TypingSome doctors, lawyers, executives, and other professionals prefer to dictate their notes, letters, speeches, etc., rather than write or type them.  When these professionals need their notes in written form, it makes financial sense for them to outsource this task to a professional transcription service for temporary work.

The Good

If you are a fast typist and don’t mind spending long hours at your computer, you’ll enjoy this job.  There is a great variety of possible clients; even small towns have doctors and lawyers, and government officials and committees often want transcriptions of their meetings.

The Bad

You will need to be able to handle a variety of different audio media, such as cassettes, microcassettes, CD-ROMs, other digital memory, etc.  This may require you to buy some special hardware to get started.  You will also need to understand the jargon for different fields, such as medical, legal, or technical terms.  You can purchase dictionaries and add-ons to spell-checkers to help you in this area, but that will be an added up-front expense.

Skills required

You must have good hearing, a fast typing speed, and a willingness to be at your computer for hours.  You also need to be familiar with the jargon in specialized fields, though there is software to help you with this aspect.  You will need basic computer skills, including experience with word processors and emailing files between you and clients.

Equipment / Tools required

You will need a desktop PC or laptop with word processing software.  Microsoft Word is the most common word processor, but there are other free alternatives such as OpenOffice and Google Docs, which can save files in Microsoft Word’s format.

You will also want to invest in a good transcription machine.  This is a machine that can play tapes or other digital media and can be controlled by a foot pedal on the floor.  If you’re transcribing digital media, such as audio or video files on your computer, you may only need to buy some software and a foot pedal.  The foot pedal allows you to control playback (rewind, fast forward) without taking your hands off the keyboard, which improves your speed and efficiency.

You may also want to try speech recognition software on your computer.  Speech recognition software listens to audio and transcribes it to text.  The text is far from perfect, though, and must be edited by a human.


You can run this business from home if you have a computer, a word processor, and Internet access.

Startup costs

If you already have a computer with Internet access at home, you’re in good shape.  You will also need a word processor.  If you don’t want to pay for Microsoft Word, you can probably get by with a free alternative like OpenOffice or Google Docs.

You’ll need to spend some time and money advertising your services.  You may need to print fliers, mail letters, and create a web site to promote your business.

You should invest in a transcription machine with a foot pedal to make the most efficient use of your time.  A quick Google search reveals several machines that use cassettes or microcassettes for $300-500.  It might be worth it, though, to wait and see what your first few clients are using to record their audio or video.  If your clients are only using digital media, such as audio or video files on a computer, you might only have to a buy a foot pedal for your computer and some software to go with it.

Depending on who your clients are, you might also want to invest in a medical, legal, or technical dictionary so you can become familiar with the terms they are using.  You can, however, find some dictionaries online for free:

How to start

Call your town hall to see if they need transcriptions of government meetings.  Call local chambers of commerce to see if they have any leads or post ads in their publications.  Post ads in the local newspaper and post fliers in community centers.  Call or send letters to medical practices, law firms, and businesses in your area.

Potential clients

As mentioned above, you may find work from physicians, lawyers, company executives, or government officials.  When you first start out, take work from wherever you can find it.  As you gain more business, you can specialize in one field if you want to avoid learning the technicalities of multiple fields.


Some transcription jobs may pay you an hourly rate and others might pay you a certain price per character or line.  When you’re first starting out, you might only be able to make $10-15 per hour, but as you become more experienced, more familiar with the terminology, and faster, you can earn more.  If you can find jobs that pay by the line, you can potentially earn much more by working more hours or speeding up your typing.

Further reading