When I first moved from Hawaii to North Carolina, I initially planned to finish grad school, complete my doctorate studies, and become an English professor with a specialty of literary theory and criticism. Middle and Little moved in just after I started grad school at NCSU (which even awarded me with a teaching fellowship!).
About a month later, BioMom called CPS to report false allegations for the first time. The case worker arrived at my home the following day while I was home sick from school and neck-deep in researching whether or not William Godwin’s publication of Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Women was truly the betrayal of Mary Wollstonecraft’s legacy most academics believe it to be (I argued that this action was not a betrayal and had pretty convincing evidence to support my argument. I even had a snazzy title ready to go: “A Vindication of William Godwin”).
The sudden presence of CPS in my life sucked all the academic gumption out of me. I mean, who could possibly give a rat’s you know what about William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft’s 17th century love affair when facing the pointed questions of social services?
The case worker closed the investigation quickly and we moved on, but I was never able to get back into my studies. I resigned my teaching fellowship position and withdrew from all but one course, and decided to pursue a different career path.
Pretty depressing, but not all terrible. After all, universities these days are not treating new professors very well. Most of them no longer offer many tenure-track positions, so newer educators end up stuck in Assistant Professor roles for decades at a time, earning a salary that rarely surpasses the $40,000/year mark. $40,000 is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also pretty crappy compensation for folks with PhDs.
Anyway. Husband said he would support me while I attempted to launch a writing career, but when his career with the army ended due to the care needs of the kids, that plan flew out the window as well.
We managed to float on his VA Disability benefits and his GI Bill Benefits and some government assistance for quite some time, but as Husband’s college graduation date and our plans to move to 1,000 miles from our home in South Carolina approached, I knew I needed to find an income stream, fast. We were already stretching Husband’s benefits to the limit every month, and we were about to lose the $1400 he received every month to attend classes. As soon as he finished his Bachelor’s, half of our income would vanish.
It became all too clear that I would need to find a job while Husband finished up school. There was just one little issue with my grand return to the workforce…
Who on earth wants to hire someone who has to leave work a few times a month to unexpectedly to pick up a kiddo who got into a fight, or spit on a teacher, or flipped everyone off, or threw up, or had a panic attack, or had some sort of cataclysmic accident or another? Who would hire someone who has to take off once or more a week to take various children to the pediatrician, the therapist, the psychiatrist, the somatic psychotherapist, the geneticist, the GI doctor, the endocrinologist, the urologist, the allergist, the orthopedist, the neurologist, the ENT office, the dentist, the orthodontist, the eye doctor, and on and on and on?!
Investigating Work-At-Home Options
Not seeing a traditional office job as a viable route to financial stability, I toyed around with monetizing my website for a while, but I quickly learned that generating income from blogging typically comes about via affiliate links and product launches.
If I wanted to earn a living from my website, I would really need to push affiliate links every chance I could find. Now, I like affiliate links (links to products on Amazon or another website that pay me a small percentage of the sale’s value should any of my readers purchase the products), and I still use them, but trying to monetize my website to where it would provide a supportive income led me to linking to products that were only marginally related to trauma parenting or a particular post topic outside of the topic of trauma parenting. I never really felt great about doing that, but last year, after writing an entire post pitching The Genius Blogger’s Toolkit here, I felt a bit smarmy about the whole thing, even though I personally think that product is amazing. Shortly after I published that piece, I decided to ditch the idea of making a living thru this website and to only use affiliate links that truly relate to the topic I’m discussing in each blog post (this post contains links to resources needed to work from home, for example).
This shift allowed me to refocus my attention on sharing our story in order to help others and spreading awareness of the impact of early-childhood trauma, and it’s given me a chance to run no-charge sidebar ads for organizations (like ATN and BeTA) that have helped my family, which is something I absolutely could not do if I were still trying to make a living from Trauma Mama Drama’s revenue.
But by making this decision, I found myself back at square one, desperately looking for something to bring in some money so that we could, you know, survive and all that good stuff. I started looking for legitimate work-at-home jobs online. For a while, I only saw listings for customer service reps, which typically require a quiet working environment (ha!) and commitment to a set schedule (double ha!). So, at first, I didn’t find anything that would solve my problem at all, given Little’s frequent meltdowns and the 3,478,094 emergencies that pop up throughout every single day.
I didn’t give up though. I signed up for a few newsletters from bloggers who write about working from home and hoped I would stumble across something that would work for me, eventually.
Discovering At-Home Transcription
In March of last year, I saw the perfect job posting in The Work At Home Wife’s newsletter. Rev was looking for transcribers and closed-caption typists to add to their team. This sounded perfect for me, because I love to type!! I love it. I’m good at it, and writing down the words of others doesn’t require too much heavy brain-power as writing my own articles… It’s not like I have to come up with something to say all on my own, I just have to listen carefully to other people talking. I decided to apply. I got the job, and once it became clear that I actually like doing this and that I’m good at it, I applied and began working for another company called SyncScript.
You guys, I could not be happier with my new career path – it’s super flexible, so I can work nearly full-time and still have time to run the kids on their eleventy-billion appointments they must attend each week. And the work is pretty fun. I’ve transcribed interviews with stars from one of my favorite childhood television shows, astronauts, teachers, doctors, and documentaries – including parts of the incredible PBS special, The Vietnam War. I’ve even transcribed interviews for a project on trauma-sensitive education (I give discounts for parents and professionals working with traumatized children… More details at the end of this post).
I’m really enjoying myself – it’s almost like a form of self-care. When I’m working, I get the chance to get comfy with my laptop, plug in my noise-canceling headphones, and focus only on the transcribing the words of adults having actual conversations, often about cool or interesting things. Sure, I get interrupted, but most of the time Husband runs interference with the kids while I’m working, and if he’s not here, I’ve found that the kids don’t interrupt me quite so much while I’m working (ahem… The interruptions were only reduced after I explained to them that I earn money with this work and that the more they distract the less I earn… Which means I have less money to spend on things like tasty treats or internet data or birthday gifts). On days they need my full attention, I can either pass on work for the day or I can wait until they’re asleep to work.
Transcribing can be a full-time gig or it can supplement your household income. I know some of you struggle to make ends meet as Husband and I have since the unexpected changes in our career paths, so I wanted to share my experience transcribing with you with the hope of helping you get back on your feet, if necessary!
How to Get Started
There are a ton of work-at-home blogs out there and a lot of them provide excellent guidance and will link you to job postings for a wide variety of jobs you can do from home (I’m focusing on transcribing here because that’s what I do, but there are lots of different types of jobs you can do – I chose transcription because of the flexibility, but I also don’t like to talk on the phone or answer customer questions; I didn’t want to do any of the customer service work I saw ads for). My favorite website is The Work At Home Wife, as I said previously (obviously… She’s the one who linked me to my very first at-home job!). Plenty of companies hire newbie transcribers as long as you can prove abilities during the application process.
Most people who type and spell well will succeed at transcribing, but it’s really not for everyone. Here are the skills you need to succeed in this field of work:
- Typing Speed – Many companies require a minimum typing speed of 70 words per minute. If you type below that rate, you will struggle to make minimum wage for your work because your typing rate directly affects how quickly you can transcribe. I type about 90 wpm, and I can transcribe a simple 30-minute audio file in about an hour. The keyword there is “simple,” meaning one or two speakers with no accents and clear enunciation, which is not always the case. Focus groups and people with unclear speaking patterns or heavy accents take much longer (or much much longer, depending on how tricky the audio is).
- Listening Ability – You have to be able to figure out what people are saying, which, of course, sounds simple. But imagine having to transcribe some famous YouTube viral videos word-for-word, or transcribing a group of people talking at once with instructions to discern as much of the cross-talking as you can. What sounds so simple can quickly become quite tricky!
- Spelling & Grammar – You must have a basic grasp of spelling and grammar to succeed in transcription work. I have a Bachelor’s in English, which helps tremendously, but I still find myself asking things like, “Is it lay or lie? Upfront or up-front or up front? Should I use quotation marks when they’re referencing something they thought? Should I hyphenate that? Wait, am I using too many commas?!” at least once every file.
- An Open Mind – You never have to accept files with objectionable content, but you open up your availability if you are willing to do so. As you have probably guessed, I’m pretty dang liberal, but I have transcribed several speeches from conservative/Republican politicians. I disagreed strongly with the content of the most recent rally speech I came across, but the audio was so clear and easy I couldn’t turn it down.
- An Ability to Meet Deadlines – This is incredibly important, and it can be hard as a trauma parent to adhere to this every time I accept an assignment… Like the day I unexpectedly had to go to the school for three different meetings with administrators, or when Middle got the back-to-back flu last year, or when we were in the middle of moving which was way more complicated than necessary (including calling the police to check out our moving van because we worried someone had been transporting people in it because it smelled so horribly… Oh, and then while the police were here Oldest having to go to the hospital via ambulance because she had an accident and we didn’t know anything about the area or how to get to the hospital… Let me tell you how fun it was to introduce ourselves to the neighbors two days after moving in while three different EMS vehicles sit in your driveway!).You will need to plan ahead and work hard to meet your deadlines every time. It’s a good idea to find out what you should do if you can’t meet a deadline so that you aren’t left floundering around if something prevents you from completing your work on time. It’s also wise to inform the company you work for as soon as you know you won’t make your deadline so that they can hand the work off to someone else. If you’re lucky enough to get in with a company that can occasionally extend deadlines, make sure you only ask for extensions under absolutely necessary circumstances (and then make sure you meet that new deadline!).
Most of the companies that hire inexperienced transcribers don’t require any special equipment to work for them, but companies hiring experienced transcribers usually require certain equipment before hiring you. If you enjoy the work and find yourself transcribing frequently, you will probably want to purchase the following so that you’re prepared to work for any company that wants to hire you.
- Microsoft Office Suite
- Noise-canceling headphones – Don’t scrimp on these. I started with a $20 pair of headphones and recently upgraded to these. The difference in audio clarity can not be overstated… I wish I’d changed my pair of headphones much sooner than I did! Ugh, all those hours wasted playing and replaying short bursts of dialogue could have been avoided entirely! :/
- Express Scribe – Some companies ask you to transcribe online within their own proprietary software, but most others ask you to use Express Scribe, the industry’s standard for transcription software. It’s pretty great software, but the options for improving the audio quality of your file could be better.
- Text-expanding Software – Text expanders can increase your typing speed in a big way. You can purchase the well-known Fast Fox Software here, or you can search for a free program that works with your needs.
- Foot Pedal – By using hot keys in Express Scribe, I’ve been able to transcribe quickly without a foot pedal, but many transcriptionists swear by them. I’ve heard foot pedals can really improve your turnaround time (the time it takes to complete a file and return it to the company), which translates to more income, so I’m planning on buying this one as soon as we recover from the toll moving took on our finances.
Apply to Companies that Hire Newbies
There are a ton of companies that hire inexperienced transcribers, and a quick Google search will bring you several options. Pay attention to their pay-per-audio-minute rate… You don’t want to work for someone who pays $0.15 per audio minute. Most companies pay between $0.30 and $0.60 per audio minute for inexperienced transcribers. Once you’ve been working in the field a while, those rates bump up. The industry standard for experienced transcribers falls between $1.00 and $3.00, but most companies that pay that rate require 2+ years of experience.
In the rest of this post, I’m going to write about working for Rev and SyncScript, because I work for them and believe they’re worthwhile companies. Please note, I am NOT receiving any sort of reward or incentive for posting about my experience with these companies – neither offers bonuses for signing up friends or anything like that.
Working for Rev
Rev is the place to start if you want to explore a career in transcription. They also hire people to caption videos, if you prefer. I’ve been hired on as both, but I don’t typically do the captioning, even though the rate per minute is a bit higher. Captioning takes a lot longer and I don’t find it worth it, personally.
- Hiring Process – As long as you can pass their grammar, spelling, and transcribing tests during the application process, Rev will off you contract employment. It may take a few weeks before you’re allowed to accept work, though… It took months before I got the go-ahead for captioning, but I was able to start transcribing almost immediately after I passed the tests.
- Pay Rate – During the “training” portion, your rate will be low (around $0.30 – $0.40 per audio minute). During this period, you’ll get feedback on every job submitted to make sure you are doing it correctly, and you’ll be limited to a small number of files to choose from. Once you’re done with that training phase, pay bumps up to $0.45 – $0.90 per audio minute, depending on the job. They pay weekly, on Mondays, via PayPal. I’ve been working for them for about eight months now and am currently earning between $8.00 and $12.00 per hour, per file.
- File Quality – File quality ranges from absolutely horrendous to professionally edited. Typically, the file quality decreases with increased pay, and sometimes the quality is so bad that you can’t make a minimum wage hourly rate even if the pay is $0.85/audio minute.
- Great for Beginners – Rev is a great company to work for if you’re not sure you’ll like transcribing but want to try it out. It’s run mostly by algorithms and artificial intelligence, so if you decide you’re not into this work, it’s no big deal if you decide to quit.
- Weekly pay – Rev sends out your money on a weekly basis (every Monday). This really helps when something unexpected comes up because you don’t have to wait longer than a week for payday.
- Flexible workload – You can accept as little as one minute of audio each week or take long breaks from Rev without losing your contracted position with them. For example, I didn’t do any work for them at all for about three months and still had my position when I returned. Another example, I can still accept captioning jobs even though I haven’t accepted a caption file in months. However, if you take an extended break from Rev, your metrics (rank) will likely drop, and you may find fewer jobs available at lower pay when you return.
- Fun Files – The content of the files varies wildly, and sometimes they’re quite entertaining!
- The Forum – This is a great addition to their website. Rev solves the social isolation of working at home with their chat forum where you can post and chat about a wide variety of topics. You can also ask other transcribers to “lend an ear” in the forum to help you out with audio you can’t quite discern.
- Cool Proprietary Software – Their proprietary software is pretty awesome. They also include text expanders in their software, so you can utilize those without having to purchase a program. Very helpful.
(I didn’t realize before writing this, but most of the pros also have negative aspects to them as well. Anyway, on with the cons…)
- Metrics Determined by Algorithms – There’s not a lot of leniency if you screw up a file (like hitting submit before you’ve proofread your work or need more time on a file. When your metrics drop below a certain point, as determined by the AI, there’s not a whole lot you can do to change things. Also, people have been unexpectedly dropped from their contracted employment with no explanation or recourse.
- Low Starting Pay – It took me about two months before I started making minimum wage or higher every file.
- Speaker IDs Every File – Before I started transcribing, I thought I would be able to easily discern between speakers, but it’s much more difficult than I anticipated! Sometimes a file includes 10 or more speakers, and Rev expects you to identify each speaker in turn. This can be incredibly hard to do in, say, a focus group with 10 young women with the same accent and interjection patterns.
- Fewer Files for Beginners – When you first start out, you won’t have many files to choose from (as your metrics increase, so do the number of jobs available for you to take). You’ll also have to be quick to get the jobs you want, as it’s a first-person-to-click-gets-the-job situation. I remember getting pretty frustrated when I first started with Rev, because I’d click on a job to preview the file and by the time I figured out if I wanted to take it or not, some other new transcriber had already claimed it.
- Disturbing or Explicit Content – Occasionally, you will stumble across a file with disturbing content. I’m not taking objectionable due to moral differences, I’m talking 911 calls where someone is dying, interviews with sex offenders or their victims, etc. You can return the file quickly if you can’t handle any disturbing quality and not be penalized for it (after accepting a file, you have one hour to return it with no negative impact on your metrics, but if you return it after that hour passes, your “commitment ratio” metric will take a hit, which impacts the work available to you and, hence, your pay).
- Audio Quality – Often, the file quality varies wildly. They’ve been getting better files lately, but when I first started it would take a very, very, very long time to complete any files because they were so garbled or otherwise difficult to understand.
- Inconsistent Grading – Your metrics are determined by the grades you receive on your work, and your work is graded by real people. This can be problematic – Rev employs a ton of the graders with their own subjective grading standards that are not necessarily consistent across graders. Normally, this is not a big deal, but I’ve read about Rev employees getting knocked down in rank and pay grades or, in extreme cases, even losing their account access for what they felt was an unfair grade they received on a file.
Working for SyncScript
So, you’ve worked for Rev for a few months and you’re really getting the hang of transcribing. You’re ready to move onto a higher-paying company. There are, again, several options for you to check out. I got hired on at SyncScript, and I absolutely love working for the women who run this company. I hardly ever take work from Rev these days because of the superior experience – the files, deadlines, and pay rates at SyncScript all surpass what’s available at Rev – but I still turn to Rev in emergency financial situations like the protracted money crunch we’ve been stuck in since our big move.
One note, and it’s a personal opinion that you can take or leave…
You’ll probably be tempted to jump straight to SyncScript after reading this review. However, if you’ve never transcribed before, I highly recommend working at one of the algorithm/robot-reliant companies for a few months before applying to companies the more personable companies. Your transcription skills should be pretty consistent when applying to companies like SyncScript because your work is more important. I mean, if you miss a deadline or make a ton of mistakes while working for a large company with a huge employee base like Rev, it’s not such a big deal because here are hundreds (if not thousands) of other transcribers ready and willing to pick up your slack. For smaller companies like SyncScript, a transcriber failing to complete an assignment could cause a much bigger headache for the people in charge. You never want your actions to negatively impact your employer’s clientele, but for me, personally, I feel much worse when I can’t finish a SyncScript file than a Rev file. Again, just a personal opinion
- Hiring Process – Similar to Rev, you fill out the application, take a spelling/grammar test, then show them what you can do in the transcription test. SyncScript has a QA department with proofreaders, an excellent style guide, and a really responsive team running the show, but unlike Rev, there is no training period with SyncScript. This is another reason I recommend getting your feet wet with Rev before applying to another company if you’re an inexperienced transcriber.
- Pay Rate – $0.53 – $0.63 per audio minute, which is a pretty decent rate, especially for newbie transcribers! I’m able to make between $11.00 and $15.00 per hour consistently with this company. They send out your money via PayPal on the 15th and last day of the month
- File Quality – This company’s audio files are almost always good quality, which means I can complete the file faster to earn more money on an hourly basis. I’ve only run into problems with the audio quality or speaking style a handful of times as well with SyncScript.
- Availability Requirement – SyncScript asks that you commit to transcribing 3 hours of audio a week. When you’re first starting out, that 3 hours of audio will probably take you 12 hours (or more) to complete. Yet another reason I recommend inexperienced transcribers hold off on applying to a company like this… Especially those of us who have kids with high needs.
- Assigned files – SyncScript assigns files according to your availability! This is way better than having to watch the “available work queue” like a hawk in order to be the first to click on a good file.
- File Notes – Because you submit files via email to the person who assigned the work to you, you can easily let them know if you run into any problems transcribing by including a brief explanation when you turn in your work.
- Livable Wage – Dedicated transcribers who can earn a livable wage. As I mentioned, I take home a lot more with this company per file than I do working for Rev.
- Flexible Schedule – The three-hours-per-week requirement doesn’t mean SyncScript is inflexible. The way scheduling works is you submit a document each week letting them know how many minutes/hours of audio you can accept each day. If something unexpected comes up, you can edit this schedule so they know not to assign any files to you that day. If they send you a file and you’re unable to accept it due to some unforeseen emergency, you can decline the file and let them know if you’re open later in the day or if they should just take you off that day’s schedule.
- Rush files – SyncScript occasionally offers transcribers rush files with shorter turnaround times. These pay substantially more than the standard rate.
- Awesome Ladies in Charge – Before launching their company, the women who own and operate SyncScript are also former transcribers, so they treat their contracted employees with kindness and respect. They’re also accessible – they provide you with their email addresses and their phone numbers, so if you run into an unexpected problem with a file you’re working on, there’s no need to panic.
- Smaller Proofreading Department – SyncScript’s quality-assurance department works really hard, gives you detailed feedback, and the smaller amount of proofreaders offers much more consistency that I find when working with Rev.
- Edit After Submitting – SyncScript’s submission process allows you to contact the file manager after you’ve submitted the assignment if you later realize you’ve made an error or used the wrong format. Usually, their proofreader will have already caught the error before you reach out, but it’s nice to have an option to fix files that you’ve already submitted.
I struggled to think of anything negative about working with this company. In fact, I couldn’t come up with any major cons at all! After some serious thinking, I finally came up with the following, and I wouldn’t go so far as to call them cons… These things are more along the lines of a heads up than outright negative aspects of employment with SynsScript.
- Technical Jargon – Many (not all!) SyncScript files relate to the medical or technology field, so if you don’t have a good grasp of the specialized language used in healthcare/tech settings or an ear for linguistic principles, you may spend a lot of time looking up the spelling of various medications, diagnoses, and tech-industry terminology. This isn’t always so hard… After a while, you start to recognize spelling patterns in things like chemotherapy drugs, but it can be incredibly difficult if the speaker you’re transcribing speaks with an accent you’re not familiar with or you’re working with poor audio quality.
- Bring Your Own Software – You need to do your work with Express Scribe and Microsoft Office (Excel and Word). The plus side of this “con”? You can do most of your work offline, so long as you have internet access to receive files and send in your assignment.
- Different Formats – Again, not really a con, just something to be aware of. When you’re sent files, you need to make sure you’re using the requested format and make sure you follow the specific guidelines for each job.
- Developing Social Aspect – The ladies are working to add some socialization for transcribers, but this is still in the early stages of development. This is totally understandable, though, as SyncScript is a newer company (they just celebrated their one-year anniversary).
I’m experimenting with a program that will convert a keyboard into a stenography board – stenographers can earn BIG bucks with live captioning/transcribing ($30+ per hour). If nothing else, stenography will allow me to complete my files much quicker than my current speed allows. That will likely take me a few years, though, so for now I’m focusing on upping my transcription speed with text expanders.
There you have it, folks! I’m still working on figuring out a balance between life, transcription, and blogging, but I hope to be back to a regular posting schedule soon. In the meantime, If you have any questions or want to know more about anything I’ve discussed here, or if you have your own suggestions for working at home or doing transcription work, just drop a comment below.
If you’re looking for a transcriber, I also do some freelance work, and I offer discounted rates to those of us who exist within the Traumasphere. If you are a parent, doctor, therapist, or organization that helps children impacted by early-childhood trauma and you need some transcribing or typing done, let me know!