October 1, 2023


Association Of Law

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Transcribing

4 min read

As a Virtual Assistant, one of the services you may want to consider offering to 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 involved than that.

There are advantages and disadvantages you should consider before making your decision to offer transcribing 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 of (dictated or recorded matter) in longhand or on a machine (as a typewriter).” Now before you drag out your trusty old typewriter, you will need to make sure you have a few things first. Most importantly, you will need a good computer with a high speed internet connection and both transcription and word processing software installed on it because that old typewriter just isn’t going to do the trick anymore. Some other equipment you will need is a quality headset, a comfortable chair in a quiet room, and if you’re serious about doing transcription, a foot pedal (preferably the USB kind). Depending on the format used (DVD, mp3, cassette, micro-cassette, etc), you may need additional equipment for audio playback. Of course, to be an efficient transcriptionist, you must also have a pretty decent typing speed, good listening, spelling and grammar skills.

Here are some of the points you will want to take into consideration before you decide to offer transcription services:


Pricing is pretty straightforward (by the word, page or audio minute/hour)

Sharpens your listening and typing skills

Opportunity to learn about new and interesting topics

Can turn into a long-term client as transcription can easily lead to other projects (editing, proofreading, article writing or creating an ebook)

Pre-recorded audio gives you the flexibility to transcribe anytime (excellent for those who are trying to juggle a 9-5 job too)

With some additional education, you have the ability to specialize (i.e. medical or legal transcription) and charge a higher specialized rate


Some equipment and/or software may need to be purchased (headset, foot pedal, etc.)

You must have a decent typing speed or you are not going to make much of a living doing transcription

Sound quality, multiple speakers, accents, people talking over each other, and audience interaction can significantly slow down the transcription process causing frustration and reducing productivity

Templates provided by client may be difficult to work with

Transcription is not multi-tasking friendly; you will need to concentrate so no telephone calls or tweets

Real-time transcription requires that you and the client are available at the same time. This does not allow time for editing, or breaks

As with any task you perform for your client, you will need to ask some important questions before you get started.

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

What will the client ultimately do with the transcription (i.e. 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?

What form do they want the final product in (Word, PDF, etc)?

Do they want verbatim or do they want umms and other unfinished thoughts edited out?

How many speakers are there?

Do any of the speakers have accents?

Are they just looking to have the words put on the 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 Non-disclosure Agreement in addition to the Virtual Assistance Agreement?
o If it is medical transcription, will there be HIPPA compliance issues involved?

If you do decide to venture into the realm of transcription, make sure you have all the necessary tools in place 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 not sure of the terms of the project, contact the client for clarification.

You don’t want to get in over your head and disappoint your client and yourself.

Consider taking on a couple small “trial” project 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 might even suggest a trade and get a client testimonial for your business! Either way it is an excellent opportunity to try out transcription, and see if it is worth adding to your business.

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

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