To make a living as a freelance technical writer you must usually have several projects going in parallel. I have noticed that each client does not want to hear about your other clients, and the last thing that they want to hear is that you are busy with another client and can’t come right over to work on their project. Even though they know that you couldn’t possibly be making a living from their 10 hours per month, they like to pretend that they are the only one. This is very similar to dating several women simultaneously and making no serious attempt to hide this fact (Please note–before accusing me of sexism I am writing this from a male viewpoint). All the women know that you are seeing other women but they don’t want to hear about it.
Finally, this reminds me of an article I once read for parents with a small child about how to break the news to the child that mommy is pregnant with his rival. According to the article the worst thing that you can do is tell the child that because you love him so much you decided to bring another baby home. It would be like your wife coming home one day with a man in tow and saying that because she loves you so much she decided to bring another husband home.
Here is a continuation of my previous post entitled (Surprisingly enough) Biggest Client Turnoffs Part I:
1. Bad chemistry–The writer rubbed me the wrong way and I didn’t get along with him.–When I was in elementary school in the 1960s we didn’t get the classical report cards. We were graded for general subjects on a scale of Seldom (Failing) to Always (A+). One of these subjects was called “Works and Plays Well With Others” If you would be graded a Seldom on this on one of your projects try and think about what you are doing wrong. We all know that some clients are easier to get along with than others. That’s what makes it interesting right? Getting along with the client is an essential aspect of doing the project properly and getting paid. Keep your eye on the ball; the idea is not to go out on a date with the client, but to finish the project and get paid, make an effort to get along even if you are sure that the client is the Anti-Christ.
2. I felt that he was ripping me off–We were working on a per hour basis and the project took many more hours than I thought it should.–This problem is a 100% problem of poor communication and poor project management by the writer. When working by the hour Always Always provide the client with an estimate of the hours required and get an acknowledgment from the client before starting. How to come up with the estimate is another story which I’ll deal with in a later post. If the client changes the project description after you have provided an estimate, let him know immediately how this will affect the estimate. If the project description expands it is perfectly legitimate to request additional hours. If it takes you longer than you estimated–tough luck. View it as a learning experience. There is no quicker way to lose a client than to try to bill him for more hours than the estimate.
3. Too expensive. I’m looking for someone cheaper.–This one is kind of problematic. Unless it is a small getting to know you pilot project it is generally not a good idea to compete on price. There is a more or less standard price for an experienced writer and by cutting your prices too much you are signaling to the client that you don’t think that you are worth very much.
In my capacity as Project Manager I often visit companies who had worked previously with a freelance writer but were unsatisfied with the work and wanted to switch writers. I never ask the name of the previous writer or insult work done by previous writers as this is bad form. However, in order not to make the same mistake I always ask them what they were unsatisfied with. Here is a list and my way of avoiding these problems (in itlaics):
1. Unresponsive–We sent the writer feedback and it took too long to get back to us with a new draft. They don’t return my calls and e-mails. a)Writing is like volleyball, the draft should be in the client’s court as much as possible. Set a realistic deadline for returning the draft and stick to it (See following). b) Let the client know that you are working on it. Acknowledge reception of the feedback and send an e-mail with questions after a day or 2. Don’t be a noodnik but too much silence makes the client nervous. c)Send the client a list of material you are still waiting for to complete the draft, if you don’t receive it by deadline send in the draft with the list attached. d) Calls and e-mails should always be returned the same day. Don’t put it off or you might forget.
2. Missed deadlines–He never submitted the material on the date that he promised.–To me this is the biggest crime in freelance technical communication. If the product has to go out without a manual you might as well take what have you written and throw into the trash. There are several ways to avoid this–a) Don’t agree to set unreasonable deadlines. The client always wants it yesterday. It is your responsibility to gave them a realistic date. b) Early drafts don’t have to be 100% perfect and complete. If the client has not sent you material that you need to complete a draft don’t sit on the draft. Send in the incomplete draft with a list of things that you are still waiting for. c) Stay up all night to get it done. The client generally doesn’t care about your personal problems (And shouldn’t have to). You managed your time poorly and now are stuck. Now is the time to stop whining, put on your big boy underpants and get it done no matter what. d) If for some reason you can’t get it in by deadline, send them an e-mail before the date explaining why you can’t make the deadline and giving them a new deadline.
2. Just didn’t get it–We had to spoon feed the writer all the information. After all the time we spent babysitting him we could have written it ourselves.–There are some clients who like to spoon feed information but most don’t, and there are some projects that have such a learning curve the client is better off writing a rough first draft. But for most projects the client is not interested in spending too much time with you. a) If you don’t understand the material do some research on the internet before you ask the client questions that may expose your ignorance. b)Ask questions about the material but don’t ask them to write the manual for you. c)You also may want to consider sending in a pre-first draft just to make sure that you are on the right track at an early stage.
3. The writer wanted to start from scratch–We had a perfectly good manual and all we needed was an update. The writer insisted that the whole manual was no good and started from scratch. Say you are a house painter and someone hires you to touch up the paint in one room. You wouldn’t repaint the whole house would you? The same goes for writing. Before starting the project settle what the project includes and don’t stray from it. Sometimes the client himself has written the previous draft of the manual and is proud of what he has done. Sometimes the client know his needs better than you do. Even if a manual is not perfect it may be adequate for his needs and he is not interested in paying for a perfect manual.
I recently came across this article summarizing the latest US Department of Labor report about technical writing. I know that these aren’t statistics for Israel but good times for tech writing in the USA usually means good times for the rest of the world also.
Employment Opportunities to 2010
According to the handbook, the employment opportunities for writers and editors are expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations until 2010.
Positions in newspapers, periodicals, and book publishers are expected to increase as demand grows for their publications, especially those that see the web as an alternative publishing channel. The sleuth of web publications is likely to increase the demand for writers and editors, with most companies now developing newsletters and content-driven websites.
Demand for Technical Writers, especially those with expertise in areas such as economics, biotechnology and medicine, is expected to increase due to the continuing expansion into these areas.
Investments into IT, electronics, and biotechnology should result in a greater need for people to write user guides, instruction manuals, and training courses.
Finally, those with Internet and web-facing experience are likely to find more employment opportunities. Roles for skilled writers will include positions as Editors, Writers, Content Managers, Courseware Developers, Instruction Designers, and Information Architects.
via Career Outlook for Technical Writers and Editors through 2010 | Careers in Technical Writing.
If you’d like to see the original it’s at: http://www.bls.gov
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Following my earlier post about the Kindle here is another possible new frontier for documentation that seamlessly combines text, video and online support. It looks like it has great potential. My only doubt is that up until now most companies have been spectacularly unimaginative in their use of video for documentation for their products. However, for a relatively high value consumer product this may be a good idea.
What do you think?