How to stump a proofreader: Top five easy-to-miss errors

By Caitlin Pyle

Reporters, scopists, proofreaders… anyone who touches a transcript knows: Proofreading is never easy! Some errors are so common, proofreading eyes can see them right away. But others can be oh-so sneaky: They can look “right” even when they’re not. Let’s take a look at the top five easy-to-miss errors.

1) Follow-up vs. follow up vs. followup

This trio is seen most often in insurance cases and doctor depositions. Let’s take a look at some examples of proper use for each form:

A) Follow-up is used as a noun or an adjective: “I have a follow-up scheduled on Friday.” or “She was supposed to set a follow-up appointment with me after the MRI.”

Example of incorrect use: “Please follow-up with your attorney when you get those results.”

B) Follow up is used as a verb: “Did you follow up with your GP?” or “I’ll follow up with you if we decide to order.”

Example of incorrect use: “I have a follow up scheduled tomorrow.”

C) Followup is less common, but can be used just like “follow-up” — as a noun or adjective. It should not be used as a verb.

2) Proper usage of ZIP Code

It may not seem like a big deal, but trademarks are a big deal. That’s right — ZIP Code is an official trademark owned by the United States Postal Service. The “ZIP” in ZIP Code is an acronym that stands for Zone Improvement Plan, and that is why ZIP is capitalized. So give your proofreader a heads-up, and check your dictionary for other common instances: ZIP code, zipcode, Zip code, and zip code.

3) Hyphenating vice president or air conditioning

Whenever I’m tempted to hyphenate vice president or air conditioning, I think about what cheese pizza or ham sandwich would look like hyphenated. It just doesn’t work! Like ham and cheese, vice, and air are not phrasal adjectives, so they aren’t hyphenated. Oddly enough, though, “vice president” is hyphenated in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Who knew?

4) When effect is correctly used as a verb… and when affect is correctly used as a noun

Nine times out of ten, affect is a verb and effect is a noun — and this is exactly how I explain it whenever one of my clients has a question regarding their proper use. But on the rare occasion when the roles of affect and effect are reversed, it’s always tough to explain why it’s not an error. Let’s take a closer look.

  1. Effect as a verb: It means to bring about, to cause, or to achieve: “Let me know when you can effect the changes in the written questions.”
  2. Affect as a noun: It means display of emotion: “Did his affect change when you told him?”

5) Capitalization and apostrophe placement in Workers’ Compensation

As part of the U.S. Department of Labor, the official name of the workers’ compensation office is Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. Unless the official name is used in full, or if it’s somehow used in a title of a publication, regular old transcript use of “workers’ compensation” should not be capitalized. Note the placement of the apostrophe, too — keep the plural possessive form, as used in the official name of the office.

That’s it! The top five easy-to-miss errors. So be honest… how’d you do? Straight As? Miss a couple? It’s all good. No one’s perfect, and we’re all in this to help each other grow as professionals. And, hey, here’s a fun idea — maybe you can throw one or two of these into your next job to see if your proofreader notices! But if you plant ‘em, make sure you remember where you put ‘em!

Caitlin Pyle is a proofreader based in Orlando, Fla. In business since 2009, she proofreads for 20+ reporters each month and teaches the multimedia online course Transcript Proofreading: Theory and Practice via her website ProofreadAnywhere.com.

STUDENT REPORTING: Great expectations

By Katherine McNally

When embarking on the adventures found in court reporting school, everyone comes in with their own set of great expectations. In the almost 20 years of teaching and the four years of being a student myself, here are just some of the great expectations I have heard:

  • I am going to finish in a year.
  • I am not going to be the 90 percent that drop out.
  • I want to make a better life for my children.
  • I want to teach court reporting.
  • I want to set my own hours and work when I want to.
  • I want to be able to work from anywhere.

Recently my students and I watched a YouTube video titled “Will Smith Shares His Secrets of Success.” In the video he says: “Being realistic is the most common road to mediocrity.”

As court reporters in training, many people try to convince you that you need to be realistic about this profession. They may say: Isn’t this a dying profession? Aren’t you going to be replaced by tapes, video, electronic recording, or voice recognition? When are you going to be done with school? I have even had students tell me that they have had teachers in the past who insinuated that they didn’t have what it takes to be successful in this field.

One of my great expectations for my students is to believe that they have great careers waiting for them. But it is incumbent upon the student to put in the time and focus and passion that it will take for them to become successful. The field of court reporting is populated by a unique breed of people. They are people who made a decision to become one of a small group of people who can learn a new language that sounds like English when you speak it but looks like steno when you read it. This new language has to be written at astounding speeds. These individuals can understand people who have accents from around the world, who use parts of speech that are unique to other fields and languages, who have speech impediments or physical disabilities that require machines to help them speak.

As students, I would ask that you set great expectations for yourselves. Find that reason that you signed up for a class in court reporting, dust it off, and set it up on the highest shelf alongside your other trophies in life. Practice what you don’t know with an intensity built on a desire to be the best in your field. Don’t accept others’ opinions or limitations on what you can or should be. And, most of all, don’t be mediocre in your own expectations of yourself.

Katherine McNally, CRI, CLVS, is a court reporting instructor at Bryan University, which is based in Tempe, Ariz. She can be reached at katherine.mcnally@bryanuniversity.edu.

STUDENT REPORTING: For the HRU*F of language

By Katherine Schilling

¿Puedes leer esto?

これが読めますか

K-/U/RAED/TH-?

Before I knew stenography, I knew Japanese. I started learning it on my own in junior high, had formal education in the college classroom setting, and then did full immersion in Japan. After years of learning, I got to the point where I was using it on the job, and I have been a freelance translator for the better part of a decade now. So when I first dove into court reporting, I immediately looked at my court reporting classes as learning another language. Many elements of theory class and speedbuilding reminded me of lessons in Japanese class, as they apply the same principles used in second-language acquisition.

The four pillars

Not including the element of culture, language fluency can be broken down into four chief skills: writing, reading, speaking, and listening. Skill for skill, stenography requires fluency in each to become a solid reporter. First, we must write this new language with its own unique alphabet of not only letters but also sounds and briefs. Next, we learn how to read our own notes and speak them aloud. The reason reading our notes aloud is encouraged in school is because the more quickly you read steno, the more easily you build speed. Lastly, listening. This, by far, is the most important of the steno skills.

Stenography puts our listening skills to the ultimate test. Where we have new grammar structures to contend with when learning another language, we have to learn to listen to our (typically) native language in an entirely new way as court reporters. Take the sample sentence: How many of the district attorney’s  documents have been brought into the courtroom in this case? No doubt many of you automatically homed in on the common briefs or two- or three-word phrases in that sentence. With practice, breaking down sentences like this becomes a subconscious reflex for court reporters, but it is something that must be learned as a student. Instructors often advise students to learn this skill by sitting in a higher speed class and simply listening in order to train their brains to process the information at a faster rate and have it translate directly from their ears to their fingers. Just as in learning a traditional language, the four skills of writing, reading, speaking, and listening must be learned and practiced in order to attain fluency in stenography.

Quality not quantity

In the case of learning a second language, it’s often not how many words you know, but what words you know. Rather than tackling every possible word under the sun, smart learners need to put only 20 percent of their efforts towards learning the “right” words in order to achieve 80 percent comprehension, solely due to the frequency of those words. A capable language instructor will tailor vocabulary lists to cover only the most common words for that language. Train station may be almost obsolete in American society, but it’s the central hub of a Japanese cityscape. Goat is associated more with Old MacDonald in English preschools, but you’ll encounter it in the first week of Vietnamese class because of its popularity in the country’s dishes.

It is for this same reason that court reporting instructors have students drill lists of the 1000 most common English words. Our earliest briefs and phrases learned in theory are hand-selected because of their practicality and relevancy in a legal setting. You’re not likely to learn “evidence” in your first few months or even years of Spanish class, but it’s one of the first words we learn in court reporting class. This focus on the most common sounds, words, and phrases is what quickly enables a student to become fluent in stenography just as in any language.

Building off

As it is impossible to really learn any language “from scratch,” polyglots use their previous knowledge of their own language or life experience to piece together new grammar rules and extrapolate to create unique sentences in the language they are learning. This tool, more often found in adult learners, on account of their more intimate knowledge with parts of their own language, facilitates the language-acquiring process.

Likewise, after covering the building blocks of the stenographic language in theory, disciplined students will naturally begin stringing together phonetic strokes to build new words not taught in class. Later on throughout speedbuilding, students will devise new briefs and phrases as the need arises based off of the patterns of briefs and brief families learned before. In this way, court reporters use not only the arsenal of linguistic knowledge from their native language to apply to stenography, but they build off of the rules and patterns established in earlier steno lessons to boost their fluency.

Full immersion

The last outstanding similarity I see with court reporting school and a language class is the impact that discipline and immersion can make. If one thing was made clear by Japanese class in school, it’s that those who embraced the language head-on made the most progress. Students who did all of the homework, practiced outside of class, and reviewed future lessons became fluent more quickly than those who only dabbled in the language as a passing fancy and left it behind when they left the classroom. This can also be seen in court reporting students, and the difference is evident as early as in theory. Students need to take a proactive role in their learning if they hope to excel in court reporting school. Stay on the machine after class, practice dictation from sources outside of your textbook, and immerse yourself in court reporting by attending industry conventions or speaking with working reporters. With studies debunking misconceptions about needing the “knack” or “gene” to become fluent in another language, that only leaves discipline and passion to dictate your success.

From the way in which theory lessons are structured to the benefits of embracing stenography outside of class, you’ll find the same principles of second-language acquisition in court reporting school as in any language class. When you see these similarities, you can appreciate your own fluency in this wonderful language and consider yourself, at the very least, bilingual. And as my Japanese teacher said in school, “Language is a game.” So get off the bench, have fun, and play to win!

Katherine Shilling is a high-speed student at West Valley College in the Bay Area with the goal of reporting in Japan. She can be reached at kschilli@gmail.com.

 

MEMBER PROFILE: Debbie Bridges

Currently resides in:  Wheaton, Ill.

Position: Firm owner, Bridges Court Reporting

Chicago, Ill.

Member since:  1982

Graduated from: Triton College

Theory:  StenEd

Why did you decide to become a court reporter?

The interesting thing is I had no idea what I was getting myself into, i.e., the actual career of court reporting. I happened to see someone writing on the machine in a classroom, and I was fascinated and wanted to learn everything there was to know about it. Once I became a court reporter, I enjoyed the flexibility and the career options that could be adjusted according to major life events, such as having my children and so on.

Think back to when you were a new reporter. What was your biggest hurdle to overcome, and how did you do so? 

Confidence. I was not provided with a mentor at my first job. I was a new reporter, and I wanted to find another reporter that I could emulate and learn from. I hired a proofreader immediately so that I could turn in great work, and I asked a lot of questions of the more seasoned court reporters, so I could learn to do a great job.

What surprised you about your career and why?

I’m surprised that I enjoy the business of court reporting more than the actual court reporting itself. I started Bridges Court Reporting 12 years ago, and it’s been exciting building our brand and creating leadership in the company. Once again, I was met with the challenge of finding the information I needed to manage and develop a growing business. Again, I found myself asking from whom can I learn, so that I can create a great company.

Then, a couple years ago, I stumbled upon the power of learning from experts, and I thought to myself, I must share this with my community, and so I created CEUs In Your Slippers. This is an online platform that provides a variety of learning opportunities for court reporters and business owners to grow both personally and professionally. Since it’s an online platform, you can learn from the comfort of your home computer. All of our webcasts are CEU approved.

Do you have a favorite gadget?

Without a doubt it’s my smartphone.

What book are you reading right now?

I’m reading How I Created a Dollar Out of Thin Air by Ann Marie Houghtailing.

What advice or tips would you offer to new reporters?

You don’t know what you don’t know. Embrace a firm that will invest in your continued growth. Choose to work with the firm that will encourage you to go outside your comfort zone so you can continue to learn.

Have you accomplished something not related to your career that you would like to relate?

Four years ago, I rescued my disabled brother and his dog from a very difficult situation, and I’m proud of how far he’s come with a little love, support, and encouragement.

THE LAST PAGE: Just for fun

Days of wine and depositions

Q. My question is just whether there was.
A. I said I don’t recall. I’m starting to get too relaxed here. I forgot you’re the bad guy; I can’t talk.
MR. JONES: Mr. Smith’s a nice guy.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, sir.
THE WITNESS: Give me a glass of wine; I’ll talk all you want.
MR. SMITH: Can we get a cabernet?
MR. JONES: Even John will talk for that.
Therese Casterline, RMR, CRR
The Colony, Texas

Smile and the world smiles with you
Q. May I ask, sir, at this period of time were you working outside the home? Did you have a job?
A. Yeah. Yes.
Q. What do you do?
A. I’m a construction consultant.
Q. Construction consultant?
A. Yes.
Q. So I take it in your business you’re familiar with contracts?
A. Somewhat. Not on an attorney level.
MR. SMITH: Nobody gets down that low.
MR. JONES: Are you telling a joke here or what?
THE WITNESS: No. I’m just saying I’m not an attorney.
MR. SMITH: If we can’t smile, life is not worth living.
Helga C. Lavan, RPR
Hicksville, N.Y.

Don’t like like
A. Yeah, for, like, a month or so, I felt, you know, I felt better, but then, like, after, like, I noticed that I would still get pains back, but, like, I wouldn’t — I would just, like, try to ignore it. I said it’s probably just normal. But then it just kept coming back, like, the pain, so then I felt like I probably, like, you know, didn’t fully, like, get better, like, after that. Like, I thought I was better, but then I guess, like, I wasn’t better. Like, does it make sense?
Dominique Isabeau
Daly City, Calif.

In a New York minute
MR. SMITH: Let’s go to lunch.
THE WITNESS: I’m deferring to the New Yorkers and whether it’s better to wait until 1 so the crowd’s down or it’s just always going to be crowded or —
MR. SMITH: Honestly, the rule on this side of the table — feel free to disagree on the other — is if it’s an hour with o’clock and a day ending in Y and it’s here, it will be crowded. That’s not quite true, but it’s a very good rule of thumb.
Laurie Collins, RPR
Brooklyn, N.Y.
Never retire
A retired police officer’s deposition was taken.
A. Well, I don’t want to say we sat next to each other and corroborated the report, but it was my last two weeks working and he was going to try to handle everything so we — if I had interviewed somebody, I would have told him what they told me. And if he put that in his report, he would have put that in his report.
But I don’t recall specifically saying, hey, put this in the report, put that in the report. But he was — the goal was for him to handle most of the reports so that I wouldn’t be here a year later at a deposition, so — it was the goal, but apparently it didn’t work well.
Elsa Jorgensen
Birmingham, Mich.

Risk-taker
Q. Did you exit the taxi after the accident had occurred?
A. Of course I exited the taxi. I wasn’t about to blow up. This isn’t Final Destination.
Christine DeRosa
Plainview, N.Y.

The judge making himself clear
Q. Okay. You’re being way too cute for words. You are a lawyer. You know it’s important to —
MR. JONES: Your Honor, I’m going to have to object. Would Ms. Hood not berate the witness?
THE COURT: Overruled. Go ahead. Let’s move on.
(Pause.)
THE COURT: Do you have a problem with my ruling, Counselor?
MR. JONES: The way she’s — I have a problem with the way she’s talking to the witness.
THE COURT: Do you have a problem with my ruling?
MR. JONES: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Okay. Overruled.
MR. JONES: Okay.
THE COURT: I get to make rulings, and I made one. You don’t have to like it.
MR. JONES: I agree, Your Honor, a hundred percent.
THE COURT: And you don’t have to engage me in conversation when you do it. Do you understand?
MR. JONES: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: Am I clear?
Peggy Hershelman, RPR
League City, Texas

The laws of physics
A. Those floors and the roof, in turn, brace the walls laterally against wind loads and seismic loads, because, if the walls and floors are not there, those tall walls, if the roof structure and floor structure were absent and the wall was just free standing by itself, it would be unstable, so the floors and the roof brace the walls, and the walls support the roof and the floors.
Debbie Rafferty
Butte, Mont.

What scares you?
Q. Have you ever represented that you were married, you and Destiny were married?
A. No, ma’am.
Q. Okay. So have you ever been married to anybody else?
A. No, ma’am.
Q. You look scared.
A. The thought of, yeah, marriage is scary, yeah.
Q. All right. Well —
A. Most definitely.
Q. — do you have any children?
A. No, ma’am. No, that’s worse than marriage.
Denyce Sanders, RMR, CRR
Houston, Texas

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.

Business tips for freelancers

Freelancer business tipsWhile 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 is confidential under HIPAA, along with 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 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 in 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.

Work/life balance

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 increase 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.