Re: Working for a subcontractor

Subject: Re: Working for a subcontractor
From: Win Day <winday -at- home -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 05 Sep 2001 08:24:48 -0400

At 11:20 AM 05/09/2001 +0300, Lisa Lander wrote:

Hi all,

I'd like to hear other people's opinions about working for a subcontractor. I have just a couple of months' experience and it's already driving me mad! Are there any other people out there who perhaps feel the same way...?In my experience it is much better for the technical writer to work in a company. That is, if you have a choice...

Lisa, I'm going to sip most of your post because it is very long. But I disagree vehemently with your conclusion.

What you have found is (1) the company to which you were subcontracted did not have a good environment towards subcontractors; and (2) you are not suited to be a contractor.

I have been a contractor since 1992. In that period, I have been seduced into turning my contract position into a permanent one twice. Both times I regretted the action almost as soon as I had done so.

My contract positions have been many and varied -- I've been a lone writer, a team member brought in to fill a place on a regular team during a medical leave, and a team member for a large, short-term project where there was a mix of contract writers and permanent staff writers. The experiences have been different, but all were positive. When I was not the lone writer, I found the staff writers to be fully supportive.

The difference may be one of experience level, too. When I contract to a company, I'm brought in as the expert in my field. I don't have problems with clients undervaluing what I bring to the table. I don't choose to work for clients like that!

I will never go back to being a permanent employee. Who needs politics? Why should I settle for three weeks of holidays a year -- I want more than that. I want to be able to tell a client, "I'm sorry, I don't work the week before Christmas or the week between Christmas and New Year's". I tell clients ahead of time that I'm taking a certain week off to attend a conference or training session.

And I don't expect clients to pay for my training! That's one of the reasons contractors make more per hour than captive employees. We have to pay for all that stuff ourselves. But then *I* get to choose how much I'm going to spend this year on conferences, training, computer upgrades, books...

As for participating in company events at your client company, I've been included and excluded. It mostly depended on the length of the contract and the type of event. I've been able to purchase tickets for company Christmas parties, for example, at the same rate that the employees who are not members of the employee association received. I've been included in Christmas lunches, company barbecues, department parties, you name it. I also have the option to refuse politely, more easily than my husband (who has been with the same firm for almost 22 years) can skip functions that it is politically expedient for us to attend.

Also, if you're working as a hired writer and constantly move from one company to another, you really cannot commit to any specific company. I find this extremely disturbing (rather found, since I'll start a new job in a couple of weeks?as a TW within a company.

I don't WANT to commit to a specific company. I LIKE contracting. I like the variety of project work; I want the control over my career to be in MY hands.

I think that if you really want to pursue your career in technical writing, it's much better to work within a company, not as a hired writer. Having a long career in one company can be more helpful for your career development that constantly switching jobs...

This is the statement I disagree with the most. I have found that some of the contractors I know have gotten better, more varied, and more rapidly advancing experience BECAUSE they moved from client to client than some of the staff writers I know. It's very easy for a staff writer to stagnate. You do the same thing for years. Oh, you get some training, but it's training that the company wants you to receive so you can do a better job for them, not training you would choose to advance yourself as a professional.

In many ways.
I feel so happy that soon I'll be able to work for a company that really values technical documentation and shows it by employing writers. And I'm happy that in this company I'll get access to all the technical files I need in my job...And that I'll get to feel belonging somewhere, again. Being part of the company. Acknowledged, I guess. That I can get training if needed. Boy, aren't I happy!

I understand your decision to move to a permanent position, given your experience. But please don't tar all clients with the same brush. And what works for you doesn't necessarily work for all.

Just because a company doesn't hire staff writers doesn't mean they don't value technical documentation! Many of my clients have been small companies (less than 25 people) who did not need and could not afford to hire a permanent writer. So I would work maybe 20 hours a week for a couple of months for them (while working on other projects for other clients), then have a couple of months in which I could take additional contracts, then do more work for the first client, etc. I worked like that for one client for more than 5 years. They finally got bought out by a big US firm who DID have writers on staff. And you know what? I ran into the ex-president a couple of months ago (he still works for them, but on contract now); he said he's seen some of the docs produced by those staff writers and the time and cost it took to produce them, and wished they could hire me back on contract again -- I worked faster, produced better documents, and in the end cost less. So staff writers and staff writing isn't all it's cracked up to be, either.

Win Day
Multimedia Developer
mailto:winday -at- creativeimplementations -dot- com


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Working for a subcontractor: From: Lisa Lander

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