5 tips to help you handle difficult transcription audios.

Just about every transcriber I know has encountered one of these audios. They drive you crazy and take longer than usual to finish. An unclear audio could be as a result of many factors. There might have been a lot of background noise, there is some interference with the recording material e.g. static, the connection was bad (the likes of phone and Skype interviews), audios with heavy industry-specific terminology, the speakers have heavy accents or the speakers were not loud enough etc. These can be really tricky to transcribe. For the experienced transcribers you may have realized that these ‘bad’ audios seem to pay a lot (it’s because they know how tough it will be for you to get these transcripts right thus the incentive). Good news is there are a few things you can do to handle such audios.

  1. Clear up the background noise. Some transcription softwares such as Express Scribe have the option of clearing out background noise. Go to the Express tool bar, click file go to special audio processes and click on background noise reduction. For some files you will have to do this more than once to clear it up (not that it will be super clear now) but it helps.
  1. Boost the volume. If the volume is too low and increasing the volume to max on the Express software does not help follow the same process as above but now click on the second option that reads extra volume boost, right below background noise reduction. You can repeat this as many times as you would like to get the desired volume.
  1. Speed up the audio. Sometimes the speaker is inaudible but if you speed up the audio you might actually get to hear what they are saying. Do this after you are done typing out the audio and you are doing a once over. You might actually get to hear some of the words you missed before.
  1. DO NOT slow down the audio. As crazy as this might seem slowing down the audio might actually make it harder for you to hear the speaker. Imagine this, the speaker was talking at normal speed (normal is not so normal to everyone some actually sound like they are rapping) so when you slow down the audio it might sound like they are slurring. Keep it at 100 or speed it up.
  1. Pay attention to what they are saying. If you are actually following the conversation in the audio you are more likely to get it right. This is because when you are paying attention there are those words or phrases that you might have misheard but since you know the topic of discussion you have a clue as to what might have been said. Now don’t get me wrong that does not mean that you type out what you think you heard but paying attention to a conversation helps you know where the conversation is going.

All in all if you are not able to handle such audios I would advise against doing them just because they pay a lot. You would rather reject such than take them up do shoddy work and end up with bad reviews/reputations. Reputation is of utmost importance in this field and nothing speaks more to it than your previous work.

Being Kenyan; Trying to earn that extra cash.

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Now if you ask most people in Kenya what transcription is the answer would be, “I don’t know.” This is because transcription is not very popular in Kenya although in the recent years, say the last three to five years, its popularity has slightly increased. The spark in interest has emerged from the fact that quite a number of Kenyans have turned to working online given the busy schedules and of course the need to make that extra cash (9 to 5 jobs alone don’t cut it anymore with this economy).  As companies are realizing the benefits of outsourcing transcription services many Kenyans have taken that opportunity to make some cash. Some do it as a full-time job but many are still going about it as a part-time job. Reason? Transcription is not as easy as one would think. Listening to an audio while typing it out is not an easy task more so when faced with audios with a lot of background noise or speakers with heavy accents.

Another factor that has contributed to many Kenyans taking transcription jobs as a part-time job is because there are high and low seasons. Transcription jobs are not always available throughout the year. There comes a point when the demand goes down thus the need to have a back-up plan (read 9 to 5 job). Some have perfected the art of transcription; they are fast and good with just about any accent. We will call them transcription gurus. Of these some are kind enough to offer training services to newbies free of charge, while others do it at a fee (again, that extra cash does come in handy). Not many landlords would accept your kind gestures in lieu of the rent or are there any who would? No? Didn’t think so.

For those who are not lucky enough to be taken under the wings of the gurus fret not. This is the era of the internet. What is that popular motto doing rounds in campus again? What Google has I have. There are uncounted number of free eBooks and guides on how to go about perfecting the art of transcription online. All you have to do is have internet access, a computer, headphones and transcription software you are good to go. Then you can proceed to pray to God that you don’t experience a power blackout in the middle of your transcription.

If you  put in time and efforts it does not take long to master the art of transcription. The key is to have good grammar skills and get into the audio, really get into it. Follow what is being said, don’t just type passively. You are more likely to make mistakes this way.

Several pages have been formed on Facebook  bringing Kenyan transcribers together to form somewhat a community to offer support and advice to fellow transcribers. Such pages include Awesome Transcribers in Kenya a closed group with 11,725 members and counting, Transcribers Kenya: Working Online from Home and Creating Wealth another closed group with 2, 743, Reach Transcribers in Kenya also a closed group with 1313 members to mention but a few.

In as much as these groups are set up to provide support not all the members in these groups are here for genuine reasons. Some are out to make money by conning others. The admins of the group might try as much as possible to weed out such members but trust me there are always more of them lurking somewhere waiting for an opportunity. It could be through offering non-existent training services or bogus study materials at a fee or selling ‘imaginary’ data bundles or modems at dirt cheap prices. Always be weary.

For those not brave enough to go the DIY way there are well-established and reputable companies like Adept Technologies Ltd who are willing to hire inexperienced transcribers and even offer free training. Many have chosen to go the company way as it is ‘less risky’. They provide you not only with the training but also the computer, headphones and did I mention the internet. No spending money on data, just make sure you show up and be ready to learn. Yeah, nothing comes for free you have to put in the effort to learn and actually learn.

Workstation Ergonomics

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Photo credit: By Vanessa Day in her article http://www.victoriamassagetherapy.ca/ergonomics.html

Prolonged use of computers usually involve awkward postures, repetitive and forceful action that can lead to muscle injuries and nerve damage. The injuries may develop overtime and one might not notice until it’s too late. Therefore if you have to use a computer extensively be sure to adjust your workstation and posture while working to avoid occupational injuries.

Symptoms

Some of the symptoms of computer-related injuries to watch out for include sore wrists, numb/painful fingers, lower back pain, blurry vision and headaches. Other areas that may also be affected include neck, shoulder, thighs and legs.

The best way to understand how to set up your working station is to first understand the natural positioning of the body. This is a position in which your body joints are naturally aligned. Below are some ergonomic tips that one can incorporate to reduce the chances of developing injuries.

Workstation layout

  1. Chair and desk

Maintaining a good posture while working at a computer is extremely vital for everyone. Though there is no single defined position try as much as possible to maintain a natural posture to make sure that you are not straining your body. To do this:

  • Use a fully adjustable chair. You should be able to adjust your seat height, backrest, pan and tilt. Your chair should also have a well-formed lower back support.
  • Regularly adjust your tilt to maintain a comfortable posture. It can be horizontal although others prefer to tilt their seats either forward or backwards a bit.
  • Adjust the height of the chair so that your elbows are bent at 900 and are parallel with the floor. Your wrists should be straight and your shoulders relaxed.
  • Adjust the backrest such that you are sitting upright and your lower back is supported. You can use a pillow if necessary.
  • The height of your seat should allow your feet to rest flat on the floor and your knees to be the same height as or slightly lower than your hips. You can use a footrest to support your feet more so if your feet don’t reach the floor.
  1. Keyboard and Mouse

When using the keyboard and mouse your wrists should be in a neutral position. A good keyboard should accommodate the mouse and have you should be able to adjust its height and tilt.

  • Position your keyboard such that your hands will be in line with your forearm.
  • Maintain your arms above the keyboard (and wrist rest if using one) when typing.
  • Avoid resting your wrists on the table’s hard surface as you will end up bending your wrists (either up or down).
  • If you prefer to use a wrist rest to support your wrists also avoid bending your wrists on them. Avoid resting on the wrist rest when typing, they should be used to rest your hands between keystrokes. Wrist rests should not be higher than your keyboard space bar.
  • Use a protective pad to protect your elbows if you need to.
  • The keyboard should be directly in front of your body and make sure to pull up to it. Make sure to leave enough space to use the mouse though.
  • Have your elbows at approximately 1000-1100. Tilt your keyboard slightly if you need to. When you are in an upright position slightly tilt the keyboard away from you (negative tilt) or vice versa (positive tilt) when you are reclined. The key is to maintain a relaxed posture.
  • Use a sizeable mouse as a large one may cause you wrists to bend uncomfortably.
  • Position the mouse close to the keyboard.
  • Release your grip on the mouse every once in a while to release pressure.
  • If you do not have an adjustable keyboard you can adjust the height of your workstation instead or your chair.
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Photo credit: By Vanessa Day in her article http://www.victoriamassagetherapy.ca/ergonomics.html
  1. Monitor

The monitor should be positioned in a way such that it is centered directly in front of you to avoid awkward postures. You should be able to keep your neck in a neutral position while viewing it.

  • Place it at an arm’s length so that you can easily focus on the screen. Those who wear bifocal or multi-focal need to adjust it to their most comfortable distance.
  • It should be placed at a height that allows your neck to be straight while viewing it. The top of the screen should be at or below eye level and the bottom can be viewed without distinct head inclination. Tip; your eyes should be leveled with the tool bar.
  • Avoid placing the screen near light sources. Try as much as possible to make sure that neither the operator nor the screen is facing the light source. If this cannot be avoided try tilting the screen so that the reflection is directed below the eye level. Also adjust blinds as needed.
  • Adjust the brightness of the screen so that it is neither too bright nor too dark.
  1. Document holder

Computer work means that once in a while you will need to refer to source documents. Use a copy stand to position source documents them directly in front of you between the screen and the keyboard. If there is not enough space use a document holder adjacent to the screen.

  • Position the document such that there is minimized the head and eye movements between the screen and the source document.
  • Ensure that the adjustable document holder is at the same height and distance as the screen. Consider the side and thickness of your source documents when buying the document holder.
  • Avoid excessive reaching. Frequently used items should be within your reach preferably within the reach of both hands.
  • Certain copy holders can double up as writing surfaces if positioned correctly.
  1. Phone

A number of times an operator will need to use the computer and the phone at the same time. Consequently they end up positioning their heads, necks and back awkwardly trying to use both devices at the same time. This is done when they cradle the phone between the shoulder and the neck in order to free their hands to use the computer.

  • Use a headset or put the phone on loud speaker to avoid cradling it.
  • The phone should be placed within easy reach to avoid over reaching.
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Photo credit: By Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in their article http://www.techlifemag.ca/1431.htm

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Additional working techniques

No matter how well your workstation has been set up or how good your posture is keeping the body in one prolonged posture will wear the body out. Try making slight movements from time to time.

  • Adjust the position of your neck, shoulder, back and legs. You can do this by reclining your chair or sitting upright. Flex your wrist, hands, neck, shoulder and legs.
  • Take short breaks every now and then. After every 30 minutes you can take two minute poses and after every hour take 5 minute breaks. Get up from your chair and move around. Try stretching your hands over your head.
  • Switch up tasks to avoid doing repetitive movements for long periods of time.
  • Keep your fingers relaxed when keying in and hit the keys gently.
  • Avoid holding a pen or objects when using the keyboard as it puts your hands in an awkward position.
  • Hold the mouse lightly and from time to time, remove your hand from the mouse and flex it.
  • About every 20 minutes remove your eyes and focus on an object away from the computer, approximately 20 feet.
  • Avoid hunt and peck typing techniques, mostly seen in unskilled users. This is because it tends to exert pressure on particular finger therefore chances of developing occupational injuries are high. It also strains the neck muscles in the ‘hunting’ movement.
  • Ensure your head and neck are in line with your torso.
  • Ensure your shoulders are relaxed and your arms hung normally at the side of your body.
  • Ensure your elbows are close to your body and are supported. They should be bent at around 900.
  • Ensure your lower back (lumbar) should is supported. Use a pillow if necessary.
  • Ensure your wrists, hands and forearms are in line and approximately parallel to the floor. Use wrist rest if necessary.
  • Ensure your feet are flat on the floor. Use a footrest if necessary.
  • Ensure your thighs and hips are parallel to the floor. Use a footrest if necessary.
  • Ensure your knees are about the same height as your hips. Use a foot rest if necessary.

Remember you are most productive and efficient at work when you are comfortable.

Benefits of outsourcing your business processes

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Photo credit: Depositphotos

Everything has an upside and a downside, outsourcing is no exception. Good news is the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Below is a look at some of them.
1. Reduced expenditure.
The most obvious and immediate advantage is cost-cutting. Outsourcing eliminates the need to hire in-house employees (no recruitment cost) and train them thereby freeing up your cash flow that can then be invested somewhere else. A company is now able to inject the money into other revenue-generating activities. Given that the third-party vendor is an expert in their field you don’t have to worry about the quality of service provided being compromised because it’s coming at a cheaper cost. Financial resources can now be directed towards the vital human resources. Plus it’s not always a guarantee that temporary staff will live up to your expectations.
Outsourcing means that the need to invest in infrastructure is eliminated as it is now the vendor’s responsibility to provide the services. This means that the service provider is tasked with developing and maintaining the infrastructure needed.
With the rapid growth of business the need for more office space is almost inherent. Outsourcing some of the non-core functions will eliminate the need for a bigger office space saving a company expansion expenditure.
2. Increases efficiency.
Armed with years of experience in their fields of knowledge third-party vendors are in a better position to deliver intricate outsourcing projects without breaking a sweat. In turn this results in increased efficiency and output as outsourcing vendors can do the job better with their knowledge and understanding of the domain. This leads to an increase in productivity and efficiency in the process thereby contributing to the company’s bottom-line.
Based on the fact that outsourcing is premised on the understanding (read contractual agreement) between a business and a service provider the business can expect nothing less than excellent service. Kevin Grauman, RoundPegg’s CEO, in a CPA Journal stated, “Paying for a business service creates the expectation of performance.” In other words it creates accountability after all the service provider wants repeat customers.
3. Allows focus on core functions.
Outsourcing of business processes means that a company will be able to focus on core processes as opposed to supporting ones. It will be able to put more support on these core functions.
When in-house employees are tasked with providing these services it’s likely that any increase in the back-office operations will result in the drop of the quality of core functions. This is due to the fact that the increase in the back-office operations requires additional resources human and/or financial. Outsourcing allows a company to concentrate on the core functions without comprising the back-office operations. This is especially vital and helpful for start-ups.
4. Increases in-house efficiency.
Sometimes a new project may require a company to undertake a task that its staff is not skilled to perform. Outsourcing the service will then serve to bring in a third party with the required skills. These third party experts will work alongside the in-house employees and somewhere along the way the in-house employees end up acquiring new skills. In such a scenario outsourcing can be used as a way of gaining access to new skill sets and outside expertise. This is beneficial especially to start-ups that are strapped of cash and not able to hire in-house specialists.
5. Access to skilled expertise.
Third-party vendors to whom businesses outsource to employ skills that have been perfected over year of practice. Chances are they will provide a much better service than the in-house team whom the area might not be in their core competency zone. Their highly polished skills result from the fact that they have practiced on their respective areas of specialization and thus better equipped.
6. Round the clock operation.
A majority of BPO service providers tend to work 24 hours a day seven hours a week. This means that companies can get their jobs done even when they are off the clock including weekends and holidays. This can be performed even by local vendors unlike the belief that only offshore outsourcing companies can do that due to the time zone difference. This is because most outsourcing companies tend to work 24/7 on a shift basis. An example being Adept Technologies Ltd in Kenya that operates 24/7. This results in an increase in a company’s overall productivity.
7. Risk sharing and management.
Risks present themselves in different forms such as changes in government regulations, changes in economies and changes in technology etc. Considering the fact that every business faces some level of risk associated with its business, determining the outcome of a new undertaking is a very vital aspect for a company. Outsourcing business processes enables a company to allocate a number of specifies responsibilities to outsourcing vendor allowing the company to share some of the risks with the vendor.
In the event that a company is experiencing high employee turnover the operations of a company are usually negatively affected. With that in mind should a company have outsourced some of its business operations the outsourcing will provide continuity. Also the outsourcing vendors take the responsibility to manage and mitigate these risks on a company’s behalf. Since they are experts in their various sectors chances are they will be better at it than a company’s in-house staff.
8. Staffing flexibility.
Outsourcing renders companies flexible to change. Some business processes have seasonal demand, some high seasons and low seasons. Outsourcing will allow a company to run its business consistently through the high and low seasons. A company can hire the services when they are in demand and release them when they are not. Having to hire in-house employees would mean keeping your staff and paying them even when the services are in low demand.
9. Start new projects quickly.
When dealing with in-house employees a company would have to plan for months when undertaking a new project. This is because they might need might to recruit and train new employees, put in place infrastructure and acquire the needed technology for the new project. Turning to outsourcing gives the company the opportunity to start the project immediately since the outsourcing vendor is most likely prepared to undertake new projects in their respective areas of expertise.
10. Level the playing field
A majority of the start-ups are unable to compete with the larger companies’ in-house support mostly due to limited funds. By outsourcing they are able to access the same level of efficiency and expertise that the bigger companies have.
The ultimate gain of outsourcing is enabling a company to gain a competitive advantage in the industry. A company needs to evaluate the pros and cons of outsourcing before embarking on the journey and when done correctly the company will definitely surpass its competitors and save time and money doing it.

Business process outsourcing in a nutshell.

Outsourcing is not a new concept considering it has been in existence for quite a number of years now. However over the last decade or so its popularity has seen vast growth. In simple words outsourcing means using a third-party vendor to handle one’s business functions (mostly non-core ones) that would normally be handled internally by the company.image

The chief principal of outsourcing is cost-cutting. Nonetheless in the recent times more and more companies are outsourcing in order to gain access to skilled expertise, achieve flexible staffing, focus on core activities, increase efficiency etc. Moreover some processes are seasonal and therefore a company might see fit not to hire internal staff to carry out these tasks. For the majority of small companies the decision to outsource is mainly taken because they might not have in-house experts to do so. On the other hand large companies do so in order to cut costs. In return an entirely new industry has emerged to provide these outsourcing services.

If a business process can be carried out from an outside location it can be outsourced. Such processes include but are not limited to call center services, accounting services and other tax compliance functions, data management services, transcription services, text and image editing/manipulations services. Once outsourcing has been implemented it is the responsibility of the third-party vendor to carry out the task.

A company can choose between selective outsourcing and total outsourcing. Selective outsourcing entails entrusting the third-party vendor with very specific business processes while total outsourcing entails outsourcing an entire department’s functions to an external vendor.

Prior to embarking in outsourcing any of your company’s component it is vital to assess the pros and cons of it since outsourcing offers your company a variety of benefits but it might also poses a number of difficulties if not wisely done. In the next article we take an in-depth look at the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing.