Absolutely everything you must know to get started as a successful freelance transcriber in 2021.
With the pandemic flooding the world of jobs, security, and your money it's no wonder you stumbled across this page. Working as a freelance transcriber may be the answer you are looking for.
In this article, we will dissect what transcription is, how to get started, why you should start, and what you should expect.
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Transcription is an age-old job with a new modern twist. Humans have written down what people have said since humans could write. Now with podcasts, youtube videos, business meetings, marketing segments, etc, there are so many more things to transcribe.
Transcribers only have to be able to read, spell, and correct English, making the barrier to entry extremely low. Leaving the door wide open for someone like you.
The transcription profession is best as a side/part-time job that earns you around $1500 per month. Transcription is rarely a full-time career, but it definitely can be. Especially if you get good at transcribing (or use transcription software) then you can earn upwards of $2,200 per month.
There are two types of workflows for freelance transcribers. Manual and automated. Manual transcribers manually type out every word that is spoken in the audio. The automated freelance transcribers use transcription software to generate transcripts and then correct the errors manually. The automated workflow usually results in a faster turn-around time and thus more earnings.
What is transcription?
Transcription is the (simple) method of typing out what someone has said. You can either do this completely manual or use software to speed up your transcription generation time.
Depending on what you are transcribing will determine how you transcribe the text. Such as law/court transcription will require verbatim transcription, where every word is spoken is included. Nothing is left out. Even every "umm"...
If you are transcribing a podcast episode the majority of clients will ask you to edit out the "umms", "uhhs", and any other errors. This is because the purpose of a podcast transcript is usually to be used as a blog or other marketing material. Therefore 'errors' are to be taken out of the transcript.
Removing errors for podcasts/marketing audio may actually be easier than creating full-verbatim transcripts for medical professionals and lawyers. As with non-verbatim transcripts, you have more editing power and you can make the text sound natural to the reader - as you would if you were writing anything.
What is a transcription job?
A transcription job can either be from an agency, a freelance client, or from a corporate 9-5 job.
As a freelancer, you will mostly be dealing with individual clients that you find on sites such as UpWork and Fiver. You'll set up your profile/charge rate (per a minute of audio transcribed), and then you can start applying for transcription jobs with clients or wait for them to approach you. Either option is viable, but applying for jobs and being open to offers is the best approach to getting more transcription work - you can do this by looking at the settings on your freelance account.
The client will discuss their needs with you, such as; the pay rate, the length of audio(s), the deadlines, etc before starting to work with you. Some may even ask for sample work.
(Sample work is where a client will ask you to transcribe a few minutes of audio unpaid to just check you are a real transcriber who knows what they're doing).
The client will then send you the audio you are required to transcribe and you can get started whenever you want (depending on the pre-agreed terms and deadline). To start your transcription job you are either going to manually transcribe the audio or use some advanced AI software to transcribe it for you and then you can manually correct the errors.
The choice of manual or automated transcription is up to you, but either way, the end result should be the same. Obviously, the best thing for you as a freelance transcriber is to create transcripts as fast and as easy as possible so you can take on more work and get paid higher.
We highly recommended you check out this article on the 15 best transcription platforms out there. At the end of the article, we even go into detail about what is the best transcription platform for freelancers, or podcasters, or content creators, etc to use.
After you have created your transcript and edited it to perfection for your client you can then submit it. After they have reviewed your work they will pay you (based on your pre-agreed terms). That's literally all there is to it.
If you have plenty of podcast or content creator clients then you can start to expand your services with them beyond transcription - this is where you can really start making more money. You can use Spread to transcribe the podcast/content and then easily create social, blog, and extra video content from the transcript using AI and automated features. You can then charge the clients for this extra work as you see fit.
Should I be a "complete freelancer" or "agency freelancer"?
In this article, we will use the terms "complete freelancer" and "agency freelancer". A complete freelancer means you are not tied to any company/agency and usually work off sits such as Upwork/Fiverr/etc. An agency freelancer works for an agency such as Rev. You can do both, for example, you could have an UpWork freelance profile whilst also being tied to an agency such as Rev to maximise your work.
There are pros and cons to both aspects. So the simple answer is both. Have both a freelance account and also join an agency. Then you have work opportunities coming from every direction
The best part about being a complete freelancer is you are able to make more money (especially if you are experienced). The worst part is the lack of reliable work and having to scout for work constantly. If you are not so entrepreneurial then this may not be the best route for you.
On the other hand, being apart of an agency you will have consistent reliable work which you can pick and choose from. Sadly the agencies take a big percentage cut and only leave you with $0.40 (per minute of audio transcribed) for each job on average.
What do I need to start transcribing?
All you need is the ability to read, type, and correct English text. As a freelancer, you won't need any experience or past jobs to prove your worth. Experience may help you land more jobs though.
If you do have little experience in this field then you may have to do a few minutes of sample work to prove you can do this.
The faster you can type with high accuracy the more you will be paid in the long-run. Don't worry if you can't type fast as of right now, you can practice to get better.
The minimum you need as a transcriber is a laptop/desktop with a good keyboard and speakers - but preferably use headphones when listening to audio.
We suggest you have soundproof or high-end headphones that allow you to hear audio as crystal clear as possible. If you can't currently afford high-end headphones then simple earphones will do. The better you can hear the audio, the faster you can transcribe, and therefore the more you can earn.
If you are doing completely manual transcription then this will be all you need. If you want to transcriber faster then you can use transcription software such as Spread to speed things up and cause you fewer headaches.
Advanced and full-time transcribers usually use foot pedals and other small pieces of equipment/software to speed up their transcription, but this will only be marginal as a whole. We don't advise these straight away to a beginner as it will probably only make your job more technical than it needs to be.
Transcription training is not necessary at all, but training can help you get started faster, further your career, land more jobs, and help you get into corporate transcription.
But again, training is not necessary at all. If you do wish to take part in some training, the best on the market is TranscribeAnywhere.
TranscribeAnywhere is an online course for transcribers to learn everything they need to about transcription, including how to start earning real money from transcription.
The $478 course is a level 4 transcription course that covers all the theory and practice you need to get your transcription freelance career off the ground. After purchase, you will have lifetime access to the entire course, direct access to the course creator and assistants, final exam and certificate proof, included in the official graduate directory, Facebook group access, and marketing direction to start your freelance career off right.
TranscribeAnywhere is ideal if you are unsure about transcription and want practice. TranscribeAnywhere has a bunch of grammar and punctuation drills. There are loads of sample transcription pieces you can use to practice and improve your skills daily.
For full-verbatim transcription (where every word is transcribed) which usually takes place in Medial and court instances, we highly recommend taking a course such as the above. When transcribing a podcast or other similar content there is a much bigger room for error you can get away with. Before diving into medical or court transcription we suggest you become trained.
You can find an array of transcription courses here on Udemy.
If you want to get better at typing faster then you can easily take online tests to find out your score and how to improve.
Why do people take up transcription as a career?
There are a plethora of reasons why an individual will start transcribing as a full-time or even part-time career. A few reasons stick out more than others such as extra side money, choose your own working hours, be your own boss, and work from home with almost no barriers to entry.
Let's dig into each...
What is the average pay for a freelance transcriber?
As a freelance transcriber the pay can be wildly different depending on your experience and what you are transcribing. On sites such as UpWork the average transcriber charges between $0.70 - $2.20 per a minute of transcription audio.
(This data was collected through interviews with UpWork transcribers and scanning over multiple profiles).
Depending on how much transcription you do will determine how much you get paid. At $2.20 a minute, If you transcribe 10 hours of content a week (which may take you up to 40 hours a week to do) you will earn a maximum of $1,320. Equalling $5,280 per month.
$5,280 is the maximum pay a freelancer transcriber will most likely earn. If they work full-time (40 hours), every week, all month. The hardest part is guaranteeing the workload to be able to work 40 hours a week. Sadly this workload is only possible through agencies that take a big cut...
In our '3 Best Transcription Agencies to work for' we detailed how much each transcription agency pay per minute of audio transcribed, average earnings per month, and top earning freelancers (In an agency) per month. Here are the results:
PPM: $0.30 - $1.10
Avergae earnings p/m: $1,500
Top earners p/m: $2,200
Avergae earnings p/m: $150
Top earners p/m: $1,215
PPM: $0.25 - $0.36
Average earnings p/m: $250
Top earners p/m: $2,200
As you can see average earnings can be varied massively. There is no clean cut answer for how much you will earn as a transcriber. There are loads of variables that go into your pay, which both can work in or against your favour.
These factors can include experience, quality of transcript, number of errors in a transcript, length of transcript/recording, the difficulty of recording/accent, subtitles/translating/captioning also included, your transcribing/correcting speed, etc...
The most a transcription freelancer gets paid on average is $2,200p/m. The average is much closer to $1,000p/m. This difference is usually from part-time transcribers vs full-time transcribers. Obviously the more transcripts you process and work with the more you will earn on average. Luckily you get to choose how many transcripts you create and therefore this gives you a lot of freedom.
Working hours as a transcriber
This is the best part of the job for a large portion of individuals. Since so many transcribers are only part-time which is probably due to their lifestyle. This usually stems from being a full-time mom/parent, having a 9-5 and wanting to earn some extra cash on the side, or simply making enough money to live on without going full time.
There are endless reasons why someone may start transcribing part-time to earn some extra cash or holiday money...
If you do want to go down the transcription agency route then it will obviously work a little different to being a complete freelance transcriber. As a complete freelancer you will agree with your client on the deadlines for the transcript and you will have to work around these deadlines.
Each transcription agency will have a 'minimum hours' required to work per a week, however the majority of them are extremely low if not 0 hours per week. They usually do this as it costs them to have idle freelancers on their system, therefore they require you do some hours every week. But this will be very minimal.
For instance, Rev has 0 minimum hours. This may be why they have over 50,000 freelancers on their system...
There is no set time at which you have to work on your transcript. You can do it at 5am or 2pm or 10am. It really doesn't matter. Afterall transcription agencies have workers from all over the world. However, as an agency freelancer you will have deadlines for each transcription. The faster your transcript turn-around time the more money you can earn.
If you're working 1-2-1 with a client as a complete freelancer you will agree on the deadlines together.
Working from home as a transcriber
As you read earlier there is little to no equipment needed to work from home as a freelance transcriber. Even full-time professional transcribers who earn $2,200 per month within an agency have very little equipment.
The minimum you need is a good laptop/desktop and some decent earphones/headphones.
Software is optional but 99% of freelancer transcribers use some sort of transcription software to make their life easier and earn as much money as possible.
You can work at a desk, on the sofa, or even in your car whilst you wait for the kids to finish football practice... Transcription is easy to do at any place, in any space.
How do you find work as a freelance transcriber?
There a handful of freelancing sites that allow you to brand yourself as a transcriber who's open to work. The best ones we could find are, UpWork, Fiverr, and Freelance. You can also go for the agency route too...
Upwork is a long standing giant in the freelancing space. With millions of both employees and employers there is always work going on. UpWork is based in the US but it can be accessed worldwide by every nationality and region.
How pricing/payemnt works on UpWork?
UpWork acts as a 'generic' bidding platform for both clients and freelancers. Usually an employer/client will set up a job with a budget, and freelancers (such as yourself) will bid a price for the work. This can be a fixed price (e.g 1 hour transcript for $20) or a pay by the minute/hour price (e.g $1.00 per minute of audio). The client will usually have a preference. Either way, your actual time/price doesn't have to change.
What you have to think about though is that UpWork takes a 20% fee of whatever you make from your job, for each and every job you complete.
Best pros and cons of UpWork:
- Most popular freelance site
- Payment protection
- Transparent and fair
- High competition
- Poor support
- scams are a thing
Real Reviews from UpWork freelancers:
work-life balance 4/5
Pay and benefits 3.6/5
Job security 3.5/5
"Work from anywhere"
"Difficult to find clients at first"
"This is a great website to develop skills and build your resume. It helps give you an idea regarding work culture and how to develop clients relation and work remotely!"
"Hard to get a job and I am very disappointed in myself that I have no experience with any clients up to now. I am hoping that upwork clients would give chances to freelancer with no experience and endorsement."
"Great way to find clients and make extra money"
"Filtering through jobs is a long process"
"It was a flexible way to make money online. It's very competitive though, and you have to bid for each job. Paying for connects so that you can actually bid for a job is a pain but it's not that expensive."
Upwork is a great place to find transcription jobs especially if you live abroad where living costs are less so you can charge less. The great amount of competition causes pricing wars which may mean you have to price lower than any other freelancer.
There are plenty of transcription jobs on UpWork, it just really helps if you have a background/proven-experience in transcription so clients can trust you.
Read our full UpWork freelancing review or start with UpWork here.
Freelancer is another giant freelancing site (similar to UpWork). Freelancer has amassed an army of 25 million happy and successful freelancers. There is still very high competition and bidding wars within Freelancer (similar to UpWork), but don't let that stop you. You have the ability to make more money on Freelancer with their lower fees...
How does pricing/payment work on Freelancer?
Similar to UpWork a bidding structure is used, where a client posts a job and a number of freelancers will post a bid on the job with their price to complete the project/transcription job. Either with a fixed price or an hourly/minute price.
Luckily with Freelancer the sites fees are a lot less than UpWork. With UpWork charging up to 20% per a job completed, Freelancer only takes a 10% cut which is much fairer.
Best pros and cons for Freelancer:
- lower fees
- time tracking desktop application
- loads of translation jobs alongside transcription
- not as popular as UpWork
- transcription jobs not as popular
- scams are still frequent
Real reviews from freelancers at Freelancer:
work-life balance 3.7/5
Pay and benefits 3.3/5
Job security 3.2/5
(As you can see in every way Freelancer scores around 0.2 below what UpWork scored. These reviews are sourced from Indeed).
"In my opinion, Freelancer.com offers some real opportunities for task seekers and also for employers who get to choose the quality/price they want. But in fact, as a new freelancer, I don't get the opportunity to get paid fairly, I always find myself lowering the price of my service, and the result always the same: no task at all."
"[Freelancer] offers a great space that links employers with people looking for gathering a few bucks."
"There are some tasks posted regularly where you only lose your precious bids, actually, those tasks are just scams, but there are other serious tasks offered by real employers."
Freelancer is another great site to add your transcription profile too. Remember you can be on as many freelancing sites as you want. There is no harm on being on all 3 of the biggest freelancing sites to guarantee work from all of them.
They have lower fees but less jobs available for transcription. However they have plenty of translation jobs so that may be a better avenue for some of you to take who know a foreign language.
Overall we recommend getting started on both Freelancer and on UpWork to start your freelance transcription career off. However, if you are just starting out as a new transcriber then Fiverr may be a better option for you.
Fiverr is more of a lower-end freelancing market place with a lot of jobs to offer. With a job being filled every 4 seconds and over 50 million transactions since their launch they are booming.
However, Fiverr has created quite a name for itself due to all the scams that have run rampant on the site - this may have been resolved now though as Fiverr actually has the best reviews from past freelancers out of all 3 of these. They shine through mostly on their work-life balance and culture scores. Fiverr scored 4.2/5 overall which is 0.2 higher than UpWork in second place.
How does payment/pricing work?
You can price your services anywhere between $5 - $995. You can even have pricing tiers that may be suitable for different sized transcription jobs. The more minutes of audio the cheaper the transcription per minute will be.
100 minutes = $1.00 per/min
500 minutes = $0.90 per/min
1000 minutes = $0.70 per/min
These built-in pricing tiers via Fiverr will allow you to create more work for yourself - which is crucial as a freelance transcriber.
The payment is quick, easy, and usually safe from Fiverr. They (like UpWork) also take a 20% cut from every transaction so watch out for that.
Best pros and cons for Fiverr:
- lower than average pricing perfect for beginners
- foreign dominated, native English speakers perform well here
- best performing reviews
- less competition
- scams were a big problem
- pricing is low
- fee is 20% (same as UpWork)
Real reviews from freelancers on Fiverr:
work-life balance 4.2/5
Pay and benefits 3.7/5
Job security 3.7/5
(As you can see Fiverr actually has the highest overall and in every section review score, making them the highest rated place to work as a freelancer. This is definitely something to consider).
"its a good place to start your freelancing carrer , wheher you are a writer , programmer,designer or just anything , you always have a place in the fiverr community , you can make multiple gigs and offer numerous services at your own rates."
"Working as a freelancer is not difficult and is also fun when chatting with my clients on fiverr... And when taking I have to be patient and ask my clients all what is need to be done on his work given to me."
If you are a complete beginner when it comes to transcription, or if you want to start your freelance career with a little less pressure then the best option will be Fiverr.
Fiverr is ideal for the lower-market/beginner level transcriber who is after their first transcription job online. Just be wary of possible scams and clients trying to take advantage of you. Also remember that Fiverr take up to 20% of every transaction so account that into your pricing.
I am very happy that this article was so informative that you read to the very last sentence. I want you to leave knowing that the information you have just read was genuine and created by the founder of Transcription-Jobs (Louis).
All sources and inspiration are stated below each paragraph, please check out every credible source you wish to.
If you want to get started with Spread then click here to open your account with your first 60 minutes free!
I’ll see you again soon.
- Louis (founder of Spread and TranscriptionJobs)
Check out our other transcription guides here:
How to transcribe video content
How to transcribe podcast content
(Quick) Rev Transcription Agency Review 2021
(Quick) GoTranscript Transcription Agency Review 2021
(Quick) TranscribeMe Transcription Agency Review
15 Best Transcription Platforms for 2021
Social image attribution: <a href="https://storyset.com/social-media">Illustration by Freepik Storyset</a>