[This is a guest post from my office manager and fellow proofreader extraordinaire, Katie. You may see her around the blog answering questions from time to time :-)]
Starting a new career (or even switching gears in an already established one) is no doubt challenging.
For me, proofreading was a complete restart. I had to start from square one after being on a hiatus from the workforce for six years to grow our little family. Along with the excitement that came with starting a new freelance business came one great big concern: What if I fail?
After completing Transcript Proofreading: Theory and Practice™ came the real-life test: working with reporters.
I’m pretty sure I had a lump in my throat for a week after responding to my first ad as a professional proofreader. As I clicked send on that first completed job (yep, I got it!), the only thing I kept thinking was, “Oh, my gosh. What if I screwed it up?”
Thankfully, that first job went smoothly. Phew! Success starts! Then I had to do it again … and again … and again. Whoa. This just got real.
The Hardest Part is Getting
Nothing seems to freak out new proofreaders more than dipping their toe into the pool of reporters waiting for them out there in the “real world.” As a newbie, the prospect of mingling with such highly skilled professionals is intimidating.
But here’s a little secret: These highly skilled professionals are regular people — just like you and me. Like our skills, their skills (and reputation) are put to the test with every job they do.
After going through the cycle (get job, finish job, rinse, repeat) over and over again, I’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t — and this post is about what doesn’t work.
Here are just a few of the blunders proofreaders can make to ensure their new career is on the fast track to getting fired.
Way to Get Fired #1: Don’t Communicate With Your Clients
Imagine a reporter sitting in a courtroom with a group of people she’s never met. She’s been scheduled for a long day in court taking down a trial. The judge isn’t very happy with the defense attorney; the defense attorney is stressed and talking a mile a minute; and the attorney for the State has an extremely thick accent. She hasn’t had a bathroom break for hours, and she’s starving because she had to skip lunch. Finally, the trial ends, she gets home, and gets to take a well-deserved break when the order comes in. It’s an expedite. Thank GOD she has a proofreader to help get this thing ready and out the door.
She e-mails her proofer and waits.
…and waits …
Five hours later, she gets an e-mail saying, “Sorry. I’m on vacation. I can’t take this job.” Now she has to scramble to find a proofreader she’s never tried and cross her fingers that they’ll get it back to her on time.
Think Like a Reporter
Imagine, just for a moment, that you are this reporter. Your livelihood depends on meeting deadlines, and you’re trusting someone else to do their job so you don’t lose yours.
Despite all their super powers — yes, court reporting is a super power if you ask me — I have yet to find a court reporter with telepathy. Whether you’re going on vacation, submitting an annotated transcript, or needing to clarify a preference, communicating with your clients is essential to maintaining a trusting work relationship.
I personally try to respond to an email within 20 minutes. I know that isn’t always possible for every freelance proofreader, but I do highly recommend that you respond ASAP to correspondence from clients. As an added bonus, communicating quickly and efficiently with your clients will foster an open proofreader/reporter relationship and bring a welcomed fluidity to your process.
Remember, producing a transcript is a team effort. We (reporters, scopists, and proofreaders) are different parts of the same body. If one part of the body doesn’t communicate to another part, the body as a whole functions poorly. Proofreaders must remember — and not underestimate — the value of the proofreader’s role in producing a flawless product.
FACT: In a recent poll I took of professional reporters, 12 percent deemed “poor communication and slow response time” as their primary reason for firing their proofreader.
Way to Get Fired #2: Be Too Rigid With the Rules
I have a client who, and I quote, “loves how obsessed I am with the rules.”
She lives and breathes by Lillian Morson’s English Guide for Court Reporters. I’m the kind of gal that LOVES rules. I’ve never been one to go rogue when it comes to grammar and punctuation. I want to know that what I am doing is correct, and so does she. We make a good team.
On the flip side, I also have a client who admittedly doesn’t care about the rules. She is the reporter who does it her way. And this is totally cool: she is a successful and skilled professional who has her preferences and sticks to them. I have learned a lot from her about being flexible and accommodating in this area.
When it comes to rules and reference materials, I have only one thing to say: it’s all preference. After having worked with a wonderful array of reporters, I have come to appreciate the art of punctuation. It seems that for every rule (or at least a lot of them), there’s an equal and opposite rule. Every preference has its counterpart. When I first started out, I was a die-hard Morson’s girl. It was Morson’s or bust! It wasn’t until I really began engaging with reporters that I started to appreciate their different preferences.
Every reporter is unique. If I hadn’t discovered the need to be flexible with certain rules, I would’ve risked the “chemistry” I worked to build with each individual client. If the chemistry isn’t right, a reporter can very easily look elsewhere for a more accommodating proofreader.
So whether their reference manual of choice is Morson’s, Margie Wakeman Wells’ Court Reporting: Bad Grammar/Good Punctuation, or none at all, remain flexible and consistent within their preferences. This will not only help you become well versed in the common preferences in the industry, but it will also prevent you from limiting the types of clients you can work with. Being accommodating is an excellent way to ensure great client relations (and possibly lead to great referrals, too!).
Way to Get Fired #3: Put in Minimal Effort
When you pay for goods or services as a consumer, you expect products equaling the value you spent, right?
Imagine going to a five-star restaurant, paying five-star prices, and instead of receiving a gorgeous plate of quality food… you receive a Happy Meal. How would you feel about that?
As a proofreader, we are providing a service to our clients. Slacking off or working while distracted will be absolutely evident to your reporter. For example, in chatting with one of my clients, she shared a situation where she received work back from a proofreader who had missed raw, untranslated steno. This is what she had to say about it: “She obviously, without a doubt, did not read that page, but wanted to be paid for reading it. She probably figured I wouldn’t notice. I do proof every job I get back from my proofreaders before it goes out, so I most definitely saw it.”
OUCH. Needless to say, that proofreader lost a client. And now she’s mine!
Take pride in your work, proofreaders. You hold a valuable role in this industry. Don’t devalue yourself by offering out Happy Meals when you could be the five-star restaurant of proofreading! 😉
Way to Get Fired #4: Miss Errors and Reject Constructive Criticism
You just submitted your first (or hundredth) job as a freelance proofreader for court reporters. Congratulations! You spent a lot of time checking and rechecking your annotations to make sure everything is perfect. The entire process was a bit nerve-racking, and you’re looking forward to receiving feedback from your client. Excitedly, you wait for your email notification to ring out.
You nearly break your ankle rushing toward the computer when you hear that email come in. You take a deep breath, perhaps say a little prayer, and open the email. As you read, your excited demeanor turns and your heart starts to pound. Instead of accolades and thanks, your new reporter sent you a list of the errors you missed.
Yes, this happened to me. No matter the excellence we strive to maintain as proofreaders, every single one of us will miss something at one point or another. It’s the nature of being human.
For me, I was disappointed and frustrated with myself. However, I decided to view circumstances like these as launch pads toward excellence — exact roadmaps to become better at what I love to do.
Keep Calm and Be Human
Handling these situations with professionalism and grace can actually build trust between you and your reporter. If they feel comfortable enough to approach you about things like missed errors, they are more likely to keep you around.
Nobody likes working with someone who becomes defensive when offered constructive criticism. Receive it with grace, and you’ll not only become better at what you do, but you’ll also foster a wonderful working relationship with your reporter. Win-win!
… Humans Don’t Know It All
With that in mind, I do want to make one thing clear: There is no greater disservice a person can do to their career (or their life for that matter) than to assume you know it all.The fact of the matter is that learning and growing as a professional (or in any aspect of life, really) requires a teachable spirit.
Ask yourself that question: Am I teachable? None of us know it all. In fact, I haven’t met one single person (myself included) who has worked through Transcript Proofreading: Theory and Practice™ that hasn’t been humbled by it in some way or another. Whether in practice or profession, constructive criticism is essential to developing rock-solid skills.
Never settle for your current skill level. Take on the challenges presented to you — A sedentary mind has no energy for excellence.
FACT: A staggering 33 percent of participating reporters indicated that their number one reason for firing their proofreader was for missed errors. In the situation I experienced above, I was able to salvage a working relationship with my reporter simply by receiving the criticism well and using it to become better at what I do. Remember: Constructive criticism is the fire that forges excellence. Receive it well!
Way to Get Fired #5: Miss a Deadline
Let’s revisit our reporter friend from earlier.
After sending out an SOS, she gets a response from a new proofreader. She is pressed for time and very nervous about relying on someone she’s never worked with before. She sends out the transcript trusting her new proofreader will return it by the deadline, considering she still needs to edit it before it’s ready for her client.
Ms. Proofreader accepts the job (even though she is already overbooked) because she really didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to make some good money. As she works her way through her transcripts, it becomes increasingly more clear that she has overbooked herself and won’t make the deadline for the expedite job.
How do you think this ended for both the reporter and the proofreader? Yeah. Not so good.
When accepting proofreading jobs from reporters, remember your reputation and the reporter’s is on the line . NEVER accept a job you cannot complete and return by the deadline. EVER. Consider your reporter and how a missed deadline could affect her/him — because accepting a job you can’t handle for the sake of making a buck will undoubtedly cost you (and your reporter) a lot more in the end.
FACT: The majority (54 percent) of reporters who participated in my poll indicated that missing a deadline is the number one reason they would give their proofreader the boot. Moral of the story? Don’t accept work you cannot complete. The end.
What Makes a Great Proofreader? An Inside Look
While brainstorming for this post, I decided to get some input straight from the source — my own clients.
I presented them with two questions: What makes an excellent proofreader, and what is your No. 1 reason for firing your proofreader? Here is what one of them had to say about it:
“An excellent proofreader catches the ‘little things.’ After reporting a depo and editing a depo, it’s easy for a reporter’s eye to miss those little things that a fresh set of eyes should catch. An excellent proofreader does not miss deadlines. If a deadline is difficult or impossible to meet, a proofreader should not accept the assignment. I have tried several proofreaders, and the main thing to me is if something blatant is missed. I understand that nobody is perfect and that some things will be missed (which I will hopefully catch on my final proof), but when a mistake is obvious and the proofreader doesn’t catch it, it makes me wonder if they were distracted, reading too quickly, or just doing sloppy work. If my trust in that proofreader wavers, I am not likely to use them again.” – A North Dakota Reporter
Conclusion? Be excellent.
If success as a proofreader has taught me anything, it’s that there are far more ways to screw up than to succeed.
Funny, isn’t it?
It is much easier to get fired than it is to become successful.
Being excellent isn’t easy, but the challenge is worth it! While this list isn’t all-inclusive, I can guarantee you that by avoiding the aforementioned blunders — and offering excellent customer service and high-quality proofreading instead — that you’ll build a thriving freelance business proofreading for court reporters.
Want to know my little secret to avoiding these pitfalls? Here it is: The Golden Rule. It’s as simple as that. Treat your clients the way you would want to be treated. Offer the quality of service that you would expect as a paying client. Offer the care you would expect if someone were handling your work.
Be available. Be teachable. Be genuine. Be accommodating.
What a wonderful article! This can apply to any profession. Thank you so much for writing it and thank you Caitlin for sharing!
I have missed two of what I consider to be big mistakes. Both were pointed out to me. I was heartbroken. Very embarrassed and upset. They were both sadly with the same client. I accepted both and thanked her for her feedback. I still work with her, and we have a good working relationship. One was when I was very new, and she knew I hadn’t been doing it very long. The other was more recently. However, she has also emailed me several times about mistakes that I have caught that she has been making for years, and no one else has caught. It’s hard to accept criticism, but the same is also true for the reporters. We are emailing back pages of corrections to them. I can imagine that it might be hard for them to see their mistakes sometimes as well.
Very good point, and very true!
Everyone makes mistakes; reporters make mistakes in the transcripts, and scopists and proofreaders may not catch every error. I tend to beat myself up over my own mistakes, and it’s hard to hear criticsm from other people. I think that in a good working relationship, though, there is mutual respect and a mutual attitude of wanting to help each other improve. In whatever we do, how we communicate with each other makes a big difference in resolving problems when they do happen.
^ criticism 😀
I agree with Susan! Caitlin, your well-written post is a perfect combination of personal sharing and professional wisdom, backed by experience and evidence. What a wonderful motto this makes: “Be available. Be teachable. Be genuine. Be accommodating. Be excellent.” Every point is important, but I especially love what you wrote about being human, humble, and teachable, and the importance of handling difficult teachable moments with grace.
I have one pragmatic question for you: In accommodating different style and “rule” preferences, how do you keep track of which reporter prefers which approach, particularly if you’re working with a fairly new client?
We use something called a preference sheet 🙂 Eventually you’ll memorize what’s on it and get used to what your client wants, but the preference sheet helps initially.
Ah. That makes sense. Thanks for the answer!
That preference sheet is indispensable when working with several reporters with different preferences.
Wow. I must truly commend you Caitlin for such an amazing article. This was so very informative, straightforward, and detailed. I really enjoyed reading this. I love when people share their knowledge to help others.
This is a great article and while it is very scary to think about starting out and working with actual clients these are great points to keep in mind going forward. Thank you!
Hello, Caitlin: It’s been since about April 2016, that I last contacted you. Could you please contact me via my email because I have some important questions to ask you about your training.
Thank you very much.
You are welcome to email Caitlin at [email protected], and she’ll be happy to answer your questions. 🙂
Great Article, Katie. I agree with all of those.
Now we just need to get the reporters to communicate back when they receive our marked-up copy back to them.
I know they complain about us, but that one goes both ways. Would it be wrong to ask them to let us know when the transcript is received by them?
Thanks for all the great info.
So glad you enjoyed the article, Karen! I never think it’s wrong to encourage communication between yourself and your reporter. I, personally, added a note to my email signature that looks like this: ***If you receive an attachment with this email, please confirm receipt.*** It works most of the time. 🙂 If I don’t receive an email back (or Sidekick doesn’t show it’s been opened), I always send a quick email before the due date to confirm they received it. I never worry about being a bother on that front; most reporters appreciate that their proofreader is on top of things. 🙂
Caitlin, you have proven yourself to be an excellent teacher, coach, trainer, I could add more here, but for the sake of brevity all I can say is excellent teaching again.
That was a great article. I am still wanting to take the plunge but have not yet. Hopefully soon. In the mean time I keep up with the blog. That was some very valuable information.
This shall be committed to memory!! Thank you so much!
A very good article, with many points it would be wise to remember.
I did a search online for “Court Reporting: Bad Grammar/Good Punctuation” and was stunned to see a $10,000 price tag–at half.com and Amazon. A used copy of Morson’s was available for about $80 from Abe Books.
How do you check your adherence to rules when you’ve just started out and can’t possibly afford the reference materials? Can graduation from PA prepare you well enough to develop a client base?
Hi, Barbara! That’s a CRAZY price for Margie Wakeman Wells’ excellent text, which we refer to as BG/GP for brevity. 😉 It can be purchased for FAR less here…directly from Margie’s own website! $80 for a used copy of Morson’s is actually not too bad a price. While we highly recommend BG/GP and Morson’s — more the former because it was published very recently versus Morson’s being published nearly 20 years ago now — the PA course will prepare you for finding work as a transcript proofreader once you’ve graduated. Save up to make the purchase, but in the meantime, a copy of The Gregg Reference Manual can be found very affordably. You don’t even need the current 11th edition; the 10th is very serviceable and can be found here. Once in the course, you will be able to reference the course material itself as well as reach out to our amazingly active and supportive community of students and graduates. Hope this helps! 😀
Whew! Thanks, Makamae. No need now to feel defeated before I start… 🙂
Great article. I enjoyed the feedback from reporters themselves.
Challenge accepted, indeed. Caitlin’s Crew rocks!
Caitlin, I have great concern in my own ability to do proofreading. I really want this job and I want the proper education for it as well but in reality I have great doubts of being able to complete the task’s as assigned. My reason’s are as follows…
I am 62, medically challenged, and nervous I may let a client down.as well as myself.
I have got to come up with a way I can make some money to help tie ends together, I’m not concerned with making a huge fortune just enough to keep me out of the hole I’m in right now. So my question is can you help a challenged person such as myself?
Hi Melody! By knowing you want to pursue this and create a better future for yourself, you’re already ahead of so many people! Don’t sell yourself short. While we provide you with all the tools and resources you need, it’s up to you to take the action — which we know you can! Look forward to having you join us! 🙂