Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there. I am Gaynor Paynter and I run Typewrite Transcription and Typing Services CC, a business which I started in 2005. You can probably tell by the business name I do typing and transcription, but I also do proofreading, editing, and most other virtual services. Right now I am busy with a project that involves doing some research to help someone compile a letter she wants to send to funders for her business, so I’m pretty versatile.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I always wanted to be my own boss. So I landed up doing a secretarial diploma after school, and working as a receptionist, and moving up to sales secretary and wage clerk, before working for a recruitment company. When I started my career the internet wasn’t what it is today. I actually had a vision of my secretarial service being mobile. I daydreamed a truck with someone driving with me sitting in the back in a fully set up office in the van doing the work and delivering it ready to clients having just been done. Virtual before virtual existed. Obviously, it didn’t quite happen like that, but with the advent of ADSL in 2005 in South Africa, I was able to set up a home office and start my own business.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Transcribing is obviously not a product, it’s a service, but it still has a process. You have to start by telling people that you’re doing it, and I did that, whilst still working full time for an employer. I told people I was going to run my own business, and what I was going to do. Marketing is a fundamentally important part of any business, and without it, you can’t survive.
Undercharging will lead in the end to burnout and stress and you won’t provide a good service. Overcharging will lead to a poor reputation for you.
My very first client was an elderly man writing a book about his deceased wife. It was a good project to start on. I was young and he was old, and I was finding my feet and he was quite bossy and needy. I’d get my work from him handwritten on a Saturday, type it at night times during the week and take it back the next Saturday, to get more, until the work was done.
That’s the beauty of this business. There’s not much capital outlay, and the advent of the internet makes it all so much more doable now than it was decades ago.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I basically just went hell for leather. I set up a website, I printed brochures, I stuck up posters in the local grocery stores, I walked the streets and put brochures in post boxes, I told everyone I was doing it. And I trawled the internet looking for job opportunities.
By the time I’d resigned from my full-time job, I had my second client lined up, a company in Australia, and soon my third came along - a fire forensics company in South Africa. I transcribed forensic reports and proofread them. They were my client until many many years later when that gentleman passed away in a motorcycle accident.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Good and solid service, good and solid marketing. Marketing my type of business doesn’t need to cost a lot. Most of my marketing is done online with a website, business directories, social media. The thing is you have to keep doing it. My colleague says take marketing breaks not tea breaks and that’s good advice.
Keep your service good and reliable. Try to keep to your word and your deadlines. In our line of work, your word is your reputation and a lot of our business comes from referrals. So provide a good service. A trap one can fall into is over-committing. Try not to do it. Charge the right price (don’t overcharge or undercharge) so that you can fully commit to the job that you’re doing.
Don’t lose sight of your vision but don’t be too stubborn to listen to good advice too. It’s a good idea to get a mentor to bounce ideas off.
Undercharging will lead in the end to burnout and stress and you won’t provide a good service. Overcharging will lead to a poor reputation for you. I’ve had some clients for 10 years now, and I’ve kept them by being reliable and providing the service they need.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Covid has affected our economy very badly in South Africa, and we haven’t received any government assistance. Also, our clients are similarly affected - many of them simply can’t afford it and also whilst their own businesses have been closed they haven’t needed us. So I’ve had to think creatively. I’ve had to do different forms of marketing - I’ve done one or two radio shows to try to bring exposure to our industry. I’m making connections both within my community and internationally. I want people to know that South Africans are hard workers and provide quality service and that we are virtual and can provide service anywhere from where we are. Also as the software develops we need to modify and diversify our services. There will always be a need for a virtual assistant - it’s just that what we DO might not be the same.
The next few weeks and months might be hard but I think the future looks bright post-pandemic. Many people are more alive to virtual possibilities. Many more people are aware that such a thing as virtual exists. A lot of people used to think many things couldn’t be done virtually. Now they know that they can. And we are here to provide those services.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
So much! I’ve learned a lot about myself. My ex-employer told me I’d never been able to do it. Well, here I am 16 years later. I’ve learned I’m a fighter. I’m a hard worker, I’m success-driven and tenacious. I’m not meant to be an employee. The South African entrepreneurial market is not that easy to survive in. Even before Covid, we had challenges - a failing economy, crime, a failing electricity system. So I’ve learned that I’m strong.
I’ve learned also, though, that other people also have ideas and are worth listening to and considering. I think a failure of many entrepreneurs is you think you can do it all yourself. You can’t. There’s a reason that we have support teams, be it family, friends, co-workers, young people (I’m 45 and I realize that times and ideas are changing so we need to keep in touch by connecting with youngsters). But we need to connect with our peer group and those older and more experienced than us too. Everyone has a contribution to make.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use Whatsapp a lot, I love social media and use that a lot. I love the idea of business on the run. Microsoft Word, Excel, email, and a program called Express Scribe which I use for transcribing. A lot of transcribers use a foot pedal but honestly, I prefer working without that, so I use built-in hotkeys. I use Dropbox a lot, for the digital transfer of files. Other than that, that’s about it!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Honestly, there wasn’t much for a South African VA starting when I did, so I wrote an ebook myself which has turned out to be an invaluable resource for others. It’s called Working From Home as a Transcriptionist in South Africa.
My colleague Alison Fourie from AMF Typing also wrote an ebook. We also created a support forum for South African VAs. Other than that I used international support forums such as the WAHM.com forum. There’s a lot more available now and one of the great podcasts I listen to is Watts Involved by David Watts.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
To be fair the market is very tough now, but that’s the thing about entrepreneurs, we’re tough too. Just get your ducks in a row. Know what you want to do, know what your country’s laws are regarding tax and income, etc. The more you put in the more you get out - so put a lot in. Don’t lose sight of your vision but don’t be too stubborn to listen to good advice too. It’s a good idea to get a mentor to bounce ideas off.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Not really, at this stage. I have one other person working with me some of the time, and sometimes I subcontract, but there may be an opportunity for growth in the future. We do have a support forum South African VAs can join if they send a message to any of my social media below.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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