When you care about something, how difficult is it to do? I can only go by my own experiences here. I hate calling lawyers. A family member got fired and there was potentially an attached legal issue. I was on the phone chain calling lawyers for them until I found one that could speak to the family member that same day. I don’t have any desire to be a public speaker, but I figured it out when I thought our profession might need it. US Legal, by all appearances, cares a lot about attracting digital reporters and strengthening AAERT.
In fairness, US Legal does have a reporter corner and a few spots on their site where they specifically mention stenography. But we have to look at the totality of the circumstances to decide whether this is out of genuine care or whether it’s a facade to point at and say “look, we care!” It’s been known for a while that US Legal is backing digital reporting. They bought out Stenotrain, made some announcements to look good, and killed it. Now reporters are getting offers to join USL as long as reporters drop the stenotype and fall in line with whatever junk USL wants to peddle to consumers. Again, I have to look at my own experiences, and when I don’t advertise very much, my site can get as little as 500 views a year.
Meanwhile, when I spend a few hundred bucks on an ad, I get the word steno in front of thousands of people.
Hopefully the point is pretty clear. If and when they cry shortage and say they just can’t fill the seats, it’s a lie. According to Owler, they have a revenue of over $100 million. They’re taking that money and betting it against stenographic court reporters. There are national, state, and nonprofit databases of reporters. This is a game to take our relatively high-paying jobs and organized, educated workforce, and replace them with low-paying jobs and people who won’t have the same ethics culture we do.
It’s a game I need some help winning. All corporations are made up of people. Educate those people on the truth, and just maybe they’ll realize they’re risking everything by backing the losing horse. If you happen to get a message from one of the recruiters working on this, please don’t blast them, but let them know what’s happening. Chances are good they have no idea.
With the news that Verbit has bought VITAC, there was some concern on steno social media. For a quick history on Verbit, it’s a company that claimed 99 percent accuracy in its series A funding. In its series B funding it was admitted that their technology would not replace the human. Succinctly, Verbit is a transcription company where its transcribers are assisted by machine learning voice recognition. Of course, this all has the side effect of demoralizing stenographers who sometimes think “wow, the technology really can do my job” because nobody has the time to be a walking encyclopedia.
But this idea that Verbit, a company started in 2016, figured out some super secret knowledge is not realistic. To put voice recognition into perspective, it’s estimated to be a market worth many billions of dollars. Microsoft is seeking to buy Nuance, the maker of Dragon, for about $20 billion. Microsoft has reportedly posted revenue over $40 billion and profit of over $15 billion. Verbit, by comparison, has raised “over $100 million” in investor money. It reports revenue in the millions and positive cash flow. Another company that reports revenue in the millions and positive cash flow? VIQ Solutions, parent of Net Transcripts. As described in a previous post, VIQ Solutions has reported millions in revenue and a positive cash flow since 2016. What’s missing? The income. Since 2016, the company hasn’t been profitable.
Obviously, things can turn around, companies can go long periods of time without making a profit, bounce back, and be profitable. Companies can also go bankrupt and dissolve a la Circuit City or be restructured like JCPenney. The point is not to disparage companies on their financials, but to give stenographic captioners real perspective on the information they’re reading. So, when you see this blurb here, what comes to mind?
Hint. What’s not being mentioned? Profit. While this is not conclusive, the lack of any mention of profit tells me the cash flow and revenue is fine, but there are no big profits as of yet. Cash flow can come from many things, including investors, asset sales, and borrowing money. Most of us probably make in the ballpark of $50,000 to $100,000. Reading that a company raised $60 million, ostensibly to cut in on your job, can be pretty disheartening. Not so once you see that they’re a tiny fraction of the overall picture and that players far bigger than them have not taken your job despite working on the technology for decades.
Moreover, we have a consumer protection crisis on our hands. At least one study in 2020 showed that automatic speech recognition can be 25 to 80 percent accurate depending on who’s speaking. There are many caption advocates out there, such as Meryl Evans, trying to raise awareness on the importance of caption quality. The messaging is very clear: automatic captions are crap (autocraptions), they are often worse than having no captions, and a single wrong word can cause great confusion for someone relying on the captions. Just go see what people on Twitter are saying about #autocraptions. “#NoMoreCraptions. Thank you content creators that do not rely on them!”
This isn’t something I’m making up. Anybody in any kind of captioning or transcription business agrees a human is required. Just check out Cielo24’s captioning guide and accuracy table.
If someone’s talking about an accuracy level of 95 percent or better, they’re talking about human-verified captions. If you, captioner, were not worried about Rev taking away your job with its alleged 50,000 transcribers, then you should not throw in the towel because of Verbit and its alleged 30,000 transcribers. We do not know how much of that is overlap. We do not know how much of that is “this transcriber transcribed for us once and is therefore part of our ‘team.'” We do not know how well transcription skills will fit into the fix-garbage-AI-transcription model. The low pay and mistreatment that comes with “working for” these types of companies is going to drive people away. Think of all the experiences you’ve had to get you to your skill level today. Would you have gotten there with lower compensation, or would you have simply moved on to something easier?
Verbit’s doing exceptionally well in its presentation. It makes claims that would cost quite a bit of time and/or money to disprove, and the results of any such investigation would be questioned by whoever it did not favor. It’s a very old game of making claims faster than they can be disproven and watching the fact checkers give you more press as they attempt to parse what’s true, partially true, and totally false. This doesn’t happen just in the captioning arena, it happens in legal reporting too.
This seems like a terrifying list of capabilities. But, again, this is an old game. Watch how easy it is.
It took me 15 seconds to say six lies, one partial truth, and one actual truth. Many of you have known me for years. What was what? How long will it take you to figure out what was what? How long would it take you to prove to another person what’s true and what’s false? This is, in part, why it is easier for falsehoods to spread than the truth. This is why in court and in science, the person making a claim has to prove their claim. We have no such luxury in the business world. As an example, many years ago in the gaming industry Peter Molyneux got up on stage and demo’d Milo. He said it was real tech. Here was this dynamically interactive virtual boy who’d be able to understand gamers and their actions. We watched it with our own eyes. It was so cool. It was BS. It was very likely scripted. There was no such technology and there is no such technology today, over eleven years later. Do you think Peter, Microsoft, or anybody got in trouble for that? Nope. In fact, years later, he claimed “it was real, honest.”
Here’s the point: Legal reporters and captioners are going to be facing off with these claims for an indeterminate amount of time. These folks are going to be marketing to your clients hard. And I just showed you via the gaming industry that there are zero consequences for lying and that anything that is lied about can just be brushed up with another lie. There will be, more or less, two choices for every single one of you.
Compete / Advocate. Start companies. Ally with deaf advocates.
Watch it happen.
I have basically dedicated Stenonymous to providing facts, figures, and ways that stenographers can come out of the “sky is falling” mindset. But I’m one guy. I’m an official in New York. Science says there’s a good chance what we expect to happen will happen and that’s why I fight like hell to get all of you to expect us to win. That’s also why these companies repeat year after year that they’re going to automate away the jobs even when there’s zero merit or demand for an idea. You now see that companies can operate without making any profit, companies can lie, much bigger companies haven’t muscled in on your job, and that the giant Microsoft presumably looked at Verbit, looked at Nuance, and chose Nuance.
I’m not a neo-luddite. If the technology is that good, let it be that good. Let my job vanish. Fire me tomorrow. But facts are facts, and the fact is that tech sellers take the excellent work of brilliant programmers and say the tech is ready for prime time way before it is. They never bother to mention the drawbacks. Self-driving cars and trucks are on the way, don’t worry about whether it kills someone. Robots can do all these wonderful things, forget that injuries are up where they’re in heaviest use. Solar Roadways were going to solve the world’s energy problems but couldn’t generate any energy or be driven on. In our field, lives and important stakeholders are in danger. What happens when there’s a hurricane on the way and the AI captioning tells deaf people to drive towards danger?
Again, two choices, and I’m hoping stenographic captioners don’t watch it happen.
If you’re looking to promote your steno nonprofit or your primary steno business, the numbers don’t lie, marketing is going to bring more eyes to what you’re selling. That’s a common-sense statement, but let’s drive it home. This blog, on average, will get about 500 to 1000 unique visitors a month and about double the views or clicks. That’s just me writing what I write and sharing it on Facebook. In honor of CRCW 2021, I ended up posting a lot this month. I published over a dozen articles, and the “average” did not change much. Now we’ll compare that to December 2020, where I wrote three posts and advertised two on Facebook.
About 700 visitors, 14 posts, that’s about 50 visitors a post. That’s compared to nearly 3,000 visitors, three posts, a thousand visitors a post. About $200 gave me 20x the reach.
Yay for me. Why am I writing this? To help you. On Facebook today there are groups and pages. Groups serve, more or less, as discussion boards. Pages are more like ad space. They’re promotional and you generally control the content on there. You can have a page and a group, and you can have a page act as an admin to a group. There’s one major difference between the two. As best I can tell, groups cannot advertise. Pages, on the other hand, have the power to boost posts. So if you’re looking to market, get yourself a page.
When you create a post on your page, you have the option to boost a post. Check the boost post option before you make your post to get to the “boost” controls.
After you click post, you’ll get transported to the magic world of the boost page. That’s going to look like the image below, hopefully, and it’s going to give you options to put in your budget, and more importantly, edit your audience. Generally if you put in more money, they’ll estimate more views per day. If you put in more days, you’ll get fewer views per day, but the ad will run longer. There are some minimums, but you can go as low or as high as you want. Again, in December, I felt comfortable spending in the ballpark of $200 for week-long campaigns. What will you see in the edit audience tab?
The only thing you should know is your audience has to be broad enough to run the ad. If you’re way too specific, it blocks you. For example, I started clicking demographics for all these things and the potential reach was only about 5,000. I clicked “lawyer” and the potential reach jumped up by millions.
That’s all there is to it! There are a few other options, like whether you want your ad to run in Facebook, Messenger, or both, and whether you want to use Facebook Pixel. My personal preference? I run the ad only Facebook and do nothing with Facebook Pixel. I know a lot of us trust and believe in face-to-face conversations. We want to grow deep connections and be one with our audience. But again, we’re looking at 20x the reach with a small budget.
With that in mind, I’ll be launching and advertising a post on March 1 directed at digital reporters and transcribers. Here’s my thinking: We have this whole group of people who probably like sitting in court proceedings, the companies they work for are not telling them about steno, or maybe even lying to them about steno. It’s time to break that in half and get the good ones over to us. If you support that, or even if you’re just grateful for the information in this post, feel free to donate here. I’m very grateful to people that have donated in the past. Every dollar helps keep this place ad-free. We don’t want to go back to that time.
Alternatively, if you’re tired of my blog, check out Glen Warner’s or Matt Moss’s. There are so many out there, including businesses like Migliore & Associates or MGR. It can be really heartening to see the incredible amount of information and opinions we have out there. Highly suggest checking out any of them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Stenographers are more efficient because we type four times faster than your average typist and can put out work faster.
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.