Veritext Update, March 2019

Introduction & History.

First and foremost: This post is going to get into past history and then go into more recent history. In the more recent history, in order to prove that what we’re saying is true, there are screen shots of a person’s LinkedIn social media. We’re free to discuss that and we’re free to say how we feel, but any reader that comes here should be aware that harassment, bullying, menacing, stalking, and defamation are all amoral and illegal. Those things may all open you up to criminal and civil action. If you use our steno news as a gateway for antisocial behavior, do not be surprised if you get police at your door.

Now onto history. Veritext was a leader in working to bolster stenography. A quick Google search will show you that assuming all the media out there to be true or partially true, they are a partner to NCRA and do or did, on some level, and sometimes on an astounding level, support the stenographic methodology for taking the record. It is hard to tell if what follows is a case of Yes, Prime Minister’s advice on backstabbing or a case of the principle of hedging. Veritext proceeded to buy out a lot of stenographic or court reporting companies, including Diamond Reporting here in New York. Next, we caught wind that Veritext was advertising to attorneys that they should change their deposition notices to add language of “stenographic or other means”, presumably so that Veritext could choose to send digital reporters to jobs.

This all ended up culminating in a post where we mirrored SoCalReporter’s ideas and said: We need to stop beating each other up about where we work and start talking solutions. Guess what happened? People started coming up with solutions, and content, and even going so far as to create watchdog groups. We have said this before, but we are seeing a memetic shift. The reporting zeitgeist of silence is over. There are hundreds of voices blogging, talking, and working together to come up with new ideas.

Today & Tomorrow.

So that brings us to the end of February 2019. A woman named Gina Hardin, purportedly a VP of Sales at Veritext, wrote or posted an article about digital reporting being the changing landscape of reporting. There was a great deal of chatter about this, culminating in the post being taken down the night it was posted, and an immediate declaration from Veritext that the post was posted by a former employee and that they had nothing to do with it, honest. This doesn’t pass the colloquial “sniff test” or SMELL test for being true. Why would a former employee try to drum up business for a past employer? In this country, with so few rights for workers, what employee would ever go out on a limb and post something like that without their employer’s explicit permission? Unless you work for the government or have a contract saying otherwise, you can be fired for any reason or no reason, even a made up reason, just not an illegal reason, of which there are very few. The whole thing just doesn’t make sense. And if she’s a former employee, apparently nobody told her, because as of March 2, 2019, she was still listed as working at Veritext, but under the name Gina H. It’s all but undeniable that Veritext is pushing digital, including hiring via their website.

Now, here’s the deal: Some people went online and talked about the typos in the article, or even had personal attacks. It’s not about her. As best we can tell, she’s an employee doing a job, and probably doing it damn well. We make a thousand typos a day unless we’re Super Stenographer. Stenographers, and the entrepreneurs among us, should really be looking at teaming up with salespeople like that who’re dedicated to their job and willing to put themselves out there. Though we have not yet gotten a chance to interview Eve Barrett of Expedite Legal, one of the things she’s alluded to online is there’s an amazing power in human-to-human marketing because of this digital, faceless world. Who is going to be better at human-to-human marketing than someone who is willing to attach their face to the product and pitch? We wouldn’t be surprised if there are stenographic companies looking to poach Gina H. or salespeople like her right now! There’s huge money in this field. Nearly every big agency has a satellite office in every borough of New York City and a cadre of dedicated employees — in other words, there is money to be made in this field, and we shouldn’t be afraid to hire talent when it means a bigger return. Success is often a matter of intelligent delegation. As stenographers, we often let our penchant for perfectionism stand in the way of hiring help and building our brand, perhaps to a fault.

But where does that leave us? Well, we need to recognize that Veritext is apparently willing to lie. Freelancers need to recognize that group boycotts by competitors may fall under antitrust violations. Reporters everywhere need to start acknowledging that the best way to beat ’em might be to just start grabbing clients. It’s time for us to get serious about funding our associations and demanding marketing and entrepreneurial courses. These companies all exist because they got clients off of somebody else. Individually, they may seem bigger or stronger than us because they can outspend us one-on-one, but there’s an inherent power in the fact that if thousands of reporters were to compete directly with them and start poaching clients — which is perfectly legal unless you signed a contract saying you wouldn’t do that or stole a trade secret — they’d be SOL.

For the most ambitious, start looking at fundraising. Start considering all the ways companies come into existence. You very well could be the next nationwide conglomerate. As a matter of fact, if you’re in Illinois, New York, California, or Texas, you are in one of the largest court reporting states in the country, and you have a real shot at seizing the market. Companies rise and fall — but your career is in your hands.

We look forward to the day Veritext sees it’s on the losing side and starts throwing its weight behind stenography again. We look forward to dutifully reporting that right here on this blog. But until that day comes, we encourage fierce competition in this market. Don’t be complacent. Maybe someday we’ll get SLAPP’d for standing up for our profession, but we’re happy to take the heat so that you don’t have to. Be involved. Encourage others to get involved and start building their brand. Know that you are making a difference in how the market and our day-to-day jobs develop.

What Rate Should Freelance Reporters Charge?

This is an interesting question for stenographers across the country. What rate should be charged? What is fair? What is a good amount of money?

I have often simply left the answer at: It should be more. I have a body of work on this site that talks about negotiation, inflation, and makes several cases for higher rates for New York freelance. It bears repeating that in New York, the current private regular rate mandated to be charged by officials is about $4.30 per page. If you’re a freelancer paying your own taxes, advertising, business costs, benefits, or workers compensation insurance, then you should consider trying to make more than that by any means necessary, including realtime, rough, daily delivery, and copy sales. The skills you bring to the table are as important as your ability to negotiate and seek out work.

Without more fanfare, let’s turn to what I did tonight. I designed a very small calculator program that takes the user’s input of how much annual salary they want to make, and divides that by all the different rates someone might charge per page to figure out how many pages you need to make that annual salary. It then takes the pages and divides those pages by 20, assuming that’s how many pages a person transcribes an hour. Then it divides  those hours by 7 to tell you how many 7-hour workdays you need to make that money. To tailor this to yourself specifically, you can either edit the calculator, do the calculations manually, or simply half, double, or triple your transcription speed.

I understand that most people do not really do anything with computer code, so I ran the program for several different salary ranges.

These are the calculations if you want to make:

$25,000 a year.

$50,000 a year.

$75,000 a year.

$100,000 a year.

$125,000 a year.

$150,000 a year.

$175,000 a year.

$200,000 a year.

The moral of the story is obvious: The lower your rate is, the more pages you need to make money. The higher your rate is, the fewer pages you need to make money. But to see this in action, let’s just take one point of data: $5.00 per page.

At $5.00 per page, you need about 35 days worth of transcribing to make $25,000 a year.

That’s about 70 days to make $50,000 a year.

That’s 140 7-hour days of transcription to make $100,000 a year.

Anecdotally, if we spend an hour transcribing for every hour we are on the machine, that’s 280 7-hour days of work. There are only 260 weekdays a year. That means to make that $100,000 a year you’re giving up 10 weekends a year at $5.00 a page. Increase the rate to 5.50 and you’re giving up no weekends. 50 cents makes that much of a difference.

Bottom line? Your rate is going to dictate not only your income, but your quality of life. Strive to be a good reporter, know your market, team up with a mentor, and make sure you’re getting paid enough to reach your goals.

 

 

The Magic of Marketing

There’s plenty here about negotiating with agencies and demanding to be paid what you’re worth. Now it’s time to focus on something that we rarely do: How to market to clients.

Anecdotally, clients like free stuff. Clients like to feel ritzy. Clients like to feel like they matter. My first job was in a fairly small freelancing office and they provided a free bagel spread to attorneys and reporters. Everyone loved to go to that office and it was, as best I could tell, a major business draw. When that bagel spread stopped, attorneys immediately began commenting on it.

Ultimately, the big box firms get this. They’ve connected with caterers and all sorts of extra services to make clients feel good. They put out the ads, get the impressions, and get clients buying what they’re selling. We who are loyal to the stenographic business need to take note and begin to realize that a good product may unfortunately be secondary to being able to sell.

Think about pretty much all business you do or all the things you buy. Chances are, if they made you feel good in some way, you’re willing to go back even if the product was so-so or the food was mediocre. Restaurants normally bring you bread right away so you feel attended to, AKA feel good, even though they might not get to your table for 5 or 10 minutes. Amazon makes people feel good because it relieves the pressure of having to go out and get whatever’s being shipped. Stenograph, to sink it closer to home, makes people feel good by basically saying software or machine issues? Just call us. Let’s face it. How many of us don’t mind blowing 1,200 a year even if we don’t use their service once? We like the thought that it’s there. It makes us feel good. It makes us feel so good that some of us shame people that don’t buy the support. No shame in that, but somebody other than me has got to recognize the power there. Sometimes business is even a marketing trick. Look at Dunkin Donuts. Doughnuts, man, it’s in the name, what a business. Except when you look up the margin on doughnuts, it sucks. You know what had a great margin? Coffee. What a trick! They’ve got doughnuts in the name, but they’re actually interested in selling you coffee.

If we’re going to win more market share for stenography it’s going to become less about the transcripts. Transcripts generally don’t make people feel good. It’s work. It’s reading. It’s annoying. To all you entrepreneurs, take heed that your bagel selection might just be more important than your realtime capability.

Just compare the following:

  1. Stenographers are more efficient because we type four times faster than your average typist and can put out work faster.
  2. Let stenographers handle all your business needs. Fast, affordable, reliable.

If you had to buy from one, it’d be 2. It makes the user feel good. Few people will relate to words like efficient or typing. Everybody knows how to feel when they see fast, affordable, reliable.

Some general points I’ve picked up over the years for selling:

  • Make people feel smart.
  • Make people feel important.
  • Make doing business with you simple.

If you keep these basic principles in mind, it makes negotiation with clients and even agencies easier. Making doing business simple is paramount. In freelance, one of the easiest ways to get a job is to be able to take pretty much any job at any time slot. Once a reporter begins adding conditions, such as only PI, or only jobs between 12 and 3, it becomes a barrier to doing business that all reporters should acknowledge and be aware of, even if they do not seek to change it.

There’s a whole wide world of literature and reading on marketing and the feel good factor, and hopefully this is a primer to entrepreneurs who want to go out and start building something big. If you’ve got the drive to learn the things customers want, you’ve certainly got the ability to start building.