“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.

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

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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.