Transcribing is a wonderful alternative career in the writing field, it provides a constant workflow and no two audios are ever the same. I started out on this field about five years, so I still have much to learn. Today I was fortunate enough to interview Jeanne Fick about the pros and cons of beginning a transcription career.
Starting your Transcription Career.
How were you first introduced to transcribing?
When I was 14, I interviewed Mr. Duckett in Darling for a history project, who fought in the Second World War. I transcribed the entire 60-minute tape using an old-school tape recorder… Play, stop, write, rewind, repeat… It took me many, many days to complete.
Many years later, while working at a law firm in Wynberg, Cape Town, as a receptionist, I was given some overflow transcription files to do when the secretaries were overloaded. I was hooked. It was so much better than being a receptionist!
Do you believe that a newcomer to transcribing would be able to make a decent income?
No. Newcomers still have a lot to learn. The transcription environment is very competitive. You have to start right at the bottom with the very poorly-paid jobs just to prove yourself and to build up your skills. Until you are very fast and very accurate, nobody is going to give you good rates. It takes roughly four hours for a good, accurate and fast transcriptionist to turn around an hour of audio accurately. For a beginner at a newcomer’s rate, it will take you at least six hours. The longer hours and poorer rate makes for low-income. Do not give up your day job quite yet.
What would one need in order to make a successful career as a transcriptionist? Are there any outlay costs?
Good ears, good language (written and oral) skills, good typing skills, computer literacy, thinking skills, analytical skills, excellent time management skills and impeccable client management skills.
Yes, there are startup costs. At the very least, you should have these four basic items: A good PC, good headphones, good internet and transcription software. Without these basic items, you won’t be doing any transcription work.
Your PC will be on almost permanently. It will be burning midnight oil right along with you. You need one that is reliable and can handle the hours without getting cranky or crashing, causing you lose your work and/or precious time. Personally, I use a mini PC. It is tiny, silent and never complains. Of course, you wouldn’t be using this for gaming.
Great headphones make all the difference. These need to be noise cancelling, lightweight and durable. They will be on your head and over your ears for many hours at a time. Invest in a set that will remain comfortable for as long as you wear them.
A footswitch, while you can certainly transcribe using the hotkeys, really speeds things up. While they might be rather pricey, they pay for themselves very quickly with speed and ease of use. I consider them an indispensable investment.
You need the best internet provider you can find. Even if you have to pay more for service, again, this will pay for itself when it comes to download speeds. There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting for an urgent file to download for hours while you could already be typing.
Transcription software, while important, is rather down to personal preference. Pick the one that works best for you. There are many out there. Personally, I’m most comfortable with Express Scribe (the paid version… always use the paid versions of any software).
It’s also nice to have (especially in South Africa) a basic backup power system. I have a 1.4KW inverter and a 24v backup battery to keep things going for a while.
Yes, there are startup costs. Frankly, I don’t consider them “costs” as such, but rather infrastructure investment.
Amazon is running some specials on Express Scribe at the moment, however South Africans must please note that they do NOT deliver to SA. 🙁
What would you warn an aspiring transcriptionist against? What pitfalls do you foresee? Can you give an example from your own experience?
NEVER apply for those “work at home”, “easy income from your PC” jobs. They are all scams. There is no such thing as easy money, ever. Prepare yourself for good, hard work and long hours of frustration before things start to really pay off. You need to find clients. Transcription companies that are hiring are a good place to start. You will more than likely have to do a few test files and be rejected a few times before you land a job.
Don’t have only one client. It’s like putting your eggs all in one basket. I worked for a well-known transcription company for a long time and they were my only client. Getting money out of them got increasingly more difficult as time went by. Needless to say, I no longer complete files for them. I had to start almost from scratch again to build up my client base.
Try to get private clients. If you have a medical background, start there and approach doctors, either in person or online. If you have a legal background, try contacting a few small law firms. The same goes for technical and financial, etc.
What has kept you in the field of transcribing all these years? What do you feel is the greatest advantage?
The freedom. I have been a freelance transcriptionist for nearly a decade now. Besides that I love my interesting and diverse job and amazing clients, I also have the time to do almost exactly as I please and enjoy my amazing lifestyle. I can go fishing, traveling, shopping and all sorts of things without having to ask my boss for time off or apply for a day’s leave. I can choose how many hours I work a day and when I work. What hours I take off during the day, I can always put in at night.
You don’t work for a salary. What you put in, you most certainly get out!
What advice would you give newcomers?
Work hard! You will get frustrated, you will struggle, your body will ache after hours of being planted firmly on your seat, but in the end, your efforts will be well rewarded.
Oh, and get exercise, for your ass will expand exponentially!!
I do believe Jeanne to be one of South Africa’s top transcriptionists and I, personally, have learned so much from her during the years. I do however wish she had given the ‘exercise’ advice earlier because I am living proof of what being sat behind a PC day in and day out can do to one’s ‘physique’ 🙂
So great advice from Jeanne Fick, a transcriptionist that really knows her stuff! So if you need any audios transcribed, feel free to contact Jeanne at LinkedIn.
Where to start your Transcription Career?
Here are two websites that are brilliant for aspiring transcriptionists. I, personally, started with them and had no issues with payments other than having to have a PayPal account. There are no startup fees needed, you can start today.
First is Casting Words, they are great for beginners. You can listen to their audios before accepting the job. They also grant you wonderful turnaround times too, so you don’t feel so pressured. (Oh, and you do get an extension if time runs out too 😉 ) They also have a wonderful Facebook Group that offers around the clock support!
Second is Speechpad, they are also brilliant and offer a wide variety of jobs including standard and premium capturing.
They both offer styleguides, so be sure to study them before attempting to accept a job!
What you may also find really useful is a Transcription Crash Course offered by Loretta Oliver. I enjoy her little book as she has put maximum info into a very dynamic quick paced and insightful book. In it you’ll find among more:
- Things you need
- Things that make life easier
- Keyboard Shortcuts
- Playback Speeds
- Verbatim vs Cleaned Up Transcribing
- General Transcript Formatting
- Your First Transcript
- Planning Turnaround Times
- Determining Rates
- Finding Jobs and Securing Clients
- Your Website…. and much more!!!
Do feel free to contact me with any further questions that you may still have, I would love to assist you with your Transcription Career.
Jeanne and I have recently partnered, how honored am I! Do check out our Transcription Services.