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Working as a Freelance Transcriptionist

by B M 6 months ago in list
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My Pros and Cons List as a Remote Transcriptionist

Working as a freelance transcriptionist, whether general, legal, or medical, sounds like the ideal way to make money remotely. It means you get to work at home, choose your own hours, and sometimes, work as much or as little as you want. You can work from home in the evenings while attending university and you don't need to worry about a commute.

And not only that. But going to school to become a specialized transcriptionist only takes a year or less and is often not very expensive. There will always be a demand for transcriptionists, which makes the industry so very enticing.

However, it isn't as perfect as it seems, for a variety of reasons. Don't get me wrong. If you love typing, if you type fast, and if you have a good ear, it could be a perfect job for you. But usually, it is only the elites that make it.

So first of all-

What is transcription?

It's a lot more than just listening to a recording and typing it out. It's a process of a variety of steps, and there are a couple of things you might not have thought about.

If available, you'll be given the option to slow or fasten the audio's speed. I have always slowed my projects to about 80% so it's at a pace that I can type at without needing to rewind or pause the audio as much.

A foot pedal is optional, to fast forward, pause, play, and rewind the audio. Generally, if the company is using a website or particular software, they will have keyboard shortcuts that you can use instead to fast forward, pause, play, rewind, and change the speed of the recording. However, some don't, so it's a good idea to invest in a good foot pedal. Some companies require them.

In order to type something, you need to understand what it is you're hearing. Most jobs give you good enough quality recordings that you can make out nearly every word, but sometimes you come across unfamiliar terms, like locations, and will need to research it to know the correct spelling. If you are a general transcriptionist, you won't have studied the specifics, so if you are given a project in a category related to medicine or a school class presentation, you could expect a fair amount of researching.

On top of that, to ensure that the quality is good enough that you can decipher every word, you'll want a good set of headphones, probably noise cancelling, over the ear (not earbuds), and something that's comfortable. If you're working eight-hour shifts, you'll definitely want to have a comfortable headset.

There are companies that use software that automatically puts in timestamps for you; however, some companies do not do this. That means that every 30-50 seconds (varies by employer) you'll have to record a time stamp. Taking the time to type in timestamps doesn't seem like a big time consumer, but when you're typing a 30-minute recording, it adds up.

You also need to type in who is speaking and making a new line for new speakers. Like with timestamps, some companies will use software that automatically do this for you, but not all do.

To add on to that, companies will usually use software that provides a spellchecker, or you can download one, like Grammarly. Either way, it is a good idea to go back after you have completed your project and revise your work. Typically, I would set my speed back to 100% or even 115% while revising to speed up the revision process. It's just making sure that everything in the document makes sense and that it lines up correctly with what is said in the audio.

Most of the time, when you go to apply for a transcription job, they'll send you a link to an online typing test (which is just viewing some sentences and typing them out, such as and a transcription test. Transcription tests will usually have the same formatting as you can expect in the job, and here you will be able to decide whether or not you are a good candidate for the job depending on the rate. If you notice you're struggling with it and it's taking you a lot longer due to some of the things they require (such as time stamps or the audio speed is not adjustable), you might make a low wage in that job, and you might decide to cancel your application.

Which brings me to my first point:

The required typing speed for jobs is generally pretty low. However, if you have a slower typing speed, it's likely you won't earn as much.

It's rare for transcription companies to earn a set rate by the hour. Instead, your pay rate is determined by a wage per audio minute, line, or page. This means that the more you put out, the more money you make, and if you put out less than what they feel they should pay you for, you make less money.

I have found pay per audio minute to be the most common. Usually it's anywhere from $0.40-$1.00 per audio minute. Per audio minute means per minute of the audio or video you are transcribing, so it really depends on how long it takes you to transcribe a minute of audio.

There are many things that can slow you down. Your time spent on the project will never equal the project length (minutes of audio), for example, if you have a project that is 30 minutes long, it will take you much more than 30 minutes to type out the recording. This is due to many factors, like the ones I stated above, such as slowing down the recording so you can type to it (again, I usually slow it to 80%), needing to research unfamiliar terms, typing in timestamps or speakers if required, rewinding audio to catch up, and revision.

Due to these factors, it generally takes the average person (in my experience) three to five times the total minutes of audio to complete a project. Two times is almost an unachievable ideal. It would be great to be able to finish a project of 30 minutes within an hour, but due to the work that is put in, it's not really a realistic expectation, especially when you are just starting out.

I bring this up because I did the math myself. If you want to achieve minimum wage in a transcription job at home that pays per audio minute, the lowest rate you'll want to accept is $0.70 per audio minute, and you'll want to be able to complete it within three times the project minutes. If you look at the math, $0.70 per audio minute times sixty is $42 per audio hour. But if it takes three times the audio minutes to complete, it'll take you three hours to complete one audio hour, so $42 divided by three is $14. This means that if you only accept jobs that pay at least $0.70 per audio minute, and it takes you three times the project minutes to complete, you will make minimum $14 per hour.

This is only assuming that $0.70 per audio minute is a common rate on the site that you're using. In my experience, it's not often that you'll get $0.70 per audio minute for good quality reports. It's more common to have rates of $0.50 or $0.60 for good quality audio.

Companies will pay more for more difficult recordings. So you can expect higher rates for recordings that have heavy accents or the sound is just bad quality. For this, I recommend downloading a sound enhancer on your computer. I use FxSound, though there are many others you can try.

On to my next point.

There will always be demand for transcriptionists. However, employers love experience, which makes it difficult for beginners...

"There will always be a high demand for transcriptionists," the president of my college said before I enrolled in the medical transcription program. Don't get me wrong, that statement is 110% true. Within the first couple of months post-graduation, I applied to at least 60 job postings online, and for that I can say there is a definite need for transcriptionists.

Let me rephrase that. There is a definite need for experienced transcriptionists. In my experience, I've found general transcription to be a little more lenient, but specified transcription companies are looking for people who've got a few years of experience under their belt. Which is why my post-graduation process of finding work took a longer time than I expected.

Of the 60 jobs that I applied to online, all of which I applied to with a cover letter and my updated resume, I was given only one offer. I will dive into this experience a little more in my next point, but after working with them for a single week, I was told I didn't have enough experience and that I wasn't a good fit for the job, in a few more words than that.

It was definitely hard to hear that as someone just starting out. But I didn't let it get me too far down. I wanted to work in transcription and I was determined to find someone who was accepting of the challenges that beginners face.

I had no luck with medical transcription, and eventually surrendered to general transcription. But even there, I noticed a lot of problems...

Working as a contractual transcriptionist lets you work from home, but it might not be enough for you to quit your 9-5.

Entering the general transcription field, I was excited. I got a job through a website online, and I got paid through PayPal every week. I had a small amount of training to go through, and then I was ready to go. I had no interaction with an employer, just me and an introduction on a website.

It seemed like a dream come true. I started working, unfamiliar with some of the lingo like cents per audio minute, specified quality numbering, etcetera. I was a rookie, but it wasn't long before I got the hang of it.

I was working lots, every day, at least six hours a day. It was good. I was making a good wage, and the work seemed pretty steady. But then I noticed one day that the work seemed to be very limited. There weren't as many projects uploaded and a lot of them weren't good quality and didn't have good rates at all. I went into the forum to ask about the issue, and people had a lot of things to say.

I hadn't noticed it yet, as someone who just started a new job where I could set my own hours and work the days I wanted, but the weekends were always dry for work. There were barely any projects. The reason being that people would often use the site as a second source of income, and would transcribe on the days they didn't work their in-person jobs, most commonly being evenings and weekends.

I started to notice this problem a lot more, and as time went on, I could see that projects seemed to be more and more limited. The only things left were projects that were a lot more difficult because of their quality, which were left for the more advanced, more experienced transcribers.

The fact is that if you are determined enough, you can grind your way to the top of the transcription food chain, and be one of the elite. However, it takes a lot to do that, and it's not always by your schedule. You work when the work comes in. You want to sign in when there's lots to do, because it means that though a lot of people are online, you might get a good, easy project.

To skip back to my previous note, on the one job offer I had received, it was a pretty interesting first experience with an actual real life company. There were three of us on one account, but the person who was training me was leaving the company, and I was to take their spot. The account was a single doctor, who uploaded reports when he was able to, so it wasn't on a regular schedule. However, because of the turnaround time requirement (deadlines), the transcriptionists had to make sure they received the project, agreed who would take it, and finish it within a reasonable amount of time from the upload. This meant that when I went to bed at night, I wouldn't know if I would be working the next morning, or even the next day at all. I was entirely on call, and even the transcriptionists I was working with admitted that this was something they were doing on top of a 9-5, and wasn't something they could ever see making a living wage out of.

I got into the transcription field hopeful, but what ended up happening was I got very jaded very quickly, and the work stressed me out. I was proud of myself on the days I was able to complete six hours of work, but that was only on days when projects were available.

The point of this article is simply to say, if you put in the hard work, you can get somewhere great with transcription. It can definitely help to boost your income, and if you study your terms and you practice your process, it can be a really easy way of making money. But it's not for everyone, and it's a good idea to have a part-time job on top of it.

Thank you everyone for reading my work. I hope I gave some insight on the challenges of becoming a remote transcriptionist if anyone is considering the job.


About the author


20, Revert

Looking to spread the word of Islam and answer any questions anyone might have.

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