A Work-from-Home Transcriptionist’s Success Story

A Work-from-Home Transcriptionist's Success Story

Wondering how you can work-from home as a transcriptionist?

I’d like to share with you my interview with Emily Tan Cal. Emily is a work-from-home transcriptionist for nine years and a single mom with three wonderful kids, two of whom are in their early 20s, and a 10-year-old little girl, who inspire her to work her best all the time.

She said being a work-from-home transcriptionist “was just a dream that became a reality”.

Back in the early 90s, she worked in a big network as a script translator/transcriber wherein she would translate scripts from Tagalog to English. And later on, her boss would ask her to transcribe the movies/television programs as these would be translated into the client’s language. At that time, she was already wishing that there would be home-based general transcriptions for her to work on. But, unfortunately, there was none.

It was in the late 2000s when she started doing transcriptions at home. 2007 was the year when her mother bought her a laptop. But she was already posting in her transcription services when she had the time to go to Internet cafes back then.

Emily learned the ropes of the industry by going through forums of transcriptionists who were U.S.-based and just by doing things on her own. She saw that general transcription could really be done at home while taking care of the kids.

It was only in recent years that the general transcription industry began to pick up in the Philippines and that was one of the reasons why Emily took advantage of that opportunity to keep searching for the right job as a home-based transcriptionist. She was right. After several stints in office setups, she found the ideal transcription job right in her own home.

Emily knows that transcription is what gives her family food on the table and she is thankful she has a regular job at home at the age of 47.

Read more as Emily answers a few questions I’ve asked about her work-from-home journey:

When and how did you get started working from home as a Transcriptionist?

It was in 2007 when my mom bought for me a laptop. I had an Internet connection then because I thought I’d have home-based transcription jobs during that time.

I was wrong because there were just a few jobs for transcriptionists back then. And if ever I had work to do, it would just be once a week or a one-time thing. The pay would also be delayed sometimes.

So, in 2008, I applied in an office setup as a transcriptionist also. But I didn’t stay long in that office. I was having problems waking up early in the morning to go to Makati and coming home. The trains were always jam-packed during rush hours. I told myself I should be working at home so I could take care of my kids.

After a few months, I resigned and tried to work at home for a year. This time, I had an Indian client who was sending me audios almost daily but he needed the transcript for the audios on the same day. That was taxing. But he was a good client because whenever I compute the audios that I’ve done for him, he would round off the numbers and pay me an amount higher than what I’ve computed.

I started with the rate of $15 per audio hour with this client. I could also complain to him the quality of the audio or if I could not open the audio file, he would convert the audio for me.

Again, problems with getting audios in 2009 wasn’t constant. I would always look for clients online. There was another chance for me to work in an office. I applied and I got accepted and worked for them for six months, I guess. I was lucky to have a nanny to take care of my baby then who was three years old.

But after a few months, that nanny was becoming such a pain in the neck that I had to be absent for several days from the office because no one would take care of my little girl. And then decided that I stay home again.

My sister would tell me to go look for a job in an office for the nth time. So in 2010, I applied in an office setup, we were the pioneering team. It was business transcription and I learned a lot of terminologies from them. I rose the ranks in a way because I stayed on with the company for three years. I was already an editor when I left because I had to take care of my mom, who passed away in 2013. That was a time when my finances were down, I had three kids to think about. I was looking for a job online. I would apply as a content writer but wouldn’t be taken in because I wasn’t good in SEO.

Until I applied for a legal transcription job in an office in BGC in 2014. I got the ideal salary that I was praying for so I continued working there for almost six months. But the problem was I was commuting to and from the office. I would wake up at 4 a.m. and leave the house at 5 just to catch the train without the massive crowd and wait for the next train to arrive.

Going home was a hassle, too. In BGC, the traffic was getting worse, the buses going inside the area was terribly tiring because there was also a long queue of passengers waiting to get a ride. When I get to Ayala, the problem of taking the train just depresses me. Usually, I would take an air conditioned bus and get down at Cubao, then walk to the LRT 2 station. But if you’re tired from travelling, you’d just think of going down on Kamias and take the jeep at the corner of EDSA and Kamias as the way to go home.

The pressure just got to me and I decided even if I was getting a good salary, the travel is not worth it. And if my boss would want me to stay for over time, it’s going to be hell for me to get home.

And finally, I decided I’m not going to do this anymore. I have to start working at home and check on the kids and help them and guide them as they grow up, especially the little one. This was 2015.

After I resigned from that office, being home-based was my final destination. I not only posted my CV in job portals, I would also look around for transcription jobs. Then, one day, I received an email from my Australian boss, asking if I wanted to work for them as their transcriptionist. He said he saw my profile in

I agreed to this and he even interviewed me on Skype. So, I would work full time for them, eight hours a day, 40 hours a week, same salary I was getting from the legal transcription office I was working in. I even had a three-week vacation in May last year even when I was just starting. For them, I am an employee with all the vacation leaves and bonuses.

This year, 2016, I became a regular employee working at home, just like my employers. I am really lucky to have found this job online even at my age of late 40s.

How will you define the work that you do to someone who is not familiar with it?

I would tell that person that I am someone who listens to people, and then typing the words they are saying into the computer. The outcome is what they would call a transcript. Transcripts are used as reference materials for lawyers, companies for something they could look back on when they want to check on facts and other details of transactions, evidences, etc.

I get the audios online, either through email or a link I could download from. Then play it in Express Scribe, a software that transcriptionists use to listen to audios and enhance the quality of the audio.

I use a headset to listen to these audios and since I love pressing buttons, I also love typing. I am lucky to have used the typewriter as it has the same principle with the computer keyboard. Memorizing the typewriter key placement is the same as memorizing the keyboard. That makes my job simpler.

What are the tools you use as a transcriptionist?

The tools that I use are – computer (laptop/PC), headset/headphone, Internet connection (stable – not Wi-Fi, dongle, stick, etc.), transcription software (Express Scribe), VLC (to convert audios to MP3).

I don’t use a foot pedal. I just use the Function keys in Express Scribe. It’s easier.

Aside from typing fast, what other skills and traits should a transcriptionist possess?

The work-from-home transcriptionist must possess good command of the English language, not that I’m that good, but, I have proper background in that department. It is better to have good communication skills in English so that person would be able to communicate to a future client, especially if the client is a foreigner. And usually, the audios are in English.

Also one must possess the patience to listen to audios that are really difficult because that could test one’s hearing acuity. But if the audio is really not doable, that person could tell the client about it.

Another important skill that a transcriptionist should possess is research skills. If that person encounters a word he/she is not familiar with, he/she should research in Google to make sure of the spelling of that particular word/term. That’s the transcriptionist’s job – to make sure the transcripts are accurate. If you’re not accurate, it would show in your work and your client would not go back to you for other audios to work on.

These are the skills and traits that I believe a work-from-home transcriptionist should possess. One last skill would be to be able to listen to different accents. Because when you have a client, you cannot choose the audio that would be given to you. In which case, you, as a transcriptionist, should have the initiative to inform your client which accents you are familiar with or unfamiliar with so that they would not give you an accent that you wouldn’t be able to understand.

What are your top 5 tips to those who are aspiring to be a work-from-home transcriptionist?

First tip: You should be amenable to an audio exam. This would be the client’s basis if you have the capability of transcribing an audio for them or not. Five minutes’ worth of audio would show them how you spell, hear words, and format the document, if they require you to do that.

Second tip:
You can use YouTube for transcript or portfolio. Videos on YouTube are already public domain and you can watch and listen to them and transcribe them and show to your prospective client that you can transcribe such a video with such an accent with such accuracy. They would definitely be impressed. But, at the end of the transcript, acknowledge where you got the video.

(But I never transcribed anything from YouTube to show my prospective client my abilities. I would always be given an audio exam. And I would tell them that I couldn’t send a sample transcript from one of my clients because I signed a non-disclosure agreement stating that if I divulge any information from that, I could get sued for breach of contract.)

Third tip: When you’re not sure of a word/phrase/sentence, listen to it three or more times, just to make sure you got it right. But if on the fifth time you listened to it, you still couldn’t understand what the uttered word was, put it in as an indiscernible/inaudible or whatever the client asks you to put in as their flagging or tagging of such words.

Fourth tip: If you’re applying or presenting yourself to a client, you could ask them if they require a template or a format they want in their transcripts. Sometimes, they have their own set of guidelines that you have to follow or they would see if you follow instructions to the letter. If they see that you don’t, they wouldn’t hire you to do the job.

Fifth tip: Don’t sell yourself so low. If you’re a beginner, you can price yourself at around $15 per audio hour or in pesos, P690 per audio hour. Because I did get paid once before P300 per audio hour, which wasn’t worth it because the audio was hard to understand and it took a longer time to finish that audio. As you gain experience and you think you deserve a higher rate, you can price yourself at $20 or higher, depending on your preference.

Sixth tip: (bonus) Remember like Cinderella, clients have deadlines. Be aware of deadlines. Tell your client if you can’t submit on time, if you could extend the deadline, let them know right away. They would always appreciate that.

There are other tips I have in mind but wait for my book to come out. 🙂 I am writing one. I want to share what I’ve learned in my journey as a home-based transcriptionist.

If you’d like to learn more about Emily, her work and her work-from-home transcriptionist journey, here are ways to get in touch with her:
Twitter: @milay68

If you’d want to get started working from home, read the Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Virtual Assistant.

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Gwenn Doria

Founder and Author at Virtual Success Avenue
Hey there, awesome! I started this blog because I understand the challenges of starting out and thriving as a professional working from home. My aim is to empower aspiring and fellow Virtual Assistants by sharing tips, inspiring stories and lessons learned about the Virtual Assistant industry. Get to know me more by visiting the "About Me" page. 🙂 Cheers!