Am I Really a Technical Writer?

Han River looking westward from Apugjeong

This is part two of an article that started on LinkedIN, “Review It: 'Real' Technical Writing?” (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/review-real-technical-writing-shauna-mcgee-kinney). I'm caught between marketing and my career identity. Help me answer, "Am I really a technical writer?"

I’m asking my fellow technical writers and my clients who hire technical writers to help define what they expect. Tina M. Kister got me thinking when she said,

“… I identify as a technical communicator because I love the fundamental principles behind technical communication, which include creating documentation that can be USED for something. …”

What I’m Doing is Not Tech Writing?

Recently, I read a couple good articles questioning whether I should perform tasks outside of tech writing. I've been working with small to mid-size businesses. When I work for smaller projects, am I really a technical writer or more of a website help desk? Sometimes my tech writing work morphs into non-tech writing support-tasks. These tasks can take up 90%-100% of my billable time and past work has included:

  • Updating the document control data (research & data entry) beyond the documents I have worked on
  • Running IT change control management meetings while the P&P that I documented is in an internal audit
  • Working on the clients' website with edits or writing marketing copy because I know their business after editing their end-user training & help files
  • Editing a client's online store inventory so the data is in the correct fields and unique after I document how the business uses their customized store
Bridge near Oksu train station in Seoul

Conflict Between Tasks & Identity

David L. Peterson spelled out the differences between earning income and building experience when he said,

“Best place to gain experience writing is for yourself. Once you have been in that position, your other writing benefits from the experience. In the past, all my writing was associated with other work I wanted to do. No one to say no. Once you have done that to make your own work shine, you have a lot to offer. My work is still doing things for myself, like publishing technical articles and writing proposals for causes I am passionate about, but it gave me what I needed to earn bread by writing, which is an entirely different thing. …”

Lessons Learned or Habits Repeated?

I’m at an age where I look back at my career and begin to wonder if I am learning (and applying) lessons learned. Or, am I repeating old habits.

In 1992 my career found me while I was studying Architecture at USC. My evening and weekend job was to set up people’s home computers and teach people how to use their software. By the time I was up for my Architecture thesis preparation and thesis, I was making more money in computer training than I would make if I finished my degree. Between 1992 and 1994 I worked part-time for myself and part-time as a temp as my business got started.

Looking eastward down the Han River in Seoul

Once again I find myself doing useful work that is mostly writing and software, but not work that fits the traditional definition of technical writer. Have I learned to read my clients’ needs and delivery the services that support my tech writing? Or, have I allowed my career to veer down a different, easier path?

What Do You Call the Person You Need?

What do clients look for when they are searching for my service? I’m finding that my clients need a person to:

  1. Draft a set of terms & conditions based on the business’s procedures
  2. Update a website or the data on a website to fit how the software runs
  3. Connect a client to a consultant or subcontractor for specialty work
  4. Network a client with potential customers (yes, I do business development)
  5. Write blog and marketing copy combined with social media text
  6. Research and summarize competitors & similar markets

The introspective side of me wonders if I am misusing the title technical writer. The sincere side of me wants to deliver fair quality across all these diverse services. In the past, I used to write the training manuals, the help files, and the procedures. I’ve tried on the titles of copywriter and trainer. I called that past work tech writing, but now am getting reasonable push back from the other industries I overlap with.

Could Multitasking Be Unfair?

Part one of my article on LinkedIN quotes two industry experts and makes a brief mention of other professionals who feel a technical writer should be a specialist.

Two of the articles I quote come to similar conclusions that a technical writer should be a focused expert. One author suggests that marketing and technical writing require different types of experience. A previous article on my blog by Calvin Yee describes how the current market for tech writers requires a high-level of specialization in the topic, not just the technical documentation tools.

Shauna with Iron Man at the Four B Bagel in Seoul

My current clients are happy with my variety of services. I'm happy delivering the services. Given my current business, how does promoting my business as “technical writing” help or hurt the new clients that find me? I’m happy with my current projects, so I wonder, “Am I really a technical writer? Or, would my clients find me under a different title?"

Active membership matters to your business

Speed hump in Fremantle E Shed parking lot

How Active Membership Turned My Career Around

Active membership in a variety of groups is key to a strong business. The benefits are the difference between joining a club and actively participating in group. "If I only signed up and paid my dues, I would have been wasting my money." I frequently make this statement when people who ask me why I am so active in groups.

 

 

Investing Time in People

The real benefits from investing time in a club is you are investing time in other people. My initial motivation for joining was to turn my career around. The lessons I learned actually came from being motivated to give my time to the other people in the club.

There are 3 types of people you want to invest your time helping:

  1. People leading the monthly or weekly activities
  2. People organising special events
  3. People who share your needs

 

Active membership is regularly working within the group

How to Spot the Right People

You need to know how to spot the right people in a group. They aren't the loud people fighting battles with last year's president or organising a campaign to fix the club. Today's story is the summary of a series articles started from a post I shared on LinkedIN, "Do It: How STC Turned My Career Around." The series of stories are written by and about the "right type of people" I met:

  1. Calvin Yee - active in the monthly running of the club. He is the the volunteer who is setting up and maintaining the club website. Here's Calvin's story of how STC shaped his career.
  2. Rebecca Feinstein - active in special events like judging a competition or writing a review of a guest speaker. Rebecca's story is of the good fate that landed her in STC and the changes that followed.
  3. Raymond Urgo - active as a coach and presenter helping technical writers who need to develop their careers. Read about Raymond's coaching and technical training services on his website, Urgo Consulting.

The Best Types of Groups

The best types of groups grow your industry skills, knowledge and connections. However, there are other types of groups that will grow your business. Choose 1 to 3 groups that you have colleagues, clients or friends in. Or, simply choose a mix of groups that you are interested in. 

Be ready for a quick try-and-buy, where you take advantage of a free trial and commit to a membership. Don't worry about the group not working, because you have the power with your active membership to stimulate activities you need. Groups with paid memberships and groups that are part of national associations tend to have a larger number of higher-quality opportunities and benefits.

 

Real People Share Value

Active Immersion

I have gained the most from a mix of active membership in:

  1. Trade or industry group
  2. Co-working space
  3. Community service group
  4. Sports clubs or hobbies

There are pros and cons to each group, and you have to have a budget in mind for the groups you join. For example, a membership in the Chamber of Commerce and Industry was very expensive and the size of the jobs within the group were larger than my sole trader business could handle. The co-working space in contrast fit my small business. The space was filled with startups and growing businesses who would pick me up for work -- and likewise I could hire out my fellow co-working businesses.

Budgeting Your Time

Manage how much time you put into your groups. Set a minimum time commitment of 1 meeting per month. Be open to increasing your time when you workload is light, and be willing to reduce your time to the minimum if you need to protect your time. 

Here is my example the minimum time I spend with each group:

  1. STC professional meetings - 2 to 3 hours at each meeting 1 to 2 times a month
  2. Co-working space - 6 hours on 1 day each week
  3. Community service - 4 hours a month over 1 to 2 days throughout the month
  4. Sports - 4 to 5 hours each week (time permitting)

My time estimate has been padded with my travel time, meals and that time you lose to socialising before or after the group. This is all valuable time to account for. Consider separating your weekend time for your hobbies and sports, but keep track of it with your business groups.

Need More Time?

I find that I need more time when I start working with a new client. When I need need more time, I take a leave of absence from 1 of my hobbies or sports AND I take a leave from 1 of my business groups. Having too many activities can be a stress. As your work changes, gradually change your group activities, but don't make major changes.

Your "life-stress balance" is important. Giving up your hobbies completely can leave you without an outlet for your stress. Hidden behind your community service or hobby is also a mindset that you gain by being of service and belonging. You will be a better consultant, owner or employee by carrying that good mental state into your work.

 

Grow a Service Mindset

Rotary Club of Perth International Exchange Student

You're Not Alone

Shauna near a brass statue in Fremantle

Too Late to Join a Group?

 

When is it too late to join a group? I've had a few slumps in my business since 1994. I have had large clients who've been very slow to pay or jobs that never started. I've had long-term jobs cancelled months before the forecasted end date. At these times, I've felt too broke to join a group. Other times, I've felt I'm too late to join a group. I felt I needed the time and connections within the group to have the money to pay for the membership!

This too late or too broke mindset is a fallacy.

Instead of joining many groups when you are in a desperate situation, pick 1 group. Expect to put a few months of active work in the group before you will reap major business benefits. The hardest part of investing your time (and money) into a group when you are struggling is you have to be giving to others before you take for yourself. This service before self and pay-it-forward vision needs to stick with you even after you are successful. You will hurt your reputation if you stop participating in the group once you get business out of it.

Start Your Growth by Finding a Group

Start your search for groups by asking previous or current clients, co-workers, and friends which groups they are active in. Search the web for events that you can drop in on. Add the word "association" to the name of the industry you want to work in. Imagine what your active membership in that group would look like. Would you update the website or organise events?

Did you notice I haven't mentioned networking events and online events (like free webinars)?

Be protective of your time. Many networking events are filled with other people looking for work than with people looking for workers. Choose networking events where the advantages match your needs and or the people are invited because their businesses fit. For example, a tech writer may be at a loss at a networking event that turns out to be a hairdresser, fitness coach, air conditioning installer, and a florist.

Think about why the event is offered and what access you will have to fellow attendees. Online events throttle your ability to immerse yourself freely interaction with fellow members of the audience. Often, formats like webinars limit the attendees to focus on the presenter and the presentation. Many webinars are also sales funnels where the host has no incentive to get you regularly meeting with the other attendees at the online event.

 

Turn to Your Group for Help

Use active membership like an ecosystem that you and your business live in. Choose the people that you've witnessed are effective. By participating regularly in groups, you learn how a person does business by playing sports with him or her. You may learn that the guy sponsoring the club races is actually a shady business person, competitively proud to gouge his customers.

Conversely you may discover a fellow business is quite thorough at followthrough. Or, a lawyer is much better at estimating legal work and has truly happy clients. You may have no idea how sales training is useful until you overhear the sales trainer walking a client through starting a sales call.

 

Lawyer, Sales Trainer & Coach

James, Diana, & Kathy from co-working space

Who You Gunna' Call? Co-workers!

Use your active membership in groups to recruit suppliers and consultants. Find out from your group who you can rely on. You are likely to find a smart, reliable bookkeeper by being around the person in a co-working space -- or from a referral from your fellow Rotarian. Or, a fellow member of your professional group is more likely to share important, sincere advice on working with a supplier than a person you met at a networking event.

  1. Industry group - backup or collaborative people
  2. Co-working space - complementary or extension of services
  3. Community service groups - reputable referrals
  4. Sports clubs & hobbies - transparent qualities of people

For the Love of Community

(Pictured, above.) I found my lawyer (James Irving), sales trainer (Diana Simich), and client & coach (Kathy Tierney) through a year at the Nestspace in Victoria Park (10 minutes from the Perth CBD). We've kept in touch over the years. James and Diana are now at different co-working spaces and Kathy is at a professional shared office. In addition to buying services from these people, I trust them to take care of my best clients.

The relationships took months to evolve. Most of our interaction was passive and in the form of conversations around the coffee pot. People like Diana and James organised free presentations to our co-working community. There were fellow writers who might have been considered competitors, but in the co-working space we became collaborators and backed each other up.

How STC Shaped My Career (by Calvin Yee)

How STC Shaped My Career

Starting a career in technical writing?

For those of you who may be considering a career as a technical writer in software development, I can share a few insights that could be helpful in making a decision based on my career.

I became a software technical writer mainly because of my curiosity in learning how things work. Initially, I was curious about what makes television and radio possible. This led me to a brief career as a TV and radio newswriter. While it was exciting to report on dramatic and late-breaking news events, I became dissatisfied with the lack of depth for each news story that I wrote. The problem was how much could I explain about a new technology (such as the Internet) within 30 seconds? At that point, I decided to explore other career options where my intellectual curiosity could be satisfied and I could help the reader understand the technical details.

My exploration consisted of checking out a dozen professional organizations to see which one would best help my career. At the end of my search, the Society for Technical Communication (STC) stood out. I felt that technical communicators were less ego-driven and more willing to share their knowledge with others. Having chosen STC, I immediately joined the local chapter in my area (San Gabriel Valley STC) and volunteered to build the chapter’s first website. By chance, Shauna was also in the chapter. So we learned HTML together and launched the first version of the chapter’s website in 1997.

Are you missing out banner

STC Has Been Instrumental in My Career

STC has been instrumental in developing my career in so many ways. From its monthly magazine to international conventions, and its job board, I’ve benefitted from being involved with fellow members. It has given me the skills to work for startup companies that went successfully to IPO (Selectica, Inc), large public companies such as Cisco Systems, and also a few that went defunct (they shall not be named).

The two big lessons I’ve learned about software technical writing are:

1) Be Flexible

Because the technology space changes so rapidly, it’s important to adapt to the changing conditions of the marketplace. That’s where flexibility helps you survive the twists and turns that occur daily in a software development house. I’ve seen people who have had to leave the technical writing field because they did not get used to new methods of software development (such as going from a waterfall model to an agile/scrum).

2) Keep learning

Continuous learning is key to your ability to not only survive but also thrive in the current workplace. In the past 20 years as a technical writer, I’ve had to learn about almost a dozen authoring systems (including FrameMaker, MadCap Flare, Confluence, DITA XML and Sphinx) along with at least a half-dozen code repository solutions (such as CVS, Subversion, Perforce, ClearCase, Git). To increase your chances of getting hired and also staying hired, it pays to keep up to date with the current technology in the documentation field.

STC is More than a Society

STC is more than a professional society. STC is the group of people that I could go to shape my career, answer questions and learn how to apply skills. I have taken selected friendships and lessons from my time in STC forward with me in my career.

How STC Shaped My Writing Career (by Rebecca Feinstein)

Purple Columbine in Seoul South Korea

A Writing Career Found by Fate

Well, to be honest, STC (the Society for Technical Communication) didn’t really shape my writing career, fate did. Or rather, fate gave me a BIG push (and by ‘push’ I actually mean shoved) in that direction.

The Blessing of Maintenance Manuals

I was blessed (and sometimes cursed) by an inquisitive nature as a child and teenager. I believe I actually stormed out of the house when my father refused to teach me about car maintenance for my 1981 Toyota Corolla. In his mind, it was ‘his’ job; and that I would just make a mess of things. I would get the last laugh on that topic as years later, I began my tech writing career as an editor for a company that created engine maintenance manuals for, you guessed it, Toyota, as well as other manufacturers. I not only learned about how to do car maintenance, I was pretty good at it and showing my other girlfriends how to do things like change a tire.

Pink Azaelias in Seoul Korea

No Teacher Like Life

They (the powers that be) always say there’s no teacher like life. I went to college to get my degree in journalism. I’ve always loved words (Scrabble anyone?) and loved learning things and getting ideas across to other people. I figured my life to be in public relations. And as I mentioned, fate had other plans in store, like a car accident the summer before graduation. I did graduate, but was desperate for a job and took one as an administrative assistant to VP of Development, Design and Construction of well-known restaurant chain.

A Clue

My main task(s) were to write reports with graphics showing development projections; writing policy and procedure manuals; as well as create job descriptions. Needless to say, I could do the reports, no problem; but the other stuff, I hadn’t a clue. A class at Orange Coast College caught my eye on an introduction to Technical Writing taught by Don Pierstorff. This lead to my getting the certificate in Technical Writing. In turn, things lead to my student membership in STC (Society for Technical Communication).

The Confirmation

In the beginning of my career, STC confirmed that I was on the right path, doing what technical writers should do and I was doing it well.

Yellow Columbine in Seoul South Korea

Most importantly, STC has allowed me to:

  • Develop new skills and keep current with tech changes (FrameMaker)
  • Learned new technologies (WordPress)
  • Got some very good advice (job-hunting)
  • Networking where met some really great people (I’m talking to you, Michael Opsteegh)

I met Shauna McGee Kinney (then she was just McGee) at the FrameMaker training seminars. Shauna actually turned out to be not only a terrific friend but an awesome resource as well. And bonus points -- I reconnected with an old friend and a college friend when I served as an STC chapter secretary.

My only regret is that in moving to be closer to my job, I had to leave the great people at the Orange County, CA chapter and --- wait for it, there is no chapter in the area where I live or where I work.

Spidey Sense – Why I won’t take that job

Spidey Sense - why I won't take that job

Knowing when my writing won't fit your needs

Have you ever had that Spidey Sense that something isn't quite right? Recently I had a great conversation with a potential client who had a useful product. He'd put a lot of time and thought into the website. The website had been several years in the making. The older work was a custom website database. Ongoing work included a partial rebranding of the company. The product served a need, but the sales were low and the website needed "something" to grow online sales.

Spins a web any size

This blog is written for my potential clients, my current clients and my fellow writers. I know the temptation to "spin a web any size and catch jobs just like flies." I believe that my Spidey Sense is my comfort level with the type of writing. I value my ability to connect with the audience reading (and using) the material I write.

Several months ago I was under pressure to get a full-time job after my husband had been out of work for many months. I had to confront why I work for myself after more than 5 weeks of applying for full-time positions.

"...I thrive on recognition and feel the need to be productive. ..."

My real talent is translating complex ideas into Business English. I know what an executive, a sales professional or admin staff wants to know to use your product or service. My writing style has evolved to deal with matching logical products to business activities. My most effective writing has been with software products, industrial services or business to business products. That need to serve you is why I write. My desire for recognition drives me to choose jobs I can do well. 

Efficiency is rewarding

In the previous 2 years (2014-2015) my efficiency went up. My instinct is that referring jobs and stopping work on bad jobs improved my billable hours. My completed jobs and happy paying clients have made up 60% to 70% of my available hours. 

Managing the types of work I accepted also allowed me to be available for jobs that were full-days for 4 and 5 days a week. I have:

  • Referred 3 potential clients onto writers with the right experience and style
  • Chose not to continue 1 writing job
  • Had 1 client accept my deliverables and not use it (not pay for the work either)

My rewards drive me to do quality work for you. I find the act of writing is very rewarding. The process of writing and delivering finished work fulfills me. Receiving a fair payment for my work is also important, because it gives me that sense of success and completion. 

I can do the writing and editing, but ...

I can do the writing and editing, but I will be learning and experimenting as I go. Using your job to learn or experiment is not an ethical reason to take the job. I won't bluff you and risk delays, repeated work or low quality to try something new on your job.

I learn and experiment on my own website. Or, I volunteer to do the new types of work for community project. I'll even approach a trusted colleague and gift my writing in trade for real-life experience.

I won't take the job, but I will "pay it forward." Where does that leave you when you need the work I cannot do? I take pride in introducing you to people I know with better matching experience. Let me network you with a writer who does advertising and ad copy.Connecting you with a writer, web designer or advertising consultant who can address your needs will be a better, faster solution. And, I'll openly share the small items that need to be updated on the website, so you can prioritise the on-page text and image updates.

Shauna McGee Kinney in a subway in Seoul

In contrast to the difficult job

There is a difference between knowing when the job is difficult and when the client needs a different type of writer.

I am one of those people who doesn't mind taking the occasional difficult job. I even will put up with a difficult client -- up to a point. Many web developers and ad agencies bring me into a job in progress to get a stalled job completed. Many of the clients on the jobs that are behind schedule make their frustrations personal.

The numbers of clients I service and the number of clients that I cannot service cannot be easily quantified. The data is hard to measure. Because I am a sole trader, I can be "fully booked" as a technical writer for 6 to 12 months with as few as 1 client. Other times, I can have up to 5 marketing and social media clients in a month with 2-6 hours of billable copywriting work per client. 

Why I won't continue a job

When I estimate a fixed-rate per page job, I let the client know when the files will be delivered or text will be loaded. I state the number of revisions and how long the client has to request the revisions. Even when I am not billing by the hour, I still track the approximate number of hours I am spending on the phone, email, research and writing.

My fixed estimates are padded to allow for 20% to 30% of the time to be used for communication.I have enough experience to know how long a typical writing job should take. I will stop a job, when the amount of time spent responding to the client drops my hourly equivalent. I take the amount of time and divide it by the estimated fixed-rate. I look at my equivalent hourly rate.

My target is to use 60% of my available working hours for billable work and 20% of my available hours for sales, admin (bookkeeping, marketing, training). The remaining 20% of my target is lost to rescheduling, cancellations and delays. I built my pricing around this approximate billable work ratio and I value keeping my tech writing and copywriting rates affordable and competitive.

If you are a client or a writer, be aware of the temptation to blame and criticise the people involved.

Angry clients are easily provoked. Frustrated agency employees and contractors start to resistant to changes and work slowly.Focus on the brief. Speak and respond to the issues - what deliverables are outstanding, are the change requests logged and have any changes in the scope been summarized? Next, look at what you can put back into draft to get the "minimum viable product" published. Add the draft items to the change log and summarise the down-sized job scope.

Spiderman Cartoon

At the scene of the crime

Many of us have that instinct to hide and get away from the scene of the crime.

However, I believe that the next step is to speak with the client, web designer or agency on the phone. The human voice is important to working through the final stages. I've 1 to 3 hostile clients over 10 years who won't pick up my calls. I leave my number and only state I am calling to speak about why in my decision of the job. And, this same minority of unhappy people tend to send scathing emails instead of returning calls or picking up.

 

Trust Your Spidey Sense

4 of the 5 leads that I've followed up with to about their referral to another writer have been happy. And, honestly, the web designers, agencies and clients that I have stopped work for have broken ties with me. The lesson I learn from the stopping a job is to be more choosy about which jobs I accept. Writing is an art and a talent. The art doesn't fit everyone's style or needs. The reason why you won't take a job may be similar to the reason why I won't take a job.

Don't hide from that phone call. Don't stay on the phone if the client is belligerent or a bully either.

Trust your Spidey Sense. Let's work with each other to do effective work and catch the clients you want. I believe in an ecosystem of honesty. I believe that discussing our gut instinct (concerns and expectations) helps us refine our jobs and briefs. Often talking to a colleague or supplier leads us to the simple, larger issues that trigger your unspoken sense.

How to Find the Right Writer

Shauna Kinney and Penny West in Kings Park Perth Australia

How do I know which writer fits my job?

How do you find the right writer for your website, project documents, or training materials? Start with a story about your job (not the rates and hourly estimates). I’ll use the example story that started this article. Tell the writer your story and ask the writer:

  • Why (Why do you need a writer - writing started but not finished, no motivations to write?)
  • Time (When can you start, how long might you need?)
  • Goal (What is the final format – text loaded into your website, Word doc, print?)
  • Who is the expert (Who do you need the writer work with, do you need access to the website or services from an graphic artist?)

 

What About the Price?

You can ask the writer for the price after you discuss the above points. Some writers will ask for more detail. For an example, an agency will work with you on a strategy and then brief each job (agencies may refer to the job or group of related jobs as a campaign).

The first few questions are the dialogue where you adjust the scope of your work. As you get answers, you refine what work will be done by asking a more specific question or suggesting a change. 

Penny West - Freelance Copywriter

Freelance Copywriter

You'd hire Penny to write website and print materials. She would write a few pages to several recurring “campaigns” promoting events, products, or services. If you are simply looking to update a few web and print pages, then she is also a great resource. She usually can start within a few business days of your call and knock out 1-10 pages over several business days. The benefit of Penny is you get a short burst of quality writing finished quickly. Penny has a background in writing research for the mining industry and her passion is writing for travel and retail.

Penny West

LinkedIN https://au.linkedin.com/in/pennywest
Website: http://www.SailingTravelBlog.com 
Email: penelopewest@yahoo.com.au

Malaysia (+60) 11 1441 5196
Australia mobile (+61) 411 220 592
Australia local (+61) 8 6102 5141

Penny is an Australian digital nomad and fellow sailor. She writes from her yacht whilst travelling around SE Asia. Penny has worked in Western Australia with international recruitment, mining, and mining industry research companies.

Liz Sonter, Agency Copywriter

Agency Copywriter

You would get in touch with Liz to connect you to an agency for promoting your products and services through an annual contract. Liz, and the agency she plan and work from a long-range strategy. Liz works with the agency employees to put together the continuity and measure a year's worth of marketing and advertising. The advantage of  working with Liz is your staff can concentrate on the bookings and delivering the events.

Liz Sonter

https://au.linkedin.com/in/elizabeth-sonter-9145686a
http://erasonter.wix.com/copywriter
Email: erasonter@gmail.com

Contact Shauna Kinney or Liz for Liz’s phone number and links to agency work. Liz works with multiple agencies and will introduce you to an agency that fits your needs.

 

Michael Gorman - Technical Writer, PMP, Business Analyst

Project Manager & Tech Writer

You’d hire a technical writer, Michael Gorman, to document the changes using industry standards.For example, a Windows security update has changed your internal procedures and probably created some changes for your customers.

He has a background in project management in software, electronics and IT. Michael interviews your staff and brings himself quickly up to speed with your products and services. You’ll find that you have a shorter start-up and Michael’s objective third-party writing may pick up details you assumed your staff would know (but don’t).

Michael C Gorman PMP
Project Studio Consulting
ABN: 51550145379

https://au.linkedin.com/in/michael-gorman-pmp-9415301a
http://projectstudio.swanriver.com.au/
Email: projectstudio@swanriver.com.au
Australia Mobile: (+61) 423 045 892

 

Shauna McGee Kinney, Writer

Tech Writer & Copywriter

Your company is in the engineering, software or construction space. The people working at your office are highly-skilled but can't seem to convince business customers to buy. Your sales team is frustrated with a lack of information they can use. Your admin staff is unable to determine who the potential customer should talk to (sales or one of the engineers).

Shauna McGee Kinney
Trading as SMK Writer
ABN: 67103926420

https://au.linkedin.com/in/shaunamcgeekinney
http://www.smk-writer.com (formerly perth-write.com)
Email: info@smk-writer.com
Western Australia: (+61) 8 9467-2663
California: (+1) 760-208-4663

 

What is the next step?

The purpose of this article is not to sell you on one of the independent writers in this story. My goal is to get you started on the next step.

Write 4 to 10 bullet points (not sentences) answering the questions at the start of this story. Why? Time? Goal? Who is the expert?

You are invited to contact any of us that fit your bullet points. Call us. A voice conversation is the most efficient way to evaluate the fit. Or, email us if you are shopping for ideas. If none of us fit your needs, don't hesitate to ask your suppliers and customers for referrals to a writer based on the points you've summarised.

Tech Writer vs Copywriter

I first started discussing the concept of what is the right kind of writer with fellow businesses asking for referrals to writers on LinkedIn. Here's my LinkedIN article leading up to this blog post.

Do It: Find the Right Writer
http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/do-find-right-writer-shauna-mcgee-kinney

The conversation on LinkedIN motivated Michael Gorman, technical writer and project manager, to summarise the differences and similarities between our work. In his article on my websites explains the benefits of being a technical writer and a project manager. Use his article to start a discussion if you are asking a technical person to expand their writing to include business procedures, help desk files or training.

Updated on 14 Aug 2016 by S M Kinney

3 Big Issues Your Writer Can Address

Vimeo video still of Shauna McGee Kinney

If quality writing was easy

There would be no need to hire a writer if quality writing was easy and quick. There are 3 issues that professional writers help their clients with:

  1. Breaking up and demonstrating the writing options
  2. Not enough unique, quality information
  3. Too much information for too many audiences

Writing LinkedIN Profiles & Company Page

Client: An ad agency

Project: LinkedIN profiles and company page for a financial services company

Approximate timeline: 3 months, contact with client every 2 weeks

Approximate billable time:

  • 12 hours for research, coordination and writing
  • Graphic artist billable time (total unknown) for 2 weeks
  • 10 hours for loading art and text and drafting scheduled LinkedIN posts
  • 2 hours for writing training tips and delivering training

Why did 24 hours of writing take 3 months?

The 24 hours of writing was carefully crafted by an agency in small iterations over 3 months. I am part of the production team working underneath the art director and with the graphic artist. The art director was looking at competitive issues like the attitude of larger national companies and upcoming billboard campaigns. The art director had issues that your writer can address. He wanted to modify slogans that were already in print and he had specific ideas about how to achieve impact.

Additionally, the client needed to carry on with business. They were in the finishing stages of changing both the layout and the editorial topics in the newsletters sent to their financial services members. We needed time to mock up partial pieces of the LinkedIN company page and profiles to match the art director's vision and the current newsletter.

The writing required research. One large national competitor was of particular concern to the client and the art director. Competitor research is one of many issues your writer can address. The art director, client and I reviewed my research on the competitors print and LinkedIN text and images. The graphic artist worked up a storm of concepts whilst I had to table any further work until her images were approved.

The client was new to posting to a Company page. We spent time looking at larger brands in similar spaces such as banking and investment. I mocked up 3 months worth of topics that included the forecasted topics in the print newsletter and placeholders for expected events like tax season. Gaps in time between draft and approval were uneven. I often had to schedule and reschedule follow up calls with the art director, graphic artist or client because this was not their primary job.

Writing and Delivering Website Trainng

Client: A mid-sized commercial construction company

Project: Train the administrative staff how to edit the new website

Approximate timeline: 2 hours over 2 weeks

Approximate billable time:

  • 1 hour to grab screen shots and add callouts to a slide show
  • 1 hour to deliver the training via a live screen share 

2 hours and no training manual?

Too much information isn't a good way to spend money. This applies to writing internal content as well as public content. A training manual is an expensive exercise compared to a slide show with tips. 

I kept the price and the time down on training the construction company to update their website, because the website would not need to be edited more than every 3 to 6 months. Using the slide show format was enough to guide the clients to where their web design had been customised. I showed the screen the visitor sees and the admin window needed to edit the text or picture.

We paced the training tips and training over 2 weeks because the administrative staff was busy running daily operations. The staff did not need to urgently edit the website, but we did want the revised text done to allow the site to go live.

The construction staff and I agreed to do the training on a day that they would immediately start editing some of the text that needed to be updated. The staff learned and reinforced training by editing placeholder text in the management pages and project pages.

The efficiency of a training manual happens when you are repeatedly training classrooms of 10-12 people, not training 1-3 people. Training manuals are used for continuity when delivering multiple events to large numbers of people. The training slides allowed the client and I to customise and setup the training around each person's needs whilst keeping the cost down.

A Writer is More than a Typist

A writer is more than a typist. A good writer develops quality text through interviews, questions, research and experimentation. Be prepared to adjust the writing work to an interval that allows you to carry on with your operating business. Find relief in getting help pushing through the writing process and relief in knowing that you don't have another employee idling on your payroll whilst you are tied up with your core work.

Use an outsourced writer to fill a task or set of tasks that are critical to your business, but you do not have the skill or time to do yourself. Collaborate by working with a few partial or small samples, rather than the whole project. Discuss the small mock-ups and refine these examples to express the attitude (voice) and message your are writing. 

The small iterations of writing also help you and the writer discover if you have weak content. Or, if you are scattering your message to such a diverse range of audiences that the message is confusing.

During the small iterations, you can also measure the amount of time you have to participate in research and reviews. Evaluate how much time and money you want to put into the final project, and if necessary, down-size the writing project based on your discovery. An experienced writer will respect your changes to the scope and timing of the project based on the conversation during the iterations.

Most of my clients are engineers and technology people. In the related links below, I share some of my actual financial and business data. Different writers charge different rates and I strive for the balance between giving my clients a great price and earning a modest income. I write because I love the work. Consider how my passion for writing can make your job easier.

Feel free to contact me, Shauna, by phone (Perth - Australia) +61 8 9467-2663 or email (shauna@smk-writer.com). We can narrow down a few options within 10-20 minutes and you'll have some practical details to consider.