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Path #6 to Technical Writing Success: Select Companies of a Specific Type

This is Path #6 to Technical Writing Success, however, it is certainly not the end of the list of ways technical writers can achieve success.

Select Companies of a Specific Type
Now that we’ve explored several ways technical writers can achieve writing success and the many types of documentation they work on, we’re going to focus on the types of clients available to you. There are many different types of client companies you, as a technical writer, can work for: local, national, international, large, small, mid-size, family owned, or even one-person companies.

When I first began my consulting business, I worked with pretty much all of the above for the first two or three years. Then I began to narrow the types of companies I wanted to work with until I determined the types of companies that were my dream clients.

Some writers prefer the one-on-one interaction that comes with knowing the owner personally. Others are comfortable working with specific departments or divisions within larger national or international corporations. As you work with each new client, notice the pros and cons of working with each type of company. Eventually, you will find your dream client combination.

Dip your pen into the Inkwell and tell us in the comments below about your dream client combination.

Path #5 to Technical Writing Success: Startups

Working on projects for startup companies is the fifth path to technical writing success.

Startups
Startups offer an abundance of opportunities for freelance technical writers because they usually have a small in-house staff, so they often need consultants.

When you approach a startup, keep in mind that they may need help in several areas including marketing, sales, advertising, user documentation (manuals), training materials, and web site development.

In addition to helping startups achieve their goals, working as a consultant will provide you with a growing network of future potential clients because employees of startups often spin off companies of their own.

I invite you to dip your pen into the Inkwell and share your startup consulting stories.

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.

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!

The Writing Life, Part 5—Finding Clients

In The Writing Life, Part 4—Finding Clients, I covered how to find clients using cold calls, warm calls, and serendipity. In this post, I’ll cover how to find them using public speaking gigs, published articles, and networking. This is the 5th and final post in a 5-part series.

Although there are probably as many ways to find clients as there are writers, these next three are quite popular with writers who are outgoing and find it easy to talk with people:

Public Speaking Gigs
Make it a point to accept and even look for opportunities to speak in public. Local writer’s groups, seminars, conferences, chambers of commerce, and other organizations often need speakers for their meetings.

These are opportunities that provide you with exposure to a wide variety of people in many walks of life. You never know when you may get a new client just because they or someone they know heard you speak. At the very least, you may find fodder for your next article or book.

Published Articles
I’ve gotten several clients as a result of articles and columns I’ve written that were published in newspapers and magazines. Oftentimes a person reading an article may be looking for someone with your specific expertise or they may know someone who is. The enterprising readers will call the publication or contact you directly if the publication includes your contact information in your byline or bio.

Networking
Joining local groups and organizations may provide you with networking contacts in fields you are interested in working in. Now, I don’t mean, join an organization only with the intention of finding work.

I mean join an organization that you are interested in and participate in it as an active member. Other members will see you in action and appreciate your contributions. That type of networking is a soft-sell form of selling and usually results in the highest yields of client leads. Furthermore, it often results in potential clients approaching you, so there’s no selling on your part at all.

This is the final post in this 5-part series about The Writing Life. To read this series from the beginning, click here. I would love to hear your thoughts about life as a freelancer. What in this series helped you? What else do you want to know about freelancing? Please leave a comment here.

The Writing Life, Part 4—Finding Clients

In The Writing Life, Part 3—Why Freelance?, I talked about some of the reasons writers choose to freelance. In this post, I’ll cover how to find clients using cold calls, warm calls, and serendipity. This is the 4th post in a 5-part series.

How do you find clients?

This is the most-asked question of new freelance writers and probably the most reasonable because without clients you’re obviously not working or earning. There are several ways freelance writers use to find clients:

• Cold calls
• Warm calls
• Serendipity
• Public speaking gigs
• Published articles
• Networking

Cold Calls
Although cold calling is the least favorite way to find clients, I must admit it’s one I’ve had a good deal of success with. Which is odd when I think about how much I dislike doing it. Still, I’ve worked on some interesting projects with terrific clients I found just by picking up the phone, calling someone I didn’t know, asking if they worked with freelancers, and then asking for the work.

Warm Calls
Warm calls are much friendlier than cold calls because the person you’re calling either already knows about you and is expecting your call or because you’ve been referred by someone they know. In many instances, you know that the person you’re calling is looking for a writer because the person who gave you the lead provided that information.

Serendipity
My first gig with a start-up company happened purely as a result of serendipity. I was in a store making photocopies and I struck up a conversation with the man at the photocopy machine next to mine.

He was the president and CEO of a start-up company. When he learned that I was a writer and editor, he asked me to work on the marketing materials for his new company.

In The Writing Life, Part 5—Finding Clients, I cover finding clients through public speaking gigs, published articles, and networking.

This is Part 4 in this 5-part series about The Writing Life. To read this series from the beginning, click here. I would love to hear your thoughts about life as a freelancer. What in this series is helping you? What else do you want to know about freelancing? Please leave a comment by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of the page.

The Writing Life, Part 3: Why Freelance?

In The Writing Life, Part 2—Freelancing Without an Agency, I talked about some of the benefits to working without an agency. In this post, I’ll cover some of the reasons writers choose to freelance. This is the 3rd post in a 5-part series.

I was scared when I decided to take the leap from a full-time position as member of the editorial staff of a magazine to freelancing. But I was more scared not to.

That probably sounds odd, however, the thought of never experiencing the thrill of working for myself, of living my life only working for others, terrified me more than the uncertainty that goes with not having a steady paycheck. I think a lot of writers who choose to freelance feel this way.

When I was growing up, most of the adults I knew—family, neighbors—owned their own businesses. I had difficulty understanding what my classmates’ fathers did for a living because they went to work at some destination called an office or a factory or a construction site and they had a boss who seemed to run their lives.

I grew up working for my aunt, uncle, and father in their businesses and I think because they loved having their own businesses, I enjoyed working with them.They had each taught me how perform various tasks, then they had left me to my own devices to accomplish them. As a result of the autonomy I had experienced working in these family businesses, I was under the somewhat misguided impression that regular jobs would be similar. They weren’t.

At sixteen, I got my first ‘real’ job. I felt like a captive because I ‘had’ to be at work at a specific time each day and the manager’s each had their own preferences about how we were to work. That feeling of being captive continued after I graduated college and entered the workforce.

Even when I got my dream job working on the editorial staff of a magazine, I felt a bit like a captive. I loved my job and the people I worked with were terrific. Still, I felt constrained by the requirements of being in an office for a specific length of time each day. I felt like I was missing out on my life.

 

Freedom, Focus, and Finances

Writers are free spirits. Their creativity often drives them and it’s difficult to be creative in an impersonal office environment. Not only that. There are also the distractions of having other people around, conversations going on around you, expense reports to file, and other minutiae that I seemed distracting. I often found myself watching the clock when I worked in captive positions. Whereas, when I work in my own home office, I’m more focused and rarely look at the clock, which lets me accomplish more.

A lot of writers prefer the freedom that comes with freelancing. Choosing what time you begin your workday, what you write, and for whom, provides you with a sense of control over your day and your work. So the decision to freelance was for me, the solution to many of the things I struggled with as an employee.

There are tradeoffs as well. Work and income may ebb and flow. You must market yourself to get work. Sometimes you may have to work on-site at a client’s office, which means commuting and possibly working long hours.

However, in my mind, freelancing has always offered me the perfect mix of focused work time and flexibility. Sure, sometimes I may need to be on site to work with a client. However, there are a lot of other times when I can work from home in the comfort of my own office. And those are the times that more than make up for when I need to be on site.

In The Writing Life, Part 4—Finding Clients, I cover finding clients through cold calls, warm calls, and serendipity.

This is Part 3 in this 5-part series about The Writing Life. To read this series from the beginning, click here. I would love to hear your thoughts about life as a freelancer. What in this series is helping you? What else do you want to know about freelancing? Please leave a comment by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of the page.