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 5 : Evaluating Online Transcription Companies”

judge gavel

It has been roughly a week and with a little ambition I have managed to connect with an online transcription company which is feeding me a slow but steady trickle of projects to practice on and make enough income to keep afloat while I utilize some of the many free online resources to build more work and increase my skill level. I have also connected with the wider global online transcription community which is providing some excellent leads and reviews on the numerous online transcription companies and links to their web site and other contact information. While I continue to evaluate the new projects as they appear on the “available jobs” board of the company’s online system, the reality is that many of the jobs tend to be boring and/or above my skills level. Luckily, some of them are adequate and interesting (roughly one per day or two), but I am thinking that it would be ideal to add another online company or two to the mix to increase potential work. In addition, in the current system, once you accept a job you can only work on one at a time. So, for instance, if you take on a transcribing  job which has a 15 hour deadline you will not be able within that time to accept any other projects – for instance, a shorter editing job which you could complete in two hours while you are working on the transcription project. Ideally, you want to be in a situation where you have the most options open, especially considering that the jobs come onto the board and are swooped up by other transcribers rather quickly.

So I begin the process of assessing some of the other online transcription sites throughout the internet. I figure that it will take some time to go through each site (as different sites will have different designs, functionality and amount of content). To save valuable time and effort, it seems that the most efficient way to proceed is to go through the web pages, group and forum posts which have reviews of the various companies which have been written by transcribers who have had experience working for them. The reviews usually contain some valuable information which helps you narrow down which companies are more appropriate for your needs and goals. For instance, some companies specialize in different kinds of transcription (ex. podcast, academic, interview, focus group, etc.). Some companies have a more polished user interface which is highly automated (including the application test) while other are less so (having you submit your application and correspondence via email).

Since I am a big fan of automation and communication I decide to seek out those companies whose system is most automated AND who have a strong web presence (including quality blog) and significant communication resources with the general public, customers and the transcribers who work for the operation. I believe that in the modern digital age these are ESSENTIALS to the progress of any business (especially an online-based one) and the bottom line is that if you work for dysfunctional companies it only ends up limiting you in the grand scheme of things. The operating costs of running a business in the digital age are low enough that skimping on quality is no longer an option. You also lose out on gaining the more quality and positive experience of working with a better organization, and this builds a better resume into the future.

There are numerous transcription-related sites which have compiled very helpful lists (often with reviews) of the plethora of companies out there. Different lists focus on different criteria (ex. lists for : newbie, general/legal/medical transcription, overseas companies, etc.). The following list is a good one to get you started. Just go down the list and click through to the ones which resonate best with you :

List of 30 Stunning Transcription Companies Hiring Now

Since there are many sites which have already listed and reviewed the various transcription companies based on their experience applying and actually working for those companies AND since I am a specifically experience onlined and social media marketing guru-of-sorts, I think it would be most helpful for me to focus on analyzing the web presentation, site functionality and interactivity qualities of some of the companies I have evaluated. I believe that this is most helpful to newbies (and even some veterans) as it doesn’t depend on actually being ACCEPTED into the companies. That is, I am focusing my analysis on the features of these companies which anyone is able to see at the point of arriving at the company’s web site and through the application process (whether or not you actually pass the transcription test and are accepted). In this way, we are looking at the overall operation itself AND focusing on the free content provided by the company to the general public (in addition to merely the prospective transcribers). It’s like when you evaluate a company when you are decided whether or or not to buy shares of its stock. You have to look at the fundamentals. That is, the big picture of how the operation presents itself and operates in both the short and long term senses.

Since I have found that evaluating two or three of the company sites per day is a most ideal workload I will give my analysis of two of these companies in this post and then follow up with two more per future posts as we work through this process. I am adding this regular analysis of the companies because I believe this is an important part of the process of being a transcriptionist for several main reasons. Firstly, companies are constantly coming and going, so it is beneficial to stay on top of changes in the industry. Secondly, the technology is constantly evolving and so new companies are arriving on the scene which are much more functional and thus can more efficiently help you achieve your goals. Thirdly, the good companies often have blogs where they regularly post quality posts packed with information which can be a valuable addition to your overall research effort. We will thus look specifically at some of these posts as we proceed.

Going down the list of 30 companies (above) I started with the Tigerfish company, which was recommended by one of my new contacts in the LinkedIn group. My first impression of their web site was positive. The design is funky and simple. The “about us” page lists the six key people in the company (but without any bio information). They have a blog but it only consists of two posts and those are simply “about the company” type – that is, not geared towards providing information which is valuable to the visitor to the site, ESPECIALLY not the prospective transcriber who is thinking about applying to the company in addition to building their transcription skills and connections. Finally, the employment section link is hard to find (the link is a simple text one and buried way down at the bottom of the main page). When you finally do make it to their employment page they give you a basic rundown of their transcript employment opportunities (focusing on the fact that they are generally overloaded with applications) and then guide you through their rather tedious (compared to the more automated companies) process of downloading their style guide and audio test file and submitting your test via email.

Now, while I am sure that people over Tigerfish are very nice, San Franciscan hipsters who are fun to work with, from my perspective as prospective transcriber they are just not giving me much to chew on. I feel like I have arrived at the site and they have “given me the hand” in the sense of not giving me much of a desire/reason to connect – other than to look at the funky pictures on their Facebook page or the non-interactive info (which doesn’t even have links to the profiles of the key members of the company who are listed on their “about us” page) on their LinkedIn company page.

After evaluating all of the handful of pages of the site I just didn’t feel the love and decided NOT to proceed with the application process. Perhaps if their blog had some informative and regular posts I would at least connect there and/or sign up for an email newletter, but this is just not currently the case. Maybe TigerFish just simply doesn’t put much focus on the online transcriber recruiting effort. Maybe they have more than enough business through their offline operation. For someone like me, however, who is looking to build connections and work with companies who are utilizing the power of the internet to its fullest potential, it is just better to move on to the next company on the list.

*** I hope that anyone reading this post understands that my motive for writing these critiques is purely constructive. I am not taking a “cheap shot” at the above company, but merely providing marketing feedback from a person who has engaged with their web presence based on my own personal goals and needs. Different people will react differently. I also hope that my specific suggestions may be taken as constructive criticism, and that people who evaluate these companies use their own judgement.***

With one evaluation complete for the day I move down the list in search of another. Since I don’t want to spend more of my valuable research time today on another potentially incongruent company AND since the above list only provides one-sentence descriptions of the companies (as opposed to more informative review) I decide to follow up on a lead given to me by a member of the LinkedIn group for the Rev company. A quick Google search pulled up an informative review by someone who actually passed the application process and worked for them :  Rev.Com For Transcribers – A Detailed Review . After reading the review I was motivated to follow through to the company web site to find out more and do an evaluation.

The Rev.com web site is top-notch. It has visually stimulating yet clear and organized layout of information and some snazzy imagery (both static and animated) which is very user-friendly. They give you the lowdown on all the information you need to know and do it in a quick matter (which is very important for busy people online in this modern age, whoe time and general attention span is limited). Their recruitment section for freelancer transcribers is thorough, well automated and presents a very inviting image with raving reviews by current employees (along with their names and faces) to create a very nice feeling of connection. From a marketing perspective, these guys/gals are pros.

By the time you are finished reading the comprehensive yet concise information about their opportunity (ex. pay rate, job perks, testimonials, list of “Fortune 500” companies they do work for, etc.) you are all pumped up to hit that shiny rad “Apply Now” button, strategically positioned smack in the middle of the screen.

The fun is only beginning, however, as you proceed through the well executed application process. They state that the application process requires 60 minutes, but when I hit the rather heavy writing section I decided it would be best to take my time alternating for several hours (or perhaps a whole day) between producing a proper piece of ~6,000 word writing and reading through their other web site pages and blog posts. It is better not to rush through this, as you want to present your skills as best as possible – especially as a newbie trying to enter the field.

While the company’s blog has a decent number of articles, the topics are a bit random and disorganized, and the main blog page itself is not only misleadingly titled “Article Archives” (which likely prevents it from being listed properly in the search engines as a legitimate blog), but also, in my opinion, fails to provide content on issues of MOST importance to its target market :

http://blog.rev.com/articles

For instance, while they have some well-written posts related to the subject of TRANSLATION, such as:

5 Tips for Freelance Translators

They don’t have EVEN ONE section or article directly related to the subject of transcription, out of the 100+ posts up on the main “archived articles” page. This means that all of the freelance transcriptionists who go through the application process and want to read more about the company’s activities related to transcription while they wait (likely several days or more) to receive their email of acceptance or rejection are not able to continue spending some time reading through informative blog posts which will give them a head start in becoming more familiar with the company, its operations, and transcription in general. As one of the fundamentally important elements of online marketing is to keep your market ENGAGED and CONNECTED this seems to be one specific thing that Rev has neglected. I hope they will address this in the future for the benefit of the transcriptionists AND the marketing success of their company.

It ultimately took me a full 24 hours to properly complete the application. It was a bit of hard work to write the essay and transcribe the two audio files, but I was convinced that my performance on both was up to par (especially for the writing component, as I am an experienced and published photojournalist and blogger). I submitted the application and continued trying to find articles on their blog which could keep me busy while I waited for their response.

At the end of the day I had made good progress. I had done a thorough analysis of two prospective online transcription companies (a process which I will continue to incorporate into my research process) and I completed one full application to one which fulfilled my criteria. After submitting the Rev application I spent a few hours researching and blogging and then went to sleep feeling quite confident that my application to Rev would impress them, and that I would likely be granted acceptance into their team of transcriptionists. However, in the worst case scenario that I am NOT accepted there are plenty of other online transcription companies operating now, so it will just be a matter of continuing to find, research, evaluate and apply to others in the future.