Yes, I’d go along with Exapno’s post. I’ve been out of the IT scene for a while, so it can’t hurt to get in touch with people who may have more contemporary, up-to-date knowledge about the opportunities that are out there. I would say that the opportunities are still there. However, – as Exapno said – maybe the actual term ‘tech writer’ isn’t very used or very popular right now, and you have to use whatever term or jargon is in vogue.
Having spent over ten years earning a living just by writing, let me pass on a few observations that amplify what I said before. I found that pretty much every company in every industrial sector occasionally needs a good writer, so your potential market is huge.
Some companies know they need a writer… but they don’t know where to go. This is why you can never send your details out to too many people or companies, inviting them to stash your details somewhere until they need you.
Some companies don’t know they need a writer or what the benefit of hiring a pro writer would be. So they churn out badly-written rubbish that doesn’t serve their own interests very well (this was especially true when cheap DTP sfotware came along). On numerous occasions I have offered to show a company that I can take the crap they’re sending out now, and re-write and revise it so that they will think it’s better and so will their customers and potential customers. I used to do this for free, on a small item that wouldn’t take me more than 20-30 minutes to work on (e.g. a single flyer or email promotion). I would then leave my details with them, and I knew that in 90% of cases I would get at least one piece of paid work out of them in the course of the following 12 months.
So it’s like I said before – get your information out there, make calls, make sure people know who you are and what you do, and then wait for the work to come in.
How do you get your information out there?
Set up a simple website that states what you offer and how to contact you. If you can’t write a simple website, you’re dead as an IT writer, so do what I did - buy a cheap five dollar book on basic HTML (which is all you need), study it for a weekend, then set up your website. Your approach is that you want people to note your details or bookmark your site now so they know how to find you when they need you later.
Mailshot. Prepare your 1 page, singe-sided well-written flyer. Keep it simple - what you do, how to contact you, and the bit that says ‘please keep this on file for when you need me’. Buy a list of addresses from a mail order company. You have every option under the sun - you can specify any sort of list, any sort of industrial sector, by the 1000. They’ll even send the flyers out for you.
Think local. You have to start somewhere. Start with your own community, your own locality. Make your name there, and word of mouth will do the rest and lead you to bigger fish. Put a little card in every retailer’s shop window. Visit local businesses, firms and companies. It only takes 5 minutes to stick your head round the door, make friends with the secretary, explain what you do and that you just want to leave your details for whenever they might need you, leave the flyer, and ask them to pass it on to the relevant decision-maker. Some will, some will bin it the moment you leave. It doesn’t matter. It’s still worth doing.
Tackle the agencies that give business advice to businesses. Whatever kind of local authority / local government you have, there’s probably some department or other that is there to give advce and help to local businesses. There may be dozens, in fact. Make sure they have your details. They might mention you to local businesses.
The whole point of this initial ‘push’ to get work is to build your experience, your portfolio and your contacts. After that, word of mouth recommendation will do the rest. Trust me! Word of mouth is the best advertising and the only sort that really works in the long run. So always do good work, be professional, pleasant and reliable, and be the sort of person that people will feel happy recommending to others.
I want to mention one point that I’m sure many people will disagree with, but I’ll say it any way: you don’t need a specific qualifiation in ‘technical writing’ or anything similar, and even if you have one it may hinder as much as it helps. I never had any trade-specific qualifications. I was never asked if I had any, and no-one was ever interested. The only two things that mattered, ever, were whether people liked me, and whether they thought I turned out damned good work. End of story.
Now, I’m sure people will say that there are openings out there that are only open if you have a specific trade qualification. This is true. Here are a few points arising.
(a) If you have a choice between spending 1-3 years ‘studying’ to get a certificate that says you are a qualified tech writer, or spending that time actually doing the work, learning the business, getting paid and building up your awareness, portfolio, experience and contacts, then I’d say the latter is the better option in every way.
(b) When people are recruiting for a full-time job, they have to put something in the job ad that they think will help them find the right person, and citing a specific trade qualification seems like a good idea. But basically, they just want someone they like who can do the job. If you’re that person, they’ll hire you! If you’re not, it doesn’t matter how many paper qualifications you have, they won’t.
© There are many, many people you will meet in industry who are deeply skeptical about any sort of ‘paper’ qualifications, often because they themselves left school with hardly anything and yet have done very well for themselves. They are well aware that having a paper qualification and actually being able to do the job are two separate things. All they want to know is whether you can do the work, not what certificates you’ve got. I repeat: in ten years I was enver once asked what qualifications I’ve got. All they wanted to see was my past work and my experience - in other words, they wanted to know I could really do this sort of work. Reliably. On time.
Of course, this raises the old chicken-and-egg problem… how to get wrk if you don’t have experience? I’ve already told you. Knock on doors, make calls, write letters, do the website, do the mailshot, tell everyone locally. Eventually, someone somewhere will give you your first break. And that’s all you need.
Final point: never, ever feel you have to compromise or compete on price. Find out what the going rate is, and charge it. Never undercut, never sell yourself or your services cheap. It all goes back to the word of mouth thing: if you’re good, people will use you, so long as your fees are anywhere near reasonable. If you’re not, people won’t, even if you’re dirt cheap. What matters is not how low your fees are. What matters is: do people like you, and are you good at doing the work?
And that’s enough.