Not everyone needs a technical writer on staff all the time. However, that need can arise. Those needs are important because they are how independent contractors like me pay our bills.
Why would a business need a technical writer?
There are any number of reasons for this, from the nature of an organization’s work to its size, budget, or workload. However, there are organizations that would benefit from hiring a writer to help in particular situations on at least a part-time basis. These situations include:
- Writing proposals.
- Writing technical documents or white papers.
- Writing instructional manuals or procedures for a product or service.
- Developing marketing/outreach/educational materials.
- Writing critical executive correspondence, such as:
- Conducting Sales/marketing outreach.
- Contacting an elected official.
- Responding to a complaint or product/service deficiency.
- Proposing a business deal or merger.
- Responding to an accident or public relations issue.
All of these situations have traits in common:
- They are usually not daily needs in a company’s business.
- When they do come up, the company usually wants to put their best foot forward, communicate clearly, and get results.
- They are often, but not always, time sensitive.
What are the benefits?
The most important reason to hire a professional communicator for the aforementioned situations is simply operational success. Success can take many forms; it need not always be winning a contract–though proposals are often the most common reason to hire a freelance technical writer. Operational success could mean getting a meeting with an elected official; opening the door to a new customer or a potential business partnerships; ensuring the proper and safe handling of the hardware the company is building; or piquing the interest of potential customers about the company’s products or services.
Any new employee requires a certain amount of paperwork to bring onto the team; however contractor/freelance technical writers can be advantageous to a company that doesn’t want or have the money to pay benefits. (A freelancer will factor their self-provided benefits into their rates.) The contract both parties sign can be established for a specified amount of work and time. All that the company is required to provide is content, payment, perhaps internet/facility access, and the 1099 form at the end of the year. If the company does not have a prewritten contract on hand, the freelancer often has a standard form that can be customized to help employers procure their services. The writer’s responsibilities, in turn, are straightforward: sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), an I-9 (employment eligibility) form, and deliver the work for the contracting organization.
I’ve done work with considerably less paperwork than this–I’ve negotiated my hourly rate and signed an NDA via email without ever seeing the customer face to face (in those situations, the employer did some due diligence and asked for references before hiring me based on my reputation). The work started, and the checks started arriving.
Acquiring expertise for hire
A freelance technical writer with experience in an organization’s given industry can join the team with a minimum of fuss and can focus on the specific content needed for the job. The questions that an experienced technical writer asks will differ from someone who doesn’t know the business. A writer without experience in the field will be asking high-level questions like “What is it you’re building?” An experienced writer will start asking about specifics: “What type of widget are you building? What makes it different? What are the particular client needs/sensitivities?”
My background in technical writing for launch vehicle and spacecraft engineering enables me to join those types of organizations with a minimum of ramp-up time. However, sometimes my customers are more concerned about my ability simply to write and organize information and are willing to put in the time to teach me the basics.
Opportunity to “test drive” a future employee
Additionally, a company considering hiring a full-time technical writer might use a 1099 contractor is as an “audition” for an eventual full-time hire.
Being realistic about outcomes
A technical writer cannot always guarantee success, especially in a proposal. However, if an organization’s staff is small, lacks strong writers, or lacks experience with writing some of the other items listed above, it can be worth the time, money, and effort to hire a freelance technical writer to handle situations like these. Again, the goal is operational success, and that success is more achievable if your company’s content is communicated clearly.