Path #4 to Technical Writing Success: Teach

As you enjoy the journey to technical writing success, teaching is a path that creates an opportunity for you to share what you know.

Teach
The fourth of six paths to technical writing success will introduce you to a broader potential client audience because many of your students may work for companies that hire freelance consultants.

Several teaching venues are available including university extension courses, community college programs, writers groups, writers clubs, city and county education classes, and high school evening classes for adults.

Whenever possible develop the courses you teach. You will have a stronger familiarity with the materials, which will help make your teaching flow.

Another venue for teaching is writers conferences, which may also provide the opportunity to be a speaker, which will increase your visibility.

Please dip your pen into the Inkwell and share your teaching experiences with us.

Path #3 to Technical Writing Success: Develop Specific Documentation

This is the third of six paths to technical writing success.

Whereas the first path to technical writing success was about specializing in a specific field like computers, scientific analysis, manufacturing, or marketing, this path is about specializing in one or two specific types of documentation, such as user guides, product inserts (usage instructions, assembly instructions), brochures, newsletters, training manuals, grants, annual reports, and so on.

Select a particular type of documentation to write such as user guides, internal documentation, academic research, white papers, or web sites.

If you’re not sure which type of documentation you want to focus on, work as a generalist for at least a year or two. This will give you an opportunity to work on a variety of documentation projects, which may help you decide which path to technical writing success you want to take.

Dip your pen into the Inkwell and tell us about the types of documentation you enjoy writing.

Path #2 to Technical Writing Success: Be a Generalist

Here’s the second of six paths to technical writing success: Be a Generalist. This is a good way to begin your freelance writing career if you have not already chosen a specific field of expertise.

When you first begin freelancing, you may need to work on whatever projects come your way to bring in enough income to support your affinity for things like eating good food and living in a warm, comfortable home.

The good thing about being a generalist is it feeds the innate, insatiable curiosity writers seem to be born with—the curiosity that makes us want to know and learn about everything. It also increases your versatility, so you can work on more projects, which has the potential to increase your income.

When I first began freelancing, my clients were in several fields from computers to semiconductors to telephones to lawyers and accountants. Some were small companies with one to 10 employees; others were startups, still others were large, international corporations.

The projects ranged from one-page flyers to newsletters, training materials and courses, product assembly instructions, packaging text, video game marketing, sales brochures, and marketing collateral. This variety of projects and clients provided me with a broad range of experience which subsequently helped me decide which direction to take my consulting business.

Dip your pen into the Inkwell and tell us about your experiences as a specialist or a generalist.

Path #1 to Technical Writing Success: Specialize

Last month, I wrote about the many different paths technical writers can take to achieve success. I promised to break each of those paths down in future posts. So, here’s the first of six paths to technical writing success:

Choose a field and specialize in it
There is a demand for technical writers in almost every field of work. And you thought technical writers only wrote about computers!

Technical writers are especially fortunate because the number of areas in which they can specialize is extensive. This is because technical writers create documentation that helps consumers (or users) use a product—any product.

The opportunities are endless: there’s hardware, software, semiconductors, scientific analysis, automotive, manufacturing, marketing, and sales, just to name a few. You name the industry and it probably needs technical writers.

These writers produce documentation like computer user guides, product manuals, assembly instructions, maps, guidebooks, how-to guides, and sales and marketing materials, such as flyers, newsletters, brochures, and even web sites. They may even produce training materials or develop training courses.

Naturally, when you specialize in a specific field, you will be working in a more narrow area. The good news is that when you specialize, you become known throughout the writing industry as a specialist and, if you’re good at what you do, other writers and your clients will become your greatest marketers and recommend you to others who need your writing skills.

Some specialists begin as generalists and some generalists begin as specialists. I’ll talk about generalists in my next post. In the meantime, if you decide your writing path to success is as a specialist, notice which types of projects you most enjoy and begin to explore the possibility of specializing in that area.

Until next time, please dip your pen into the Inkwell and tell us if you specialize or are a generalist.

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What Makes Technical Writers Successful?

Success comes to technical writers in many ways. Each of them requires focus, writing expertise, and work.

For some writers, writing is difficult, so the road to success is hard work. For others, writing is fun, so the work is easy, almost like play.

There are as many paths to success in the technical writing field as there are writers. Here are 6 of the most common.

1. Choose a field to specialize in, for example, hardware, software, semiconductors, scientific analysis, and more.

2. Work as a generalist in several fields where technical writers are needed.

3. Select a particular type of documentation to write: user guides, internal documentation, academic research, white papers, to name a few.

4. Teach. You can leverage your expertise in a particular technical field to teach others about it.

5. Consult only with startups.

6. Consult only with a particular type of company: local, national, or international corporations.

I’ll expand upon each of these technical writing fields in future posts. Until then, remember that whether you consider writing hard work or play, the road you travel on your journey to success is your choice.

Sometimes it’s crowded. Sometimes it’s the road less traveled. Dip your pen into the Inkwell and tell us in the comments below about the road you’ve chosen to travel on your journey to success.

Should You Ever Lower Your Rate?

At my Business of Freelancing workshop, I recommend that each freelance writer or editor set their rates based on research and on the number that feels most comfortable to them. I still set my rate this way. Why?

You must feel comfortable with the rate you are charging. By comfortable, I mean you must feel and believe that the rate you charge is right for you and fair for your clients, as well as competitive in the marketplace.

But what do you do when a potential client asks you to lower your rate just for them? This is something every freelance writer and editor deals with on occasion. The solution is simple. Let me give you an example:

Over the years, there have been times when potential clients have challenged the rate I was charging. Some presented strong, but usually selfish arguments for lowering my rate, such as they only wanted to spend a certain amount or they thought that because theirs was a non-profit they should get a discounted rate.

On the few occasions when I granted a potential client’s request to lower my rate, I struggled to complete those jobs. Why? First, I felt that I was not getting paid a fair rate for the work I was doing. Consequently, my self esteem and my self confidence faltered. Second, those clients proved to be extremely high maintenance.

Comparing notes with other freelance writers and editors, I’ve found that if a potential client does not want to pay the going rate, which is fair and competitive, they are more likely to be a high maintenance client, which means the writer or editor will be working harder for less pay.

If you are charging a fair rate, one that is competitive with other technical writers and editors in your field, and if you are good at what you do, there is no reason for you to lower your rate. In my opinion, to do so shortchanges both you and your client—it short changes you because you don’t get paid what your services are worth and it short changes your fellow technical writers and editors because it sets clients’ expectations that prices are random and can be lowered upon request. In other words, it under values the services offered.

In addition, the almost inevitable high maintenance factor results in you getting paid less than the project is worth because you have to spend a lot of time dealing with the drama created by these high-maintenance clients.

Shortly after those experiences, I realized that I was quite comfortable charging clients my current going rate. I am also quite comfortable ending the conversation when a client presses me to lower my rates. I calmly explain that the rate I charge is fair and competitive and in line with the experience I bring to each project. I then suggest that they may be more comfortable working with someone whose rates are more in line with their budget and I politely close the conversation.

As a result, I enjoy my work and my clients, which makes my workdays worthwhile.

Dip your pen into the inkwell and tell us how you deal with clients who ask you to lower your rate.

How I Raised My Rate

When I first began freelancing, I was fortunate to have, as mentors, two experienced technical writers who each had almost 20 years of experience working as freelancers in Silicon Valley.

For the first year and half I was in business, I charged $20 per hour for technical editing. My mentors thought my rate was too low and one of them raised my rate for me when he hired me as a subcontractor to edit the technical manual he was writing for Motorola.

The day he called to ask if I had time to edit a manual for him, I had just completed a contract project for one of my regular clients. I was delighted because this meant that I didn’t have to go out looking for another project.

Then he asked me the key question, “How much are you charging now?” When I told him that I was still charging $20 per hour, he replied, “No, you’re not. You’re charging $35.” Thinking he hadn’t heard me, I repeated myself.

He said he’d heard me and then said, “It’s time for you get a raise, so you’re now charging $35 per hour because you’re a good editor and that’s what you should be getting. Besides, that’s what I put in my proposal.” And that was that!

Of course, raising my rate that way was easy. And, although I felt a bit hesitant about getting a $15 per hour raise, when I saw the manual, I decided he was right. I definitely was going to earn that $35 per hour!

Thanks to my mentor, I learned to feel comfortable about raising my rates. I’ll tell you how I approach raising my rates in an upcoming post.

I’d love to hear how you’ve raised your rate. Please share your rate raising stories with us by submitting a comment below.

How to Set Rates

New writers and editors often ask me how to set rates for their consulting work. Establishing a set rate for your work is one of the most important things you will do in your business. Does that surprise you? Let me tell you why setting your rate is so important.

The rate you set for the consulting work you do, whether it’s writing or editing, determines your overall income. Your rate also sets you apart from the amateurs and ranks you with the professionals in your field, that is, if it’s a competitive rate.

When I first decided to be a freelance editor and writer, I called several people I knew who were already doing what I wanted to do. I asked them what the current rate was for freelance editors and freelance writers. To do this, I had to, essentially, overcome my aversion to talking about money and ask them what they charged. (This is something you will need to do as well, if you want to join the ranks of professional writers.)

A few (a very few) refused to answer. Obviously, they were even more loath to talk about money than I was. The other writers and editors were happy to discuss their rates with me and to share how they determined what to charge (and when to raise their rates).

After doing this research, I sat down with the data I’d gathered and weighed my experience against that of the more experienced professionals who had so generously shared their strategies and their rates with me. I set my rate and began marketing myself as a freelance editor and writer.

I encourage you to do the same. Ask other writers (or editors, if you’re an editor) what the current rates are for doing the type of work you want to do. Make sure you ask this of pros who are already doing what you want to do. Then sit down with the data you’ve collected and weigh your experience and expertise against theirs to determine your rate.

How do you set your rates? I invite you to share your approach in the comments section below.

Note:  If you’re reading this post on the home page and you want to leave a comment, please click the Title of this post and you will see the comments box at the bottom of the new page. This is a glitch I’m working to resolve in the theme I’m using. Please do leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time, Write On!

Setting Rates or How Much Do You Charge?

When I was first starting out as a technical editor, one of my biggest concerns was how much to charge. The idea of setting a rate for my work was exciting and frightening at the same time.

I had no idea where to begin. I’d heard that technical writers earned more than technical editors, but knowing that didn’t help me figure out what to charge for my services. How much was more?

Deciding to be proactive about setting my rates, I picked up the phone and called three technical writers I knew. They referred me to some editors they knew.

The editors were very helpful, although a few of them refused to share rate information. Those who were willing to share rate information also shared some tips about how to present rates to clients. I’ll cover that in an upcoming post.

I learned that rates for technical editors covered a broad range—from $15 to $65 or more per hour, depending on your knowledge, skill, and experience (length of time working as a technical editor).

After talking with two of the technical writers I knew who each had almost 20 years of experience and were mentoring me, I decided to charge $20 per hour. They thought I was experienced enough to charge $25, but I was nervous, so I started lower. Within six months, I raised my hourly rate to $25 because I realized they were right. A year later, thanks to one of my mentors, I raised my hourly rate to $35.

In my next post, I’ll explain how that happened and in a future post, I’ll talk about how to set your rate.

Why Choose Technical Writing?

When I was 12 years old, I discovered Writers Digest magazine. It was the most fascinating thing I’d ever read and I was a voracious reader. I wondered why school wasn’t nearly as interesting as publishing and I devoured every issue from that point forward.

By the time I started working at InfoWorld, a microcomputer magazine in Silicon Valley, I knew everything there was to know about writing and publishing fiction, how the book publishing industry worked, and how much money fiction writers could earn.

Yet, in spite of studying the publishing industry for more than 10 years, nothing I had studied could have prepared me for the differences between fiction publishing and technical writing and magazine publishing. They were the same, yet they were worlds apart.

One of the main differences was that InfoWorld was a weekly magazine. That meant that we had weekly deadlines. So we didn’t have time to do multiple rewrites, over the course of a year or more, as book writers sometimes did. I’m saying “did” because today some books are written in a matter of days and published online almost immediately. Things certainly have changed.

I found working on a weekly publication very rewarding because we saw the results of our efforts in only seven days. Every week we had a brand new issue of the magazine in our hands. Whereas, in book publishing, it sometimes took a year or more to see your finished work. By that time, you’d forgotten the heartache, hard work, and effort it had taken to complete the book because you were working on several other books.

But I digress. Back to why to choose technical writing:

Speed is at the top of the list. If you’re an instant-gratification-type-of-writer, many technical magazines are published weekly or monthly. If you write computer user guides, many companies update their products every 12 months and they often want these guides written within 3 to 6 months. Marketing collateral has even shorter lead times.

Boredom is not much of a factor with technical writing (unless technology bores you) because turnaround times are generally fast.

Income is generally higher, much higher, in technical publishing than in other publishing arenas because of the demand and more specialized knowledge required.

Cutting Edge technology is kind of addictive. If you like knowing what’s going on behind the scenes, high-tech is the place to be, although you have to be good at keeping secrets because you only get to know about the new products after you sign a non-disclosure agreement.

These are a few reasons technical writers and editors enjoy working in high tech. What are some of your reasons?