This article is one in a series called Start up Stories. These stories are about women who are successful in the Virtual Assistant industry. My hope is that they serve as inspiration for you, proving that, regardless of your current situation or obstacles, it is truly possible for you to live the lifestyle you want.
Amy Marre is the author of a bestselling Kindle book about the ins and outs of transcribing on Mechanical Turk. She’s a Turker herself, as well as a freelance writer and blogger, not to mention a refugee from the more traditional world of publishing (the non-writing side). Amy’s mission is to help Turkers discover transcription as a viable income path, within and beyond Mechanical Turk. She also hopes to show the world that Turking is a surprisingly useful source of side income, debunking the very common myth that one can only make a few pennies a day on the service. She’s also visited here before with a guest post. Here’s her story:
What inspired you to get into transcription?
I had done a little transcription on the side when I was in school—nothing serious, just helping out a friend with a big research project. So when I started working on Mechanical Turk (known as “Turking” by those who do it regularly) for a little extra income, I was intrigued to find that transcription was one type of work you could do there for money.
I tried it and found I really liked it, including the learning curve. Although I was only Turking for some side income, it made sense to me to only do the work that paid me the best and that I enjoyed the most. Transcription was one of the few types of Turking tasks that fit both requirements, so I stuck with it.
How did you go about getting started?
The great thing about Mechanical Turk is that as a marketplace system, once you’re in, you can do most forms of work that they have. For each type of Turking work, that involves fewer hoops to jump through than you might have if you were trying to get into that industry in the world outside of Turk. Even transcription-company tests inside of Turk, I’ve since found out, are not nearly what they are outside of Turk! In most cases, the work itself is expected to weed out those who seem not to be able to get it.
So, because I was already on Mechanical Turk (something anyone living in the US can do, after a 48-hour waiting period), I just took the fairly basic qualification tests for each transcription company as I found them, and was able to begin transcribing that way. But you’ll notice I said “as I found them”—that’s because sometimes, on Turk, the challenge is discovering who offers the work you want to do!
Although you can just search Mechanical Turk for a given type of work, it’s useful to narrow your field only to companies that are reputable. So that was a process of research on Turker forums and other sources, to find out which company I wanted to work for based on pay, management, work availability—those types of things.
Did you have any savings or financial support in order to start your business?
I was lucky to already have another source of income. It needed supplementing, but I knew that if transcribing on Turk didn’t work out, there were other types of work on Mechanical Turk (surveys, categorizing, writing) that could serve the purpose of providing the side income I sought. And if none of those worked out, then I knew I could always move off of Turk and try other things. (I am the type of person who usually approaches these things with a plan B!) But for some reason, I really wanted to make Turking work. And transcribing seemed like a good way to do that.
Was there ever a point when you thought it wouldn’t work out?
Honestly, no. I was fortunate. Transcribing as a Turker worked out well for me, and I didn’t have any serious bad experiences. I mean, having to transcribe to specific styles was definitely much more involved than I had done in previous transcription. However, I was familiar with the concept of style from publishing, so that probably gave me a leg up on getting comfortable with what was involved.
Also, I’m an accurate listener and a little obsessive, so I equipped with the traits to transcribe well. Maybe the hardest thing was that I tended to go over things too many times in the beginning! But that was never a deal breaker. I just figured I’d get faster with experience, and I did.
Did you have the support you needed to start your business in terms such as a family member/significant other/coach/group/mentor?
I found the Turker forums to be useful in terms of general information. I’m one of those information junkies who usually feels that if I can teach myself enough about something, I can do well at it! It turned out to be true for transcribing. I also have a very supportive family who were patient with my process, so that was great. And because I asked so many questions, I ended up becoming friendly with staff members at certain Turk transcription companies, who were thankfully also patient and ended up being a good source of support, too.
If you could go back and change one thing that you did when starting out, what would that be?
Hm, I think I did it all in a way that suited me: tons of research on the work in general and on the companies, then more research and trial and error to find out how to do the work well. I guess I could list a bunch of things that I wished I would have known, or resources that I wish had been available.
But, well, that was why I wrote the transcription-help book and blog that I did, so others could avoid having to go through so much trial and error and get started more effectively. Based on what I know was out there at the time, I feel that I armed myself as best I could. I did find out that there is a lot of information to digest, before you can really get a solid grasp of what the business is like on MTurk. But I think that is true of many work-at-home income opportunities, at least if you’re doing them seriously.
What is your best advice for someone considering becoming a transcriptionist with Mechanical Turk?
I would tell them that typing speed is not the important thing! It’s all about providing an accurate, grammatical, style-consistent transcript. That’s helped along by being a little obsessive and developing your listening skills. So although a lot of people approach me about how they can type faster, I believe this work is about being good at understanding the context of what someone is saying. And then, of course, being able to type fast enough is very useful. But it’s not a typing job first. First, it’s about being a fluent listener.