Trying to walk the walk

Aug 15, 2013

I’ve been doing these great Q&A sessions with leaders and thinkers who are shaping the new economy (like Meetup’s Scott Heiferman, and Ecotrust’s Astrid Scholz), and we quickly realized that we needed to find a transcription service so we could share these talks with the world.

It turns out that most transcription companies use freelancers. Great! But we’re the Freelancers Union, so we couldn’t just hire any service.

We need to practice what we preach and look behind the label—to make sure we pick a company that’s freelancer-friendly.

The dilemma: Make sure transcribers are being treated fairly, while also being conscious of cost. (We are a nonprofit, after all.)

So we came up with a few basic requirements:

  • Living wage: We wanted to make sure the company pays its transcribers appropriately
  • Fair treatment: We needed to pick a company with a reputation for paying freelancers on time and offering reasonable schedules.
  • Affordable: We needed to live within our budget.

With these criteria in mind, we sent our (paid) intern, Pete, on a research mission to come up with a handful of potential providers.How do you make sure your bottom line reflects your values?

Most of them declined to specify exactly how much their transcribers were paid, so we compared company philosophies as best we could---and tried to find out where their freelancers were located.

Some companies were more forthcoming than others.

We also tried to gauge a company’s reputation within the freelancer community.

We didn’t pick the most expensive service because we recognized that we didn’t need the fastest turnaround time on the market, and we could live with a few typos. But we didn’t feel right picking the cheapest service, either.

We settled on Verbal Ink, based in Santa Monica, CA. Among its main tenets is a commitment to paying a living wage and supporting local economies. Another bonus is that it offers a discount to nonprofit organizations, and donates a portion of its earnings to charities suggested by clients. It was tough to find people who had worked for any of the companies on our list, but we did come across some reviews.

I felt pretty good about our decision. We sent our first audio file last week. Let's see how it goes.

For a while now, we’ve been talking about how important it is for freelancers to look behind the label of the companies they do business with, and it does take a little more effort. But ultimately, we all have to make similar choices every day.

How do you make sure your bottom line reflect your values?

Sara Horowitz

As the founder of Freelancers Union, Sara has been a voice for freelancers for over two decades.