Monthly Archives: May 2015

Why do transcribers charge by the audio minute, not by the word?

keyboard earphonesWhat is the industry standard and fair way to charge for transcription work? Why do transcribers charge by the audio minute rather than by the typed word? This article explains why and offers a fair and standard pricing structure, too. It’s part of a series, and you can find the other articles in the series and a link to my popular book on the subject at the bottom of this article.

I was working with an agency on presenting an offer for a transcription job to a company. As usual, we provided a per-audio-minute rate. This works well and is the industry standard, as it’s predictable in advance and doesn’t change according to how long it takes the transcriber to do the job (of course, it’s up to the transcriber to check the tape and make sure they’re charging a per-minute rate that’s fair to them and the client. Mine is based on two speakers, a clear tape and non-urgent turnaround time, with fair and transparent add-ons per minute for more speakers / tape issues / urgent turnaround).

In this case, the client wanted a quotation by the number of words typed and/or the time it was going to take me to transcribe the tape. So they wanted to know my words-per-minute typing speed for a standard transcription.

Is there such a thing as a standard transcription speed?

In a word: No. There is no such thing as a standard transcription typing speed.

For a start, the speeds you can calculate from your own documents are not worked out in the same way the typing test people work out your official typing speed. That’s done on the basis of a standard five-letter word plus one space (I worked this out, because I’m like that, and a document that showed as 11,582 words would be 10,459 “standard words” which gave me a typing speed of 50 or 45.5 words per minute).

For another thing, the typing speeds you are measured on as a copy-typer are different from those you can achieve doing audio typing / transcription. I can type at about 70 wpm, but my transcription speeds vary WILDLY, as you can see below. If a client is used to hearing about a good typist typing 70 wpm, are they going to be impressed if we offer them a price based on 35 wpm? Probably not.

Of course, when transcribing, it’s rare to be able to keep up with the speakers without pausing the tape. It’s also rare to be able to hear everything perfectly first time – everyone has to rewind and check. In addition, a good transcriber will fact-check as they go along – company names, people’s names, the names of albums … and this slows things down, too, of course.

In addition, it’s completely impossible to calculate a standard transcription speed as it will vary according to

  • Number of speakers
  • Accents of speakers
  • Speed that the speakers speak
  • Turn-taking versus overlapping speech
  • Background noise
  • Quality of the tape
  • Degree of accuracy / in-transcription editing the client wants (e.g. turning non-standard English into standard English, transcribing every um, er and repetition vs. tidying the tape up slightly to not include ums, ers and repetitions)

I actually went back and checked a few transcriptions that I’d done recently (I note how long jobs take me and could take the word count from the Word document. My words-per-minute varied between 35 wpm and 60 wpm over a range of transcriptions, and that variation was not predictable by the type of client or the type of content (I do mainly journalists’ interviews and corporate work transcribing presentations, videos and conferences).

What is a fair way to charge for transcription?

The fair way to charge for transcription is by the audio minute. This is fair on the transcriber, if they have a range of pricing to suit different situations, and is fair for the client because they will in most cases know the charge up front (an exception to this would only come if they booked in 30 minutes and sent 90 minutes of tape with more speakers than expected and suddenly super urgent: if the client specifies exactly what they have, the transcriber will be able to quote clearly in advance for them).

I charge …

  • A minimum rate per audio minute for up to 2 speakers, speaking clearly on a good quality tape and not urgent (with 24 hours for up to a 60-minute tape)
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for each additional speaker
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for a particularly challenging tape quality (checked beforehand and only used if it’s a truly terrible tape or with huge amounts of background noise)
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for urgent turnaround (under 24 hours for up to 60 minutes; negotiable over that tape length)

This charging structure has worked well for me over my transcription career so far.

If you are asked to provide other kinds of pricing, do bear in mind my points above, and feel free to refer your client to this article to explain further!

If you’ve found this article useful, please click to share!

If you want to learn more about Transcription as a career, buy my book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

Related posts in the series:

How do you start a career in transcription?

Why you need a human to do your transcription

Being a professional transcriber – software to use to help

Ten top tips for transcribers


Posted by on May 20, 2015 in Business, Jobs, New skills, Transcription, Word


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What can the politicians do for small businesses?

What can the politicians do for small businesses?

I was kind of challenged by one of our local councillors to write a blog post on this topic. I want to be clear that I’m not being political here – although the discussion was on what one party could learn from the election about engaging the “aspirational”, I am making these general points to politicians of all parties.

You see, I don’t see much mention of the self-employed person, the sole trader, in all of the political talk. When offers are made “for small businesses”, they’re often along the lines of helping them take on apprentices, or cutting the National Insurance for people who take on their first employee. However, there are around 3.6 million sole traders in the UK – a significant proportion of the 5.2 million SMEs in the country (source: British Chambers of Commerce, The Guardian). So what are the parties doing for us? Were we mentioned in their manifestos? If they’re so keen to get the country on its feet and moving upwards, shouldn’t they take us into consideration?

Here’s a personal list of things I’d like to see the politicians (both those in government and those formulating their policies outside government) to consider. I also asked in a small business Facebook group and got some extra ideas in areas I know nothing about, like VAT and childcare issues – all contributions are referenced below.

Acknowledge our existence

It’s time for people to actually acknowledge we exist in great numbers, it’s not just about small businesses who employ people. I’d like to bet that everyone knows someone who’s a sole trader. We sort out your gardens, do your accounts, paint your houses … Talk to us about what we need, include us in your plans. 3.6 million voters isn’t a small number …

Sort out the help HMRC gives us

Top of my list here is restoring the personal training sessions that the HMRC used to run. When I was setting up my business, I went to a training session in our city library. It was great – one trainer, about 20 people, and she tailored her advice to our individual needs (me, working and self-employed at the same time; a partnership; people using cars; people who needed food hygiene certificates) as well as covering general issues. Now, that doesn’t seem to happen, and you can just look at a range of videos online. You can’t ask those videos questions or network with the other people attending the course, can you!

My colleagues mentioned the HMRC, too. Alison Mead from Silicon Bullet made the point that it was now much harder to navigate to the pages about VAT including submitting your VAT return. Katie Walker from I Say Digital was fed up with having to phone them and be put on hold for up to 45 minutes, commenting that we’re not allowed to email them – “why can’t they sort out the security to do that?”

Sort out VAT

While we’re on the subject of VAT, several of my fellow sole traders had something to say about this issue. Alison Mead, as a bookkeeper and Sage consultant finds that people need more support and advice on VAT in general. Heather Barber from Minty Moose raised the issue of the VAT on digital products. This applies VAT to all digital products, leading people who don’t have to be VAT registered otherwise to have to register, and those of us who only sell through resellers (with eBooks etc.) having to lose profit or put our prices up. There was a huge outcry at the time, which was pretty well ignored- surely now is the time to review things, see what effect they are having, and work on making things more fair.

There’s also a thought that the VAT threshold should be raised: as Tony Antoss Puplett from Flintshire FItness Supplies mentioned, it can make a big hole in your income if you’re just above the current threshold, and “20% is still a killer if you are a bricks and mortar business competing with online businesses”.

Don’t pile the tax on

I have no problem with paying tax. No problem at all. The bit of my income that pokes up into the higher-level tax bracket – fine, take some more off me and redistribute it. Cool. However, the payment of tax on account system (whereby once you get to a (quite low) profit level and associated level of taxation, you have to start paying estimated tax in advance) can be crippling. Basically, you end up paying two lots of all of your tax in one year. The year I tipped over the limit, I ended up paying 49% of my total income for that year in tax, rather than my usual around 24%. If I hadn’t known it was coming (which many people don’t know), that could easily have caused a big problem, and I k now people who it has really knocked back.

Limited companies and other forms of small business don’t have this issue. I can’t think that it raises more revenue for the tax office, since they just get it all a year early and don’t get anything out of your last year trading. Taking this away would have a BIG impact at surely not much cost. More info on how payment on account works here.

Give us the odd tax break

There’s a scheme for giving small businesses relief on their NI for their first employee. This hasn’t apparently had much takeup. Maybe there could be a rise in the threshold at which we start paying NI, or a let-off for those earning a low amount from their business, but more than the current £5,500-odd covered by a Certificate of Low Income – I don’t mind paying the amount I do, but when people are starting out, it would be nice to give them a little boost. If money was set aside to cover this scheme for employing, maybe it could be released to promote such a scheme.

Make it easier to access benefits

Self-employed people can claim statutory sick and maternity pay. But it’s really complicated trying to work out how to do this, and I don’t know many people who’ve managed.

And while of course it’s important to make sure people don’t over-claim or claim when they shouldn’t be, it seems to be too difficult at the moment. Christine Whyte Hahn from Iesha’s Attic reported that it was impossible for her to claim any benefits when she was starting her business because the authorities demanded to see her audited accounts, which she had not yet had to provide to do her self-assessment, etc. (In fact, sole traders don’t have to provide full audited accounts to do their self-assessment. They cost several hundred pounds to get from an accountant, potentially wiping out the value of any benefits).

Sarah Banks from Banks’ Business Solutions also shared that it’s not possible to get childcare vouchers as a self-employed person, limiting her opportunities to grow her business.

If you read my Small Business Chats, so many of my interviewees starting their own businesses have childcare responsibilities. Surely they could be encouraged to grow their businesses by giving them the same childcare vouchers that workers can access?

Make it easier to access training and support

As well as the HMRC problem, it’s difficult to access training and support. I’ve done a few courses sponsored by service providers, which give some training but then include a pitch for the sponsor. Christine Whyte Hahn has had difficulty accessing government grants that are already there and waiting for her, being “passed from pillar to post”. Maybe some of the money the big corporations aren’t paying in tax could be reclaimed to pay for educating micro businesses so that they can make more money and give more tax back into the system!

Help us by lobbying the banks

I have a simple business model which doesn’t require loans, special banking facilities, a business bank manager, etc. But I’m still expected to have a business bank account – basically paying a fee to have an account whereby I don’t take advantage of any of the facilities. That doesn’t seem fair to me, and I would like some kind of regulator to talk to the banks – who are supposed to be helping small businesses with business loans, etc. – and get them to remove this stipulation and give free basic business accounts to those of us who don’t need the whistles and bells.

This has been a personal list, with the help of a few friends. Of course, I’m not the only person to be thinking about this, although my emphasis is firmly on those of us who are micro-businesses – sole traders. The lovely folks at Enterprise Nation came up with a list, too, which covers things like employment regulation as well, so supporting the small and mediums as well as the micros. If you have any other suggestions for things that the politicians could do to help sole traders / micro businesses, do please pop a comment below. And if you have a friendly politician in your circle, maybe you’d like to show them this, and Enterprise Nation’s list …

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back to the Word tips soon, but this felt important to write about.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 13, 2015 in Business



Offering my services (free) for charities or community groups

Offering my services (free) for charities or community groups

I’m not going to get all political here, but what I will say is that I’m concerned for the vulnerable in our society over the next few years, whether they’re vulnerable because of poverty, mental health, physical health, food poverty, lack of opportunities, disability, ethnic background, refugee status, gender, sexual orientation, age, or any other reason. Rather than ranting about it uselessly, I’ve decided to try to do something to support people who support people who are vulnerable.

I’m offering my work, free of charge, to a charity or community group. I will work for you in the same way that I do for my regular, paying customers. Here are some more details – feel free to ask questions in the comments or in any other way you choose.

What can I do for you?

I’m an editor, proofreader, writer and transcriber. In practice, this means I can do things like …

  • Proofread your website, leaflets, training materials, newsletters, reports etc.
  • Proofread and make suggestions on your bids for funding (I have experience editing tenders that businesses submit to get work from local authorities etc.)
  • Write up text for you for your website, newsletters, bids for funding, reports, etc. from your notes
  • Help you to optimise your website to appeal to search engines
  • Transcribe tapes of meetings, dictated letters and other materials
  • Review your use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and write a report with my suggestions

I can do any or all of these things for you on a one-off or monthly basis.

Obviously, you’ll want to check that I can do what I say I can do – please do have a look at my references page to see comments from satisfied customers. I’ve been in business since 2009 and work full-time for many regular customers.

What am I offering you?

I’m offering 5 hours of my time per month.

Why 5 hours? I can get a lot done in that time. For example, I could review your website and check the words in your weekly newsletters, edit a funding bid or write one up from your notes.

Why only 5 hours? I have a full-time job (but I’m self-employed, which makes it easier to fit your work in) but I do also have other volunteering commitments (training people on using social media and volunteering at parkrun) and I want to make sure that I can deliver what I promise to deliver. Once I’ve been doing this for a few months, I will review how it’s going and see if I can offer more.

What do I want from you?

Nothing. Apart from working well with me, not rushing or over-burdening me and taking account of my terms and conditions (see below), I will ask nothing of you. I’m not looking for any links, references, mentions, etc. Thank yous are always nice, of course, but that’s all I would ever ask of you.

How would it work?

If you’re a local organisation (in Birmingham, UK), I’d be happy to meet up with you initially if you’d like me to.

Once we’ve got going, it’s easiest if you send me work via email in a digital format, e.g. a Word document with your newsletter, an MP3 file with your tape to transcribe, etc.

I will keep track of the time I’ve spent per month and let you know how much time you’ve got left every time I do some work for you. You can use the 5 hours all at once, or throughout the month. I will never charge you for any work, but I will reserve the right to turn down work if it goes over the 5 hours.

I would like to try to avoid last-minute rushes (as I do have customers with deadlines I need to honour), so it would be great if you could let me know when you’ll need me and send me work in good time, to avoid panics and rushes.

My standard terms and conditions do apply here (except for the bits about payment) so you might like to pop over and have a look at those.

How do you sign up?

If you’d like me to help you, please get in touch via my Contact Form or email.

Please let me know …

  • Your organisation’s name
  • What your organisation does and who it supports
  • A website or other source of information about your organisation (and your charity number, if you have one)
  • How you think I can help you

If I get several enquiries, I will choose someone to help based on how much I think I can help them – whether what they do fits in with topics and groups I know about, for example. I would also like to help groups local to me in Birmingham at first (I also donate to national and worldwide charities).

If I can’t help you, I will ask around and see if I can find someone else willing to help. I will let you know whether I can help you as soon as I can – I will make my initial decision within a week of posting this information, so by 18 May.

I hope to hear from a charity or community organisation that I can help. If you do have any questions, please get in touch using the Contact Form or email, or write a comment. If you know of someone who could do with my help, please share this post with them. Thank you!


Posted by on May 11, 2015 in Volunteering


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What do I do if I have to cancel a booking?

What do I do if I have to cancel a booking?

As a freelancer, how do you handle it when something unexpected and important comes up – and I’m talking about those rare events like illness or a household emergency – and you have to postpone and cancel jobs that you’ve already booked in?

Last week, something happened to me which happens very rarely (thank goodness). I had the flu, and I was so ill that I could not work. At all. Couldn’t get out of bed. Had to have my husband send messages to clients on my behalf via my phone.

Look: it happens to everyone. No one is immune to all illnesses. However much we plan and back-up, life happens, things happen, and sometimes, as I did last week, we have to cancel jobs we’ve already firmly booked in. While I’ve been recovering, I’ve been thinking about how we can make the effects as minimal as possible (and how we can plan to a certain extent). Here’s what I’ve come up with – but I’d love to hear any points you’d like to add, too.

1. Accept that you can’t do it

I’d been ill for a while. I did reschedule some jobs the week before when I started to feel unwell, but I now wonder if I should have been stricter with myself at that point. Anyway, there’s no point railing against it and raising your temperature further. If you can’t do something, you can’t do it, and you need to work out what to do next, calmly and methodically.

2. Be honest

Like you, your customers are human. I contacted people with whom I had jobs booked and told them: I’ve got the flu. I can’t get out of bed; I’m too ill to work. I’m really sorry, I’m not sure when I’ll be fit, but for the time being, I can’t do your job.

3. Apologise but don’t make a big deal out of it

If you cancel a job, your client has to find someone else to do it. A brief but heartfelt apology with an explanation is fine; no one wants paragraphs of self-loathing and squirming. Keep it professional and honest, and brief.

4. Offer an alternative

For one client, I just could not offer an alternative – it’s a job I had to be trained to do and I don’t know anyone else who does it. I told them as early as I could, explained I couldn’t really take a delayed deadline as I didn’t know when I’d be better, and left it with them. For the others, I suggested they contact my wonderful colleague who covers me when I’m on holiday (having previously warned her).

This leads on to some planning stuff …

5. Have back-ups set up in advance

I’m very lucky in that I a) have a group of people I can refer work on to, b) have a good friend and colleague who covers my work when I’m on holiday or unavailable (I do the same for her, obviously!). This is something that it’s much better to have set up in advance, so you know that you can contact them in an emergency and ask for their support, and your clients are used to occasionally using an alternative person to you. In the end, my cover lady couldn’t take everything, as she was busy, too, but she was able to cover a new customer and some stuff for an on-going one. If you don’t have a back-up person set up already, I strongly recommend that you do so. Have a formal agreement on not stealing customers from each other if you wish, but set something up. You won’t regret it.

6. Maintain good relationships with your clients

I am lucky to have good relationships with my clients, which means I can occasionally ask them to bear with me.

Scrap that: I’ve worked hard to build good relationships with my clients, etc. They know I’m super-reliable, and they know I’m honest and will keep them informed. This goes a long way to smoothing over any issues that might suddenly arise. Obviously, I’m not going to do this often, but when it happens, having good relationships will make it a lot easier.

Right, back to the situation at hand. A couple more tips.

7. Keep people informed

First of all, I put an Out Of Office reply on my work email which stated that I was unwell, that regular customers should consider using their named back-up, and that I probably wouldn’t be able to help new customers (but they should look at my Links page for alternative service providers).

I also then let those clients who I had had to let down know when I was well again – this was particularly important for the ones who regularly send me work and needed to know when they could start sending it again.

8. Be realistic about your recovery, whatever form it takes

I’ve been very careful not to take too much on since I was so badly unwell. It’s important to get better, not to plough straight into a full work schedule again. Similarly, if you’ve had a personal or family crisis, a bereavement or an issue around the house, there will be stuff to sort out practically, and stuff that you need to take on board.

In my case, I made sure that I was available for my regular clients again, but have turned down work from anyone new that needs to be done straight away, and will continue doing so until I feel 100% fit again. There’s really no point running yourself into the ground.


So, that’s what I’ve learned from having a think about how I should – and did – handle a health emergency. Is this helpful to you? Any other hints and tips or examples from your freelancing life? Do share using the buttons below or write a comment if you’ve got something useful to share. Thanks!


Posted by on May 6, 2015 in Business, Organisation


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