The data revolution has touched every industry and function. Now there’s practically no organization that isn’t taking data seriously. But before you can turn data into strategic insights, you have to put it in the right format. Data entry specialists are the human experts who take messy, real-life data and convert it into something machines can understand.

Whether you’re talking about paper invoices and receipts, PDF records of w-9s and other tax documents, or even information that needs to be researched and collected from the Internet and put into spreadsheets, a skilled data entry specialist should be able to work with nearly any data source. But how much should you budget for a data entry project? And how do you make sure you attract the right candidate?

A Strong Brief Is the Secret to a Successful Project

Every successful project begins with a thorough brief. Writing a brief may seem unnecessary, but it serves two important purposes: It sets clear expectations for the data entry specialist, and it also forces you, the client, to clearly define your goals, scope, timeline, and budget. Getting that out of the way up front can save hours of heartache and unnecessary expenses later on.

What goes into a successful project brief? Here are some things you should consider including:

  1. Background information. What is your company? What products or services do you provide? Remember, a data entry specialist might not know much about your industry (though if your industry is very complicated, consider finding an expert in your field – some data experts specialize in certain industries, like the health industry). Background information gives them important context.
  2. Business goals and scope of the project. Next, you should outline, in clear and direct language, what it is you’re trying to accomplish with this project. Potential candidates should be able to read this part of the brief and instantly understand why you’re looking for their services and what exactly you expect of them. Here are a few examples of clear goals and project descriptions.
    • “To develop a searchable, digitized record of visitors to our facility, we need a data entry specialist to digitally transcribe paper visitor logs from 2005-2007, including visitor name, contact info, and entry/exit times.”
    • “To help our marketing team prepare for a new product launch, we need someone to create a spreadsheet of journalists from 50 major consumer and trade publications that we should pitch in the weeks before launch. Every entry should include the journalist’s name, title, email, and publication.”
    • “To prepare for a department-wide audit, we need someone with data entry experience to compare our Google doc of expenses against our paper receipts, add any missing information, and correct any errors they may find.”
  3. A description of the data and software. Will they be working with paper receipts? Digital records? A mix of both? Is any of the data confidential or personal information, like patient records or financial information? Are these records likely to be incomplete, and will they need to check for errors in the data itself? Just about any data entry specialist should be comfortable working with Microsoft Office and/or Google Docs, but if you’ll be using a custom Content Management System you should make that clear.
  4. Timeline and deliverables. When putting together a timeline, be sure to include time to review the deliverables. Also consider starting with a kickoff to give the data entry specialist an opportunity to ask questions and make sure they’re well prepared for the project. Depending on the size of the project, you may want to add a couple of milestones to ensure that everything stays on track.

How to Price Your Data Entry Project

On Upwork, the rates charged by top data entry specialists can range from as low as $7 dollars an hour to as high as $40, though most fall in the $10-20 range. Rates can vary due to many factors, including expertise and experience, specialization in, e.g., health or finance industries, location, and market conditions. An experienced data entry specialist may command higher fees but they also typically work faster and deliver a higher quality work product. That said, a freelancer who is still putting together a client base may price their services more competitively. Also, if you and your freelancer agree to a fixed-price, the speed at which they work becomes less important, so long as the freelancer can meet your deadlines. Which level of expertise and specialization is right for you will depend on the specifics of your project.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s also common for data entry specialists to negotiate a fixed price for the work based on their understanding of the project, so be prepared to set a realistic budget based on your needs and resources.

Timeline and Project Creep

Budgeting time is just as important as budgeting other resources. If your project has a short, non-negotiable deadline you should be prepared to pay a premium. That said, there are three easy steps you can take to keep your project on time and within budget.

  1. Be specific in the project brief. A few minutes detailing your expectations, process, and deliverables can save hours of wasted work. The more detail, the better.
  2. Prepare your data ahead of time. If the freelancer will be working with paper records, make sure those are collected and organized to allow them to work as quickly as possible. If the records are digital, make sure they are collected and organized and the data entry specialist can get access to all the relevant files.
  3. Simplify the review process. Make sure it’s clear who is managing the project and who will be signing off on the final deliverables. The more people who need to review and sign-off, the more likely you are to face delays.