The advantages and disadvantages of transcribing

As a virtual assistant, one of the services you may consider offering your clients is transcription. While it sounds easy enough (you listen to an audio tape and just type what you hear), it’s much more complicated than that.

There are advantages and disadvantages that you should consider before making the decision to offer transcription services.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the official definition of transcribe is “to make a written copy of” or “to make a copy (dictated or recorded) by hand or on a machine (such as a typewriter).” Now, before you drag out your trusty old typewriter, you’ll first need to make sure you have a few things. Most importantly, you’ll need a good computer with a high-speed Internet connection and word processing and transcription software installed because that old typewriter won’t work anymore. Other equipment you’ll need is a quality headset, a comfortable chair in a quiet room, and if you’re serious about transcribing, a foot pedal (preferably a USB type). Depending on the format used (DVD, mp3, cassette, microcassette, etc.), you may need additional equipment for audio playback. Of course, to be an efficient transcriber, you also need to have a pretty decent typing speed, good listening, spelling, and grammar skills.

Here are some of the things you’ll want to consider before deciding to offer transcription services:


Pricing is pretty straightforward (per word, page, or minute/hour of audio)

Sharpen your listening and writing skills.

Opportunity to learn about new and interesting topics.

You may become a long-term customer, as the transcription can easily lead to other projects (editing, proofreading, writing articles, or creating an eBook)

Pre-recorded audio gives you the flexibility to transcribe at any time (great for those also trying to juggle a 9 to 5 job)

With a little extra education, you have the ability to specialize (ie, medical or legal transcription) and charge a higher specialty fee.


It may be necessary to purchase some equipment and/or software (headphones, pedal, etc.)

You must have a decent typing speed or you won’t make much of a living doing transcriptions.

Sound quality, multiple speakers, accents, people talking to each other, and audience interaction can significantly slow down the transcription process, leading to frustration and reduced productivity.

Client-supplied templates can be difficult to work with

Transcription does not support multitasking; you will have to concentrate so that there are no phone calls or tweets

Real-time transcription requires you and the client to be available at the same time. This leaves no time for editing or breaks.

As with any task you perform for your client, you’ll need to ask some important questions before you begin.

You should be ready with a checklist of some kind, because finding out certain information ahead of time will save you time and hassle. Some questions to ask your client before transcribing:

What will the client ultimately do with the transcript (ie create an article or eBook)?

What form is the audio in (DVD, mp3, cassette, micro-cassette, etc.)?

How will you receive the audio (mail, email, etc.)?

Does the client want a hard copy or just the electronic file?

In what form do you want the final product (Word, PDF, etc.)?

Do you want verbatim or do you want the umms and other unfinished thoughts removed?

How many speakers are there?

Do any of the speakers have an accent?

Are they just looking to get the words down on paper or are they looking for something that is proofread, edited, and in the final draft stage?

Does the audio include any confidential information?

o Will the client require a Confidentiality Agreement in addition to the Virtual Assistance Agreement?
o If it is a medical transcription, will there be HIPPA compliance issues involved?

If you decide to venture into the realm of transcription, make sure you have all the tools you need to make your journey a positive experience. Take your time when creating your proposals and make sure you understand all the details of each transcription project. If you are unsure of the terms of the project, please contact the client for clarification.

You don’t want to lose your mind and disappoint yourself and your client.

Consider taking on a couple of small “test” projects before officially offering transcription services on your website.

Volunteer to transcribe a meeting or two for a church or civic group to gain some experience. You could even suggest a trade and get a customer testimonial for your business! Either way, this is a great opportunity to test transcription and see if it’s worth adding to your business.

If you have the typing, spelling, and grammar skills that transcription requires and are willing to invest in some equipment to get started, then transcription may be for you. Transcription can be frustrating and tedious at times, but it can also be a rewarding, interesting, and flexible service that you can offer your clients. While it has advantages and disadvantages, always keep in mind that transcription is a perfect springboard for any additional services you want to market to your customers to keep your business thriving.

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