Thursday 29 October 2009

Life Journey of a Transcriber

I began my career in 1976 after completing a year long course at a secretarial college. Equipped with typing, shorthand and book-keeping skills I left home, moved to London and began my working life. I rose through the ranks from junior typist, secretary, personal assistant and finally office manager before I gave up work in 1989 with 13 valuable years of administrative experience to become a full-time mother.

In the summer of 1993 when my children were 3 and 4 years old and I was thinking about returning to the workplace, a friend and neighbour who worked for a well-known employment agency suggested that I might like to earn a few pennies by becoming a home audio typist for a large national building society. I jumped at the opportunity and was busily typing documents for at least a month before my new-found employer decided that it would rather have the work done in-house. However, by this stage I had begun the process of informing HM Revenue & Customs that I was self-employed and decided that, despite this setback, I would continue as a sole trader.

First of all I chose a printing business and together we designed my logo - I now had a brand!  Then a supply of business stationery was printed for me but importantly, the printer pointed me in the direction of my local business advisory service, BuisnessLink, which has since been disbanded although government advice is still available. BusinessLink proved to be instrumental in getting me on my feet. This government run agency not only educated me on the pros, cons and general pitfalls of winging it on my own, but insisted that I provide them with a business plan and that I attend a range of seminars. Having satisfied itself that I was serious about my business venture, I was fortunate enough to get a grant from the government to help get me on my feet and purchase equipment so vital for my work.

Next on the agenda was the important task of realistically setting my rates. Clearly I would not want to price myself out of the market but I didn't want to be too cheap either! When I started up, the internet was only just coming into its own and so I scanned the telephone directory and contacted competitive businesses by telephone to ascertain what the going rates were.  These days this information is often readily available on competitor websites, including my own transcription services website. I am below the VAT threshold and find that this can often be advantageous when quoting for students or individuals who are unable to recoup VAT. Frequently, when I receive enquiries people do not factor the VAT aspect into their budget for transcription and are grateful when I point out that they need to check whether potential suppliers are VAT registered.

I did not have a business website until some years after I started trading in 1993.  However, if I were starting up in the here and now, once all the nitty gritty details of the business were sorted out - brand, image, prices, etc - then website design would be the next logical step.

So back to my journey then and armed with newfound knowledge and enthusiasm gained from business seminars, I set to the task of marketing my target audience (by telephone, post or email) which turned out to be legal companies, university research departments and academics, market research companies and film and television production organisations, all requiring recorded dialogue to be converted to the written word by the process of transcription.  I also took an advertisement out with my local Yellow Pages and joined a local business club to network and spread the word about my business. Again, advertising and networking these days is readily available online along with the important matter of SEO (search engine optimisation), a process of elevating a website in the search engine rankings so that our customers can find us!

As the jobs started to come in, at first I was transcribing dialogue recorded on a variety of audio tapes which arrived at my home office in all sorts of shapes and sizes. These days though, pretty much everything happens over the internet and I am sent digital audio files which I use with my transcription software. The finished transcripts are then usually emailed back to the client.  Copy typing assignments either arrive in handwritten or typed text, sometimes by post but frequently as scanned documents by email.

A crucial aspect the sole trader needs to factor into working life is that time and/or resources need to be allocated not only for carrying out the work generating the income but also for marketing, advertising and of course business accounts which will need to be submitted to HM Revenue & Customs on an annual basis.

I preferred to remain independent and did not outsource any of my assignments. Over the years I made some valuable contacts who were always happy to endorse my work and act as referees and my office was equipped with the latest technology which was a must to stay ahead of the game!

Being self-employed is VERY hard work, you don't get paid for holidays or sick leave and unless you have regular suppliers and/or repeat jobs life can be very uncertain. There were some tough times, mainly in terms of generating the business but I stuck with it and reaped the rewards both financially and in terms of the autonomy I enjoyed, and of course my children grew up with a mum who was always about, which as far as I am concerned is the biggest bonus of all.

A rose from my garden which I enjoy with great pleasure once the transcription work is done!

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