Data Entry: A Complete Guide
Data entry jobs essentially involve processing numerical, text based or imagery data from one format to another.
In an age where data, especially on the internet, drives the activities of businesses and organisations alike, manipulation and transference of data is a key requirement. To give a sense of the importance and significance of data in today’s world, research firm IDC predicted that the "digital universe” online would grow to 2.75 zetabytes in 2012, up 48 percent from 2011’s record year (IDC, as quoted in The Marketer, 2013). Data is certainly big business.
The scope of available data entry jobs is broad. Organisations – from private companies to universities and the health service - have multiple reasons for employing people to enter data and the nature of the tasks vary considerably. Fundamentally, organisations outsource data entry to cut their costs, or to add pace to their operations – to get tasks done quicker as they don’t have their own resources internally.
One example of online data work would be observing images and manually typing the text out that those images contain using a standard word processing package such as Microsoft Word. Alternatively, taking information from web pages – such as the contact and address details of businesses – and typing that information into a database is another example. Transcribing work can also be viewed more broadly as data entry – where verbal or video recordings (data) are transcribed into written words. Proofreading and editing of text can also fall within a broader definition of data entry. However, these are just a few examples of many online data entry jobs and as such means that the work can be highly varied, which keeps the job interesting and appealing.
The popularity of data entry jobs
By their nature, data entry jobs are often temporary assignments or one-off projects so you can apply for posts whenever it’s convenient. Data entry jobs can also pay well given their flexibility and the lack of set-up costs to enable you to perform the work. Given that a lot of data entry work can be done online you don’t necessarily need to apply for posts in areas that are geographically close to you – or even in the same country. Plus you can literally work from your bed or kitchen table if you choose!
Therefore in these times of economic uncertainty, and where most people’s incomes and benefits are reducing in real terms, the popularity of data entry jobs is as high now as it has ever been.
What will you actually be doing?
First and foremost, you will be sitting working at your computer and there will fundamentally be two key parts to your work – finding jobs and completing them. The former will require significant effort and should not be underestimated or ignored. Given the popularity of this form of work as described above, competition from all over the globe can be intense for the best jobs so finding work should be tackled as professionally as completion.
Completing work essentially involves typing – or keystrokes – working on a conventional computer keyboard and inputting information.
Who would data entry jobs suit?
Data entry jobs are ideal for a whole host of different people with different circumstances. A non-exhaustive list is detailed below:
- Stay-at-home mothers who can fit short periods of data entry around their child’s routine as well as working in the evenings or weekends.
- Students who can fit data entry work around their studies and can use data entry jobs to fill long periods of holiday.
- Part-time workers who are looking to supplement the earnings of their primary job.
- Long shift workers whose primary jobs result in large blocks of free time.
- Anybody who is currently unemployed.
- Anybody looking for an injection of money to fund a holiday, Christmas or an extra-ordinary purchase.
- Anybody considering starting a business from home.
- Anybody looking to gain administrative experience or practise with a view to building an administrative career.
Data entry job benefits
There are a lot of benefits synonymous with doing data entry work online. Firstly, it is home-based; so you can work in an environment where you are relaxed and comfortable and there are no costs associated with travelling to and from work. It can also be done in your own time, as there are usually no set working hours and work can fit around your daily or weekly routines. There are no barriers to completing work in the evenings or at weekends.
Being a freelance data entry clerk / technician is one of the few online businesses that needs no investment given that most people already have a computer with the standard Microsoft packages (or equivalents) and an internet connection.
Doing a data entry job not only earns you money in the short-term but also evidences the use of certain skills that are transferrable into other jobs. In other words, doing a data entry job can allow you to build a bank of experience where your circumstances may not enable you to do so in other ways.
What qualifications are needed?
There is no exact set of qualifications or requirements that you need to enter this career path and most entry level positions require no experience. This makes them perfect for people looking to earn money quickly online without much preparation or training.
Having said that, the more skills you have the better you will likely be paid and the more easily you will attract the best employers / organisations in need. Knowing certain Microsoft spreadsheet formulae and word processing shortcuts will certainly make you more efficient which means that the faster you can work, the more money you will earn and the more lucrative the work will be. Therefore becoming familiar with the more in-depth functions of the Microsoft Office suite of packages has a lot of value.
There are a number of other personal competencies that are important enablers to being successful in data entry jobs:
- patience - data entry can get monotonous at times; you need to be able to focus on long-term goals and get through the short-term distractions
- attention to detail is paramount to your success as it lies at the heart of completing a quality job for the client
- ability to work to deadlines – clients will expect you to meet the deadlines they set out and that you commit to up front
- good communication skills and a high level of literacy – again, these will result in higher quality work for the client
- depending on the nature of the work, a high level of analytical skill may be required.
Having a well-constructed CV which outlines your experience, education and any relevant skills can be a helpful tool to have to be able to send to potential employers to enable you to concisely demonstrate your suitability for a job. Keeping a template cover letter that you can personalise easily and quickly will also act as a differentiator when competing with other candidates for data entry jobs.
Free guidance on writing a CV is available from a number of online and offline sources. Online, websites such as businessballs.com, the common recruitment websites or the mainstream newspaper sites all carry positive information. Do ensure that all the information on your CV is accurate and your punctuation and spelling are perfect. If they are not, any potential employer will think negatively of you, especially as you’re applying for work where attention to detail is crucial. To that end, use spelling and grammar checks and ask a friend or relative to read through your CV one or two time before you finalise it and send it to prospective employers.
A typing test/KPH test
The core of any data entry job is entering data using key strokes of a keyboard. Simplistically, the quicker you can type with a high level of accuracy the better. A generic typing test, or keystrokes-per-hour (KPH) test as it can be known, measures speed and accuracy. A test essentially consists of typing a set passage of text or data while you are being timed. An assessment of data quality and words typed per minute is then given and a KPH score can be calculated.
Fortunately, practice can pay off in this area and it’s easy to recognise and measure improvement. There are several websites that offer free online tests, games and help modules to support you (TypeOnline, TypingTest or put "typing tests” into your favoured search engine).
There are several basic 'tips' that can support your typing / data entry development.
- Try and memorise where the keys are on a keyboard. This sounds difficult but with practice it gets a lot easier. Placing small, round stickers over a few keys in the first instance and adding stickers so keys are masked provides motivation / assistance!
- Understand keyboard shortcuts to completing tasks in the given program you are using. For example, in Microsoft Word, "Ctrl + S" is "save” and can be completed in less than a second versus picking up the mouse and selecting "save” in the toolbar menu. The "Help” function in most programmes will provide information on shortcuts or indeed use an online search engine to find the best ones. Shortcuts will increase your speed which will increase your earning capacity – it is as simple as that!
- Use the 10 digit number pad on the right hand side of a conventional keyboard, especially when you are dealing with a lot of numbers rather than words. This will increase your accuracy and speed.
- Set up your equipment so that you’re comfortable – it will both increase your proficiency and your enjoyment of the work.
How to find legitimate online data entry jobs
First and foremost, it is important to understand that there are both legitimate and illegitimate online data entry jobs. Another commonly used term for illegitimate jobs is ‘scams’. Scams are regrettably set up by unscrupulous people who are looking to take advantage of you in one form or another – most commonly to take money from you in exchange for false employment promises.
This should not put you off looking for data entry jobs however as there a number of sources of ‘good’ jobs. You should just be aware of scams and their telltale signs.
There a number of sources of online data entry jobs. Their validity / merits are dependent on timing – as aforementioned, jobs are often short term and therefore can be advertised and fulfilled in quick succession – your personal circumstances and your appetite to go the extra-step in achieving employment. A non-exhaustive list of sources is as follows:
- Reed: a well-known recruitment website
- Guardian Jobs: the jobs section of the Guardian newspaper
- Career Builder: a recruitment website
- Freelancer: an outsourcing website allowing organisations to post details of jobs online and for freelancers around the world to bid on fulfilling those job requirements
- Other main stream job sites such as monster.co.uk
- Local job agencies in your town
- Large corporate organisations in your area who may have the need for data entry services such as financial services providers (insurance companies, banks etc).
Is it easy to recognise a scam?
The first rule in spotting a work-at-home doing data entry scam is keeping in mind the old adage: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. A work-at-home job opportunity, whether it arrives through email, a website, print publication, or even a friend, may well be a work-at-home scam so look past how credible the ‘source’ of the work may look in the first instance and do your research.
Signs of a data entry job scam
1. Unusable contact information
Look for contact information, a contact ‘tab’ or scroll to the bottom of a website. Most legitimate companies have links to real contact information and sometimes their address and phone number at the bottom. In a work at home scam, often the only contact information is an email form, email address or PO box mailing address. There is no way of knowing who, if anyone, receives these emails, but now they have your address if you fill in all your details and send it back to them.
If there is an email address, what kind is it? If it is Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail or other free email accounts, be wary. Legitimate companies usually have their own domain name (@example.com), though having a domain is certainly no guarantee of legitimacy so still be wary. If in doubt and there is a telephone number, call and question the person at the other end.
2. Paid for banner advertisements of employment
Jobs promoted through paid online advertisements are rarely legitimate. These links labeled "Sponsored Links" or "Sponsored Results" can be found in search engine results from Google, Yahoo, Ask, Bing and others. Also look out for Google Ads on otherwise legitimate websites. These advertisements are placed on pages based on keywords found in the text and sometimes can’t be controlled by the ‘owner’ of a website.
Legitimate employers looking for potential workers usually take a more targeted approach than paying for an ad that reaches thousands of people who simply did an Internet search. But scams tend to cast a wide net to find unlucky targets.
3. A lack of real detail about the jobs
If the website is light on details of what exactly you would be doing, be suspicious. Read everything carefully. If it seems unclear exactly what you will receive or would be expected to do, that's probably no accident. Look for asterisks and disclaimers, though often these are added to make a web page look legitimate. It does no harm to ask a friend for a second opinion if you find it difficult to assess what looks legitimate or not.
4. Emotional sales pitches and over-the-top stories of success
This is really where you need to use your own common sense. When websites use an emotional sales pitch (often with a voiceover on the webpage), saying, "You deserve this" or showing the fabulous cars and homes of its success stories, be very suspicious.
Really, if their opportunity is that great, why must they try to convince you with such an off-topic plea? What you want to hear are details about the opportunity they are presenting, not a rags-to-riches fairy tale.
5. Asking for an up-front fee
Ask questions of yourself if an organisation is asking for an up-front fee. Usually, providers say the ‘one-off’ fee goes towards purchasing a directory of employers or a business start up kit or asking for a fee for employment. Fundamentally, legitimate employers pay you, not the other way round.
How much can you earn?
The pay rate of data entry work changes from job to job and will depend on your data entry speed as well as the reputation you build with clients. The more well know you become for delivering quality work within the time-frames given, the more money you will be able to command. Your pay may also depend on the complexity of the work and sensitivity of the data. For example, work for legal or medical companies can carry a higher degree of responsibility (and required skills). This is rewarded with higher pay levels to attract the most skilled applicants.
The pay scale for online data entry jobs can work on a curve. The entry level jobs are fairly saturated and as such approximate hourly rates can start from £6/hour, however if you can persevere and work your way up the levels it can pay well. Top earning data entry freelancers can potentially regularly earn £25+ per hour. However getting to this level involves making connections and working in the industry for a while first.
Equipment for your home-based data entry job
It is important that before you begin searching for work you ensure your working environment is appropriate – both to maximise your ability to do the job as well as to look after your own health.
You will essentially need a computer or laptop (loaded with a Microsoft Office suite or alternative and with internet access), mouse and keyboard, a desk and chair and any other accessories that will enhance your comfort, such as a foot rest. Remember, all your working hours will be spent sat at your desk looking at a screen so it is important you are comfortable. Even the smallest postural stress can cause pain in the neck and shoulders which could compromise your ability to perform at your best.
In fact, ergonomic chairs have become increasingly popular in the battle to reduce workplace health problems. Laptop stands also have become popular as they lift the laptop up so you are looking straight ahead at the screen rather than looking down – an action that can cause significant pain in the neck if down regularly for long periods.
Before you look to purchase any extra equipment, it is a sensible idea to perform your own Display Screen Equipment risk assessment which will highlight any potential problem areas. It’s a very simple, quick and straight forward form that can be downloaded free of charge from the Internet. See the government Health and Safety Executive Website for information.
Is there any scope for career development?
Your circumstances may be such that online data entry jobs suit you right now given your other priorities – you may be at home looking after your young children or you may be studying for a qualification. However, those circumstances may change in the future – will your experience doing online data entry count for anything? The answer is almost certainly, "Yes" First and foremost, you will have the confidence of having already been in the job market. Plus you will have doubtlessly developed your skills in certain transferable areas which will be valuable in other types of jobs – attention to detail being just one.
But of course there is also development opportunities with both administration and data entry itself. Experience counts and the more experience you will have accrued over time, the better off your prospects will be in the job market.