Starting a Technical Writing Business
by Ron Kurtus (11 June 2015)
If you have been working as a technical writer for a while, you may think it is a good idea to start your own writing business, doing freelance writing or contract writing.
There are several steps involved in starting such a business. First of all, you need initial funding or savings to hold you over until you start earning an income. You should formally establish your business entity, including setting a pay rate. Then you start looking for clients. You need to advertise and network continually, whether working or looking for work.
Once you start making money, you must keep good accounting records. Finally, you want to continue your business and even grow it to the point where you hire other writers.
Questions you may have include:
- What would motivate you to start a technical writing business?
- How do you start up the business?
- How do you continue doing business?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Get idea to start business
The idea to start your own technical writing business may come from several sources.
- You may have a burning desire to be in business for yourself.
- You may see a great potential, because of the need for someone with your skill set.
- You may have been recently laid-off and consider it a way to make money until you get another job.
Besides wanting to start the business, you should have an idea of the demand for your services, as well as potential clients.
You should be able to visualize yourself being in business for yourself and running your own enterprise. Note that this goes beyond simply doing the work. Having your own business means developing good working and personal relationships with clients or customers.
Steps in starting the business
What you need to start your technical writing business are initial funding, an idea of what rate to charge, and a way to find work or get clients.
With any business, you need initial funding to get started. This is needed to purchase needed software and equipment, to possibly rent an office in which to work and—most importantly—to support yourself and your family until you get a decent income.
Prepare to do business by formally establishing your business.
Get business cards and website
Give your business a name, have business cards printed up and get a business website established. This indicates that you are serious about your business and are also necessary for effective marketing.
Set pay rate
You really need to know how much to charge for your services. Find out what the going rate is for other independent technical writers.
One way to figure the rate to charge is to consider your normal hourly rate when working and then add in extra expenses.
- You now need to pay your own health insurance.
- You may need insurance to protect you in case of a lawsuit.
- Figure in added pay for taking a two-week vacation and several sick days, if necessary.
- Have a buffer if you are not employed for the full year.
- Also, if you are working in the United States in business for yourself, you must pay extra for Social Security.
A good rule of thumb is to figure the desired hourly rate and double it. Thus, if you normally earn $25 per hour, you would charge a minimum of $50 per hour for contract work. But also, it is good to find out what the various contract or temporary agencies are charging. You do need to be competitive.
As your reputation improves, you can start charging more per hour.
Unless you can have health insurance coverage from your spouse's job, you should consider getting your own health insurance.
You may also need to consider liability insurance. Some client companies require insurance to protect from liabilities as a result of documentation.
Consider legal aspects
If you are dealing with clients concerned about liabilities from the documentation, it may be worthwhile incorporating your business, either as a LLC (limited liability corporation) or S-corporation. This will protect your personal assets.
You also need to consider other legal aspects. For example, some communities require a business license.
Finding potential clients is extremely important. They usually come from people who know your work and are able to either hire you or refer you to someone who can hire you to work on a project. You can network and perform various forms of advertising, along with calling up your old bosses and contacting former fellow workers about possibilities for work.
Often writers who strike out on their own will get their first assignment from a previous employer. Obviously, if you have been fired for being incompetent, your previous employer will not care to contract you to help out.
Recent graduates and writers who have moved to a new area do not have these contacts and will have great difficulty in finding work.
Keep track of accounting
After you get your first writing assignment, you need to keep track of business expenses, income and taxes, usually with a good accounting software application.
One client or one assignment does not make a business. You need repeat business, as well as new clients. You want to be working full time and not have extended periods with nothing to do.
Completing projects on time and per requirements is the minimum you need to do to get new business. You need to provide your customer or client with perceived value and high quality work, so that they will want to deal with you again.
Good relationships with those in the client companies with whom you work with and for are important in getting future business.
If you get an idea of starting your own technical writing business, there are several step to follow. You need initial funding and already have potential clients. You must advertise and network continually, whether working or looking for work. Once you start making money, you must keep good accounting records. Finally, you want repeat and new business so that your enterprise will grow.
Keep your eyes open for opportunities
Resources and references
Questions and comments
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