As a freelance technical writer, you are responsible for all aspects of your business. This post isn’t meant to scare anyone, though I suppose it can serve as a warning if you’re wondering if going out on your own is something for you. The good news is that you aren’t having to perform every business function every day.
Sales & Marketing
One of your first tasks will be finding customers. This means you’ll be using whatever outreach tools you have on hand (talking on the phone counts–don’t neglect the value of a friendly voice!) to get people’s attention to the services you provide. If you are pursuing task or piece work rather than more long-term contracts, you will be doing marketing much more frequently until you build your reputation and work starts coming to you. Marketing also includes tasks like developing and maintaining your website and social media presence, should you require them.
Legal, Finance, & Accounting
Up front, you need to obtain whatever permits and licenses are required in your particular jurisdiction. Do you plan to incorporate separately as a limited liability corporation? You might need the assistance of an actual lawyer for that.
You also need to make certain that you have the cash on hand to acquire the tools of the trade: computer, printer, internet access, software, etc. You might start out “in the hole” financially, but as long as you’re at least able to make the minimum payments on items purchased on credit, you’ll be fine. The trick is cashflow and making sure you have money on hand when your various bills arrive, such as taxes. You might have to start by working from home…and then end up staying there for much of the time. The pandemic has made working from home much more common. You can afford rent, yes?
Your personal “legal department” tasks can include activities such as writing, reading, or signing business contracts and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).
Once you acquire your first customers, you need to start producing documents, either as a writer or editor or both. You are your own Quality Control (QC) department–is the work going out as attractive and error-free as possible? Ideally you’re spending the bulk of your time in this “department.”
Whenever you reach out to your customers, subject matter experts, and others, you are performing the function of a “customer relations” department. These interactions are just as important as your first impression because how you phrase questions and answers affects how likely customers are to continue working with you. You don’t need to be overly obsequious or sweet in your interactions, but a healthy dose of politeness goes a long way toward maintaining good customer relations and can help keep those relations constructive when situations arise that are not going well. Some customers will require more attention than others.
If you’re a company of one, you don’t have to worry about the behavior or others working for you, but as noted in Customer Relations above, you need to maintain specific behaviors that do not discriminate against or offend others. Human Resources tasks also include training and career development and sometimes benefits management. Do you have the training you need to support your customers? Are your customers willing to pay for it if you need it? Do you have a health insurance plan? Can you afford what coverage is available? These tasks arise annually (insurance) or as needed.
Did your computer crash? Are you able to recover? Are your computer files backed up? Do you have the phone number or website of tech support for the people who handle your software? You might become a “super user” just because of the number of tasks you have to perform on your own.