When I landed my first scoping job in 2011, I had no idea how to effectively set my rates. I was so excited to find my first client, I put that minor detail on my to-do list. In fact, in two of my advertisements, I said that my rates were negotiable.
What could go wrong?
I can still remember her response: “I’m in terrible need of a scopist, and I am offering $1.25 a page, including that you proof your work.”
At the time, I didn’t realize there should always be four to six different eyes on a transcript and that it’s close to impossible to properly proof a transcript you just scoped. So instead of turning down the job, I happily accepted.
I soon realized that by letting my client set my rates, I opened the floodgates to a host of other issues.
But I guess I should be thanking her. Working with my first nightmare client forced me to take the time to set my rates, and I eventually moved on to work for better-quality clients.
Why This Needs To Be Discussed
One of the first questions a reporter will ask you about is your rates; unfortunately, sometimes it’s the only question. In an industry where it’s nearly impossible to set yourself apart beforehand, I used to dread the rates question. I constantly felt like the only way to stand out was by lowering my rates, desperately shouting, “Hey! I’m a great scopist! Pick me! Pick me!”
Thankfully, I’ve since learned to be confident in myself and my rates, and I want you to be able to do the same.
This is why it’s important to be aware of what other scopists are charging so that you can make an informed decision when setting your own rates. Because, sadly, the only time you’ll attract a reporter based solely on your rates is if your rates are too low.
But how do you know what “too low” is if you’ve been told you can’t discuss rates?
Contrary to popular belief, you won’t get penalized for having a rate discussion with other scopists. If you’re getting chastised for this in Facebook groups, it just means that the admin would rather stay on the safe side. However, it’s not illegal to discuss rates. Freelancers do it all the time. What is illegal, though, is for scopists to band together and go on strike until all reporters pay them a certain amount, a.k.a price fixing. But let’s be honest, that won’t happen. Because for every scopist willing to actually do this, there’s at least two others ready and willing to charge a little less to get a leg up on the competition.
You Set Your Rates, Not Your Client
I can’t tell you how many times a potential client has tried to set my rates or haggle me.
Some of my favorite quotes from these types of clients are:
- “My current scopist charges a flat rate for all jobs.” (Your poor scopist)
- “Your rates are the highest I have ever seen.”
- “I’m not very comfortable with the rate structure.”
- “I’ll pay you a percentage of what I get paid.”
The list goes on.
If you’re not careful, it’s easy to take their words to heart and start questioning your business decisions. But it’s important to remind yourself that you are not their employee. You are an independent contractor who provides a valuable service.
Sometimes, though, no matter how promising things seemed in the beginning, you’ll find you’re just not a good fit for a reporter. And that’s okay. Just because you didn’t meet a certain reporter’s expectation doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel and find another career. But if you notice the majority of your clients are complaining about your poor-quality work and high rates, you should probably hone your skills and reevaluate your rates.
Factors That Affect Your Rates
Not only did I let my client set my rates for me, I also didn’t realize that there are many factors to take into account when setting rates. For instance, the quality of writing you receive is a huge factor to take into consideration when making rate decisions.
Quick Example: Let’s say you accept work from a client after quoting them $1.25. About three pages in, you realize you’re doing more typing than the court reporter.
You realize that you’re now making less than minimum wage, but you drudge on, frustrated as hell. But there’s not much you can do now, barring surprising a client with hidden fees. And in my experience, no one responds well to this method. Nor should they.
So how do you protect yourself from the biggest frustration of all? Add growth rates to your rate sheet. A common practice is to charge double the normal page rate once a job has grown more than 5% or 10%. Keep in mind, though, this should not be used as a way to nickel-and-dime reporters. This simply helps protect you from consistently bad writers. You can read more about growth rates here.
The second thing to keep in mind is that your rate should change based on how soon a reporter needs the job completed. Fun fact: I scoped my second job in one day, sent it back within 12 hours, and didn’t think twice about it. Needless to say, my reporter was thrilled.
While this is definitely a way to ensure your clients will love you, your finances will hate this method. You can’t have a successful business if you’re working on expedites and not charging accordingly. The only thing that makes your loss of sleep/sanity and missed family time bearable, is knowing you’ve been compensated for it.
A videotaped job is another factor that should affect your rates. When scoping a videotaped transcript, you’re expected to produce a verbatim transcript. Depending on the reporter’s preference, this can include things like half words, stutters, etc.
Doing this takes more time than scoping a non-video job where you can, for instance, clean up attorneys or leave out false starts. Because of this, scopists usually charge $0.25 more for these types of jobs.
Some scopists also charge extra for the following:
- Technical jobs – medical, expert witnesses, etc.
- The amount of colloquy in a given job
- High untranslate rate
- Interpreter jobs
- Late invoice fees
Disclaimer: These are average rates that I have charged throughout my scoping career, not necessarily what you should charge. These are just some ranges to give you a starting point when setting your own rates.
Normal Turnaround – 5+ business days
- Spot-checking – $1.10-$1.25 – Side note: I don’t recommend offering this service.
- Full Audio – $1.25-$1.50
- Video – $1.35-$1.50
I charge an expedited rate for anything less than five business days.
- Spot-checking – $1.50-$2.00
- Full audio – $1.55-$2.50
- Video – $1.85-$3.00
- Spot-checking – $2.00-$2.50
- Full audio – $2.25-$2.50
- Video – $2.50-$3.00
Communicating Your Rates
Since effective communication is an essential part of a reporter/scopist relationship, it only makes sense to communicate effectively, leaving no room for miscommunication. Everyone needs to be on the same page before the job begins. This will help avoid frustration down the road.
Let’s look at their side for a minute. Reporters spend their days getting stiffed by attorneys who share transcript copies, law firms not paying them what they’re worth. They’re constantly trying to hold on to their hard-earned money. Not to mention their dignity. Attorneys can be cruel and downright ruthless. Imagine how they would feel if they thought they were paying you one rate, only to find out you had some hidden fees you invoiced for? Not great, to put it lightly. While some respond kinder than others, no reporter should have to deal with this.
So respect them and their finances, and be upfront about your rate sheet.
Raising Your Rates
If you find yourself booked solid, job requests pouring in, or you can’t accept more work without your health and home life suffering, it might be a good time to raise your rates. Photographers use this method to weed out bad clients, making room for high-quality ones.
Be careful not to raise your prices on your current clients right away, though. In order to protect your business, it’s best to keep existing clients at your old rates and quote your new clients your new rates. Doing this will help make sure you don’t, worst case scenario, lose your entire clientele in one fell swoop. Now you can safely inform your older clients that you will be raising your rates within a certain period of time. A month, for instance, is a good amount of time to give your reporter. It’s important that you always give them the option to opt out, leaving plenty of time to find a new scopist.
Get Paid What You’re Worth
When you’re confident in your skills and understand the value you provide, it becomes easier to confidently set your rates. Rates are an important factor of your business that should be discussed and considered as you move forward in your career. Rates are not meant to be set the day you become a scopist and then never thought about again. Take your time to get better at your craft and understand why you charge what you charge.
So the next time a reporter asks, “What are your rates?” you can hold your head up high as you quote them your rates. And if they take issue with them, now you can avoid taking it personally, moving on to higher-quality clients.
Remember, if you let your clients dictate your rates, you will never get paid what you’re worth.