How much technical writing work have you got from LinkedIn? Ever?
Let’s look at how to get more work, especially contract work, from LinkedIn.
If you’re doing some of the following, let’s stop and think a minute.
Are you in more than ten groups?
Do you post to your own profile only but not to groups?
Does your profile page look like a CV?
Are you on SlideShare?
Do people ask for you help?
If you answered Yes to more than two, don’t worry you’re in the boat as most people.
If the boat is not going where you want it to, here’s what to do.
1. On your LinkedIn groups
Contribute to 10 groups only. More than that and you lose focus.
Leave groups with low engagement. This video shows how to find the most useful groups on Linkedin.
Don’t waste time posting to your own profile. Spend your time in groups instead.
Aim to be a top contributor on your LinkedIn group. This video shows you how. A ‘top contributor’ is seen as a type of expert. That’s what you want to be, right?
Study the threads that have the most comments. Write a LinkedIn post about this. Name check people. Drop them a line and tell them that you’ve recommended and shared what they said. Most will share your article.
Ask questions that create conversations.
Ask questions that involve others.
Ask questions that show you’re not selling, you’re helping.
Remember, everyone else is selling.
Of course, you’re selling too. But, it’s more subtle.
You’re saying, ‘I’m here to help. Ask me anything.’
2. On your LinkedIn profile page:
Create a ten page white paper. Upload it and share. Make the cover page stand out. Don’t use the default page on MS Word. Make it zing!
Create a PowerPoint presentation, convert to PDF, and upload to SlideShare. LinkedIn owns SlideShare. Upload it and embed it into your LinkedIn profile.
Delete the default background image. Find something with a bit more energy. Examine the profile pages of LinkedIn stars for inspiration.
See the difference it makes?
3. On your LinkedIn blog page:
Write 10 x 300 word articles.
Don’t write about the tools, fads, social media, or Better Call Saul.
Focus on two things: making money and saving money.
Connect it to what you do as a technical writer. That’s your angle.
Study LinkedIn. Get as many ebooks as you can find. Always look for ways to get more from it.
Your aim is to build credibility. Do exceptional things that make you stand out.
Give. Be seen to be generous. Help. Avoid the haters.
Look for ways to help others. Then the emails will start to come in.
Feeling ignored? What’s that? No pay respects the hard work you do as a tech writer.
Sad, isn’t it? Very sad…
Ever wonder why?
Ever wonder what you need to do about it? Hmmm?
Tom Peters says, “the value of services will continue to fall” and that the only way to survive is to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Is this true?
How do you as a technical writer make yourself stand out from the crowd? If you don’t, what impact could this have on your career?
How to Differentiate Yourself as a Technical Writer
Here are five suggestions to do this:
Video Blogging – use your Camtasia skills to create videos that show how products work. Cisco is doing a great job in this area. They gave flip cameras to the IT people and encouraged them to make short, snappy videos that show how to use their hardware, networks, and systems. Which would you prefer? To read 20 pages or watch a 3 minute video?
Screencasting Training – now that you know how to make the videos, why not use this to teach others to do this same. Position yourself as a screen-casting expert, setup the blog, get involved, and show others how this works. FWIW there is a very active video marketing group on LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/in/ivanwalsh) that you may want to join.
Web-based Training – if you’ve spent years writing guides, you must have developed an in-depth knowledge of 2 or 3 fields. See which of these are most in demand (Google searches and forums will be a starting point) and then develop training modules that you can present online. Lynda.com does a great job in offering training over the web. Sign up with them and see how it works.
Social Media Writing – you know how to write, right? Well, most people don’t. As Social Media continues to explode leverage your writing skills and show (“the benefit o f communicating well on Facebook is…”) others how to get their message across on these Social Network.
Business English – the upside of all these jobs getting shipped to India, China, Brazil is that their Management teams want to do more business in the west. How can you help them write better reports, communicate more clearly, protect them from being misunderstood – you get the idea!
These are just five ways you can stand out from the crowd and position yourself as a specialist. My suggestion is to look at who is doing this right, e.g. Debbie Weil, and study them diligently. Then develop an action plan and start getting the rewards you deserve.
What other careers can you think of? Is it possible to differentiate yourself as a Technical Writer? How would you do it?
Kai raised an interesting point about which skill (writing or technical) takes longer to master.
Knowing how to structure and present information to users? Or knowing how to use a product or application? That got me thinking. If you want to make money as a technical writer, which area should you focus on?
Kai’s point is, “…it’s always been easier and faster to learn a product/app. So knowing about structuring and presenting information has been the more valuable skill in a writer – and the rarer one, too, that’s much harder to learn from colleagues!
… and with Ivan, that writers can make up deficiencies with interest: “… if someone has an interest in sharing how the technology works, then they will go the extra mile…”
I think the real issue is this: Which skill takes longer to master?
I have to admit, that’s a very good way of looking at it. I hadn’t actually thought of it in those terms.
My take is that it’s easier to develop language/writing skills… or at least to develop them to a level where you can perform your duties as a technical writer.
With technology it’s more complex as (at least for me) I’m always learning. Even in areas where I have considerable knowledge, I still find that I’m learning and finding better ways of doing things.
When I started out my writing skills were rather ‘unsophisticated’ and that’s being kind. But, I knew how to program (Cobol, C, Fortran) and landed some nice contracts as a results. Writers with much better qualifications weren’t even considered.
I think there is more money if you have deep technical knowledge rather than strong writing skills.
Thinking of starting a career as a Technical Writer? I’ve worked in Technical Writing for over fifteen years, mostly as a freelancer. Here’s an outline of a typical day when working from home.
FYI – I wrote this last thing at night, so the grammar may not be perfect. But, it will give you an idea of what’s involved if you’re thinking of moving into technical communications.
A Day in the Life of a Home Based Technical Writer
My day starts at 6.05 and finishes around11pm. I’m online 7 days a week. How do I survive? I often wonder, myself…
A little background
I’ve been in technical writing for 15 years. I remember when Windows was just, you guessed it, little windows. I started with Aldus PageMaker, before Adobe bought it, and then moved onto Corel and other DTP packages.
After leaving theUK, I moved toSacramento, different parts ofCalifornia, then back toAmsterdam,Dublin,London(again), thenShanghai, and nowBeijing. I also work inIreland.
Ok, so that’s me.
Technical Setup for Writing
Technical writing in your pajamas. Well, maybe not actually in my pajamas — does anyone still buy these? — I do work from home.
Here’s my technical setup:
LG pc – this is souped up to the gills. I have it assembled when inShanghaiand it has oodles of memory, hard drives, etc. It has never crashed!
1st Dell laptop – super large (too big, to be honest) with Visio, Adobe FrameMaker and other tech document stuff.
2nd Dell laptop for light surfing
Finding Freelance Technical Writing Work
How I get work? Three ways: referrals, legacy customers and consultancy.
Tip #1 Long standing customers is where the money is.
Chasing new leads/projects etc is a fool’s game. There may be short term gains, but in the long run (e.g. when a recession kicks in) it’s your ‘old reliables’ that keep things ticking over.
New referrals come in all the time. But these can be problematic. People want, for example, web-based help written up.
But they don’t have the product ready yet, so you can’t see what needs to be documented.
Or they think the specs/screens etc may change in mid-project. Will this change the price?
Or they want you to use Flash to develop a knowledge-base. Why not use SQL? They like Flash; it’s cool.
You can waste a lot of time with these type of customers. We call them ‘tyre-kickers’ at home. They want to buy the car, but never get past the tyre kicking stage.
Technical Writing Consultancy
This is a mix. People want advice on tool to use, need a fresh set of eyes to check a document set, interview junior tech writers or partner them on a new project.
This is happening quite a bit. Say a web developer is going for a project (e.g. bidding for a contract) and needs a web writer/technical writer onboard. I sign up as the partner and do the documents when they come on-stream.
If you link up with reliable partners, this can be a nice little earner. So, what’s my day like.
Home Based Technical Writer- Typical working day
Alarm goes off at 6.00. Snooze. Up at 6.05.
I have 40 min to check email before the family wake up. Remember most of my clients are in theUS, so it’s their afternoon. This 40 min is often the most frantic time of the day. Someone somewhere has a problem – it’s always urgent – and I have less than half an hour to fix it. Once the crew get up, it’s just not possible. We live in a v nice apt — but there is no hiding place.
I have 5 email addresses. I get between 40-120 emails per day. The highest was 700 when I got spammed.
I check the business emails in order of priority.
Business 1, Business 2, and then Business 3.
I scan each box, delete junk, open what’s left. Many of my responses are 1-2 lines.
When writing emails, use numbered lists to break-out the message, e.g.
To convert the Adobe FrameMaker files I need the source files by Tuesday.
I will need the graphics by Monday inTIFformat
It will be ready by Thursday
The price is 300 USD
Who do I invoice? What’s their email address?
When answering emails, use lists to break out each answer. The reason I do this is that people will often answer the first question and skip the others. Then you have to chase them for the other information. Time is money when you work for yourself. Structure your emails so that it’s easier for customers (and potential customers) to give you all the information you need in one go.
Tip #3 – I NEVER check Yahoo or Gmail before the business emails are finished.
Food. Porridge with walnuts & soybean mix to start. A quick look at the clock and I see how much I can do before their alarm goes off.
Many emails are similar.
“I’ve lost a file, can you make a conf call, how much do you charge etc.”
To speed things up, I have a text file (no formatting) with the answers to the most common queries.
This saves hours every month. They all need to be modified to so degree but the bones of the response is there. Fingers crossed that I get the real urgent stuff taken care off before…
Lights on and they’re awake!
As I’m already pumped up (terrible isn’t it?) I rally the troops and get things moving. One of the downsides of micro-managing your business (depending on how you look at it, I guess) is that it tends to spill over to your home life — everything becomes a task, a deadline, a target. I try to lighten up. Sometimes we’re late for school. It’s fine.
Eat, shower, shave, arrange school bag, find missing sneaker, feed goldfish, coax pet crickets from their sleep/suspended animation and we’re off on the school run. Get back by 8.
School day are long inAsia(7.30 – 4.45 most days) so I get a good amount done. InEuropethis was more of a problem as we had endless teacher training days, mid-term, bank hols etc. Here, it’s go, go, go.
2 coffees, toast, soccer news, yahoo etc and then close them all at 8.15.
I take lots of ‘mini breaks’ thru the day but keep them all to 10 min or so.
Tip #5 Close the web browser and email. Otherwise, I’m peaking all the time. I know myself. Stay focused.
I work in short bursts between 8.15 and 11.
I use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my projects. It’s very simple. Nothing fancy. When under pressure, or knowing that I’m sliding, I print it out as a reminder.
“This is what you have to do, Ivan.”
Tip #6 Working by/for yourself is like dealing with a child. You have to be patient and firm. Little treats and threats both seem to works.
And I reward myself!
When things go well I splurge on a book that I usually wouldn’t buy. Steven Pinker, the Language Instinct is my next treat. Expensive over here.
Setting up interviews
I interview people for this site; it’s one of the most popular sections. Low-tech viral marketing.
I enjoy these interactions as it gives me a chance to meet others, by email and Skype admittedly, and get some insights into how they work.
You think you know so much. But then when you talk to others, you realize, there are so many areas you need to catch up on.
I started writing the questions for this interview at 9.25 (Emails took from 7.55-9.15. Much longer than I thought) and finished at 10.10.
But, here’s the thing.
How should I send it to him? Email, word, on the net?
The Word document I used was pretty bland. Ok, but not much else.
So, I spend 15 min formatting the document (actually tweaking my invoice template). Now it looks 10 x better.
If you want to succeed as a consultant/freelancer etc, you have to go the extra yard ALLTHE TIME. There is so much competition out there, you really have to stand out.
My work varies. This week it involves:
Writing standard operating procedures
Converting documents from Word to Adobe FrameMaker
Business process work.
Visio is by far my fav tool; creating process maps, state chart diagrams, flowcharts etc is a doddle.
Like I said earlier, I work in short bursts. Maybe 20-30 min and then stop.
It’s important to stand up, get away from the pc and stretch. Most technical writers end up suffering from lower back, next and eye problems. Which brings us nicely to….
I have a choice: swim or run.
My aim is to burn up 500 calories per day. I alternate between the thread-mill (even though I hate to run) and the pool (where I love the freezing cold water – the colder the better. BRRRR).
Some of my clearest thinking is in the pool. Maybe this is the only time I really can reflect on the business. No questions, phones, to-do lists. I now carry a small notebook and jot down ideas that pop up.
Chris Brogan mentioned that when on a cruise in Mexico, he had very clear insights into where he should take his business.
So, while I go swimming too get away from work, oddly enough these are often my most ‘fruitful’ hours. But remember: write it down. Otherwise, it’s gone.
This is part 2 of my day; the halfway point.
From here until 4.38 (I leave on the dot) I continue to work on project
I find it hard to kick-start so soon after the gym/pool. To get around this, I do graphic, diagrams, videos etc. Visual work is a nice counter-balance to the writing.
I know I’m not the greatest technical writer in the world. But my documents LOOK great.
This is something to consider if you plan to go freelance. The accuracy, quality etc of your material is one thing (arguably the most important) but the packaging makes a huge difference.
I’ve seem people’s eyes light up when they saw a really sharp user guide land on their desk.
Use high-quality paper for the Cover Page if you’re going to give it to the boss. Even if you have to buy it yourself, do it. It feels good.
When you’re a consultant, people like to feel you’re worth the money.
Don’t go cheap. You can claw back the pennies elsewhere.
School run. Literally.
Back at the PC.
Work until 7ish or whenever dinner is ready.
Go swim (again) with junior, or cycle, walk, dvd, draw, whatever until bedtime.
Back at the PC.
Work until 11ish.
The last lap is light admin activities, Snagit work, and planning for tomorrow.
I try to avoid writing technical docs late in the evening as it takes too much brain power. The next day, I’m shattered.
Say goodnight to the crickets, gold-fish, lock the door and then off to bed with a book. Tonight I’m reading Margey Allingham, the Coroner’s Pidgin. Wonderful turn of phrase and great story lines.
Check that the alarm is set.
How many hours a day do you work as a freelance technical writer? What’s the hardest part of the job?
Most people think it’s difficult start a career as a business consultant. I used to think the same in my early 20s when I started in IT. In retrospect, I should have made more efforts to establish myself as a consultant earlier; the benefits certainly outweigh the downsides. As luck would have it, I was forced into a consultancy role when I lost my 9-5 job. Time to learn to hustling and bring in business. Harvard Business Review refers to it as The Hustle Strategy. More on that later. Continue reading 12 Steps To Getting Started as a Consultant
In December, I looked at the daily rates for technical writers and others in the tech comms industry. At the time daily rates for technical writers are down to $30 per hour in some places in the Bay Area.
However, maybe things are starting to turn around. In Ireland (Euro HQ for most US IT companies) Google has announced 150 new jobs, many in technical roles. So, is the tide starting to turn?
Articles in Tech Comms publications and on other technical writing sites suggested that daily rates for technical writers were collapsing in the US, in particular the West coast, as more writers struggle to find roles that match their previous salaries. TECHWR-L (tech-whirl), the oldest site that I know for technical writers, highlighted the case of a technical writer who’s been in the industry for 10 years and been jog-hunting for six months.
When asked what he thought where the tech docs industry was heading, his reply was, “it’s a race to the bottom”. 12 months ago, he left a high-paying tech writing job to travel but returned six months later, and looked for work.
Daily Rates for Technical Writing in California
His only job offer had been $30 an hour. Some recruitment sites quoted $40-$60 an hour. Quite a drop!
I know that when I last worked in the states, late 90s, the rates were $40-$60 per hour, and that’s almost 10 years ago. It’s hard to believe that now, ten years later, and factoring in inflation etc, daily rates are almost cut in half.
Salary for Technical Writing in China
Salary for technical writers in China is between 15-30k RMB per month, which is approx $2.5k.
Not great by US standards but the cost of living here is much less.
Many US colleagues have seen their jobs moved to India. In Europe (Ireland and UK) they tend to go to Poland as they have excellent English skills (yes, they do!) and lower tax rates.
India now produces a steady stream of qualified tech writers who are highly motivated and keen to make the most of this opportunity.
Last year I said that, “as someone who works in Asia, and is seeing at first hand the juggernaut that is hurdling down the motorway, the race to outsource has only started.”
In the next 10-15 years, IT jobs which can be replicated offshore/offsite to lower costs will be embraced more aggressively. US companies have little choice but to do this.
The challenge for technical writers
The question for technical writers and others in this industry is how to approach this. One suggestion would be to setup consultancy services in places like Bangalore, Vietnam, and Poland where the talent is there but the experience is lacking. Experienced technical writers, who are willing to travel and embrace a new challenge, could do very well in these countries. Staying at home may not be an option.
What do you think?
Should technical writers consider moving to places like India? Do you see signs that the recession is over. Are there more jobs for tech writers than last year?
Fire away below and share what you think.
Which of these would you hire to join your Technical Writing Dept? Someone with great writing skills but little technical knowledge or, for example, a Computer Science graduate with deep technical knowledge but average writing skills? We’ve been talking about this on LinkedIn and here are some thoughts.
Writing skills give you the tools to communicate – and to help/teach others to communicate.
FYI – One of the trends I see in Tech Comms, is the changing role of the Technical Writer / Technical Communicator into an educator, facilitator, and becoming the central point of contact for technical information distribution (i.e. technical information coordination).
The counter argument is as follows.
Why Technical Skills Are More Important
Technical knowledge is the starting point. You need to know how the system works, otherwise all the writing skills in the world may be of little use. If you don’t know what it actually does, what can you begin to write?
Most ‘non-technical’ technical writers (e.g. graduates with English degrees) waste/take up developers’ time asking questions about how the application works, instead of actually generating content. While there is some leeway here with new technologies, developers have their own deadlines and can’t be expected stop coding to explain the innards to the application.
Those with technical skills can hit the ground running – it’s the responsibility of the Technical Editor to refine the text.
Those with technical skills know which questions to ask. As they understand the application/industry/codebase they can ask the hard questions that ‘non technical’ writers would not see in the first place.
Which would you hire?
If you were running a technical writing dept, which type of person would you hire?
A technical writer with strong technical skills, but prone to the occasional typo, or someone with perfect grammar, sound writing skills, but low on technical knowledge?
From Shakespeare, Graham Greene, JK Rowling to Colum McAndrew, Ellis Pratt, David Farbey. All have all one thing in common – great writing! As my career started in the Baker Street, London in the 90s, I’ve always carried fond memories of my time in England. Here are some UK based technical writers you might want to add to your Twitter list. By the way, do you notice any difference between UK and US tech writer blogs? Continue reading 5 UK Technical Writers You Should Follow on Twitter
You’ve just been fired. The Technical Writing Dept is closed. What do you do? This is a fact of life for many people today. Indeed, there is now a real fear that US technical writers will continue to lose their jobs to offshore companies, e.g. India & Poland. And it’s true; it’s the shape of things to come, I’m afraid. But rather than moan about it, let’s look at what you can do to re-invent yourself and find new, lucrative opportunities. Continue reading 7 Ways for Technical Writers to Re-invent Themselves & Demonstrate their Value