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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.

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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.

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.

5 Things Writers Should Not Ever Say to Editors

I’ve sat on both sides of the editorial desk and I’ve learned a few things from being both a writer and an editor.

Writing, even freelance writing, bears similarities to regular jobs. Writers often develop business relationships and even friendships with the editors they regularly work with. However, there are some things writers should not ever tell editors, not even editors they consider friends.

Here are 5 things writers should not ever tell editors:

1. I Hate Writing About This Topic.
Editors appreciate writers who are enthusiastic about their assignments. Although editors know that the most successful articles are written by writers who are passionate about a topic, sometimes they just don’t have a choice. They have to assign a topic to someone who probably is not be interested in it. That’s when they ask one of their trusted writers to help them out. If the writer tells the editor that they dislike or hate the topic they’re going to write about, when the editor needs to assign future articles, the writer may only receive assignments that are in his specialty area.

2. I’m Only Writing for You Until I Get Published Elsewhere.
No one appreciates knowing that they are second choice. Editors know that every writer is looking for their next writing gig. However, only those who are indifferent to others’ feelings would say so out loud. Make each editor you work with feel like they’re the best one.

3. I Only Write Because I Have To.
Editors love what they do and they know that the best writers are those who love to write. They also know that the best writing comes from writers who are passionate about writing and about what they write. So do your best to be enthusiastic, even if you’re only pretending. Who knows? You may talk yourself into liking writing.

4. I Earn More Money Than You Do.
Editors already know this. They don’t appreciate you reminding them. And although technical editors earn more than most editors, they still earn less than technical writers. In spite of the fact that editors already know that writers earn more than they do, they prefer to work with you as part of a team and not think about how much more you earn.

5. Don’t Change What I Write Without Letting Me See It First.
Editors work with many writers. They do not have time, nor do most publications permit their editors to provide writers with a copy of their articles prior to publication.

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.