It’s the worst feeling in the world to work your fingers to the bone, deliver a transcript, and then hear crickets. While I sincerely hope this has never been done to you, I think it’s safe to assume that nearly everyone has had this happen to them in some way, shape, or form. Not being paid for a job you’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into has to be the most frustrating issue in our industry today, and it’s upsetting to hear how often it is happening.
I recently shared a personal story about getting taking advantage of by my very first client.
Today I’m excited to share with you some proven ways to protect yourself and minimize your risk of this happening, thus ensuring your time is only spent providing value to honest and wonderful reporters.
Let’s dive in!
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Other Scopists for References
Being too timid is one of the worst mistakes a scopist can make. So start participating in the forums and join all the Facebook groups you can. Scopists have all been through similar situations, and most are happy to help in any way they can.
It’s very common for scopists to ask other scopists for references, and I encourage you to do this, too. While “Are they a good writer” is important, always be sure to ask about their payment history as well. By doing this, you will save yourself a ton of frustration.
Also, if you’re a scopist looking for a place to be encouraged and ask questions, request to join my Just For Scopists Facebook group by sending me a message through Facebook. Look forward to meeting you!
2. Always Be Professional/Trust Your Instincts
You are responsible for how your clients treat you. So when working with a new reporter, it’s vital that you conduct yourself in a professional manner.This initial contact is the moment where a reporter will start to make their decision about you. Remember, you only get one first impression.
With that said, if you feel that a reporter is not treating you with respect, or red flags start waving, get out while you can. Immediately tell them you don’t think you’re a good fit and move on to better clients. Following this step will save you enormous amounts of time.
3. Get it in Writing
This may sound like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how often this is overlooked.
Two ways you can do this: Contract or e-mail agreement
If you choose to use a contract, be sure and require their signature. There must be proof that they have read and agreed to your terms.
I send an e-mail with my rates and policies and won’t begin work with a client until they agree to the terms. This way, if you have a disagreement down the road, you can refer back to the e-mail where you laid out the terms. This won’t protect you from malicious reporters, but it does provide an easy way to resolve simple disagreements about things you covered in your rates and policies.
4. Start with a Small Job
As you now know, I speak from experience when I say to avoid big jobs (50+ pages) when you’re first starting out. If a reporter isn’t able to provide you with a small job, ask to scope 10-20 trial pages. While doing this protects your time and sanity, it also protects the reporter’s as well. They’re just as busy balancing their lives. So be sure and explain why you choose to do this and always emphasize it’s for their protection as well.
Starting with a small job ultimately allows you to interact, bill and receive payment, and learn some of their preferences, all without investing too much of your time or energy if things go south.
5. Ask for an Initial Deposit
If you’re unable to find reviews on a reporter, or you choose to accept a large job, it’s best to consider receiving an initial deposit.
This topic is heavily debated in the scopist community, and I initially questioned the best way to handle it. But then I started realizing that this is a very common practice for most freelancers. Why should scopists be any different? Why should you have to hope and pray that your new client will keep their word? Answer: You shouldn’t.
Court reporters have a lot to juggle and desperately need vacations, too. Though not always intentional, a scopist’s invoice can easily become a low priority.
To ensure that your invoice is paid on time, ask for a deposit up front. You’ll find that the way reporters respond to this request can reveal a lot about them. Who knows? You may have just dodged a bullet.
On the flipside, if a client is concerned about being burned by you, they have probably been burned in the past and will definitely have a low level of trust for you. This is quite understandable from their perspective, but it also solidifies that you won’t have a good working relationship moving forward.
6. Request a Finalized Job or Provide a Preference Sheet
This is something I wish I would have been aware of when first starting out, and honestly, it’s something I wish reporters would insist on as well.
Request a Finalized Job
Insisting on a finalized reference job is essential to your protection. Ask for one and don’t back down.
I simply refuse to work with a reporter who won’t provide me with a reference transcript. Their reaction normally tells me that I’ve made the right choice. It’s rare that a client will become upset at you for this, if they do, it probably was not going to be a good working relationship anyway.
Plus, this saves tons of time, yours and the reporter’s. Be sure and explain that it’s to help minimize the amount of questions you would need to send, allowing them to spend more time on the important things.
Plus, think of all the e-mailing/phone/texting time you could save by just quickly referencing their finalized transcript. No, it won’t be able to answer every question you have, but it will definitely cut down on your non-billable hours. And who is going to complain about more time.
It’s also very important that a scopist know how a reporter prefers parentheticals and Bylines, which brings us to preference sheets.
As an alternative to a finalized transcript, you can provide or request a preference sheet. While both methods are sometimes used, some scopists find it too time-consuming.
A preference sheet is exactly what it sounds like: a sheet with a reporter’s preferences.
Why use one?
We all know that no transcript can be perfect the first time. And if we’re being honest, it never will be. But a preference sheet allows you to treat their transcript just like they would, or as close as possible.
Some scopists swear by these sheets, while others prefer to only work with reporters with similar punctuation styles. There are also those who don’t provide one at all but will follow one if the reporter provides it, and an even smaller portion who refuse to work with them at all.
Sadly, there’s a lot of cattiness surrounding this topic, so just use your best judgment and decide what’s best for your business.
7. Have Basic Systems in Place
One of the best ways to protect yourself is protecting your time. Every minute you spend dealing with a potential new client is time you’re not scoping or spending time with loved ones. Some basic systems include how you find clients, how you apply for jobs, and how you handle payment, to name a few. Having these in place will save you tons of non-billable hours.
In an ideal world, you would never have to deal with deadbeat clients, but this, sadly, is not the case. The truth is, difficult clients affect scopists and court reporters alike.
It’s not always possible to avoid these type of clients completely, but by following these principles, you can minimize the risk.
What are your tips for avoiding deadbeat clients? I’d love to hear from you.
Remember, your stories and tips could help protect fellow scopists!