Re: Agencies and Documentation Services

Subject: Re: Agencies and Documentation Services
From: Steven Feldberg <steven -at- ICU -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 3 Nov 1998 16:30:27 -0500

>Do you care if you're an agency employee or a contractor to the

I worked as an employee for a large technical writing consultancy in central
New Jersey for a short time. Decent firm with good people. Though after I
did some quick math (my salary + my benefits an on hourly basis compared to
the contractor working beside me), reviewed my work assignments (clean-up
work, or assignments that ``no contractor wanted''), considered that the
word ``No'' did not exist in the employee's vocabulary (as in ``No, I don't
want to drive to the middle of Connecticut in a snowstorm to reformat a
system manual, but thank you for asking'') -- I left and struck out on my
own down route 1099.

I have managed to work as an independent in the NY metro area since 1991. In
that time I have worked *directly with clients*, large and small, bypassing
agencies altogether, always on a 1099 basis. This is a critical point for
me. Once I was hired to write an article for an online publication. *After*
I completed the piece to the satisfaction of the client, I was told I'd have
to ``sign on'' with their agency as a W-2 employee in order to get paid. I
refused, bellyached slightly about not having been told of this requirement
in advance, realized it was incumbent upon *me* to have specified all my
terms up front, and, ultimately, pulled my article. I've since learned to
iron out *all* the business details before engaging in the work. (Sounds
obvious doesn't it? ;-). The road's been bumpy, but at least I'm at the

> Do you prefer to hire contractors directly? If so, why?

Yes. On several projects I have brought in sub-contractors. In one instance
I had a person subcontract to me directly and I paid that person on a 1099
basis, billing the client for the subcontractor's services plus padding,
which I pocketed. Actually, I found that approach distateful and wound up
``releasing'' the subcontractor, allowing the individual to bill the client
directly for the amount I had billed. So I lost an income stream there, but
gained a warm and fuzzy feeling. Since then I have had subcontractors bill
directly to the clients that I work for.

I like the direct approach because it removes what are, in my opinion,
unnecessary, unproductive layers. In my experience there is a major
disconnect between the goals of professional tech writers (producing
excellent documentation) and agencies (producing excessive# profits).
However, most technical writers I know do work through agencies (typically
as 1099ers), and are generally happy with the arrangements. Those that
aren't migrate to different agencies.

>How do you like to find contractors?
Generally I approach people I have worked with on past projects, or whom I
know by reputation. Now that I'm teaching technical writing in a college
setting (on a W-2 :), I hope to draw upon promising students for future work

>If you find that you're 1 FTE short of a project, do you
>call an agency, post an ad directly, or what?
Most of my client firms ask their current tech writers if they know of
anyone who is available, then wind up turning to an agency. Whether an ad is
used tends to depend upon the work situation. If there is enough time and
energy available to do a proper candidate search then they'll use an ad.
Otherwise they use agencies to short-circuit the selection process.

/Steven Feldberg
steven -at- icu -dot- com

#As in paying the writer $40/hr. and billing the client $85 or more.

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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