Working from home or remotely provides you with the flexibility to work whenever and however. Still, remote jobs should be approached with as much professionalism as a desk job. Here, SLA contributor Maureen Murori speaks to an established freelance transcriber who has been working remotely for the past seven years. Over the years, Sheeroh Murega Kiarie has not only learned what works best for her but has also been offering training and support to the newcomers in the field.

From talking with Sheeroh, Maureen learned that essential to any transcribing job are listening, English language, typing, and research skills. Outside these, a new transcriber also needs to know when to work and when to take time off to relax. Sheeroh explains in detail how these skills can come in handy for an upcoming transcriber (or a stagnating one). Read on to get all the insight.

What is transcribing and how did you venture into this field?

Transcribing is the art of transforming audio into text. This is done through listening and typing out a speech or a narrative into a printed format.

I had been a stay-at-home mom since 2008 when I gave birth to my daughter. Before then, I had been employed at a cooperative, but I quit to start my own business. After some time in the business, I felt like I needed a challenge. I mentioned this to my mom, who fortunately had heard about ‘typing jobs online’. I embarked on a journey to research on this. Luckily, on Googling ‘typing jobs online’, I got information on transcription jobs. The search led me to Odesk and Elance (online platforms that offer work to freelancers). Being a new area for me, I did a lot of research and read widely on the challenge. I later signed up and got to work.

Are there a specific set of skills and strategies that one needs to succeed in this field?

Yeah. There are four major skills.

  • Listening: Very essential to transcribing is listening as it enables you to efficiently transliterate the work. Since transcribers deal with different accents, having a good ear for many accents will come in handy.
  • English: Since most often one will be transcribing in English, having a good command of the language is essential. Many of the files we transcribe are from Native English speakers. For a transcript to be highly accurate, it is important that a transcriber maintains good grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Typing: You should type at least 35 words per minute (wpm). It takes an average experienced transcriber 4-5 hours to transcribe an hour-long audio or video file. The faster you can type, the more work you can handle. This skill can easily be improved through continuous practice.
  • Research: A transcriber will typically deal with files that have technical or non-technical terms. This requires a lot of research, especially if one is not familiar with that field of work. For example, transcribers sometimes receive files that are IT-based. Every time that a transcriber is dealing with an unfamiliar field, they should carry out extensive research.

Other than these important skills you have highlighted, what kind of tools does a new transcriber require? What are some of the managerial expertise that one need?

Having the skills I have mentioned above is important, but there are other things to put into consideration:

  • Tools of work: The first thing you want to get is a laptop or a desktop. It is also important to consider getting affordable and reliable internet connectivity and headphones. Ensure that you also get a comfortable ergonomic seat because transcription work can take hours and hours. You also need to install apps that help to clean the sound quality of the files. Lastly, Express Scribe is very crucial. This is a software that helps to ease transcription work. It is set in a way that the platform can allow listening and typing simultaneously on the same window.
  • Time Management: Working from home can be very distracting. Distractions come in the form of children or the occasional visitor who wants to pop in for a chat. Transcribers also need to be conscious of the time they spend on social media. Preferably, you should log into social media platforms after work.  It’s also important to have a schedule. Decide at what time you’ll wake up and when you’ll call it a day. Having a work-plan increases productivity. Lastly, you should keep away from people who are out to waste your time with ‘cheap’ talk online, on the phone or at home. You can always do this after hours.
  • Work Management: A typical transcriber should wake up, check their emails and respond to urgent messages. Thereafter, you could start bidding for work on bidding sites or log in to whichever sites you are registered in. If it’s the latter, you will pick an audio file and listen to it to gauge whether you can transcribe it effectively. If you are comfortable with the file, it will be assigned to you. It is recommended that transcribers take periodic breaks to avoid back aches, shoulder aches and neck aches.
  • Managing Clients: Freelance transcribers deal with all sorts of clients on a day to day basis. Most of them are sober-minded but once in a while, one can get difficult clients. You may want to read reviews on the clients written by other freelancers before applying for a job. No matter how hard-headed some clients are you should remain as polite and professional as possible. The lifeblood of your business is the repeat or long-term clients. The key to keeping those clients is always delivering when you say you will. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. Keep the lines of communication open. Always ensure the client is in the know about the progress of the project.

What is the best advice you have ever received and has worked for you as a freelance transcriber?

I think I must have received this insight from one of the many blog posts online, it’s the importance of building a team that you can outsource work to. Outsourcing is the secret to success for every freelancer, but not many of them do this. The benefits of outsourcing are numerous. It gives you the time to venture into other areas of online business thus diversifying your business. It also gives you the time for self-development and to top it all, you can earn more money with a team than you would when working alone.

What is your advice to online professionals?

Working and staring at a computer for so long is unhealthy and can bring with it health complications, including back and neck aches as well as eye problems. Thus, it’s important to take frequent breaks. I recommend 15 minutes after every one hour to one hour and a half of transcribing.

Burnout can and does happen to freelance transcribers. This is when you either take on too much work than you can handle or in the case of busy weeks. Some weeks can be slow, and some can be very busy. Make a conscious decision to take a day or two to rest, especially after a heavy work period.

When you are not busy ensuring that your clients are satisfied, what do you do to relax?

I’m a movie buff. I enjoy watching series like Blacklist and Last Ship.

I also enjoy curling up with a great book. Currently, I am reading Wilber Smith’s River God series. Apart from providing relaxation, the movies, and books, help me to better understand and use the English language. I also enjoy going out with my family. Most of my clients and trainees know that my weekends are set aside for family time.

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