Is Online Transcription Work Worth It?

Jana is a frugal DIY addict who is always testing fitness and work-from-home ideas as well as natural health tips for both humans and pets.

Is online transcription the job for you?

Is online transcription the job for you?

The Allure Is Obvious

Do the following sound good?

  • Work from home
  • Set your own hours
  • Great earning potential
  • Be your own boss
  • No joining fees
  • Get paid weekly

All of these hooks have been used by transcription sites to lure new freelancers.

Let's get one thing clear: Online transcription work is not a scam. Most sites will never ask for dodgy things like joining fees or a one-time deposit for whatever nonsense. The work is legitimate. There really are audio and video clips waiting to be transcribed by you for money.

That being said, it's not an easy field to break into, the competition is tough and many companies pay peanuts.

Training for the Test

Once again, legitimate companies freely provide light training. You can download their rules and preferences regarding transcription styles such as full and clean verbatim. This is the first barrier hopeful transcriptionists run into. The sales pitch sounded great but now that you're at the company's door, they hand you the training material and require that you pass a test with high marks.

Quality work is desirable. In that regard, it's understandable why there's an entrance exam. In any case, any training for a novice is valuable. You can study the material at your own time and when ready, take the online test. Depending on the company, an applicant must score 90 percent or higher in order to join their stable of transcriptionists. The thought can be daunting, but often the exam is just a short clip to be transcribed. You must then wait between three weeks and three months to hear whether you passed or failed.

Transcribers will encounter recorded professional settings like meetings and interviews. Background noise and many speakers can make transcription difficult.

Transcribers will encounter recorded professional settings like meetings and interviews. Background noise and many speakers can make transcription difficult.

The Equipment

Transcription requires equipment. Some elements could already be in your possession, but others can be expensive to acquire. It's best to wait until you passed your exam and completed a few jobs to see if you want to continue in this field. Should you love a future in transcription work, then you'll need the following:

  • Excellent headphones
  • Foot pedal to pause clips (this leaves your hands free to type)
  • Software to enhance the sound
  • Computer
  • Internet connection

What They Don't Tell You

Once you ace the exam and can take jobs, a disheartening reality surfaces. There's no work specifically earmarked for you. All available clips are placed in a kind of free-for-all page where transcriptionists can choose the work they want. It allows you to pick what you want, like higher-paying jobs and the clear audio pieces that take less time to transcribe. The problem? Everyone wants those and they compete like vultures. Sometimes, you're still listening to a test sample to decide whether you want it and somebody snatches it by clicking the tab that makes it their project. It's a first come, first serve kind of situation.

There are people who make a decent living off such sites. They have the equipment and experience. They're dedicated. The trouble is that competing with established transcriptionists in an open marketplace can leave beginners with the scraps.

Speaking of Scraps

During training, you are taught how to mark words that are difficult to hear. However, nobody truly grasps the frustration of bad audio until they deal with their first disaster—and it can certainly feel like one. Some clips are brilliant. You can hear just fine what is being discussed but it's common for clips to have serious problems.

You'll encounter some of the following:

  • Personal interviews being held in public places where cutlery, announcements, and background conversations drown out the main speakers.
  • Voices so poorly recorded the words sound like an alien language distorted through a long tube.
  • A group that laughs and talks over one another, making it impossible to know who's speaking.
  • A speaker with a strong accent and worse, the sound quality is poor.
  • Clips in foreign languages.
  • Individuals using business jargon, terms or name places (you're expected to research their spelling and context).
  • Sound that remains too soft no matter how high you turn it up.
The best way to establish a career in transcription is to gain experience. Start slowly and accept a job when you have a few free hours.

The best way to establish a career in transcription is to gain experience. Start slowly and accept a job when you have a few free hours.


Transcription sites are strict. To uphold quality work, they tend to have brutal rules. Some grade transcriptionists according to a point system or something similar. Fall below a certain bar and you're kicked off the team. One can also earn penalties for not meeting deadlines or taking too long to return a clip you cannot complete. Needless to say, this can be nerve-wracking for a novice.

Time and Payment

Some sites set deadlines, which often ends within hours after choosing a job. So "setting your own hours" is only true until you accept a project. Then it is a rush to complete or risk a penalty. A few hours sounds like enough time but not when you're new at this and struggling to hear the speakers. Then a 10-minute piece really can take three or four hours.

Clips are commonly between 2 and 60 minutes long. Pay ranges between $1 to $2.80 per clip.

The Experience Is Worth it

Transcription sites are fine when you're looking to earn pocket money. But if you're desiring full-time employment, use them to gain experience. Why? The big money is paid to transcriptionists with experience who work directly with the client. For this reason, freelance platforms offer the most lucrative offers. There is also competition, but it's fairer. The client picks the freelancer. They look at your experience, your work ethic and offer much better pay. The work is not snatched by the first person who gets the chance.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Jana Louise Smit


Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on July 30, 2019:

Thank you. I wish you all the best should you decide to give it another go. :)

Larry Slawson from North Carolina on July 30, 2019:

Interesting. I've tried transcription work in the past. Might have to give it another shot. Thank you for sharing :)

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