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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Podcast: What Transcription Companies are Looking for in ICs, Part 2

In the second file of our podcast series, I had the opportunity to talk with Sharon Lee Harkey of Purple Shark Transcriptions. She shares her thoughts on the changes in the industry over the last 15 years, what it takes to be a succesful transcriptionist and the challenges and benefits of working with independent contractors.

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TRANSCRIPT

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Today we're talking with Sharon Lee Harkey, who owns and runs Purple Shark Transcriptions, providing transcription services to corporations, authors, journalists, doctoral students and others. Today we're going to spend a few minutes talking about the industry as a whole and her experience working with independent contractors.

Hi, Sharon.

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Hi.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
So, let's jump right in. How did you get into the transcription business, and how have your corporate skills helped you in the industry?

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
How I got started – I spent, oh, a very long time working as a secretary, and obviously transcription was certainly a part of that. And in 1995, I became disabled, and – but I already had a couple of corporate clients, so when I lost my job, I just kept going. (Laughter)

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
That's a great opportunity there.

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
And didn't – yeah, it's not a recommended way of doing it, (Laughter) but I'm certainly a lot happier this way anyway.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Right, definitely. And do you feel like the skills you had acquired in other aspects of working in the corporate world have benefitted you running your own transcription business?

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Yes, I do. Partly because I worked for – well, I worked for lawyers (Laughter) and other corporate entities, but I certainly learned a lot from seeing how other organizations were set up and what good business practices were as opposed to not so good ones and learned some pitfalls and things like that along the way. And of course, I also learned a certain amount of organizational skills.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Great.

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Because I'm basically not a particularly organized person, and I had to learn how to do things so that I could at least pretend to be organized.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
(Laughter) And so, what year did you get started in, then, on your own?

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
1995.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Okay. And how have you seen the transcription industry change since then?

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Well, the major change, of course, is that in 1995 there was no such thing as digital audio. It was all tape. And now it's like 99.94 percent digital. But that's the major thing, which actually made things a lot easier, both on the client side as well as on the independent contractor side.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Right, definitely. Definitely. So, when did you expand your business from just working on your own and start hiring independent contractors?

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Almost immediately, partly because I was ill, and I had a job that needed to be finished in a reasonable amount of time. And so, at that point, I dragooned a couple of friends, actually, into helping me with that. But as time went on and my business built, it just sort of grew. For a long time, it would be periods of really heavy duty activity, and so I would need extra people to help, and I even had a yearly – an annual event that I had a contract for for a few years where I had to turn around an enormous number of transcripts in a really short time. And so, I would hire just for that.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Okay. That's great. And what do you think in that time has been the best part of working with independent contractors as well as the hardest part?

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Well, the best part has been finding such an incredible, wonderful people to work with, especially that, first of all, of course we're all around the country and other parts of the world as well, so that in itself makes life interesting. But there are all sorts of different backgrounds and strengths and weaknesses, and that's sometimes the hardest part too. (Laughter) Yeah. But being able to interact with so many, like I said, really wonderful, smart people – it's great.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
And is there any –

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
The hardest part has been finding all of you. (Laughter)

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
How many people are currently on your team?

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
I think I'm up to – it's nine or ten. I can't quite keep track. I think we're back up to ten, actually, but I'm not sure.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Great. Okay, and is there anything that makes a transcriptionist stand out from the rest?

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
I think I'd rather answer that in terms of what I look for, and the first thing I look for is, is the person smart. Because I have very high standards in terms of the quality of the transcripts that I send out, and somebody who doesn't have the vocabulary or doesn't have the intelligence to know what somebody might be saying because they're not connecting the dots or something, then that's – that's something that's important to me. That's what I'm going to look for first. And the English vocabulary, the grammar, those are important. And then somebody who's relatively easy to work with and somebody who doesn't require a lot of handholding. And then the last thing – well, not the last thing, maybe. It's certainly not the only thing, but somebody who's willing to accept what I'm willing to pay them. (Laughter) Able to pay them is more to the point. So, those are the big three, I think, in terms of what I'm looking for.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Okay, I'm going to go a little off script here and ask you a couple more questions based on what you just said.

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Sure.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Can you talk a little bit about the importance of research in a transcript?

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Oh, it's key. It really is. And I'm always impressed with the level of research that I get from – that I see that the Sharks do. I mean, I've always done it, and it's not something that you automatically expect somebody else to do, but it's really helpful when they do. Because I try to get the clients to give us as much information as possible, but either they don't respond, or they only give us part of the information. So, being able to go to Google and find somebody's name, somebody's company name, things like that, or geographic location, perhaps, really makes our transcripts, I think, stand out.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Right, great. Okay, and then could you talk – I saw on your site that you reference "verbatim lite" as a style of transcription. Can you talk a little bit about what that means for you?

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Well, what I mean by verbatim lite is that we don't include the "ers," the "ahs," the "you knows," things that don't actually add anything to the flow of the conversation, to what's actually being said and what the clients are actually looking for. In other words, not going to be –

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Right, which requires a level of intelligence by itself to be able to make that distinction.

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
That's true, because there's sometimes where you do want to include "you know." (Laughter) Most of the time you don't, but there are times. And it's also in terms of readability is the main goal, and so, putting in all the things that-that – "that-that-that-that," all those. You would take those out. All the false starts. Those things are just not germane to the conversation. They're not – just not helpful in terms of what the client actually needs from the transcript.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Right. Definitely. And then, last question, would you have any advice for anyone who's just getting started in this industry?

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Well, the first thing would be to make sure that it's something that you are going to enjoy doing. There are so many people out there who think, "Oh, I know how to type fast, and I'm sure I could pick this up." And the thing is unless you have actually done it, you can't really tell whether, A) you're going to be good at it, and B) if you're going to – I mean, some people just hate it. It's just not something that they enjoy doing. And so, I would recommend not doing it in that case because then pretty much –

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
It can be tedious if you're not enjoying it at all.

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Exactly. Exactly. And sure, we get material that is boring or difficult, but that's the name of the game, and of course, there are those wonderful times when the material is both clear and fascinating. So –

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
That's a good question. What's been maybe the most fascinating subject – without breaking any confidentiality, of course (Laughter) – but subject that you've had a chance to work on?

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:

Oh, well, that's – the most obvious answer is that I've transcribed some celebrities, so that's always been interesting.

I've had other much more interesting things. Amazingly enough, I seemed to, very early on, landed in a lot of management consulting jobs, and that can actually be really interesting, particularly when you're listening to people who are really, really smart talking about it and realizing that, yeah, there are people who really do spend a lot of time thinking and trying to make work life better and easier. So, that alone is fascinating to me.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
And you've done a fair amount on sustainability as well.

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Yes, and I'm certainly really happy to be involved in that.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Yeah, those are very interesting. Could you share some of your tips for juggling multiple clients when you have a lot of work coming in at once?

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Oh my goodness. Just – the best way to do it, at least so far as I've found, is to just have the systems set up that enables you to really keep track of everything. And the other thing that I do – and this is just for me – is I go through my e-mails one at a time, and I deal with each e-mail right away. I don't go on to the next one and then think I'm going to go back to the original one because I've discovered that that's the way I drop balls. (Laughter)

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
I identify with that. I have that problem too, "Oh, I'll go back to it later."

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Yeah, no, it doesn't – bad idea.

Mandi, Transcription Talk:
Right, definitely. Well, great. Thank you so much for taking the time today to talk with us. We really appreciate it, and I think that our listeners will get a lot of everything you've shared as well.

Sharon Lee Harkey, Purple Shark Transcriptions:
Well, thank you, Mandi.

2 Comments:

margi said...

Great interview, Mandi!

Mandi said...

Thanks, Margi!