Is Transcribing a Good Way to Earn Money From Home?

Updated on June 29, 2019
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John is a fervent writer, gamer, and guitar lover. Former automatic-transmission repairer, current welder and hobbyist game developer.

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When it comes to earning money from the comfort of your own home, there are a plethora of options available to you. Some are better than others, of course, and many require a certain amount of ability on your part.

An increasingly common way to earn money using your computer is to take on transcribing work. This kind of work can be done from home, requires relatively little skill (though the better you are, the more valuable a source of revenue it can become), and the demand for transcription is only going up.

But first, what are we talking about?

What is Transcription?

Transcription, the act of transcribing, is the process of converting some spoken word audio into text. Typically useful for meetings and interviews, where the content of the conversations needs to be recorded in text form, but increasingly common in things like webinars, podcasts, and YouTube videos.

Transcription is typically carried out in a single language, with translations into other languages happening after the fact. There are different degrees to which a thing can be transcribed, such as verbatim, which includes tags for certain events, like laughter, and cross-talk. Transcription can also be used for closed captioning and subtitles, which may affect the desired format and style of the transcribed text.

What Skills Do I Need to be a Transcriber?

Specifically for the kind of transcription work we’re looking at here (that is, working from home using a transcription service), not much skill is needed at all. You have to be able to hear the audio well enough to transcribe the words therein, and you need to be able to type those words out with sufficient accuracy and good spelling. As long as you meet those requirements, it’s all the same to the people paying you. Unfortunately this rules out transcription as a line of work for people who are severely hearing impaired.

Where improving your skill level makes a big difference is in the practicalities of transcription as an income source. You could spend six hours transcribing a ten minute piece of audio, and as long as you hand it in before any deadlines, it won’t matter to your client. However you’ll only be getting paid for a ten minute piece of audio, even though it took six hours of your life. In other words, the better (and faster) you are at transcribing, the more worthwhile the work becomes. What would be terrible pay for six hours work can suddenly be a pretty good rate if that same work only takes you half an hour to complete.

Getting Started With Transcription: Tips and Tricks

In order to be good at this, the only independent skill you can really develop is typing. You should be able to touch-type at a high speed before considering this kind of work. Once you have that nailed down, all you can do is practice. Take on transcribing jobs and, with more and more experience under your belt, you should get better at transferring the words you are hearing to the keyboard quickly and efficiently.

What Equipment Do I Need to be a Transcriber?

The only equipment you absolutely need is a computer with the ability to play audio. But again, not having the best tools can only slow you down, and the longer it takes you to complete a task, the less worthwhile it is to even bother in the first place.

If you were going to take transcription seriously, and want to invest in some hardware to make your life easier, the first thing you should look at is a decent pair of headphones. Even the nicest speakers can’t produce voice as clear as a pair of headphones, it’s a matter of acoustics. You’ll want over-ear headphones that are geared towards spoken word. A high price tag is not necessarily and indicator that the headphones will be good for this task. Popular headphones like Beats by Dre are designed for listening to music, not spoken word.

The next thing to consider is your keyboard. A mechanical keyboard is nearly always more comfortable to type on, which in turn makes your typing faster. Be sure to choose one with a familiar layout. The best keyboard in the world can still frustrate you if you keep hitting the # key when you meant to hit enter.

Having a decent set of over-ear headphones can greatly increase your ability to accurately hear the words you're transcribing.
Having a decent set of over-ear headphones can greatly increase your ability to accurately hear the words you're transcribing. | Source

Finally, for those of you who really want to take it seriously, consider a transcription foot pedal. Unless you’re one of the most talented transcribers in the world, you’re going to need to pause and rewind the audio you’re transcribing regularly throughout the job. This can be made quicker with shortcut keys, of course, but a transcription pedal allows you to take the onus completely away from your hands, freeing them to continue typing regardless of how much pausing and rewinding you’re doing.

What Does Transcription Work Pay?

Again, we’re focusing on a specific kind of transcription work here. If you’re a freelancer looking to work directly for clients, what you get paid will be determined by what you can sell your work for. For people using services like TranscribeMe, and WayWithWords, however, the rate is typically around $15 per audio hour. That is, an hour of audio that you then transcribe, which is why it’s a far better prospect for someone who can complete the task quickly. This seems to be about the average rate for services like this, and a quick look on service-selling websites like Fiverr reveal that it appears to be roughly the price for a lot of freelancers as well.

However the pay for experienced transcribers who have built up a good standing on a service like this can be up around $50 per audio hour which, while not exactly remarkable, works out at a far more attractive $12.50 per hour (using the above average). And, again, that can be improved by you improving the speed at which you transcribe.

Can I Earn a Living with Online Transcription Work?

There is no clear cut answer here. Firstly, if you can’t complete a transcription task relatively quickly, the answer is almost certainly no. The industry average for completing a task is around four actual hours to every one audio hour. That means that, if you completed every task within that average time, a $15 per audio hour pay rate would effectively be $3.75 per hour.

Not exactly great pay.

Of course there are better paying jobs, and the faster you get, the better your pay will seem. To make this line of work worthwhile, you will have to be willing to invest a bit of time for little-to-no pay. TranscribeMe, for example, has an “entrance exam”, which you will need to pass in order to be accepted as a transcription-ist. Using the aforementioned industry average, this entrance exam can take roughly an hour. And there are further exams which you can take which will increase your earning opportunities.

Transcription work can be a decent earner, if you're willing to put time and effort into it.
Transcription work can be a decent earner, if you're willing to put time and effort into it. | Source

Transcriptions services such as these have the same problem that content mills run into. Jobs are put into a pool and assigned on a first-come-first-serve basis, meaning quite often there is no work to take on because the jobs are taken almost as soon as they are posted. For this reason, if you decide to become an online transcriber, you should sign up to multiple services to maximise your chances of finding work when you want it.

So yes, you can earn a living with transcription work, though you will have to put time and effort into getting yourself into a position where you’re getting the better paying jobs, and you will have to spread your net wide when looking for work. If you are not an expert transcription-ist, and aren’t willing to undertake the kind of practice you’d need to become one, I’d recommend treating transcription work as one string in your Work From Home bow, rather than your sole avenue of earning.

At-Home Transcription for Beginners

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 John Bullock

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