Okay, so if you’re looking for a legitimate work from home role, transcription sounds pretty awesome, right? And, as someone successfully working in the transcription industry in Australia, I’ll readily admit that I do love my job. I enjoy the challenge of the work, and the complete flexibility of running my own small business suits my needs extremely well. But, like any role, there are pros and cons. There’s SO much to talk about here that I’ve split this post into two parts: here in Part 1 I’ll cover the pros and cons you need to weight up in deciding whether or not to embarking on establishing your own home-based transcription business, and in Part 2 I’ll detail how I went about establishing myself as a transcriptionist here in Australia, along with links to useful sites and resources I used while getting started. This is a long one, so I’m going to jump right in: below are my pros and cons for starting your own work from home transcription business:
The fact that running your own transcription business can be completely home-based is of course a massive pro to me, but in the sense of how it compares with other home-based work, the main pro for me is the flexibility. I have complete control over my workload, and I determine exactly how much I work, and when. If I want or need to take next week off, I can. If I want to pick up some extra jobs and earn some extra money for the week, I can do that too. If I’m halfway through a job and need to stop for an hour/two hours/the night because the baby woke up/my best friend called/my husband wants someone to play video games with him, I can. As someone with a young family and a busy lifestyle, I really can’t say enough how great this flexibility is.
The other main pro for me is that it’s enjoyable work. It’s challenging and interesting, and I quite enjoy the research component of the work, and also the extreme attention to detail the job requires. I really like that while the content I’m working with can differ vastly day to day, there’s a great deal of consistency in the actual work itself. While it meets my primary requirement of being 100 percent home-based work and that’s the most important thing for me career-wise at the moment, I’m really happy that it’s work I enjoy doing too.
1. It’s REALLY HARD.
Okay, here’s the thing. If you only take one thing out of this whole post, make sure it’s this: TRANSCRIPTION IS REALLY, REALLY CHALLENGING. ‘Not everyone will be able to do it’ type challenging. In my research when I first started entertaining the idea of pursuing a work from home career, I’d often see generic blog posts and articles from work from home sites, and they’d have a couple of lines about transcription, basically saying: listen carefully, type accurately, make lots of money. It is really, REALLY, not that simple. If you don’t have the skills necessary to do it well, you’re not going to get very far at all with transcription. Some of the skills, such as typing speed and accuracy, you can easily improve (more on that in Part 2). However, it is really essential that you have EXCELLENT grammar to be able to do this job successfully, and that’s not something you can develop after a few months, or even years, of effort.
My grammar is pretty good, what most people would consider well above average. I’ve read books like a madwoman pretty much since I was able to read, I was pretty successful academically at school and uni, and I’ve had the good fortune to have engaged in quite a bit of post-graduate university study. Even with all this experience and some pretty rock-solid literacy skills, I can tell you with 100 percent honesty that my grammar knowledge and skills are only JUST good enough for me to do this job. I’m not writing this to talk myself up or to make anyone feel bad about their skills, I just want you to understand that if your grammar isn’t pretty exceptional, you’re just not going to make any money from this job. If you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll just look things up. I’ll learn on the job. I don’t mind if it takes me a bit longer, it’ll be worth it to be working from home.’ You’re wrong. You’ll be taking six to eight hours (or more) to transcribe an hour of audio, and when you average what you earn for that one audio hour over the many hours it takes you to transcribe it, you’ll be earning so far below minimum wage that it just won’t be worth it. And you’ll still probably have errors slip past you, meaning your client might ask you to spend more time (unpaid, of course) fixing it, or simply not give you any more work. You really need to be honest with yourself about your grammar and literacy skills before you invest time and money in pursuing this career option.
2. Small Business Owner Versus Employee
Running your own small business can seem super daunting at first, but in my experience it’s actually pretty straightforward and very do-able, once you get into it. While you’ll need to do your own research to make sure you cover all of your bases legally when starting your own transcription business, I will provide some info I personally found helpful during this process in Part 2 for you.
Now, while I certainly don’t consider running my own business a ‘con’ as such, there are (in my opinion) some definite downsides to being a sole-trader instead of an employee. These include:
- Having to take care of your own superannuation (might not seem like a big deal now, but it will at retirement time).
- You don’t get holidays/sick leave/etc, etc when you work for yourself. Sure, you can take time off whenever you want when you’re running your own small business, but you won’t be paid for it. We moved house a few weeks ago, and being able to scale my work back for a week to facilitate the move was GREAT. Missing out on the money that I would have had rolling in this week had I worked during the move isn’t so great. Same story when everyone in our house got a stomach bug a month or so back. It was awesome to be able to put my work on hold for several days while we all recovered, but not getting sick pay for that downtime really sucked.
- Overheads. Even a small-scale sole-trader business such as a transcription service has start-up cost and overheads associated with it. I forked out well over a thousand dollars for business insurance before I even typed a word of my first paying job, and then there were other expenses too, such as a mechanical keyboard, a transcription foot pedal and transcription software. While you’ll recoup these costs pretty quickly once you have a successful transcription business up and running (and some expenses are claimable at tax time, of course), you’ll still be parting with a pretty decent chunk of change up front. This is another reason to be really honest with yourself about your skills and abilities in relation to this type of work, as no one wants to outlay that kind of cash for a job you can’t actually make any money doing.
- Dealing with ‘The Details’. In addition to things like organising business insurance and buying equipment, running your own business involves attending to a bunch of other important details, such as getting an ABN, sorting your tax out and checking if you need any licences or registrations, amongst various other things. Again, it can all seem a bit overwhelming at the start, but I found it very do-able once I took the plunge and actually got started.
3. You Probably Won’t Actually Make Any Money For Ages
Something to be aware of when considering starting your own home-based transcription business, is that you’ll likely have to put in A LOT of mostly/wholly unpaid work to get your skills up to scratch before you get any paying jobs or regular clients.
It’s really hard to accurately estimate, but I’d put my ballpark figure at between 100 – 200 hours of almost completely UNPAID work getting my transcription skills up to scratch before I got my first regular client here in Australia. It’s a lot of effort to put in when you’re not even sure you’ll get any clients (and again, part of the reason you really need to be honest with yourself about your grammar and literacy skills. Who wants to spend 100 – 200 unpaid hours training for a job that they’re not actually going to be able to do anyway?!). If you’re thinking:
a) ‘Is she crazy? Who the hell does a hundred hours or more of unpaid work for a job they don’t even have yet?!’
b) ‘What the heck did she have to do for all those hours?!’
The answers are:
a) Yes, I am a little bit crazy. But, I also knew that my skills and ability in this particular area are strong enough that I would be able to work successfully in the industry once I’d trained up in the specific skills I was lacking.
b) A lot of work to get my typing skills and speed up to touch typing level, followed by a lot of work for an online transcription company, where I got the opportunity to get some actual transcription experience, learning how to work to a style guide and developing a solid understanding of the fundamentals of transcription (This part is technically paid work, and it’s awesome experience so I strongly recommend it for anyone looking to break into the industry, even though I personally didn’t actually make any money at all from it at all – more about that in Part 2).
The skills and experience I was working to develop are pretty much essential to be able to break into the industry here in Australia, and I know that I wouldn’t have been able to a) break into the industry, or b) retain any clients without them. (Links for the online resources I used to develop my typing skills, and info about online transcription companies where you may be able to start your transcription career will be provided in Part 2 of this post.)
The main thing that I want to really make clear in summary here is, that while running my own home-based transcription business is great and I really do enjoy it, it’s really, really hard work. Even coming to this role as I did, with a solid skills base and an aptitude for the role requirements, and beyond that devoting a few hundred unpaid hours to developing the skills and experience I was lacking, it’s still currently taking me four to six hours to complete one hour of audio transcription, meaning that when you average my per-audio hour fee out over the actual hours taken to complete the work, I’m currently not making great money for the level of effort involved. My skills and speed are still improving of course, and in 12 months’ time I’m hoping and expecting to be taking about three hours to complete one hour of audio, which will mean I’m earning a much more respectable fee for each actual hour worked. I’m under no illusions: I’m playing a long game here. For me, it’s worth it, as my main priority is to arrange my work around my life commitments now and for the foreseeable future, and I’m willing to take an income hit to achieve that.
If you’ve gotten this far and you’re still thinking that starting your own home-based transcription business could be for you, stay tuned for Part 2! I’ll provide more details about how I went about setting up my home-based transcription business, and lots of useful links to help you on your way.
Happy job hunting,