Event Report: The secrets of successful freelancing
Stephen Gauer’s webinar on November 22 provided chapter members and other attendees an informative overview of the freelance technical writing business, based on his own experience. Stephen has been a professional writer for 40 years, and a freelance trainer, writer, and technical writer for 25 years.
What is a freelancer?
Freelancers are self-employed writers who do their own marketing and find their own clients. They have business bank accounts and are responsible for filing taxes, collecting and submitting GST/HST, and organizing their own retirement funds and benefits. They might work sequentially on single long-term contracts, or on multiple part-time, short-term contracts.
The pluses and minuses of freelancing
Freelancers have flexible work schedules and work locations, get an interesting variety of work, make more money per hour than salaried employees, generally avoid workplace politics, and can pick their own projects.
On the downside, they have no job/financial security, benefits, vacation pay, or pension. They have no teammates, often work alone all day, and must work harder because they’re billing all their hours to their clients.
The average pay rate for senior freelance technical writers in Vancouver is $60-$70 per hour, but they must be sure to work enough hours to meet their financial needs.
Do you have what it takes?
To be a good freelancer you need confidence in your abilities to write, market, sell yourself to potential clients, communicate with current clients, and troubleshoot any issues you encounter. You also need to be versatile, disciplined, energetic, resourceful, self-motivated, a fast learner, and good at reading people.
Who hires freelancers?
Freelance technical writers can find work in a variety of places:
- Software companies. Small companies have no writers, medium companies need extra resources for big projects, and big companies have high staff turnover and need interim writers while hiring new full-timers.
- Big corporate clients. These companies use contractors to keep staff costs low, but may require you to be incorporated or go through a third party.
- Specific markets. Engineering, architecture, and law firms all need technical writers.
- Other companies. Every reasonably-sized organization uses complex, enterprise-wide software that needs documentation.
The biggest challenge – finding work
Here are some methods of finding freelance work:
- Networking. LinkedIn and the STC Canada West Coast chapter are good places to start.
- Promoting/marketing yourself while establishing credibility. Have a professional-looking website, use LinkedIn, call or email potential clients, and consider blogging for others.
- Using recruiters, agencies or third parties. These are likely longer-term contracts at a lower hourly rate.
- Posting your resume on job sites. It should be no longer than two pages, have a strong marketing message, and be machine-friendly with no complex formatting.
- Incorporating other income sources. Consider editing, non-technical freelance writing, or teaching/training.
LinkedIn is an excellent tool for freelancers. Be sure you have a professional profile, with a strong marketing message at the top, good credentials, strong recommendations, and an appropriate photo.
If you pay for the Pro version, you can send InMail to anyone. Find directors of software and send them a short message with a catchy title (such as “Looking to hire a great tech writer?”).
How to launch a freelance career
- Save enough cash to survive on for 6 months.
- Set up a sole proprietorship or corporation.
- Sole proprietorship: simpler and less expensive, but you must declare all income.
- Corporation: you can keep some money in the corporation and pay yourself a salary, you are shielded from liability, and certain clients require it.
- Get a business bank account.
- Organize your website, domain, LinkedIn page, business cards, work samples, and recommendations.
Dealing with clients
- Client interviews are not job interviews: you are the expert they need to solve a problem.
- When negotiating a contract, always establish your billing schedule up front and try to increase your rate.
- Listen to your instincts about when to decline a contract.
- Always communicate, so you and your client can work out any problems before they get big.
- Deduct everything you can and max out your RSPs to lower your tax hit.
- Don’t forget to file your business taxes and collect/submit GST quarterly.
- Make a robust retirement plan and follow through.
Jenny Riecken is a technical writer with a past as a QA analyst. She specializes in freelance contracts, writing everything from software documentation to policy manuals.