Re: tips for new free-lance writer

Subject: Re: tips for new free-lance writer
From: "M. David Orr" <halftail -at- INTERACCESS -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 17 Dec 1995 08:14:29 -0600

I own a tech writing and training company that employs many freelancers. I
hope this information helps.

>How do you estimate projects?

Some people use rules of thumb like 2 to 2.5 hours per estimated page for
design, writing, and editing. I think these are useful, but only if the
writer has data on his/her own averages in a certain working environment. We
require our new writers to keep track of how long it takes them to do each
type of task in a project. For example, how long does design take, how long
do meetings take, how long does each draft take, how long does final
polishing take? If a writer keeps accurate numbers for about six months,
he/she gets a pretty good set of averages on which to base personal rules of

Page counts based on screen counts and number of reports times a certain
number of pages per screen or report are usually inaccurate by 20% to 30%,
often on the low side.

Estimating pages can be done more accurately during the design phase by
prototyping a small section of a manual and counting the pages, then
extrapolating from the content outline, comparing each section with the
prototyped section as to expected complexity and length.

How often do you bill?

We bill twice a month. Remember, it's normal for many companies to pay
independent contractors net 30 days. This means that if you work two weeks,
bill, then receive payment 30 days later, that's six weeks after you start.
Of course, many companies take their time paying, and 45 days is a more
realistic figure, regardless of the agreement. If a company carries you as a
temporary employee (W-2) instead of as an indepedent contractor (1099), it
really should pay you on the regular payroll every two weeks or so.

>How do you itemize your hours for clients?

Itemize writing and editing by chapter or task; include meetings, phone
calls, expenses. Be prepared to support your bill with more detail like a
daily log of tasks and times.

>If you write HTML, do you have to know how to script for forms?

We're just starting WEB authoring, but my understanding is you only need to
script forms if you want information or orders from users of your page. Most
business applications will need forms.

>If you write user documents, do you *have* to use Frame- or Pagemaker?

No. Many documents are created using Word or WordPerfect. Word seems to be
dominating in the Midwest now because of the connection with on-line help
and Web authoring tools offered by Word add-on products like Doc to Help,
RoboHelp, and Web Author. However, PageMaker and FrameMaker are fine and
powerful tools and some clients use them. FrameMaker experience is
especially hard to find at times, so free-lance writers who have the
experience may be in great demand. The learning curve is steep, though.

David Orr
Orr & Associates Corporation
halftail -at- interaccess -dot- com (home)
WhiteEars -at- aol -dot- com (work)
David Orr

/; ;/;;/;;/;

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