This Busy Grandmother of Five Works from Home as a General Transcriptionist

success interviews May 23, 2017

We've got another fabulous interview to share with you! Susan knew she didn't want the typical 9-to-5 grind, so she started looking for work-from-home opportunities. She came across general transcription, and the rest is history!

Check out Susan's super intriguing story below!

Q: Hi, Susan! Welcome to the blog. Can you tell us a little about your background?

I was raised in, and currently live in, the northwest suburbs of Chicago on a small farm. I am married with four adult children and five grandchildren. In my spare time (LOL), I am a co-coordinator for the Chicago Chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino (a hiking group); I moderate and proofread a website for people seeking support for family/in-law issues; I am a historical (medieval) reenactor; and I attend local science fiction conventions. I have an extremely eclectic background, to say the least. I have worked as -- in no particular order -- a midwife’s assistant, bar wench and server, retail slave, admin for many temp agencies, administrative/executive assistant, a premed student, and of course, freelance transcriptionist. I’ve also managed and trained transcriptionists for a special project.

Q: Wow, that is definitely an eclectic background! The stories you must have... :-) So when did you start doing general transcription, and what made you decide to learn it?

I started doing transcription back in the late 90s when we still used tiny cassette tapes and players with a pedal foot attached. (Now I’m really dating myself!) Back then, all you needed was the equipment and the ability to type. I was in a temp position, and they just handed me the tape and tape player and said, “Go.”

So much has changed since then, I can’t imagine just jumping in now and expecting to be successful. I seriously took this on as a career in 2014 when I left my position as an office manager at a major cultural institution to fulfill a bucket list item to walk El Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, a journey on foot of over 500 miles. When I came back, I was certain I did not want to spend the rest of my life in the corporate 9-to-5 environment, so I looked at work-from-home opportunities. I came across a website where clients were looking for people like me to perform various tasks. Eventually, I got my first client and have been building my business ever since.

Q: What was the most challenging part in getting started?

There were several significant challenges; the first was to become established and find clients. I finally found a client who was willing to mentor me, and I took off from there. Another challenge was learning the ins and outs of my transcription software and file-converting software. Time management is an ongoing challenge; if you establish your own home office, you need to set clear and firm boundaries with friends and family. There is an ongoing perception that because you work from home, you are instantly available to everyone at any time.

Q. Do you think anyone can become a transcriptionist?

I wish I could say “Yes, of course,” but in my experience as a trainer that is not true. A good typist does not always make a good transcriptionist. The transcriptionist has to possess a skill set that includes a good command of the language they are transcribing, superior spelling and grammar skills, attention to detail, and the ability to follow directions and take correction.

Q. Great points! Having a command of the language is so important. What do you think it takes to be a GOOD general transcriptionist? How about a GREAT one?

A good general transcriptionist knows their craft, follows direction, checks their own work, meets deadlines, ensures time stamps are accurate, and stays organized.

A great general transcriptionist has all the above attributes, as well as communicates clearly with the client about their needs and expectations and makes suggestions as necessary, takes a second to Google an unfamiliar spelling or term, is flexible, and does everything to ensure the client has the best product they can provide.

Q: How many clients do you have at the moment?

I currently have five or six regular clients, plus some that pop in once or twice a year. Most of my clients are repeats, and many have come to me from referrals from clients who are happy with my work. When that happens, I always give the referring client a discount -- it’s just good business practice to show my clients I appreciate their referrals.

Although I do like having a large client base, I am convinced that all my clients get together at random times over coffee or something stronger and say, “Hey, let’s ALL keep Susan busy at the same time!” At times like this, organization and communication save me. Sometimes I have to negotiate a deadline and move things around in the queue.

Q: That just made me laugh! I think a lot of us can relate to those insanely busy times. What have been the most valuable things you've learned while working as a general transcriptionist?

Every client is different. What works for one client will not work for another. Another thing I’ve learned is that if you do not value yourself enough to charge a fair price for your services, your client will not value you either, or may even pass you by.

When I first started sending proposals to potential clients, I was pretty desperate and I didn’t know how much to charge, so I priced myself ridiculously low under the mistaken assumption that more clients would hire me if my fees were low. I asked someone to give me feedback and was told that I did not appear serious due to my low rate proposal. I researched the going rate for transcriptionists, raised my rates, and now I have more work than I know what to do with. Think about this: I raised my rates and was offered more work.

Q: Yes! It's so important to know your worth and charge a fair rate.

So what's your favorite thing about being a general transcriptionist? What about your least favorite?

My favorite thing about transcribing is when I learn something new while transcribing a file. Recently I’ve been transcribing a series of interviews on refugees in Germany and Greece. It was fascinating listening and reading. Also, I love being my own boss and setting my own schedule.

My least favorite thing about transcribing is when I get what I call the “trifecta of transcribing,” that is bad audio quality, foreign accent, and stammering/stuttering. If the subject is boring or very technical it just makes it worse for an already bad file. I’ve only turned down a few files in my career due to a completely unintelligible file.

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

My strong advice is to get the training, get the training, get the training, someway, somehow. Getting the training will help prevent making mistakes and learning things the hard way. You will learn so much that will save you hours of frustration and heartbreak. I think if you want to be a good transcriptionist, you need to pay for a course and receive that personalized feedback and mentoring you won’t get from a free course.

Another piece of advice is to get to know your software. If you have a rudimentary knowledge of Word, you won’t be as successful as someone who is at an intermediate or advanced level. In fact, it may actually cost you some jobs that need a more advanced command of Word.

Stay on top of upgrades and new software. The absolute worst transcriptionists it’s been my misfortune to work with and train are the ones who claimed “Oh, yeah, I’ve done transcription before…with a cassette and foot pedal…in Word Perfect.” They truly believed they could just jump back in and be successful because they transcribed twenty or so years ago.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you? Anything else you’d like to share?

You mean, there’s a “typical” day? (Cue hysterical laughter.) I tend to act as if I were going to an outside job, only I have to walk only 15 feet to my office instead of driving 15 miles. So after I get settled in, I begin by checking my email. My next step is to make a list of files that are due that day if I haven’t already done so. In other words, I organize my life -- work and otherwise -- by making lists. I check each one off as I go and move forward. I take a break after a couple of hours, continue, then have lunch, and finish my work for the day.

Throughout the day, I have my email open to reply to clients. If my day is slow, I will take some time in the morning to present proposals to new clients. Sometimes a client sends an urgent file, and I’ll have to rearrange my schedule. I can sum it up by saying “make a list, set a schedule, but be flexible and available.” Not always the easiest of jobs!

One thing I’d like to share is the equipment and software I use. I work off of a laptop and have a plug-in keyboard and mouse and a good headphone set. I type into Microsoft Word and use Microsoft Excel to track my files with each client and my fees. The free, downloadable transcription program called Express Scribe is my go-to, but since it will only take .mp3 files, I use a couple different file converters called Any Video Converter or for YouTube videos that will convert any file into .mp3s. These programs are also free to download. Some of my clients use Dropbox and WeTransfer. I don’t think it’s necessary to spend several hundred dollars on software and equipment. I’ve been working with these programs for over three years, and I’m completely satisfied.

Our Take

I love how Susan knew exactly what she wanted and looked for it until she found it. Her perseverance and tenacity paid off!

Your Turn

Do you also have an eclectic background? Maybe you've tried different jobs but nothing seemed to fit? Share it with me in the comments! (And don't miss out on the other great success stories we've featured on the blog!)

Explore a career in transcription with our free workshop

Enroll in our free workshop