, including court reporting firms, and said: “Most service businesses are pretty similar with respect to setting up a business; however, since it seems that court reporting or captioning may be less risky from a standpoint of malpractice, the legal liability issues may not be as high of a motivator for incorporating.”

Luck, who works at CLS Financial Advisors, adds that even freelance court reporters could benefit from incorporating, though she tends to recommend an LLC for those individuals.

“If they are working alone as an independent contractor, they get some liability protection as an LLC by asking their attorney to prepare this paperwork for them, but they still file a Schedule C on their own individual tax return to report their business income,” she says. “This is much more straightforward than an S Corporation.  Also, they can have their own retirement plan for only themselves and choose an IRA, SEP/IRA or 401k depending on how much they want to contribute.  This is very flexible if you don’t have any employees, and you would pay income taxes via quarterly estimated tax payments.”

Matthew Alley, who along with his wife, Tiffany, co-founded Atlanta-based Tiffany Alley Global Reporting and Video, has experience with both LLCs and S-Corps and suggests from his experience, most court reporting firms of any size will tend to do better as S-Corps.

“We were always structured as an S-Corp in order to enjoy the benefits of pass-through income,” explains Alley, who served as CFO of the firm before it was sold to Veritext in 2015. “We have several LLCs also, perhaps a dozen, in the real-estate markets, but I prefer the S-Corp for the type of high-cash-flow business that court-reporting firms represent.”

There are other factors that also need to be considered, Jensen says, adding her accountant pointed out that if there’s real estate involved, or if there’s foreign ownership, then an LLC is probably the best option.

Incorporating a small business, especially a court reporting firm, is generally done for tax and possible liability issues, but it can also with it other advantages, including the ability to better organize what can be a complex flow of receipts and payments.

Denise Phipps Hinxman, CRR, CRC, currently runs Reno, NV-based Captions Unlimited in Reno, Nev., and said: “I was advised over 20 years ago — way before I had a firm and was an independent freelancer — to set myself up as an S-Corporation.  I followed my accountant’s advice and have been very happy with my decision.”

Hinxman notes that prior to becoming an S-Corporation, she often struggled with paying quarterly IRS payments, adding, “I don’t know about other small businesses, but I have encouraged other top-wage earners to go the route of an S-Corporation and they have seen a difference on April 15 as well.”

Hinxman says incorporating a business should only be the beginning of a regular relationship between a firm owner and their accountant. “Many people aren’t aware of some of the laws that I’ve been able to take advantage of because I use a CPA who is a very knowledgeable tax accountant,” she explains. “I was able to pay my children a salary up to X amount of dollars per year for work they did for me in my firm.  Everyone should ask their accountant these questions because there are ways to pay your children through your company.”

Hinxman adds her accountant also alerted her to the tax advantages when she purchased a new SUV for business-related travel.

When it comes to state taxes, the laws can vary, making it important for firm owners with clients in multiple states to understand the tax implications and complexities of each place they work in, which once drives home the importance of finding the right accountant for your business.

But an accountant can only do so much, and Liberatore says the mistake he sees most from court reporters isn’t so much whether or not they’ve incorporated, but rather a lack of financial planning.

“A common mistake — among new court reporters especially — is they don’t set aside money for taxes,” he explains. “And once they get behind for one year, they’re playing catch-up. You don’t know how many court reporting clients we’ve had that have come in owing multiple years of taxes, and they end up on a merry-go-round they can’t get off.”

Liberatore notes one of the first court reporting clients he ever worked with who owed the IRS more than $50,000.  “She was convinced she was going to be working for the IRS for the rest of her life. She was doing her own taxes and I went back and amended three years of her tax returns and reduced her tax debt in half — and within five years she was getting refunds back. So it’s very important not just how you’re doing your tax planning and your tax preparation, but also to make sure you set aside money for taxes.”

Luck agrees, adding, “Many people are used to a W-2 where their taxes are withheld from their paychecks and they don’t have to think about it very much. Sometimes people may borrow money to help get up and running, and when they finally make enough money to pay some or all of the loan back, they don’t realize that just like the cash from the loan isn’t taxable income, repaying the loan is money that can’t be deducted from their taxable income. Consequently, it is confusing to many when they have to pay taxes when they might not have much cash.”

As daunting as all that can be, especially when they’re also focused on running their day-to-day business, firm owners and reporters do need to work regularly with their accountant and financial advisor to plan for their long-term future.

That could involve the eventual sale or merger of their business, but at the very least should include some pathway to a comfortable retirement.

Alley say he and his wife, Tiffany, began preparing their firm for sale six years before it actually occurred, adding that included not only making sure the books were in order and taxes up to date, but also that an experienced management team was in place to help the new owners.

Even if you plan on keeping your business for your entire career, Luck stresses that every small business owner needs a financial plan for the long term.

“Planning for a retirement plan of some sort, figuring out how much to save both for income tax savings provided by a retirement contribution and for the future before all the money is spent –and developing lifelong good saving habits — will greatly benefit a new business owner,” she said.

One way to do that is to meet with your accountant every autumn, well before the beginning of tax season, to work on year-end planning.

“Meet in October or November and predict how much money you will make before the end of the year,” Luck says. “Once you see that number, you can plan about how much income tax you might owe, and perhaps accelerate paying some expenses you would normally be paying in early January so you get an earlier tax deduction. You can also look at your retirement plan to figure out how much tax savings a retirement contribution would provide and evaluate the various income tax consequences of the contributions.”

David Ward is a journalist in Carrboro, N.C. Comments on this article can be sent tojcrfeedback@ncra.org.

 

 

 

Court reporting firm to pay court reporters instantly

Huseby, a court reporting firm based in Charlotte, N.C., has instituted a program called Instant Pay for Reporters to instantly compensate court reporters, videographers, and trial technicians, according to a press release dated Oct. 31.

Read more.

Rising number of members sign on to reap benefits of Amplify partnership savings

Office supplies_Ginny

Photo by: Ginny

An increasing number of NCRA members are signing up to earn hefty savings on office supplies and other items with Staples and significant savings on shipping costs through FedEx.

The programs are available to members through a recently launched partnership between NCRA and Amplify. Participation in the programs requires no minimums and no contracts.

NCRA worked with Amplify to develop the partnership programs specifically for members, recognizing that they spend a large portion of their budgets on office supplies and shipping fees. Through the partnership, members can save up to 40 percent on shipping and up to 72 percent on office supplies and other items.

“I signed up for the Amplify benefit program after seeing a blast email about it from NCRA,” said Michele Balmer, RPR, a firm owner from Yuma, Ariz. “I placed my first order for office supplies recently, which included three-hole punch paper and manila envelopes, and the price for the box of paper was about $10 less and the box of envelopes was about $12 less than on the Staples regular website! So it’s definitely worth checking into.”

The programs are part of NCRA’s continued focus on delivering value to all members.

“The recent addition of Staples and FedEx to the Association’s list of affinity programs has received very positive feedback from members who have signed up to take advantage of these cost-saving benefits,” said Jeanne Leonard, CAE, NCRA’s Senior Director of Communications, Marketing & Membership. “The Association is dedicated to identifying and providing additional services such as these to aid its members in supporting their businesses, whether large or small. The partnership with Amplify is just one of the many benefits NCRA offers that makes membership in the Association so valuable.”

Members simply need to sign up with Amplify to start receiving these savings. Find more information about the Staples program here and the FedEx program here. Not a member? Join now to take advantage of these members-only benefits.

NCRA also offers members customized insurance plans administered by Mercer Affinity Group Services, a partner for 50 years. Plans include coverage ranging from accidental death and dismemberment to equipment insurance, as well as dental plans, pet insurance, and more. NCRA also offers a credit card affinity program through UMB Financial Corp.

Learn more about all of the benefits NCRA membership has to offer by visiting NCRA.org.

 

Video: Lowndes County supervisors pass budget with a few tweaks

WCBI News 4 in Columbus, Miss., reported on Sept. 15 that the Lowndes County supervisors approved a pay increase for court reporters. The Lowndes County portion of that increase will equal about $17,000 a year.

Read more.

NCRA adds two new discount benefits for members through Amplify partnership

Amplify logo1As part of NCRA’s continued focus on delivering value to all members, the association has partnered with Amplify to deliver significant savings on office supplies and other items with Staples and on shipping with FedEx. There are no minimums and no contract requirements.

NCRA has worked with Amplify to develop these programs specifically for members, recognizing that they spend a large portion of their budgets on these items. Members can save up to 40 percent on shipping and up to 72 percent on office supplies.

Members simply need to sign up with Amplify to start receiving these savings. Find more information about the Staples program here and the FedEx program here. Not a member? Join now to take advantage of these members-only benefits.

E-seminar review: Disability insurance

In the informative e-seminar, Disability insurance and retirement planning, Mike Diers and Nick Hague cover disability income benefits, estimated costs associated with them, and the importance of planning for the future. Diers has more than 31 years’ experience in financial and retirement planning and investment management. Hague, president of Lifetime Financial Resources, advises on life and health insurance products that include long-term care planning, annuity solutions, and life insurance.

The seminar begins with how to protect a person’s income and financial future. It’s important to have a solid base, starting with the foundation and moving up. Diers says, “Sometimes we don’t think about being disabled and not being able to work. If you don’t have disability coverage, how will you replace your income? Chances of disability are greater than you think,” he adds. Diers also reviews the importance of income protection and reminds court reporters that even if an employee offers long-term disability, it’s only a percentage of our current salary.

Hague continues with the rest of the seminar and discusses how income is our most valuable asset. He states, “If something happens to you, how will your family replace your earning power? Life insurance is the best option to supplement some of that income loss.” Hague reviews how to determine how much life insurance is needed by analyzing goals and objectives. He also discusses the different types of insurances and their advantages and disadvantages.

This e-seminar is now available.

Note: The retirement planning part of the e-seminar will now be part of a separate e-seminar at a later date.

FEATURE: Business tips for freelancers

By Megan Rogers

While flexibility and independence are strengths of freelancing, they also introduce complications. Managing personal business affairs while developing professionally and finding a balance between life and work can be challenging. Fortunately, these skills can get better with practice, and experienced court reporters are a great resource for business tips.

Marketing

For a freelancer, the best marketing strategy involves using a variety of cost-productive tools. The first step is to prepare the court reporter’s equivalent of a portfolio. “Prepare a professional one-page resume and be sure it is grammatically correct,” says Christine Phipps, RPR, a freelancer and firm owner from West Palm Beach, Fla. “Also list the writer you use along with the CAT software with version number,” she adds, so firm owners can see the reporter uses up-to-date, reliable technology. Phipps also suggests including a sample excerpt of an ASCII transcript of approximately 20 pages in length, removing any personal details or information that’s confidential under HIPAA, and to include the steno notes for that section. This portfolio can be emailed to firm owners so they have an idea of what to expect from potential new reporters.

Networking is an important part of a marketing strategy, as well as a great way to improve skills. “You want to make sure you network with other court reporters and firm owners at association events so that you can become known in your local market,” says Kim Neeson, RPR, CRR, CBC, CCP, a freelancer and firm owner from Toronto, Canada. “Participate on a committee of your local association, so people can get to see your competencies firsthand, even if it’s not as a court reporter per se.”

Having a personal connection to a network could also lead to more work. According to the 2014 Firm Owners Economic Benchmark Survey, about 56 percent of court reporting firms’ client base comes from other court reporting firms and colleagues, suggesting that freelancers should make connections to firms in their area even if they aren’t regularly accepting work from that firm.

Phipps agrees, adding that while conventions provide great learning opportunities, their value goes beyond the sessions: “Conventions are about surrounding yourself with people in the field and learning from them.” She emphasizes that volunteering for a local, state, or national association is also a great way to develop professionally. “I have met some amazing, wonderful, brilliant people who have taught me not to look at things in a vacuum. From this, I’ve learned so many tips and tricks that others do that I never could have learned anywhere else,” continues Phipps.

New connections, however, lose their value if they end with the initial conversation. Lisa Migliore Black, a freelancer and firm owner from Louisville, Ky., emphasizes that any marketing materials need to look professional. “It’s better to have no marketing materials than to have something that represents your company poorly or looks like it was thrown together,” she says. If you’re not comfortable with design, for either print or Web, it might be worthwhile to hire someone to help. Alternatively, think more creatively for marketing materials. For example, “many people may dispose of a business card or flyer, but few throw away a pen,” Black says.

Any marketing strategy should at least consider social media, although using social media should be done thoughtfully. For an individual, a social media account on a site like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter might suffice, or it might be worthwhile setting up a website. But, as Black points out, then the trick is getting traffic to the site. Having a blog can help, says Black, because then there’s content for potential clients to read and to share on social media. But Phipps warns that even though many people use sites like Facebook for more personal reasons, anything that can be seen by the public needs to be professional.

Ultimately, however, the best way marketing tactic is providing excellent client service. “Word-of-mouth referrals are more effective for bringing business to the door than any print ad or client testimonial on my website,” says Black. And when you find those clients, “underpromise and overdeliver,” Black advises. Neeson agrees: “The more agency clients request you for your work, the more you build up your business and value to those you serve.”

Finances

The key to managing business finances is organization. Keep records not just on expenses like meals, parking, and office supplies, but also track all income. “Many firms pay via direct deposit, and you are able to get your payroll sheets from within the online office program,” says Phipps. “You should download these and save for your records. I have seen firms that have cut reporters off from their online office access when the reporter no longer works for the firm, and then that information is no longer available.” Then use separate files – whether on the computer or in hard copy – to organize those documents into categories.

Because finances can be tricky, this is another area where it’s a good idea to invest in some help. Bookkeeping software like FreshBooks or QuickBooks can help with tracking income and expenses and, depending on the product, may also help with creating reports and determining quarterly taxes. Many of them include tools on mobile devices as well. An accountant can also help with bookkeeping.

The 2015 Freelancer Survey Report makes it clear that getting paid in a timely manner is a main concern for freelancers, but the situation depends on whether the money comes through a firm or directly from the clients. For freelancers accepting work by firms, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of the firms’ policies. “If a new firm is contacting you to cover for them, I would do your best to check their references with friends or whatever connections you have available to you to make sure there are no payment issues,” says Phipps. “You should at least have an email confirming the firm’s policy for payment to reporters and what your responsibilities are. If the firm hasn’t paid in the specified time, contact the accounting department.” And, as with all legal issues, make sure to keep all conversations about payment in writing.

For freelancers who are acting as one-person firms and taking work directly from clients, have a payment timeline in place. Thirty days is a common threshold to send a reminder invoice, possibly with a late fee (although this should be clear in the original contract), and call the client to confirm they received the second invoice and understand that payment is expected. For long overdue accounts, the next step may be legal action, which could mean small claims court or a collection attorney. Again, keep a written record of the entire transaction.

Professionalism

The value in attending court reporting events cannot be understated. Conventions are not only a networking tool for marketing; they’re also important for professional development. In industries like court reporting, captioning, and legal video that are always changing, continuing education is crucial to remain a valuable professional, which is why NCRA credentials require continuing education and offers so many methods of earning those CEUs. Conferences and similar events are also great places to get one-on-one advice from colleagues. Interacting with other professionals provides the opportunity to find anything from a solution for a single problem or a long-term mentor and guide. This is especially important when it comes to staying on top of technology; conferences are a great place to meet with vendors and discover new products (or even a few new features) or to find tech-savvy colleagues who are happy to share knowledge, in person or via social media networks.

Events are not the only place to find professional development, however. The Internet can be a great place to find a network of like-minded professionals or resources.  The U.S. Small Business Administration offers dozens of articles about starting and running a small business, which is essentially what freelancers are doing. The SBA recommends, for example, freelancers give themselves a regular review just as they would get if they were on a more traditional office. Consider setting specific professional goals throughout the year and using personal reviews to track them. Feedback from clients and firms, which sometimes need to be solicited, can help with developing specific goals.

Finding a balance between life and work

One of the trickiest aspects of being a freelancer is finding a balance between professional and personal responsibilities. Unlike other areas like marketing or finances, which have more general tricks, finding the right balance comes down to what works for the individual. First and foremost, set boundaries. “Know how long it takes you to scope and proofread work,” says Phipps. “You should know your limits and be clear with the firms you’re working with on the maximum amount of pages you can take in a week.” And be sure to schedule breaks, both large and small. For large depositions, Black sets a daily page goal and small percentage goals through the day and takes short breaks in between. She also suggests using a tablet to proofread so she can do so while sitting outside or eating a meal. And don’t underestimate the value of a longer break when necessary. “I gave up too many vacations only to realize that it’s just as important to recharge as it is to be present at work,” Neeson says.

Even though proofreading takes time, there are a few ways to make the task more manageable. At the basic level, write clean and know your software. “I made it my mission to always try to write as clean as possible and thereby reduce my scoping and proofreading time,” says Neeson. Black suggests using dead time during the day to scope and proofread. “The biggest efficiency is editing while I’m taking down live testimony. Every correction I make from my writer or on my realtime screen saves me valuable time later.” The right software can make these tasks easier too. Phipps suggests using Connection Magic because then reporters “can invite a scopist into their file to scope and the court reporter can simultaneously proofread at the same time.” Black makes sure to bring a touchscreen laptop on jobs to quick tap the screen and add missing punctuation on-the-job. She also suggests taking advantage of software training sessions, either one-on-one or in a group setting.

In many ways, however, finding a balance comes down to finding help when necessary, whether this is using a trusted scopist or proofreader, delegating household tasks to other family members or to a cleaning service, finding service professionals who are flexible about accommodating last-minute appointments, or prioritizing daily events, like making sure to eat dinner as a family. For freelancers with children, however, sometimes the biggest hurdle to finding a balance is to not feel guilty about missing things here and there.

The same things that make freelancing challenging can also be advantages. Having personal responsibility over marketing and finances also means having a measure of control. This is especially true in marketing since word of mouth still prevails, even in the digital age, and freelancers definitely have control over the quality of their customer service. Some of the same tactics that can business development can also help with individual professional development, especially by attending local, state, or national conferences. And while achieving a true balance between work and life is tricky, having a more flexible schedule can help shift responsibilities around when something comes up. The biggest tip for a freelancer, however, is to stay active in a network of like-minded colleagues to continue to share information and support with each other.

 

Megan Rogers is NCRA’s Communications Assurance Specialist. She can be reached at mrogers@ncra.org.