How to become a freelance transcriptionist

If you’re looking for an accessible way to earn money working for yourself, why not find out how to become a freelance transcriptionist? The only equipment you need will be a computer and internet connection. As long as you have reasonable listening and typing skills, there’s the potential to earn a reasonable second income, or even become a full-time transcriber.

Even with the rise of automated and AI-powered transcription services, there’s still a strong demand for freelance human support. Artificial Intelligence struggles with technical terms, industry jargon and longer passages of speech, often needing cleaning up before an interview or article can be published. And with podcasts and video interviews hugely popular, there’s a big benefit for channels and publications which can share text to boost their audience and search engine optimisation (SEO).

And while many transcription jobs are relatively low paid, it’s possible to command higher rates by specialising in areas such as legal or medical work. Or just use it as a way to fill spare time while you’re working or studying for a different career.

Why become a freelance transcriptionist?

Accessibility is a major attraction for many people to become a freelance transcriptionist or transcriber (transcriptionist is more widely used in the U.S and Canada, while transcriber is more common in Europe). If you have some time, a computer, an internet connection, and a reasonable grasp of the English language, then you’re able to apply to get started.

It’s also a very flexible self-employed career, allowing you to work remotely, set your own hours, and decide how often you want to work. If you’d prefer to avoid finding and dealing with clients, there are various online platforms where you can sign up and choose projects you’d like to work on. Or you can use these services to compliment any direct relationships you have.

If you’re happy working alone in a quiet environment, then you’re well suited to become a freelance transcriptionist. And it can be a great way to earn an income while pursuing related careers in writing or publishing.

How to become a freelance transcriptionist

What skills or qualifications do you need to become a freelance transcriptionist?

You don’t need any qualifications to become a freelance transcriptionist. Any academic proof of your knowledge of English is worth mentioning, but it’s not a necessity as most agencies or transcription platforms will ask you to complete a quick test to demonstrate your abilities.

The skills you’ll need to be successful as a transcriber include:

  • Great listening ability: Particularly for poor quality recordings with multiple voices
  • Patience: You may need to listen to the same passage repeatedly to ensure you’re transcribing it accurately
  • Attention to detail: You need to avoid errors and mistakes in your work.
  • Research skills: Some recordings may include unusual words, or industry technical jargon, and you need to ensure you’re using them correctly.
  • Good typing skills: Not only are various minimum typing speeds recommended (usually at least 40-60 words per minute, and 75 wpm is desirable), but fast and accurate keyboard skills will enable you to work more quickly, giving you the opportunity for higher earnings.
  • Grammar and language skills: In most cases it will be important to reflect exactly what has been said, so you’ll need to ensure you’re not confusing words which can sound alike (called homophones, like new and knew, or two and to, for example). And on some projects, you may be asked to make minor changes and tweaks to improve the flow of the interview or remove anything potentially problematic whilst keeping the conversational style.

If you’re looking to become a transcriptionist, you may have seen free or paid courses offered online promising to teach you the basics. These aren’t required for you to start freelancing, but if you decide you’d like to invest in some training to build your confidence, make sure you research the provider and try to speak to recent students. You can ask them if the course helped them find work, and whether they’d recommend it.

Whatever equipment and software you use, it’s important you understand how to utilise it effectively, and ensure that you’re regularly saving and backing up your work. Most word processing and transcription software will have features that can save large amounts of time and effort once you’ve become familiar with them.

What equipment and software do you need?

You can get started with any computer and internet connection. But investing in equipment and software can help you to work more quickly and accurately, improving your earning potential. It also ensures that you’re comfortable, and minimising the risks of aches or pains from long hours of typing.

  • Computer: Most computers should be able to handle running multiple programs at the same time, as you may need an internet browser or spreadsheet software open alongside your audio and word processing tools.
  • Monitors: Dual monitors, or a large ultrawide screen, will make it easier to manage multiple programs without constantly having to switch between them. A cheap second monitor for your laptop or desktop is one of the first investments worth making.
  • Keyboard: You’re going to be typing a lot, and a good mechanical keyboard will make it easier (and more enjoyable, for many people). Along with wrist rests, they can reduce the risk of hand, wrist and finger problems which can occur over time.
  • Foot pedal: It’s not a necessity, but if you’re working regularly on transcriptions, learning to use a pedal to control audio rather than pausing your typing to reach for a mouse will speed up the process.
  • Headphones: Trying to listen to speech through audio speakers can be challenging, especially with any external noise in your home office. Good quality headphones will mean clearer sound, and help to block out distractions. They’ll also be more comfortable when you’re using them for long periods.
  • Word processing software: Microsoft Word is the standard, but there are alternatives including typing into Google Docs, or open-source alternatives such as OpenOffice or LibreOffice. Some platforms and agencies will require you to use their own licensed software for your transcriptions.
  • Transcription software: A wide range of free and paid transcription software is available with different benefits and weaknesses.
  • Audio playback software: You may want to use an alternative to the audio playback offered by transcription services.
  • Text Expander software: Some programs, including Word, will allow you to use macros (specific keys or combinations) to automatically fill out set text. For example, you could hit a button combination rather than typing out a full company name every time it needs to appear.

How to become a freelance transcriptionist

How much can you earn as a freelance transcriptionist?

As with any self-employed career, how much you can earn as a freelance transcriber will depend on your level of experience, demand and supply for those services, and if you’re working directly with clients or securing projects via an agency.

The average income for a freelance transcriber is £24,066 (Glassdoor), compared to £20,838 for all transcriptionists (Indeed). But rates for a project can range from around 70p to £3 per minute of audio recording, which means your earnings will increase if you can turn work around more quickly without making mistakes. Especially as most transcription services will charge more for a faster turnaround.

Obviously if you’re working via an agency or transcription service, they’ll take a percentage of the fee. So, there’s a trade off between your income and the availability of projects without the overhead of managing your own client list.

Opportunities to increase your income include working in areas requiring specialist knowledge such as the legal or medical fields, building up your own agency, or offering additional related services such as research, writing, editing or proofreading.

Finding your first clients as a freelance transcriber

Your first paying clients are typically the hardest to secure as a freelance transcriber. Once you’ve built up experience and a portfolio of previous work, it should become easier to ensure a steady stream of new projects.

When you’re just starting out, you can list yourself on generic freelancing websites including Upwork, Fiverr, or Freelancer, along with updating your LinkedIn profile and other social media accounts. But if you need work quickly, it’s a good idea to sign up with transcription services.

Companies which hire human transcribers for their platforms include Rev, Scribie, TranscribeMe, Daily Transcription, Way With Words, and many more. A number of the larger companies are U.S based, and quote rates of pay in dollars, so make sure you check the current exchange rate to understand how much you’ll end up with.

Most of these platforms will want you to take a test to demonstrate your current abilities, and may also require you to go through their own training process before starting any projects. This should always be available for free – be suspicious if any service wants you to pay for testing and training.

You can also check your skills yourself via various free online services, including TypingTest, ExamEnglish, or tests made available from transcription companies including GoTranscript.

More support and resources to become a freelance transcriptionist

Researching other freelance careers? Why not check out our other guides:

And you can get support and help if you’re starting out with self-employment, or still in the early stages of building your career, with the IPSE Incubator. The 12-month programme is currently free with IPSE membership, and includes advice, events, webinars, networking and more, tailored to anyone just beginning their freelance business.