When I got out of college ten years ago, I got an editing job with a textbook publisher. It was an entry-level position, and it offered decent benefits, with a chance for upward mobility within the company. Everything appeared secure. But then the recession happened. I was let go and had to look elsewhere for money. I became a freelancer and quickly learned about data entry work from home jobs.
With traditional jobs disappearing from the employment market, I was far from alone. Many people had to adjust in order to make ends meet. The good news is that companies, seeking to keep workforce costs down, are increasingly turning to freelancers to do the work of their formerly paid staff.
While it may not bode well for people looking for traditional benefits and legal protections, it also presents opportunities for those who know how to take advantage of them.
Data entry is just what it sounds like. Someone doing this task takes raw data supplied by the employer and enters it into a spreadsheet, or financial software. Doing data entry work now often involves working from home, which can be advantageous for stay-at-home parents needing to care for their children during the day, and it involves little training to gain proficiency. But how do you get started doing data entry? Is it right for you?
Getting Started With Data Entry
Data entry used to be a clerical or secretarial task performed by staff, but now these tasks are being farmed out, to a large degree, to workers who can perform these tasks at home, on their own computers. With the rise of cloud computing, meaning data being stored and sent via servers, and electronic documents, data entry at a physical location by pulling paper files has long gone by the wayside. Now workers use common office software programs to do the task.
One tip for entry-level data entry workers is to familiarize yourself with popular office software. This includes the Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, Access and Outlook), which comes standard on most PC’s. There are numerous free online tutorials that will teach you how to navigate these programs, as well as show you shortcuts you can use to make your use of these programs more efficient. You could also ask a friend who knows these programs to show you how they work.
Other software to learn could also include the Open Office suite, a free, open-source equivalent of the Microsoft Suite, and Apple’s office software. Don’t worry about mastering these programs. It’s enough to know your way around and learn on the job. You want to be fast, but you don’t want to keep yourself out of the competition for jobs. While you’ll be expected to be proficient, say at typing 60 words per minute, some data entry positions have lower targets to meet.
Looking For Work
Looking for data entry work will happen in a few different ways. There are numerous cloud-based “e-lancing” websites which have popped up over the past fifteen years, or so. Notable ones include Odesk, Elance, and Guru. These services are free and require you to build a profile, like you would on Facebook or LinkedIn, and apply for jobs posted on the site. Specializing in freelance work, pay on these sites is wildly variable, and data entry positions can often be awarded to non-English speaking workers who have drastically lower pay expectations, so this tends to undercut the market. Decent pay can be found for those that are persistent, however, so don’t get discouraged and you could strike gold.
Another way to get clients is through a more traditional job search, combing classifieds, Craigslist, networking and cold-calling in order to get clients. The upside is that good clients are looking for consistent, performing workers and there are plenty out there willing to pay what you are worth.
Traditional staff positions still exist, of course. And while hiring remains stagnant in the US, clerical jobs still need to be filled in offices. If you see a staff position you’re qualified for, go for it! Also, “e-lancing” can give you the requisite skills to get a more-secure staff position, but it won’t lead to one by itself. If that’s what you’re looking for, you need to make it happen.
Data entry work is also fulfilled via temp agencies, so that can be an avenue, but it offers the same pitfalls as freelancing, though it of course can be an avenue to a staff position.
The job market has changed, but you still need a resume and interviewing skills. While in-person interviews for cloud-based data entry positions are increasingly rare, you might still have to interview over the phone.
What’s more common is performing some sort of test to make sure you’re proficient to a company’s standards. If you’re using any of the e-lancing sites mentioned, you’re encouraged to perform tests in order to display the results on your profile, and to provide some sort of accreditation to potential clients.
The cloud-based task-fulfillment service Cloudcrowd, for instance, makes you perform simple proficiency tests graded by site administrators in order to access data entry tasks, which are performed on their site in more of a piece-work setting, which makes work more immediately available, but consequently low-paying, unless you’re fast and virtually error-free.
On The Job
Get some water, or a cup of coffee, open up your programs and get going. Remember the proficiency targets that have been laid out and meet them. If you can surpass them, this will please your employer, and this is the best way to gain repeat work, but don’t rush your way into making lots of mistakes or undercutting your own rate. If you’ve agreed to a certain pace which you are being paid for, stick with it. Remember though, a wrong number or a decimal point in the wrong place can seriously mess with a client’s accounting or financial projections, so do your best not to make mistakes.
When I got started doing data entry, I often transferred receipts and earning statements into spreadsheets in Excel. I’ve worked for retailers entering in pricing information, as well. Other data entry work can involve work at medical practices needing to keep patient information current, payroll companies needing to issue checks, synthesizing and entering in customer feedback for retailers, or even reviewing data entry work, which is a lot like editing, and needs a keen eye.
Don’t waste your time if you’re advertised some wild daily sum. This usually amounts to a claim the employer is making about the potential earnings you could make, based on some questionable expectations regarding your output. Oftentimes these people have no intention of paying you that much and are looking to wring work out of an eventually-discouraged, high-attrition workforce. Now, if there’s a good hourly rate, or the client has a good reputation you’ve researched, you can feel more comfortable.
Trust your gut.
If you’re doing freelance work (for example, working online as a college student), get terms of service in writing, with clear expectations of what work and payment will entail before you start. For new clients, you can use an escrow service like Escrow.com, or ask for an up-front percentage, or payment at different points of a project. For short-term work, escrow and benchmark payment are less necessary, but make sure you’re getting paid.
Paypal is often the answer for those working remotely. Be sure to factor in transfer fees into your contract!