Day 10 : Writing As A Tool For Building and Developing Your Freelance Transcription Career

hand_writing

My first day as a certified member of the transcriptionist team at TranscribeMe has been one of fascination and information overload. Having now registered on the system I have been given access to several well-organized, yet dense, resources which form a comprehensive introduction and transition into the company. The internal social media network (which is essentially a customized, internal, Facebook-style social media platform where all members of the company can connect and share information) is run on the Yammer system. The revolution in workplace social media applications which Yammer exemplifies is in itself a very interesting subject to research. Here’s a very informative lecture by Adam Pisoni, the CEO of Yammer, where he explains how the evolving social media technology is revolutionizing communication and productivity levels in work organizations off all kinds and sizes :

A quick browse through the sections and topics shows a thriving social network of people from locations throughout the world sharing helpful information related to company operations, work issues, support for all kinds of potential issues which can arise, etc. It has all of the helpful features of any social media system, allowing you to connect with, follow, send messages, chat, etc. with other members of the company. Compare this with the essentially ABSENT communication provided by the other company I have been working with for the past month and the TranscribeMe system is a breath of fresh air. It is also a good opportunity to gain experience with this kind of productive communication system and the purposes it serves in the online transcription industry. Communication itself is a VITAL component to the entire online transcription operation, as it is often the only mechanism by which transcribers can collaborate and share important information related to the companies they work for, the projects they work on and the customers they serve. Considering that most online transcriptionists are home-based teleworkers who are dispersed throughout the world, the internet essentially provides the main means of communication between themselves, their coworkers, and their employers/clients.

I decide to take things nice and slowly as I work to get my bearings in this initial stage. I read a couple of posts whose topics catch my interest. These short posts are clear and provide quick and complete answers to very practical questions. I find a handful of these posts in the first hour of browsing, and each one provides an answer to an important question I have as a newbie which then allows me to proceed working through the system with more confidence and competence. I also “follow” a few of the people I know from the external forums who have already been working on TranscribeMe. These connections are valuable, especially in the beginning as I can ask some questions directly to these people instead of taking the risk of bothering other people in the network who I don’t know. As a newbie I am hesitant to make any posts as there is always the risk of breaking etiquette by asking a question which has already been addressed. So I decide to lurk for the first few days and take in as much info as I can without actually posting.

Speaking of etiquette, the company also provides a very helpful “Guide For New Transcribers” ebook (in pdf format). This handy little eight page book provides answers to the most important issues which arise as you get acquainted with the system (ex. the audio files system,  social network rules and etiquette, description of the entire transcription process, information on how to get help, etc.). I commit to reading one or two pages of this document per day to my training schedule.

I now have a healthy amount of information to go through in the days ahead. I will spend roughly an hour per day browsing through and interacting on the company’s internal social media network, reading a few pages of the style guide and beginner’s guide, take on some of the roughly one-minute transcription files to practice my skills and earn some income, and contine to read several blog posts (on the growing number of quality transcription-related blogs I am finding through my research) to continually expand my skills and knowledge related to the whole world of transcription. One such quality blog I have discovered recently through one of the transcription forums is :

http://www.alphabetsecretarial.co.uk/blog/

The Alphabet blog has several especially interesting posts which are worth the time, such as :

Twitter – Nonsensical Jibber Jabber or Transcribers on a Global Scale?

In addition to (and in extension of) all my research, I am finding that my blog writing is becoming more important as the amount of information I am working through increases. The writing process allows me to process and organize the experience. It allows a natural pacing which is healthy for someone like me whose brain works very fast and has a tendency to take on too much which overloads the circuitry and ultimately ends up becoming counter-productive. Knowing that my blog posts will be read by other people who are new to the transcription world in the future forces me to explain the whole experience clearly – both to them and myself (since as we all know the old saying “The best way to learn something is to teach it.”). The blog is also serving another important function of giving me something to focus on when there are no jobs available on either of the company’s available job boards, or when the jobs which are available for not appealing. It is easy to get stuck in the mode of checking the boards obsessively – especially when the workflow is thin – and this can become counterproductive in itself. It is better to focus on something which you focus on productively for several hours.

In general I have found writing to be an increasingly important tool in the expanding information age. The world as a whole, is continuing to be transformed into a more densely information-based entity. Think about how much more information we are faced with on a daily basis today compared with just a decade ago. More and more things in the world are becoming digitized. From the increasing digitization of photographic information enabled by the expansion of Smartphones with attached cameras which can directly upload images to various social media sites in mere seconds, to the more elaborate applications allowed by the collection, processing and presentation of data by “Big Data” applications such as Google Maps, which has now collected enough data to allow users to engage in a “virtual street-level visual tour” of any street in the developed (and even undeveloped world) IN ADDITION to locations underwater, on the Moon, Mars, etc. It really is amazing how much information is now being processed and utilized to enhance a growing number of practical (and some not-so-practical) everyday functions for people throughout the world.

Since information (a.k.a. : “content”) is essentially the new currency of the modern digital world it only makes sense that one way we can contribute to the development of this emerging paradigm is to contribute knowledge in various forms. Writing, of course, is a main mechanism by which we transfer information from inside our minds into the external world and thus to the minds of other individuals and the group-mind as a whole (the internet now serving as the physical embodiment of that aggregate, “global mind”. Therefore, I find that writing (especially with the application of that writing in the form of blogging) is an important component to my overall online activity (of which the transcription, editing, research, etc. are all a part). The writing functions as a thread which ties the other efforts together and makes the whole process more efficient and presentable.

Morgan Gist-MacDonald – academic editor, writing coach and owner of Paper Raven Editing company – explains the importance of building an online presence for the writer as a main tool for helping people, in her blog post :

How building your online presence could change your life and your readers’ 

Morgan’s blog is full of informative and practical blog articles which examine all of the important issues for writers in the digital age. It is well worth the time browsing through her posts.

So, my whole strategy in learning and navigating the transcription world is really taking on some good shape and efficiency. Combining the daily research tasks with practice on audio files within my capability and the blogging effort is really taking on the healthy qualities of creative flow which are turning the whole endeavor into an enlightening and somewhat enjoyable one. It should be interesting to see how much progress I will achieve after another month following this general strategy,

In the next post I will discuss how online transcription is a great way to be exposed to new kinds of interesting information and get paid to do a job which helps improve the quality of that information – a real win-win situation.

FrankyFreedom
freelance_transcriptionist@hotmail.com

 

Day 4 : Plugging Into the Virtual Global Community : The Lifeline of the Freelance Transcriptionist

crowd

Following right along with the plan, I spent the day evaluating the trickle of new jobs which rolled onto the “available jobs” board of the online system. The experience of the past few days has shown that there seem to be batches of regular, ongoing projects which arrive in waves and then pass. The current regular project at this time is a “focus group” type of setup. Basically, it is 30 minute audio files recorded in a classroom setting. The problem is that the recording set up is far from ideal, there are many speakers who often speak over each other, and many of them are native Spanish speaking (second language English speakers) who often interject Spanish terms and sentences into their speech. This is in addition to the often heavy accents of BOTH the students AND (often) the teachers themselves (many of whom are immigrants from Asian countries). The bottom line is that these are NOT the ideal kind of files for the newbie to be working on to build confidence and motivation. Early success is key to progress in ANY endeavor.

I listened to several of the files, but just found them to be so boring and complicated that I decided it was not worth the aggravation to attempt to transcribe them. However, I did accept a few to edit. Although the editing was indeed tedious and boring (as expected) it was at least a chance to get a feel for how the other transcribers were handling the transcription of these audio files. The good thing about being able to choose to edit, instead of only transcribing, is that you take less risk of failing to do the job properly, yet you benefit from being able to follow along with the various methods and styles of the actual transcriber. While some are done well, and others terrible, you learn through example from each one.  By doing this you gain confidence by seeing what the transcriber has done right, wrong and the variations of correct and incorrect transcribing techniques that different transcribers use.

In addition, it is not like you are taking the easy way out by choosing to edit. Having a separate person edit/proofread the transcription is indeed a very valuable component to the overall process, and produces the highest quality end product for the client. The editor often catches subtle mistakes that the transcriber missed – especially in long transcription files where the transcriber grew tired over time and their accuracy level declined (especially towards the latter portion of the transcript. as they are using racing against a deadline). In addition, the editor may very well likely be able to decipher some of the words the original transcriber couldn’t. Thus, including this additional editing/proofreading step into the production process has a significant positive effect on the quality of the final product. This benefits everyone : the company, the transcribers/editors and the customer.

Since  there was a general shortage of new files coming on to the available job board which I judged to be interesting and easy enough to take on, I started feeling the desire to find out more information about what kinds of jobs I could expect from the company and the general frequency that I could expect new jobs to be posted to the available job board. As a result of this I looked around the site to find more information. Unfortunately, the only information available was that on the FAQs page and that information was quite slim. The only way to contact the company administration was through the inline email form on the “support” page or a direct email to support@xxxx.com.  In fact, I had already sent them an email with a few questions the day before and had gotten no response. I began to get concerned. This lack of adequate communication with the company was making me nervous (especially since I had done several hours of work up to this point and I was now concerned about potential payment problems).

As an experienced online marketer I am well aware of the value of proper communication between an online organization and its consumers. While I had been impressed by the professional design presentation of the company’s overall web site (including their polished recruiting and testing systems) I was now beginning to see that the equally important communication element was nowhere up to par with the former. In addition, there was no system set up to have communication with the other freelancers who were transcribing/editing for the company. The combination of my intuition and experience begins raising some red flags, calling into question the integrity of the company. I motivate myself with the fact that if this turns out to NOT be a legitimate opportunity I should AT LEAST take maximum advantage of the overall learning opportunity presented so far.

At this potential crisis point my experience in online marketing and social media kicked in and I immediately began to initiate what I like to call “the connection process”. Since I had already been a member of the “Freelance Editing Network” group on LinkedIn, and had made some excellent connections and gained great information there, my first impulse was to search the LinkedIn groups for something more specific to the “transcription” task at hand. Sure enough, LinkedIn has a fine “Transcription” group to fill the exact need for connection and information that I have at this point. This specific group is an “open” one, and so immediately upon request my membership was confirmed and I was able to begin reading through the posts and initiate the process of building connections.

On the LinkedIn groups and/or industry forums I always like to practice the proper etiquette of taking some time to read some posts before posting. Often the question(s) you have will already have been addressed and the older members of the group/board will prefer that new people make their presence known more gradually and subtly. What I usuallly do is read some posts, “like” some of the comments, and if one of the members really has something interesting to say I will click “reply privately” and send a polite and brief comment. Usually I introduce myself a little, inform them that I am new in the group, and open for information if they care to share any tips with a “newbie”. In general, if you approach members politely and strategically most are glad to offer some helpful tips, suggest some resources, and often refer you to some helpful connections in their personal network. Just try to avoid asking them for information which is already posted somewhere on the group board. Many groups have a special introduction section where new members can post their information, situation and needs. Be sure to take advantage of this.

As evidence of the power and effectiveness of the LinkedIn groups, I was able – within an hour of reading a few threads – to gather a few powerful leads to several more online transcription companies (similar to the current company I was connected with). It turns out that there are HUNDREDS of these online transcription companies, AND that they vary in the specific niches they serve, the type of work they offer to transcribers, and the quality of their operations and transcription file audio quality. Thus it only seemed logical to gather the names and web site addresses of some of these companies (specifically the most highly rated) and take some time each day to evaluate their sites and proceed through the application process if the quality was adequate. I spent a few minutes doing just that. This process is another important element of the research process. Through the groups and forums you are able to get reviews of these companies by the many people who have had actual experience working for them. Reading through the threads you can CLEARLY get a sense of which companies to court, and which ones to avoid like the plague.

The best lead I got on that first browse through the group was a post made by the owner and moderator of the top-notch Transcription Haven forum. Her post in the linked in group was very informative, so I decided to follow through to the forum and register. As it is a closed forum you need to pass a quick quality check. The moderator basically sends you an email shortly after you register asking you to answer a few questions to prove that you are serious about being a member (ex. using the forum information to legitimately develop your transcription skills and not being a troublemaker). They also ask how you found the forum. So I figured the best response would be to refer to the post I read in the LinkedIn group. I also mentioned clearly that I had “no intention of causing trouble”. I sent the email off and within a few minutes I got a verification email with username and password and was able to log in to the forum.

As if the LinkedIn “Transcription” group wasn’t helpful enough, the Transcription Haven forum is a VERY professional and user-friendly gold mine of information on essentially everything related to the transcription world. The forum is clean, welcoming, very well organized and a pleasant social venue above and beyond all of the quality information related to all things transcription. As the sheer amount of information is vast I proceeded as I always do with dense web resources – that is, one post at a time. Starting with the “Introductions” section I began reading a few posts per day to get a feel for the kind of people who are involved in the transcription world. For those who resonated specifically well with my situation I sent them a quick introductory PM (private message). Within hours I was already getting very valuable responses with advice and links. Over the next few days members were introducing me to additional online companies who I was able to connect with and get more work. Members often post leads for immediate projects and short term overload work. In the coming days I spend an hour or two per day getting familiar with the various sections of the forum (including : “Motivation and Moral Support”, “Tips, Tools and Tricks-Of-The-Trade”, “Vent Away” and more) and working through three or four threads per day.

The bottom line is that there are NUMEROUS resources which exist which are absolutely free, and which can get you moving along in the development of your transcription career if you have decent research skills and are willing to do the footwork. More importantly, you can see how my situation changed so quickly from working in frustrated isolation with a company which provided no sort of mechanism to connect with colleagues to one in which I had established a direct line of communication with a vast GLOBAL network of supportive and experienced people working in the field I was in the process of moving into. I can’t stress what a difference it makes to have this support. Especially in the digital age of social media, it is common knowledge that networking is the most powerful component for success in any endeavor.

In the next post we will look at the process of evaluating the various online transcription companies, and developing your research strategy for helping avoid some of the scams which manage to get past the radar of the online transcription community.