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Small Business

Everything but Clients, Cash, and Time

By Karen E. Klein Q: I am trying to start a medical/legal transcribing company. Consultants tell me my business plan is sound, but after sending out flyers and letters and putting my business card on the Web, I still do not have my first client. Please help, I'm sinking fast.

---- A.T. Midland, Tex.

A: Getting started in any business takes time -- and lots of it. This is particularly true for a service-oriented business, particularly one that demands a high level of trust and word-of-mouth is likely to be your No. 1 marketing tool. If you're not already in the industry and lack established contacts, it's going to be even more difficult to break in.

The good news is that once you have a client or three happy with your work and prices, they'll start to talk you up to their colleagues. That's when new customers should come your way without tons of effort and expense on your part.

A GLUT OF OPTIMISM. While you don't say how long you've been open for business, the immediate objective should be identifying ways to hang on until those first clients arrive -- something that may take several months. To be fair, one of those consultants would have served you well by advising you to keep your day job -- or at least make certain that you had access to plenty of startup capital.

Seasoned entrepreneurs invariably say they underestimated how much money and time it would take before their businesses became viable. If things don't pick up soon, you might consider part-time work related to your business, or even applying for a microloan to tide you over. You may find those options unpalatable, but they're better than closing up shop before you've really had a chance to succeed.

Meanwhile, make sure you have properly identified your niche and zeroed in your marketing efforts on the sort of customers you want. Experts say the medical and legal fields are so different, and so specialized, that most small transcription businesses concentrate on one or the other. Each field requires distinct knowledge, vocabulary, and contacts, so you may want to get some experience working in a clinic or hospital -- or in a courthouse or law office -- before settling on one or the other.

WORK THOSE PHONES. Much of the actual work involved in transcribing medical or legal records is being done over the Internet, so you should focus considerable marketing efforts there. You could also solicit work directly from local medical facilities or legal offices, respond to classified ads, and advertise in publications that cater to doctors and lawyers.

Paul Edwards, author of Best Home Businesses for the 21st Century, suggests seeking overload work from established transcription agencies in your area, as well as national services that sometimes farm out jobs over the Internet. Along with Edwards' book, there are many reference works about transcription services that you should consult. If you decide to concentrate on medical work, the American Association for Medical Transcription,, should provide marketing and startup guidelines. Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 6th Floor, 2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.

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