Over the past few months we’ve seen an increasing number of new virtual assistants coming to join our chat forum and many of them start asking about transcription work – they want to know about the software to use, how much to charge, and how can they get experience?
I wonder what the fascination is for doing transcription? Perhaps they enjoy typing and see it as an easy way to get work – just sitting in their home office, headphones on their head and typing merrily away. Unfortunately it isn’t as easy as that.
There is free software you can download to start practicing your skill at transcribing recordings. If you go to www.nch.com.au you can download Express Scribe and that is quite easy to use and many VAs use it with keyboard control, others with a footpedal.
You can download podcasts from many sites or go to BlogTalkRadio for interviews and teleseminars to practice on – you’ll learn some interesting content at the same time.
However, just having the software, a sound file and being able to type is not sufficient to say you are now a transcriptionist and it can take years of practice and experience. Many clients and employers require you to have a minimum 2 years of experience.
Some of the things you’ll come across when doing transcription work are:
- Terminology – legal, medical or another industry. Many have special terminology and you’ll need to become familiar with both the sound of it and the correct spelling.
- Formatting – there can be different types of formats in producing the typed document. You need to check with the client to find out their needs – special formatting requirements will lengthen the time it takes you to complete the document.
- Proofreading and editing – some clients will want you to do this, others won’t. And you’ll need to know what version of English they want – UK, US, Australian? Be aware and have a dictionary available. You’ll need to factor in the time for this additional work.
- Spelling and grammar – do you know the difference between lose and loose, their and there, and can you tell if a sentence doesn’t read right?
- Verbatim – do you know what this means and can you do it?
- Do you have any idea how long it can take to transcribe one hour of recording? What about if there is more than one voice speaking and you have to identify each speaker? What if they speak with an accent – how accurate are your listening skills and the ability to interpret what’s being said?
- Charges – will you charge by the word, line, page or hour? Each has its place in the world of transcription. If you charge by the word, line or page though, consider you’ll need to add extra if you spend time formatting or completing a document to the client’s requirements. Some clients will require you to do a line count down the side of the page.
- What is your speed and accuracy like as a typist?
What courses are out there? There are some but be careful and read the fine text before proceeding. If they’re promising you lots of work with really good pay if you take their course, then perhaps you might need to move on to another site, unless you can verify that the promises are accurate. Generally transcription is something that comes with experience and the training really should relate to the terminology if you’re planning to work with a niche industry. Those who have worked as a medical receptionist for example are probably well placed to learn medical terminology and do transcription for their bosses. Same with legal secretaries – many start out with dictaphones and doing transcriptions in the corporate office.
Some VAs do sub-contract transcription work out to those who are just starting out but you still need to have good typing skills (I would say a minimum of 70wpm at least), good spelling skills and the ability to proofread and check your work before sending it back. You should also be aware that if you take on sub-contract work, the person giving you the work chooses the rate you’ll be paid – not the other way around. They have secured the client, negotiated a rate and take responsibility for the return of the work so you have to accept that you are at the end of the chain. And if you cannot complete the work in the required time frame, it’s unlikely you’ll secure more work from that same person. You need to honour and respect what’s been setup and if there’s any doubt about the completion of the work, either don’t take it on, or let the other person know as soon as you know. Your non-completion in time affects the reputation of the person and the business engaging you. Knowing for a start that one hour of recording can take between 3-6 hours of typing will help you determine if you have sufficient available time to take on a transcription job.
So, how can you get experience if no-one will give you the work to get experience? Get creative. Offer to do it for existing clients who already know and appreciate your skills. Join a committee for a club or organisation and become their minutes secretary. Record their meetings and transcribe the recordings. Transcribe podcasts you find online and send it free to the presenter showcasing your new skill and ability – you might get the opportunity to do more! Mix and mingle with those who already have the experience and be a willing learner when the opportunity arises. I’m sure you’ll find other possibilities once your mind is in that train of thinking.