How This Retired Nurse Makes Money as a Transcriptionist Living in the UK

Mar 26, 2018 by Janet Shaughnessy

I often hear from potential students who have retired from their full-time jobs but still want to stay busy and earn a little extra income on the side.

I also hear from students who live outside the US and wonder if they can 1) still take my courses and 2) find work.

The answer to those questions? YES.

You CAN do transcription part-time after retirement.

You CAN take my courses if you live outside the US.

And you CAN find work when you live in a different country other than the US.

Susan's story touches on all three of these questions. She's retired, lives in the UK, took my general transcription course, and now works for a UK-based agency.

She found her perfect fit, and hearing about her success was music to my ears.

Here's Susan's story!

Q: Welcome to the blog, Susan! Can you tell us a little about your background? What did your life look like before TA?

I took early retirement four years ago from a stressful job as a senior mental health nurse. Since then, I have taken up two challenging and absorbing new hobbies: church bell ringing and dog agility with Sam, our border collie. Both are physically and mentally demanding but also very sociable and great fun.

I also started volunteering at our local community library. But like many retired people, I soon began to wonder how I'd ever found time to go to work! However, I still had a bit of spare time and I'd always intended to find some kind of part-time paid work to keep me out of mischief and supplement my pension. So I began scouting around for a part-time job that I could do from home. I wanted something interesting, enjoyable, and flexible that would fit in with my existing commitments. Most importantly, I didn't want to be tied down to a job that would cramp my style. The last thing I wanted was to have to negotiate for holiday leave and time off to take the dogs to the vet or go on bell ringing tours!

Q: You definitely like to keep busy -- I love it! The work-at-home lifestyle seems like a perfect fit for you. So when did you start doing general transcription, and what made you decide to learn it?

I started exploring the possibility of doing transcription two or three years ago. I'm a pretty nifty typist, having taught myself to touch-type several years ago. I thought it might be a way I could earn a bit of extra cash working from home. So I did a lot of online research and also spent time on typing websites, working through courses and playing typing games and races to improve my typing speed and accuracy.

At that stage, I almost applied to one of the main UK transcription agencies, which offered in-house training to successful applicants. However, I lacked the confidence to apply and came to the conclusion that I'd have a much better chance of succeeding if I had some proper training first. Going through Janet's free introductory course was a real watershed for me. It convinced me that I had the right personality traits and practical skills to make a go of it, but it also reinforced the fact that I ought to get some specialist training.

Q: Training is always a great idea. We can never learn too much, right? :-) What was the most challenging part of getting started?

One of the hardest things was simply finding the right course. I tried very hard to find a UK-based course, but there was nothing comparable to TA. The reason I was attracted to TA was because it incorporated tons of practical experience plus a commitment to providing ongoing support. I'll admit I did have some anxieties about it being US-based. When I started the course, the most challenging part was coping with the strong American accents in the first few files. I remember thinking, "Good grief, if this is Level 1, I'm never going to make it!" Subsequently, I found some of the files with UK accents, which other students really struggled with, relatively easy. And I had little fear of the foreign accents in the final module because that's something I'd been dealing with from the word go.

Q: Accents can certainly be tricky when they're not in our native language! What are the most valuable things you learned during the course?

I really valued all the practical, nuts-and-bolts stuff: learning about the essential software and hardware, how to use different transcription programs, how to annotate transcripts and insert time stamps, the different styles of transcription, and how to use keyboard shortcuts. I now have an ever-growing list of these shortcuts, which is really helping to increase my speed. The support and advice of fellow transcribers were invaluable to me. One of the most important things I learned is to not be afraid to ask if there's anything you're not sure about. It's a bit of a cliché, but the only dumb question really is the one you don't ask.

Q: Support from your peers is invaluable in the learning process. How long did it take you to find your first client? And how many clients do you have now?

After I passed the course, my confidence again deserted me for a while. I also had problems with my back, so it was a couple of months before I started looking for work. Then I found what appeared to be a very good UK agency, but it was another few weeks before I had the nerve to submit their very challenging online assessment, which many applicants apparently fail. It included a really tough strict verbatim file, worse than anything I'd come across in the course. I was amazed and delighted when I heard that I'd got through and especially when they said that they were particularly impressed with the quality of my test transcription. That really boosted my confidence and morale!

I've completed several jobs since then for the same agency and have now been taken on as a member of the team. I've never had any ambition to run my own company because this is a part-time, post-retirement venture for me. The amount of money I can earn doing some agency work is going to be more than sufficient to meet my needs. I intend to continue working for the same agency for the foreseeable future; they're very supportive and the files I've done for them so far have been varied and interesting.

Check out the glowing reviews Susan's received from her agency:

Thank you for taking our online test and emailing me through your test transcription. Both were of a very high standard, and as such I'm very pleased to say you’ve passed Quality Control. In fact, your actual transcription piece was of a very high standard, well done.

I just wanted to say thank you for jumping in even though you haven't actually been fully through the training process as yet! Based on your help last week, your can-do attitude, and the quality of your files, I'd love it if you would join the team.

Very rarely am I blown away with a typist’s first attempt at a NC file, but honestly, your file was amazing, it really was, so a massive well done from all of us here for that.

Q: What advice would you give anyone thinking about becoming a transcriptionist? Is it worth the money for training?

I think that, at the outset, you need to consider very carefully whether you have the right skills and personal qualities for this kind of work. Be realistic and honest with yourself about this. Work through Janet's introductory course to help you determine whether you're cut out for it or not. If you can't type fairly quickly, don't have good basic language skills, and lack the patience to pay ENORMOUS attention to detail, I think it will be difficult to make a go of it. I'd say, without hesitation, that it is definitely worth paying for high-quality training. I think I'd really have struggled if I'd tried to dive in without it. From where I'm sitting, the TA course has been worth every penny.

Q: I love hearing that! So what do you think it takes to be a good transcriptionist? How about a great one?

I think that to be a good transcriptionist, you obviously need to have a good ear and be a reasonably fast and accurate typist with excellent written English skills. Your grammar, spelling, and comprehension need to be of a very high standard. You also generally need to be a bit of a perfectionist -- perhaps even a bit of a nerd! Patient attention to detail is absolutely essential, and also the ability and willingness to research online to find the correct spellings of names and companies. And you need to be flexible and responsive enough to respond to different clients' varying demands.

I think a great transcriptionist needs all of the above in spades plus a real desire to go the extra mile to try to make out that really tricky bit of tape that, on first hearing, is incomprehensible, or to find the correct spelling for that obscure place name. A really great transcriptionist will be an expert "Googler" with absolutely superb communication skills.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about being a transcriptionist living in the UK? What about your least favorite?

My favorite thing is that I just love the endless variety of the work and the fact that it involves listening to the human voice. Although you're sitting alone at your computer, in a way you've always got company. I love listening to people chat, and I enjoy the challenge of transcribing conversational speech.

My least favorite thing is the fact that it involves so much sitting. I started out with a pre-existing back problem, and there were several times during the course when I wondered if I'd be able to do this job without further damaging my health. The course took me longer than planned to complete because I had to keep breaking off from the practice transcriptions due to back pain. However, after finishing the course, thanks to a TV program on health issues, I discovered sit-stand desks. I invested in one of these -- it's called a Yo-Yo Desk -- and it's been a game changer for me, a real lifesaver. I really am like a yo-yo when I'm working, frequently alternating between sitting and standing. This enables me to work in comfort for much longer periods.

Q: Good for you for finding an alternative way to work, especially when it involves your health! What does a typical day look like for you as a transcriptionist living in the UK?

My days are really varied. I don't transcribe every day -- usually about three days a week. Once the radio alarm goes off, our backup, four-legged alarm clock makes sure we get out of bed -- that's Sam the collie who, unlike the radio alarm, does NOT have a snooze button! Our old Labrador, Toby, is usually still snoring at this point and even more reluctant to get up than me!

After a quick cup of tea, the first job of the day is always walking the dogs, come rain or shine. When we get back from the walk, I do about twenty minutes of stretching and strengthening exercises, without which my back would complete seize up. Then, after breakfast and a shower, if it's a day when I'm transcribing, it's down to work. I work in roughly forty-minute stretches, with five- or ten-minute breaks in between. I police this regime by setting an alarm on my mobile phone and placing it at the other side of the room so that I'm forced to move away from the desk to switch it off.

Q: Your phone trick is a great idea -- I'm going to have to try that. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

It's important I always have a good break between doing a first draft of a transcription and proofing to audio with a fresh pair of ears. I find it's amazing how many "indiscernible" sections become clear the second time around. At some point in the afternoon, we give the dogs another walk. It has to be pretty early at the moment because the days are so short at this time of year. That's one of the great things about transcribing: I can pick and choose when I work and when I take a break. If the sun's shining, no one's forcing me to stay tied to a desk. If I'm not out bell ringing and there's nothing too exciting on the TV, I'll sometimes do a bit of work in the evenings.

I can't tell you how grateful I am to Janet for her wonderful course. I now have exactly the kind of part-time job that I'd been hoping for and absolutely love it!

Our Take

Not everyone gets into transcription to start their own business, and that's totally okay! Working part-time for an agency works perfectly for Susan, and we couldn't be happier that she found exactly what she was looking for after retirement!

Your Turn

Are you looking for part-time work you can do from home? Take mine (and Susan's) advice and start by signing up for the free 7-day course. It's a great way to find out if transcription is right for you -- and you can't beat the price :-)

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What separates a ho-hum transcriptionist from an excellent one? Is there even a demand for transcription? Who hires transcriptionists? 
 Can anyone be a transcriptionist? 

Get the answers to all these questions and more by enrolling in my free introductory course, Transcription Foundations.

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