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The secret of being a great freelance transcriber

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Samantha Trott, Global Lingo’s Head of English Writing, was interviewed recently by Kris Emery for her book “Freelance Your Heart Out”. Kris’ book gives a great insight into the life of a freelance transcriber and is available via her website.

First of all, could you tell me how you use freelancers?

Freelancers for us are used because we have so many projects coming in and our in-house team isn’t able to complete all of the assignments, so we outsource a lot of our writing summaries and transcription in order to make the in-house load that much lighter.

The writing that we outsource every day comes back in to be refined and edited, and then returned to the client. It is about trying to manage the in-house workload, because of the fluctuating nature of how much work comes in. Some days we need more freelancers. Some days we don’t need as many. It would be a bit of a waste to have too many employees, so we rely on our freelancers to manage this fluctuation.

How crucial are freelancers to your business?

Absolutely essential. I would specifically say we would not be able to run our business without them. Especially when it has been very, very busy, had it not been for our freelancers, there would have been no way for us to complete all of the projects that came through to us. They’re practically staff the way I look at it. I miss them when they’re gone!

How successfully have you recruited freelance writers and transcribers?

As far as recruitment efforts for freelancers go, it has been semi-successful. A lot of my personal effort has been on building our in-house team, but freelance recruitment has seen a mix of both major successes and, especially last week, a nightmare.

For this kind of recruitment, a lot of times interested parties find our website and send a semi-generic email saying that they’re interested. Usually, they will attach their CV. So from time to time, I will look into those CVs and respond to the ones that look like they might fit the role.

As you know, there is a writing test, a transcription test. The writing test that we use helps me to determine whether or not the freelancer has the skills we need and, i.e. that they have a good ear for audio, but that they’re also able to write and edit as needed.

How successful have you been in taking freelancer transcribers on?

We have been kind of successful in that we’ve done a recruitment swing for an in-house writer and editor. The people who I didn’t hire I invited to be freelancers, so I’ve built up a lot of my freelance base from people interested in working in-house. A lot of them were very much cut out for the role of working in-house, but obviously there’s only room for so many.

What attributes did they have that attracted you to them for potentially going into a full-time role and then a freelance role when they were not quite successful?

That’s a tricky one! I can’t say it was the CV itself but, when recruiting freelancers, I believe that they should have experience in writing, and editing for that matter, even though we don’t recruit for freelance editors.

It is important to me that they were obviously trusted somewhere to manage the English language in some way. So, our freelancers will have some background in writing. We’re very much ‘corporate writing’, so even if they just have experience in a writing for a specific field – if they worked in banking, for example – it could be a very positive thing for me. It might not make them the best in-house worker, because their knowledge might be limited to one sector, but I know that specifically for certain projects they might be the perfect fit than someone who has more general knowledge – the kind of in-house writers we employ.

What are the main difficulties you encounter in bringing freelancers on board?

Initially, we give them a test to complete, which doesn’t really have a deadline. I think if you’re a freelancer, taking the time out to actually do that test promptly and to the best of your abilities, that is the first hurdle that I see. If you want to be a freelancer, you definitely have to put the effort in for what, technically, you’re doing for free. We then put them through rigorous training to ensure that they are fully understand the high quality our clients require.

From that point, the difficulties are usually with availability. The more interested parties share their availability regularly. What is going to sell me on a freelancer is if they’re available for the very first project I send their way, which I usually try to make sure is pretty easy. To have someone immediately tell me ‘no’ and to not be apologetic, I find that slightly frustrating, because they need to want it and to be dedicated to it. To be turned down immediately for that first project, in a way, means that I forget your name almost immediately, because I want those people who are eager and ready for work.

That is the track I was going down, so I’m glad that you said it! Once freelancers start working for you, what are the main problems you face once they get going? Say they have done a few jobs, come on board, and you are starting to see them as more regular.

I think some freelancers can get a bit lackadaisical. They will really put the effort in to begin with. They will abide by every bit of guidance that I’ve given them. They will adhere perfectly to the formatting of the template that they’re provided.

Then after, I’d say, a week or so, they feel like they know it well enough that they slack off a little bit. They almost trust themselves too much to know what we expect. Because of the different client expectations that we have, you can’t just think after two, three or four projects that you know everything about what Global Lingo is about.

What should freelancers absolutely avoid doing?

There’s a lot of things they should avoid doing! It’s all quite obvious to me, but maybe not to freelancers. For some, they maintain a very professional relationship with me. On a really basic level, it is just in the way they email – the fact that they get in touch to regularly update me on their availability. To be non-existent by email or to not tell me your availability, it’s like you don’t exist to me! You should avoid not being in touch – sorry, for the double negative!

As far as the work itself, honestly what I need is quality. The rule is to avoid making silly mistakes. What they need to do is abide by the rules given and the template provided. It really should be a very easy process.

I try to make the assignments quite clear, so I would say a freelancer should avoid taking on a project when they’re not entirely clear about the expectations. If anything is unclear, I love it when my freelancers send a quick question. Yesterday, I had one freelancer who, about every five minutes, was just double-checking, ‘Is it like this? Is it in American English? Is it this style?’ Obviously, that has taught me that, for this kind of project, I need to offer far more detail.

It’s a learning process for me as well. When freelancers don’t ask questions and then I receive a project where I thought the directions had been clear but I see that it hasn’t been done correctly, that’s such a headache!
It’s my fault as well as the freelancer’s, but I do feel like the freelancer must have been confused. It’s always worth asking questions.

So they make assumptions based on a different type of project that they’ve done before and it’s actually not the same and you wanted something different.

Exactly.

What can freelancers do to improve their contribution to your business?

The best way to assist the business is that level of dedication, telling us their availability, for instance. Some freelancers might not actually like the work we are providing them with after a few weeks. And that’s fine. They’re freelance, so they can walk away. If they enjoy it and would like to be one of our main freelancers, then it always helps me to know when they’re free and when they want work, as well as always asking for feedback. Asking for feedback is a very good thing, as well as just trying to consistently improve and to absorb whatever feedback we give. They should always remain cognisant of the kind of templates that we provide. They should do their best to uphold our standards, because it’s easier for us to edit a document that’s practically perfect than a document that is sub-standard.

That’s very true. Apart from the work side, like completing a quality job, what is the most important part of the relationship with a freelancer? You’ve touched on a few things already, but is there anything else?

I know I said that I would like the relationship to remain professional, but I do appreciate it, if a project is going to be late or a freelancer is not available for two weeks straight, when I am informed. It makes me feel slightly closer and more understanding of that freelancer, instead of thinking that they have disappeared. I forget your name if you disappear!

What would you say is the biggest mistake a freelancer has ever made for Global Lingo? I promise not to mention
any names!

It is interesting that we are having this conversation now, because I welcomed on a new freelancer who, after three projects, had me in trouble with two different clients within the same week. As far as mistakes, it was just simply not adhering to the directions provided. When our editors come to edit an unrecorded summary document, for example, because they were not in the meeting room, there is no way for them to know if all of the content of the meeting is there.

We have to rely 100% on our freelancer that wrote exactly what was being said. I know a lot of freelancers just work from audio files, but we do use our freelancers to attend meetings. If they come back and provide a four-page document for a meeting that lasted half a day, we know there is a lot missing, but there is nothing we can do about it. That, last week, was a bit of a frustration, as well as a verbatim transcription assignment that was returned with whole sentences missing in nearly every paragraph.

What a nightmare!

It was a nightmare. I saw the early hours of the morning trying to fix it, because it was a 24-hour turnaround. I was so tired! When we went to check it against the audio, we realised that almost half of the recorded discussion was not included. It was clearly stated in the directions that they needed to compose a verbatim transcript, and this new freelancer definitely had the Writer’s Guide. There should have been no question. I mean, obviously, when you transcribe, you keep in every word. For whatever reason, this new person decided that… I don’t know if they were just rushing it and they thought we wouldn’t pick it up. What’s even more pressing is that it was very important for that document to be strictly verbatim for that particular client, even to the point where we were meant to include all unfinished sentences. It is dear to them that this be done without fail. Plus, they are an important client. I had to fix it up myself, which took a long time.

How could transcribers be more savvy and easier to work with? What do they really have to grasp to do a good job?

It is hard to make a freelancer really know the work, because they do step away from it, so they don’t see the last steps. I don’t know if I have an answer for that one! It is all quality with our freelancers, especially because of our clientele. We do a lot of events, financial-, insurance-, and medical-related discussions. It is important that our freelancers have a genuine interest in these topics and can stay up-to-date on current issues or at least find the content interesting.

It is hard for me to do anything to instil within our freelancers the feeling that what they are doing is very important, other than by simply saying that and making sure that they know that their assistance is appreciated. I can tell them their quality turnout is exactly what we are looking for and give them a pat on the back. That’s all I can say.

You produced some guides recently, some concrete materials for them to follow, so having it in writing must go quite a long way. Have you noticed an improvement since you released those?

I have. I think what I find is that a lot of the newer freelancers will just be that much cleaner in what they send to us. Freelancers who have been around for a while haven’t adopted so much of it. There is a cliché ‘you can’t teach old dogs new tricks’, but we do our best with them. I think they are all pretty good anyway. With a few freelancers, it is by far cleaner when they follow the Guide by the letter.

What is your best freelancer moment?

Meeting my freelancers! Actually meeting them face to face. Those moments when somebody actually meets us, honestly, that is exciting for me. I have been able to meet three of our freelancers now, which is great and very interesting. They no longer exist to me just on the computer!

Lastly, why do freelancers like working with Global Lingo?

I think they like working with Global Lingo because it is important for a freelancer that the work is consistent and that Global Lingo doesn’t disappear. Because of the kind of work that we do, most of our freelancers hear from us almost every day and I think that is probably the most important thing. They want to earn money without going to the office every day. They want to know that their employer, so to speak, is around and needs them and that they are an important part of the business.

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Vendor Spring Newsletter

The Global Lingo Vendor Management Team is happy to release the third edition of the Vendor Newsletter. This issue introduces more of our team and is mostly focused on how to improve efficiency as a translator and transcriber. Click here to view the Spring edition of the Vendor Newsletter