A thread popped up recently on a job board online that will remain nameless. Someone was complaining about receiving lots of emails from “professional proofreaders” and found it irritating. Several choice individuals whom I do not know quickly spoke up to blame me (PA) for it.
It got ugly at times, and while the usual monkeys threw their poo, several folks had genuine concerns that I decided were necessary to address with actual facts.
I wrote a detailed response and saved it in Notepad just in case the thread got deleted, which I expected would happen eventually. I value my time (as we all should!), and I didn’t want to retype a similar response when another such thread popped up — predictably — a few months down the road.
Well, the thread was deleted, so now I’m posting my response in an open letter on my website which will broadcast automatically later today to my 6,649 fans on Facebook.
It’s important to me that I’m 100% transparent and authentic in my business. That is one of the major reasons I’ve been successful as a marketer and entrepreneur. If something’s amiss, I share it with my tribe.
We learn. We grow. We succeed.
Let me set some things straight.
(This will be my only post on this thread. YES, IT’S LONG. I want to cover everything and not have to post again in future threads. If you have any questions, please feel free to PM me or email me at email@example.com. Please be civil to me, or I will just delete the email (deleting an email takes way less time than complaining about it, by the way ;-)).)
My course is the most comprehensive course of its kind (there are no other proofreading courses to my knowledge), and it becomes more comprehensive every day. I am quite literally constantly adding to it. It DOES cover, at length, the importance of consistency, readability versus verbatim, and when to choose a number instead of a word in a sentence, among many other things. We originally built the course to go along with Morson’s, but we have since switched to recommending Margie Wakeman Wells’ materials over Morson’s because it’s actually been updated during this decade… and we love her workbook. Margie is also a valued and active participant in our student Facebook group.
The course DOES NOT include a copy-and-paste template for everyone to use in emails. It DOES NOT include lists of people to contact. It DOES include a list of people NOT to contact. If you want to be on it, let me know. If your name and email are listed in an online directory somewhere, you can’t be too surprised if people find it.
We require everyone to pass two manually graded transcript tests and one multiple-choice final exam before even being allowed access to our marketing module. It was not always that way; we changed policy about a year ago to prevent slackers from skipping straight to the marketing material. We actually had a few students pay $900 for my course and try to take the mid-term test the next day. Now it’s not nearly that easy. Some choice individuals are still murdering PA over its past mistakes by spreading rumors and saying things about the course that either were never true or are not true any longer. I can’t force people to check their facts. I can say that if you hear something horrible about my course, it’s probably coming from someone who’s never even seen it.
So yes, we do teach people how to market themselves — good courses should do that. It is a necessary skill to build a business! Having worked as a marketing manager in a court reporting firm, I know firsthand that marketing is considered “weird” and off-putting to many people in this industry. People see something done that they’ve never done themselves, or perhaps don’t know how to do, and they attack it because they don’t understand it.
Marketing is not a crime. It is essential to growing a business, and everyone has to start somewhere. Scopists, reporters, and proofreaders all have to get that first client. Even if you’ve been “doing this for 30 years,” please remember you were in Year 1, never mind DAY 1 once upon a time, too. Veterans who are kind to newbies garner more respect than veterans who are not.
More facts: We provide MULTIPLE warnings and go into great detail about not using cookie-cutter emails; in fact, we now actively discourage the use of email before other strategies.
We advise students to shadow court reporters, go to court hearings, and audit court reporting classes. Many do, and those students have an advantage, but I am not there to force anyone to follow the instructions.
We do not churn out hundreds or thousands of proofreaders per month. To date, 256 people have received a certificate from me. TO DATE. The course launched a year and a half ago on February 16, 2015. Not everyone who enrolls can pass my tests; in fact, just last week I refunded someone because their test answers were so poor it was a waste of my assistant’s time.
I now require all students to complete the first two modules of my course and pass a 100-question word skills test before even being allowed to enroll in the rest of it. If they don’t pass, they don’t get to enroll. And again, no one is allowed to learn how to market themselves until all tests are passed. We are strict graders; a 100% is required on all manually graded tests — students must find ALL the errors — and a 90% is required on the multiple-choice exam.
Not everyone who has a certificate will “survive.” They’re not all “actively” marketing. Some will get their certificates and a few months or weeks later will decide it’s not for them and go in a different direction. Some past students even sell their textbooks and iPads to new students.
If you take time to read my website, you’ll see how very transparent I am about the nature of this industry. I actually say, “Only the strong survive.” My website includes many, many warnings that only actual skill will make you any money in this industry, so if you suck, you’ll drown. Our material provides all the resources and tools they will need to succeed, but it is not magical; we cannot make someone be good at proofreading.
Yes, I make money from PA. I think some people dislike me because of that, but I’d be an idiot to do all this work for free. It is my full-time job. It’s not all about the money for me, either. If it was, I’d let any schmuck on the street enroll and get a certificate, but I don’t. I take great pride in what I am doing. Am I perfect? NOPE. But I am always, always, always improving.
To some, my course may seem “expensive.” I disagree, and my students would as well. Truthfully, $900 is actually not a lot to spend to learn niche-specific skills you can use to earn money for a lifetime. Most students recoup the full cost of the course, their books, and their iPad in just a few months. Even if students enroll and don’t end up finishing the entire course or going on to market, they still leave the course with better word skills than when they started — and good word skills are essential for any profession.
Students who complete the full course also have lifetime access to all updates and lifetime support through our forum and private FB group. This means we offer continuing education at no additional cost beyond the course tuition. That is a major value inherent in the course fee.
I usually stay out of these threads because they usually turn into hate fests in which I simply don’t have the time to participate, but I’ve seen genuine concerns here that I wanted to address. I understand a few choice individuals hate my guts, and that’s okay; you’re allowed to spend your energy putting others down if you want. But the fact is, I’m spending MY energy doing something good in the world; I’m trying to help people. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing unkind or unfounded anyone says will ever stop me. The opinions of people who know me and have actually laid eyes on my course content matter to me. The unkind words, often disguised as opinions, of those who’ve never shared a word with me or seen my content, do not matter. If you have something constructive to say with genuine intent to contribute to the greater good of proofreaders everywhere (anywhere?), I’m happy to hear it and will put it to good use.
One final thing before I jet off to enjoy this beautiful Saturday. Speaking of people who’ve actually seen my content… I’d like to announce I’ve teamed up with Linda Evenson of Internet Scoping School. We’ve had a contract in place since May. I am redesigning her website and course structure with my own two hands, and I will be managing her marketing. My PA grads are qualified proofreaders. Similarly, students who complete Internet Scoping School are qualified scopists. I’m sure Linda will have more students now that she will be actively marketing, and I’d expect that due to her years in the industry over me, some of the unkind things that have been said about me won’t be said about her, but I could be wrong (I hope not). Linda has personally seen my course content, and — full disclosure — some of it is going to be added to Internet Scoping School’s content. Why? Because it’s incredibly thorough and touches on points of the industry that Linda would also like to touch on for her scoping students. We are thrilled to be supporting each other as professionals and are very excited to help more people learn how to scope.
(And if you find a typo in this post, it doesn’t make me incompetent or somehow unfit to teach — it makes me a human, just like you :-).)
P.S. [this is a summary of a reply to someone who responded to my post; it is not verbatim as I did not save this portion] — Yes, I know there are proofreaders out there sending “cookie-cutter” emails. Words cannot express how frustrating it is when students disregard instructions, don’t heed my warnings, and altogether make fools of themselves. We specifically tell students not to copy/paste someone else’s ad from CSRNation or wherever. The instructions and the warnings are extensive and crystal clear, but I cannot force anyone to follow it. If I could see people who disregard my advice in person, I would punch them in the face. They make me, PA, and my grads look bad.
We have a public graduate directory on the site. The grads listed actually receive several emails per week from random people soliciting “how to market” information from them because they do not want to take the course to learn. People get desperate. It happens. I’ve advised my students not to answer these emails… but if someone chooses to ignore that advice, I will never know about it.
It’s unreasonable to blame me/my company for the actions of others. I cannot control what they do or the choices they make.
EDIT: Unless the person emailing can produce their certificate, you don’t know for sure if they attended PA or not. There are plenty of people who learn about the possibility of proofreading through my blog and think they’re too good for training. Some of those folks are now my students — who have since realized how wrong they were — but it’s entirely possible for a particularly lazy and/or broke someone to just go googling, calling, and scrounging around the Internet looking for all the information they think they need to start up a business — and that may well include copying and pasting ads they find from other people. It may even include lying about having had training.