How to become a Freelance Transcriber

At Business Friend, we often get enquiries asking how to become a freelance transcriber in the UK, so we thought we’d share some of our tips with you!

Before you start applying for freelance transcription positions, you should be aware of the main points usually considered by transcription agencies when recruiting new team members.  A summary of these are below.

Transcription agency requirements

Experience:  Most established and highly regarded UK transcription agencies require applicants to have a minimum of 12 months experience, preferably in transcription services although some will also consider audio typing experience.

Equipment:  There are many options out there, but if you are just starting out as a freelancer transcriber and wish to keep your costs down, then we recommend Express Scribe which can be downloaded free of charge from NCH Software (  With Express Scribe, you can control the digital recordings using the function keys on your keyboard, but at Business Friend, we prefer to transcribe our interviews, focus groups and other recordings using a foot pedal.  There are lots of transcription foot pedals in the industry so be sure to purchase one that is compatible with your chosen software (the NCH website does sell compatible foot pedals, usually in the region of £50-£60).  We also recommend Express Scribe as it has a time stamping facility, which is often required with transcription projects and can save a lot of time and ensure better accuracy than manually adding these to your transcript.

Good quality transcription headphones are also essential should you wish to become a freelance transcriptionist, ideally with noise reduction.  And make sure they’re comfortable – it’s not a nice experience to be transcribing for hours when your ears are being squashed!

Environment:  Freelance transcribers need peace and quiet to concentrate on their project, ideally in a separate space to other household members.  Just the slightest interruption and you can lose the flow of transcribing the interview or focus group; and if you’re transcribing a recording with strong accents, or lots of technical, legal or medical terminology, it can be pretty stressful being constantly interrupted.  Many freelance transcriptionists work of an evening when there are fewer disruptions, or during school hours whilst their children are not around.  One of the positives of freelancing is that you often do get to choose your hours, as long as your deadlines are met and the quality of the transcript is not affected.

Listening skills: Yes we know this sounds obvious, but one thing we always emphasise to applicants is that transcription services are very different to audio typing.  With audio typing, you are usually listening to a single speaker speak about a subject you are familiar with on a daily basis through your employed role.  With transcription services, you may be required to transcribe an informal conversation fully verbatim, i.e., to include every yeah, right, you know, stutter, um and hesitation, and the subject being discussed can range from scientific or medical research, to social care policies and fraud investigations.  It also is important you have the ability to listen to how it is being said as many transcription projects involve showing emotion in their speech (for example [laughs] [cries] [emphasises]).

With focus groups or other multiple speaker recordings, the speakers frequently over talk each other, so you need to take the time to differentiate voices wherever possible, and ensure all that is said is captured in your transcript.  So listening is a vital skill when providing a professional transcription service.

Research skills:  It is important there are minimal errors when transcribing, this will often require checking name spellings, place names, road names, and industry specific terms.  To become a freelance transcriptionist, you must be incredibly conscientious and determined that the quality and accuracy of their transcript is first class; this often requires taking the time to double check information to ensure it has been heard correctly if you are at all unsure.  It is useful to have a curious nature and enjoy reading, as this increases your knowledge and desire to research a variety of topics.

Reliability:  To become a freelance transcriber you must treat your role as a “proper job”.  You wouldn’t turn up at work a few hours late, or a day late, and expect that to be acceptable, would you?  You should treat the transcription agency to which you freelance in the exact same way you would an employer.  If you accept a transcript with a deadline of 10am Tuesday morning, it must be there be there at 10am on Tuesday.

At Business Friend, we do, of course, recognise that circumstances can change occasionally.  In these situations, we ask that we are informed as soon as there is the slightest possibility of a deadline being missed as we then have the option of reallocating the recording to ensure the deadline is met, or in some circumstances, extending the deadline.

We also like our freelance team to let us know on a Thursday or Friday their availability to take on transcription projects for the following week, in terms of recorded hours that can be taken.  Although we do understand plans can change, the freelancer who has advised us of their availability will be contacted with interviews or focus groups that require transcription before other team members.

Conscientious attitude:  It is important transcribers take pride in their work and want the transcription service they provide to the agency and its clients to be of a high quality.  Take care with common grammatical errors (your / you’re, their / they’re / there), and make sure you use apostrophes correctly!  Ensure consistency and adhere to template guidelines when provided by the transcription agencies; and if you receive feedback, take this on board and incorporate it into your next transcription project.

At Business Friend, we also like hearing of any suggestions from our transcription team on methods of working that can improve the quality and smooth running of our transcription service.  We have been in the industry a long time, but no one knows everything and new ideas are always welcome!

Why become a freelance transcriber?

Flexibility:  Although you must be reliable, as long as you are honest about your availability to the agency, you can often work around other commitments, the children, school runs, holidays etc.  When providing your availability, it’s worth remembering the average time taken to transcribe a good quality one hour recording is four hours.

Interesting work:  A lot of the work carried out by transcription agencies is academic research covering a wide variety of industries, so you get to learn a little about lots of subjects you wouldn’t normally come across!

Salary:  With minimal outgoings after the initial purchase of transcription equipment, being paid to work from home can be a great financial incentive.  Agencies tend to pay their transcribers per recorded minute, so if you’re a fast typist (whilst still maintaining accuracy of course) the higher your hourly rate.  The rates will vary from agency-to-agency; some pay a top end rate but will require same day turnaround of work, and others may pay a lower rate but allow a day or two before having to return your transcript.

Other factors which may affect your rate as a freelance transcriber is the quality of the audio and the number of speakers.  If the quality is poor most agencies pay a higher rate to reflect the extra time it may take to transcribe, and the same with multiple speaker recordings, where again, a higher rate may be offered to allow for the extra time required to differentiate speakers and capture all the information discussed.

Freelancing for Business Friend Limited

If after reading the above article you feel you have the skills and experience to become a freelance transcriber for Business Friend, please contact us to discuss current vacancies and to find out more!