I see this all the time on the transcription forums. “I'm tired of being jerked around by the company/MTSO I work for and I'm going to go get my own accounts.” This is usually followed by a solicitation for “how-to” advice.
I've been pretty retrospective lately about my career in transcription and these posts take me way back. They highlight both what hasn't changed and what has changed.
What hasn't changed is the quest for independence. This is part of the true entrepreneurial spirit. Quite honestly, MTs who strike out on their own to do a couple of local office accounts are my toughest competitors. They are almost always willing to provide a level of service I can't match at a price I don't want to match.
If this is what you want to do, there are a couple of things you need to take into consideration. All this advice, of course, assumes that you are good at what you do and your clients will be happy with your service.
Know what you're getting into
When you're on your own, you're really on your own. You're on the hook to meet your commitments and you have no backup. Sometimes you may have very little work and sometimes you may have more than you can handle. If you want to take time off, you have to decide whether the account is the type where you can suspend service while you're gone or if they will expect you to cover. Usually, this means you won't be taking as much time off as you might like and you may be working longer hours/more days than you'd like. That's part and parcel of having your own accounts.
I know some MTs have pooled together with other MTs in their area to back one another up. If you do it right, this can work. However, you need to make sure the people you're cooperating with can be trusted. Not only do you not want them soliciting your accounts, you want them doing the job the way you would do it. Make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what's expected and what the compensation will be – and put it in writing.
Don't promise the world
This is probably the #1 mistake made. We all make it. I made it. I don't know anyone who hasn't. We're so eager to land that first account that we'll say yes to just about anything. If you do a good job, you may have that account long enough to regret making those promises.
It's very difficult to go back and revise client expectations. Take a good, hard look at what the client is asking and ask yourself if you will be willing to provide the service on those terms for the next 5 years. Ideally, you will keep your accounts for years and years. Although this is less certain with advancements in technology, keeping your accounts for as long as possible should be a goal you set for yourself. It's easier and less expensive to service existing clients than it is to be constantly looking for new ones. So again – ask yourself if you want to be providing the expected level of service over a long term.
That's not to say you can never renegotiate with a client. If they are extremely happy with your service, they may be more willing to make requested changes. It's expensive and difficult for them to find a replacement for you, as well. It's always easier to start out with reasonable expectations from one another, however.
Always be willing to let an account go
As tempting as it is to have one really good account that keeps you as busy as you want to be, it puts you in a bad position if you have to renegotiate anything. If you are willing to concede anything to keep the account, the client will sense this. Not only will your negotiation fall apart, you may lose ground.
Never ever go into a negotiation with a client without being willing to let the account go. Ever. Ever.
That means no account should constitute more of your business than you can afford to lose. Typically, the number is 30%. It's easier if it's lower, around 20%. You can afford to lose 20% to 30% of your business – but can you afford to lose 50%, 75% or even 100%? Most likely not.
The downside to this is that you may have more work than you really want to do in order to keep all clients at a lower percentage level. It's also more work to maintain multiple accounts instead of 1 or 2 accounts – which is why so many independent MTs are tempted to just stick with 1 or 2 accounts.
As always, advice to be taken with a grain of salt and an eye towards what works best for you. All comments welcome.