By Stephen Gauer
You’ve been a technical writer for five years straight and now you want to stretch yourself — go freelance and offer a wider range of services to clients, or leverage employer-paid training into new responsibilities at your current company.
Here are some suggestions, based on my own experience, for new roles and skills you might consider. All of them offer an opportunity to stretch your wings, meet new people, and possibly earn more money in the process.
Courses in all of these areas are plentiful at Lower Mainland universities and community colleges.
It’s not a drastic leap from technical communications to a corporate communications role. As a corporate communications professional, you might write internal and external news releases, contribute to the corporate website and social media, write speeches, contribute to marketing materials and even coordinate major projects like an annual report.
I was the communications manager for two years at a publicly traded company which initially hired me as a technical writer in its systems division. The role was challenging, fun, and a great way to meet and work with a much wider range of people.
My journalism background made this transition easier for me. To build your skill set, you can take courses in news and feature writing, and PR and corporate communications. You already know how to interview subject matter experts, so you should be able to transfer that skill to news reporting for your company.
You manage documentation projects, so why not expand to project management in general?
I wore the PM hat for six months while bringing a new $150,000 corporate website into being, and worked closely with the third-party website development firm we hired. The firm’s creative director and user experience consultant were great to work with and taught me a lot about WordPress, search engine optimization, site design, site navigation and user needs analysis.
Project management is a great way to experience managing people, resources, money and management expectations, all in one fell swoop. There are certification programs for full-time project managers, who can command serious money as freelancers working on major corporate IT projects, but you don’t have to take it to this level of commitment, complexity and cost.
No, this is not the devil’s work. It’s not for everybody, but I’ve known more a few technical writers who have made the jump to the marketing side of things. Marketing in the technology world is usually more about education than a hard sell to potential customers.
Depending on the context, your technical skills, combined with some writing flair and imagination, could give you an advantage over a pure marketing writer who lacks a technical background.
Software training is a natural addition to your skill set. Once you document a new application you know enough to train staff in how to use it. Start small, by volunteering to train new members of the development team or other staff in the company, and take it from there.
This article was written by Stephen Gauer
Stephen is a senior technical writer with more than 20 years experience writing for corporate and hi-tech clients in Vancouver and Toronto. He is the president of the STC Canada West Coast chapter.