Early contracting experiences? Learning the haard way!

Subject: Early contracting experiences? Learning the haard way!
From: sclarke -at- nucleus -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 19:41:26 -0600

I'm wondering if some of you would share your early contracting
experiences? The good news is: I'm working and many are not but *what* a
way to learn. My goodness. I'm contemplating writing a survival manual for
new tech writing contractors. This is my first contract.

I have been working without a scope of agreement. Never really knew or
understood "why" I needed one until now. My immediate supervisor changes
his mind (and therefore focus and direction) more times in a day or two
days than most people change their socks in a week. From the outset of
this project I have been repeatedly told that they expected half of the
deliverables (approx 25 very technical scientific SOPs) by November/Dec.
which is the end of my current contract period. They have never been
involved in a large scale technical documentation project before and have
*no* idea what is involved in actually producing the deliverables or how
long it takes. At this point I have 80% of the technical content in place
for approximately 20 of the SOP's, therefore, according to the info I was
provided, I have been thinking "good, I'm on schedule and we're just about
where we *should* be.

All they knew was 1) they had to start 2) they had to get technical
content in place and 3) they had to finish by X date. Beyond that they
were clue-less. I have endeavoured to fill in the blanks for them -about
what needs to happen in between. My immediate manager truly refuses to
believe how long it takes to produce this documentation-he thinks he know
everything better than every body else.

There has been *no* project scheduling and whenever I have suggested that
we develop a detailed plan it has been rejected. Half of the staff have
been away for significant blocks of time during the summer on vacation and
this has delayed the project. They (management) are no in a *huge* panic
because they see the project as behind schedule.

At any rate, last Thursday, he suddenly dumps on me-in the middle of a
meeting-that he now expects 35 of the SOP's by Nov. and the balance by the
end of Jan/Feb. We are 4.5 months into this project now and this casually
phrased request only served to underscore to me that they ARE still as
clueless now...as they were when we started.

I may now be in danger of being unable to fufill my contractual
obligations because of this bozo. My lawyer says I'm on the hook (legally)
to finish the flipping project.

Here's what I would say to new contractors/tech writers:

1) Even if you're truly green behind the ears and have some technical
writing/publications experience and training-in many instances that still
makes you a grreat deal more knowlegeable than clients. Seize control
immediately and don't look back or you may find yourself truly truly sorry
2) Don't listen to them-they don't know what they really want. Listen but
don't listen if that makes any sense

3) Try to work at the client's location for a couple of weeks before
signing the contract. During this time really dig around and try to find
out as much info as you can about the agency, the project, the people etc.
My initial two or three weeks were bliss-the honeymoon was over-real soon.
4) Don't sign the contract until you're absolutely sure.
5)If your prospective employer freaks out on you during the interview? Get
up and run away as fast and far as you can. Do NOT look back. Do NOT
accept the position if offered.

Sorry Sue in Canada

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