Re: Question for people with tech writing businesses

Subject: Re: Question for people with tech writing businesses
From: Beth Agnew <beth -dot- agnew -at- senecac -dot- on -dot- ca>
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2006 18:27:32 -0400

I'm biased, but I'd say go for the intern if you don't mind the amount of your time that might be necessary for supervision and teaching. Make sure your contract with the organization gives you the freedom to use subcontractors (or interns); some contracts prohibit this. Troll your local techwriting programs or the professional writing department of the nearest college or university. Anyone with some education in institutional writing would be a good candidate, or any corporate communications, mass communications majors could serve as well. They are more likely to be clued in about graphics, layout and publishing than your average English major. Campus offices geared toward helping students get summer jobs will help you efficiently find the right candidates.

You might want to be more specific in your proposal regarding the on-site presence of your intern, how much they will be involved in research/analysis, drafts, reviews, etc. In my proposals I spell out the (marked-up) rates for various tasks so would include writing time at one rate, and project management time at another rate. This way your time is reimbursed, and you of course get the premium on your sub's time. You probably wouldn't want to include all the time you will spend guiding your intern in the proposal itself, but take it into consideration when you set your schedule. A three day turnaround for a corporate client could end up being five to seven days with the back and forthing required to work with the intern. The supervising and teaching should be relatively transparent to the client, unless they are fully supportive.

How you want this contract to appear to the client is important. Will they know that you are using an intern? They might need to be reassured that your involvement is very much hands-on. The same caution is true for a subcontractor. Some clients are hiring YOU and they want to feel comfortable that it's your work they are getting. Still, if it was fair for the Renaissance masters to have apprentices do much of the mundane work, it's equally fair for us to involve the rising generation in similar tasks.

I have used students many times on projects, and I find that if I pay them slightly better than entry level rates, they are extremely motivated!

It's a win/win/win situation. Your client can get a price break (if you choose) because you will be using lower-cost intern labor, you get satisfaction from the project and fair compensation, and the intern gets a great experience as well as a portfolio piece, a reference, and potentially future work.

Dick Margulis wrote:

I'm working on a proposal to do a large documentation project for a local organization--more than I care to do by myself, as I have other, non-TW projects competing for my time. However, I'm not sure the best approach to take to staff such a project. I suppose I could advertise for a contractor, but given the time of year, I'm thinking of looking for an intern. I realize I'd have to supervise closely and do a lot of teaching, but that's fine with me.

Any strong cautions, one way or the other (contractor vs. intern)? Any suggestions where to troll for interns efficiently?

This is all very tentative, as I don't have the contract yet. So please, no résumés. I'm just looking for guidance from people who've been here before.
Beth Agnew
Presenting "Podcasting & Vidcasting: The Future of TechComm"
at the STC Conference, Las Vegas, NV, 2 p.m. May 10, 2006

Professor, Technical Communication
Seneca College of Applied Arts & Technology
Toronto, ON 416.491.5050 x3133


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