Review: Should Freelancers Transcribe for Focus Forward?

It’s commonplace to find transcription jobs when looking for freelancing opportunities. Some forms of transcription, notably legal and medical transcription, require previous experience. However, for freelancers who can learn and type quickly, transcribing meetings and focus groups might be a decent source of additional income; Focus Forward regularly hires transcribers for these purposes.

Getting Started

The great thing about Focus Forward is that everything freelancers initially need to know is literally presented right there on the application page. With a click of the “Start Now” button, the test, an example of proper formatting, and the software needed to download the test, is immediately available.

The Test

Although it’s indicated that Express Scribe must be downloaded for the test, I didn’t find that to be the case when I applied. Microsoft Word was definitely needed, as well as attention to detail. By this, I mean exactly following the formatting specifications (margins, font, line spacing, headers, filler word omission, etc.); the instructions/guidelines are reasonable, and provide everything that’s needed to pass.

I particularly appreciated that timestamping wasn’t required. The audio file can be downloaded on its own and played through whatever means necessary – it doesn’t have to be uploaded into Express Scribe unless that’s a preference.


It takes a couple of days to hear back from Focus Forward after completing the test. If all goes well, an email is sent with a link to complete the usual digital forms. Initially, it was a little confusing trying to figure out how to get a PayPal confirmation code. I sent a message to both the email provided for people who have any questions, as well as the email address of the manager who was assigned to me. The manager was the one who responded to me something like 5 days later, with apologies for not getting back to me sooner.

The Software

The last step is receiving the welcome email, which provides additional guidelines for all of the different transcription projects Focus Forward does, as well as a link to their software. I’m given to understand that Focus Forward recently started using the TOPS (Transcription Operating Production System) application. So, Express Scribe and Microsoft Word, though perhaps used before, don’t seem to be needed going forward.

Focus Forward provides a good video on how to use TOPS. It’s an all-in-one sort of system. Timestamping, invoices, all of that is already taken care of. Of the several transcription companies I’ve applied to within the last few years, this system gets kudos for being the most comprehensive.


For all the comprehensiveness of Focus Forward, actually getting work seems to be a little slow going for people who are new to the system. More specifically, freelancers put the amount of minutes they’re available to claim each day on the calendar section of TOPS. Whether or not they actually get work is another matter, and it could be in any one of several formats. The work is usually due the following day or perhaps later than that. Work that’s assigned can either be confirmed or rejected.

Each day, I noticed that rush/last-minute project email notifications were sent out, meaning that the projects were due same-day. Newer transcribers need to be aware that every minute of audio takes several minutes to actually transcribe, and that’s taking into consideration other factors, like actual sound quality. Also, signing up for these doesn’t mean they will actually be assigned, it’s more of a “wait and see” sort of approach.

I’m not a “wait and see” sort of person when it comes to freelancing projects. I prefer a system where the available projects are just there for the claiming. I also prefer to stick to a standard transcription format. So, my time at Focus Forward was short indeed.

However, Focus Forward is a legitimate company, and some freelancers have been transcribing there for years. So, on that basis alone, it’s worth checking out as a possible source of supplemental income.

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