Re: Question re: freelance technical writing

Subject: Re: Question re: freelance technical writing
From: Mary McWilliams Johnson <mary -at- SUPERCONNECT -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 29 May 1998 22:45:52 -0500

I can only give you one person's opinion, based on my own experience and
that of my colleagues in the Dallas area.

Here are a few points to consider:

- Contracting will work best in areas where there is a high cncentration of
high-tech firms that often need to oursource their tech writing jobs.

- There are (at least in this area) about 150-200 "contract houses" or "job
shops" dedicated to finding professionals to fill high-tech contract jobs
for high-tech firms. This makes it somewhat easier to stay employed as a
contractor, but the competition is quite heavy for each job. And our STC
Chapter has a jim-dandy Job Bank, which is a big help.

- As a contractor, you need to have good skills in all the popular word
processing and desktop publishing packages, plus on-line help editors. When
the contract houses call, they don't ask you about your writing skills, they
ask, "Do you know FrameMaker? Word? RoboHelp?" And there are beginning to be
lots of writing jobs that involve putting the stuff on the Internet or
corporate intranet. They might ask, "Do you know HTML, JavaScript,
Active-X?" All I'm saying is that if you want to stay busy as a contractor,
you need to be really proficient in a lot of applications. In my own case,
I've found my skills with Photoshop and Corel have been a big asset. And
lately, I've expanded into Web development, though I continue to get
contracts that involve only technical writing plus preparing illustrations.

- Assuming you're in a prosperous metroplex where there are a lot of
high-tech firms and have good skills, you can probably do well in
contracting. As you know, contractors earn a much higher hourly rate than
"tree-huggers," but they also are subject to sudden lay-offs and periods of
unemployment. I began contracting ten years ago, and I've made much more
money than I ever did as a so-called "permanent" employee, even though I've
had quite a bit of "down-time" over the years. Incidentally, I love the
down-time; it gives me an opportunity to get my life caught up!


Mary McWilliams Johnson
McJohnson Communications
Documentation Specialist
Web Site Design, Development and Graphics

At 07:46 PM 5/29/98 -0700, Tracy Catherine Miller wrote:
>Hi everybody,
>I'd like to know how difficult it is, comparatively
>speaking, to get into the freelance technical
>writing business?
>I hope I'm not stirring up a hornet's nest here.

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