"WHAT ON earth can I do with my spare time to earn some spending money?" Do you sometimes ponder this, or hear it from your friends? In Pullman, Washington, a small college town where I live, one frequently hears it from the student-wives-with-children group, and there have been as many solutions suggested as there are listening friends. But perhaps the most natural one has become that of the "stay-at-home stenographer." This takes little outlay of money, a small bit of room space, and gives a reasonable return for time spent. Admittedly, it takes a good working knowledge of a typewriter keyboard.
There are a variety of different jobs which one may specialize in when working at home, depending on your particular interests or training. Straight typing work, such as preparing manuscripts and articles, or routine clerical work, such as addressing envelopes for direct mail advertising, are probably the simplest things to do, requiring the least experience. Many businesses, too small to require full or even half-time office help, will "farm out" their bookkeeping and stenographic work to someone working at home, or they may need help only at month end for sending out statements and closing out their books. The possibilities are limited only by one's ingenuity.
I FOUND myself set up in this "career" almost by accident. For a number of years I've been on various office staffs and have done all manner of work from simple clerical billing to private secretary and the boss's assistant. The charm had long since worn off, and after my husband and I were married and returned to college on our joint G.I. Bill allowances I worked only as a necessary means of adding to the family bank account. Then, glory be, the prospect of our first baby was more than reason to "retire." I could hardly wait until the end of that last month. But for some reason the days of bliss, having my time all to myself, were somewhat less than blissful. The lack of routine after so long left me like the proverbial ship without a rudder. I'd not yet quite reached the finger-nail chewing stage when a graduate student enrolled in the department where I had last worked asked me to type his thesis for his Doctor's degree. I'd been thinking of getting "on the list" to do this type of work, and here was my first job without even taking the initiative. The next day, by coincidence, a college professor came to ask if I could do some typing on a book manuscript he was preparing. I was launched!
This was a far simpler beginning than one would dare hope for, but had these openings not come, there is a regular procedure in Pullman for getting started, and in other places, especially other college towns, there are no doubt similar opportunities.
Every graduate student in the State College of Washington must prepare a thesis as part of the requirements for his degree; the average student does not feel competent to undertake the final typing of this himself and will probably hire it done. Also many college professors and staff members have the dream of writing a text book or reference book in their particular field, and many, in fact, are putting this dream into reality, as well as writing articles and stories for added prestige in their field and for financial gain. Generally the stenographic staff in their department office is unable to handle this extra work and some outside typist is contacted to do it.
All of this gives the home secretary in a college town an advantage over one living elsewhere. But there is, on the other side of the balance, the fact that many of the businesses here in Pullman are large enough to require a full time office girl and therefore are not interested in "home help" on their bookkeeping or stenographic work. In a smaller town with a number of single-proprietor businesses it will be much easier to obtain several regular patrons for a bookkeeping service, or in a larger city where the big business houses do direct mail advertising or have heavy loads of work at certain times of the month or year there would be more opportunity for that type of stenographic work.
IN PULLMAN the graduate school office of the State College of Washington maintains a list of typists competent to do thesis typing, and graduate students or others may inquire there for the name and address of a typist when one is needed. If you live in a college town you may find that some office on the campus has this same service. Our personnel office has a typing test which is given to prospective typists with the objective of determining if the girl understands general typing procedure, tabulation, punctuation, and other details of the typist's techniques. Or, if the personnel office is already familiar with the person's work through previous employment, she may be cleared for the list without this preliminary test. Once you are on the list there is nothing more to do but wait for someone to come to your door, material in hand.
Besides this graduate school list, we have, scattered about the campus, numerous bulletin boards, some of which are available for personal postings. One of these is maintained by the Y.M.C.A. office and is centrally located in a heavy traffic area, the campus post office. Here one may put up a card offering services of any kind, and the home-typist usually has one reading something like this—"TYPING DONE. Theses, manuscripts, term papers, miscellaneous typing done in my home." Then the name and address, with phone number if there is one, is added. Also someone with some special background may list that fact—such as, Master's degree in English, scientific background, etc. I have on mine, "Experienced in typing scientific papers," because I've found that many authors of scientific material are hesitant about turning their work over to someone with no knowledge of even basic scientific vocabulary, and while this is certainly not necessary for a finished product it eases the work for both author and typist.
Occasionally someone will advertise in the classified section of the local newspaper but in Pullman this is not as satisfactory as other ways of procuring work. However, I would suggest trying it elsewhere, especially when one is just getting started, and a few weeks trial will prove its usefulness. Word of mouth among one's acquaintances and friends is very helpful. A friend of mine in a small midwest town is kept as busy as she cares to be doing bookkeeping, letter writing and other office routines for several small businesses, and doing the stenographic work for the village clerk. She started out with the bookkeeping for a cousin's appliance shop, and her other work came to her by way of the "grapevine," with very little effort on her part.
To help obtain those first jobs it would be advantageous to call on the owners of small shops who apparently do their own office work. Be prepared to leave a card with your name and address and a statement of services offered for future reference of the proprietor if he is not in need of assistance at the time you call.
If you are interested in listing yourself with local hotels and motels as a "public stenographer" to be available at practically any hour to do work, often rush work, for businessmen traveling through, a telephone would be a necessity, as would a flexibility in your own household schedule so that you can be available for dictation, etc., at a moment's notice.
NOW FOR the necessary equipment—a minimum outlay to begin with and a small amount of space in your home. I know you've probably already groaned, "But a typewriter! A fortune in itself." True enough, if one buys a good one. I have a portable which I had considered using for this typing work, but it is old and is not equipped with a tabulating key, almost a necessity for much custom typing work. Since I have long wished for a new one I thought this home typing would be ample reason to invest now, but a look in two directions—at the typewriter price tags and at our bank account—discouraged me. Then I remembered that some of the typewriter agencies in the vicinity had machines for rent. I started investigating—and here is a spot for a word of caution. The machines at the first place I contacted were probably new about the time of the World War, the first one, that is. The rental charge was $4 a month and the clerk assured me they were the best available in town on a rental basis. Fortunately, I said "no" to the eager clerk and determined either to find a better one or to buy one.
Luckily the next agency where I inquired had all modern, up-to-date, clean machines—and the rental was about the same. I chose one with a fourteen-inch carriage, and elite type. For most jobs it may make little difference whether you have a machine with elite (small) type or pica (large) type, but I personally prefer the smaller and feel certain it will always be acceptable, whereas pica on occasion may not be. However, there is one mercenary advantage to the pica—if you are being paid by the page there is less work to a page of pica than elite, a worth-while attribute! Although you may prefer a portable machine which can easily be put out of your way when not in use, a standard machine will be more satisfactory for general continuous work. If you do use a portable, try to obtain one with as many of the short cut features, such as tabulating key, as possible. The rental fee no doubt varies extremely in different localities, and even from shop to shop in one city. Here it is a monthly rate of from $3 to $5, depending on the agency and on the make, size, and age of the machine.
As for other equipment needed, a typing table, metal with casters, would be ideal but is not entirely necessary. Or a regular typing desk, either the drop-top style or with the typing stand in one pedestal, would give you adequate work and storage space for any type of job. A small wooden table with the legs sawed down a bit for ease in typing would be sturdy and much less expensive than either of the above. I use a card table because that was immediately available, but it is not as steady or as easily moved as a well-built table with casters would be. When the work overflows this small space I spread out to the near-by dining room table, and use the top of the buffet for "holding."
And, of course, it would be impossible, at least for me, to conduct a typing service without a good typing eraser. I use them so much and misplace them so easily I have several available—and a good quality one can make all the difference in the world in the erasures that are necessary. Also I have handy pencils, pen, ruler, note pads, a good dictionary, paper clips, stapler, calendar pad. The people for whom I do work supply all the paper—bond for originals, carbon paper, and second copy paper. However, it is helpful to have available some carbon paper and a good quality typing paper in case someone drops in with a small job and does not come prepared. If you do routine work for business houses, they will supply you with their letterhead paper and with envelopes, statement paper, etc.
YOUR OWN personal skills may account to a large degree for the kind and amount of work you will obtain. It is necessary to be your neatest and best, for although in a regular office the stenographer can make mistakes and not lose her job, if you don't turn out a creditable job on a custom basis the person certainly will not recommend you to others to bring additional work.
Although a knowledge of typing is the main prerequisite, and shorthand if you wish to take dictation, there is other background knowledge which is very helpful, especially a thorough knowledge of English usage, correct punctuation, etc. In typing theses and manuscripts, the copy brought to you should be in final form—you should be responsible only for correct typing form—but this is Utopia and the average copy will have errors which your professional pride, if nothing else, will make you feel responsible for correcting. If doing routine stenographic work, such details are your definite responsibility. In case your schooling has not been intensive in background English and if you are not sure of correct typing forms, a good secretary's manual will be indispensable. Standard Handbook for Secretaries, by Lois I. Hutchinson, McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York, is excellent, and there are many others available at any book store.
Some inquiry locally will aid you in setting prices for the work you do. If you are situated where this sort of work is common, as it is in Pullman, the price range will be somewhat established and you can be guided by it. We find thesis typing to be the most demanding, and therefore the best paying. The college has definite rules about form for the theses, paper to be used, number of copies, and other details. The paper has faint blue lines on all four sides, and the typing must be spaced exactly as specified within these lines, and rules for amount of overlap in any direction are very stringent. Erasures must be made so as to be hardly discernible; tables and charts must be arranged and lined according to set rules; bibliographies must follow certain specific patterns, as must also footnotes in the body of the paper. All this is very conducive to a nervous breakdown when typing your first thesis! But the pay is 30 cents a page for the body of the paper and 75 cents a page for any tables.
Pay for other work is based somewhat on this thesis rate, and may be either by the page or by the hour. Some factors which influence the charge and should be considered are the number of carbon copies needed, the care with which the final draft must be made (that is, whether or not erasures are allowed, or even whether you make corrections quickly and simply with pen), the condition of the copy from which you are working (whether handwritten and if so legible, or typed; whether it is in final form or you must make corrections as you go), and the time allotted you—I feel a rush job which also demands perfection may be worth a bit more than a job which you can sandwich in with others for "filler" and do more or less at your leisure.
The book manuscript which I helped prepare started out as a straight typing problem, to be paid for by the page. However, when I finished part of it the author found his deadline rushing at him faster than expected and he asked my assistance with more of the preparation work, which entailed cutting and pasting, corrections, bibliography work, etc., and this was all done on an hourly basis at $1 an hour.
Income from work of this kind will vary greatly, according to the amount of time you are able to give to it and the quantity of work available to you. More often than not I have work ahead of me, and therefore the time available becomes the limiting factor. One week recently I made $40, and the total for the entire month was near $85. The other weeks in that month I did not spend so much time at the typewriter. Then, too, on specific days when doing small and reasonably easy jobs I have averaged well above $1 an hour, but I seldom work more than five or six hours a day.
Rates can be based on local stenographic wages, adjusted downward somewhat because you are working at home where you are not at the beck and call of the office staff eight hours a day. Sometimes it is difficult to determine how much you should charge, especially if the job is tedious and time-consuming but the end product shows small evidence of this. I suppose the best thing is to charge what seems like a reasonable amount if you had to pay it yourself, and then hope it will lead to a job where you can make up for some of the time lost. On one such 75-cent production I did for a student, he left with this remark, "That's very well done—next semester I'll have a big thesis for you to do."
WHEN DOING manuscript typing for a specific journal I would suggest getting a previous copy of that journal and checking it for form used on abbreviations, footnotes, bibliography, etc. Some editors are very exacting in the form they wish used and will not accept a paper which does not follow it precisely—and nine times out of ten the form required, especially for footnotes and bibliography, will bear little resemblance to that taught in schools and used in textbooks, such as the better secretarial manuals and the dictionaries. Yet it often happens that the more exacting the requirements the more important the journal is in its field and therefore the most difficult for authors to "break into."
Like the proverbial fire horse turned out to pasture, a well-trained and long-experienced secretary may miss the pressures and working satisfaction of a busy office, but I find being a stay-at-home stenographer has many compensations. Not the least of these is the lack of that pressure which I used to enjoy as a measure of my supposed importance in an office. Also there is a good deal of gratification in being absolutely and personally responsible for all the work completed. The ease of choosing your own hours for work or for "taking a break" is nice, as well as being without the pressure of an adequate office wardrobe such as the well-dressed secretary needs. And certainly a large amount of the pleasure from this type of work is the very wide variety of interesting material you will often have to work on and the many individuals for whom you will do work. The requirements on your time, intelligence, and skill may be as little or as great as you wish to make them.
Note: To account for inflation, multiply prices by 8 to 10.