(And why you should demand them!)
I came across this little gem the other day. To keep this short, dependent on the method of accounting, factoring in depreciation and expenses, the median average Uber driver is making less than 4 bucks an hour.
“Bro. We are stenos, not Uber drivers!” Some will scoff. Some will jump up and down in denial. Some will do whatever they do. But this is another reason why stenographers, especially freelance stenographers, need to remain informed and persistent. We have expenses. We have depreciation via our machines. We have potentially unforeseeable business costs, like sudden breakdowns or theft. We cannot afford to go the way of the Uber and drive for free, so to speak.
A major issue we have in our field is we are basically jumped from school into running our own mini business. The line between employee and entrepreneur blurs because agencies can and sometimes do treat us like line workers. But the fact remains that we are our own entity. We have our own liability. We have our own expenses and operation costs. Very few of us are sitting there mapping it all out on spreadsheets and thinking about how to grow the business, and it gets us taken advantage of.
So before you make your next deal or take your next job, whether it’s audio or something else, factor in what you are making versus the time you are spending. Remember that it can easily take 1 to 3 hours to transcribe an hour of audio, so it makes good sense to charge 3 to 4 hours of time in an hour of audio. Remember that the page rate has got to reflect the time you’re taking to do those pages. Let’s say for example you’re doing 200 pages at 2.50 per page. That’s 500 bucks. Dependent on the stenographer, that 200 pages can take up to 10 hours to complete. That’s 50 bucks an hour. That sounds pretty good until you factor in paying your own employment taxes. That also sounds pretty good until you add the fact that it probably took somewhere in the ballpark of 8 hours to write that 200 pages at the machine. 500 bucks for 18 hours of work is starting to look less appealing at around 27 bucks an hour.
Some say the solution, then, is to transcribe faster or hire a scopist so one can take on more work, but this amounts to more stress, more hours, more expenses. An old saying comes to mind: Work smarter, not harder. We’ve got to keep ourselves informed of exactly how much the market will bear and get that amount. We cannot afford to play halfsies with agencies. Their business model is clear: They make money off bulk work. If they can’t afford to pay their stenographer, they can’t afford to be in business, and they can close up shop and let the work flow where it will.
For some, the idea of being an entrepreneur is terrifying. I recommend finding traditional employment where possible, or taking business courses. It is never too late to educate yourself and learn skills that will empower you to negotiate for yourself. Encourage others to learn these skills and assess their own income versus expenses. And the day we can all negotiate for ourselves is the day we will have achieved a kind of “herd immunity.” Think about it. If everybody stood lockstep and demanded the most they could, nobody could be lowballed.