What a Difference a Month Makes!

As I noted in my previous entry, I’m scaling back on my Heroic Technical Writing posts. That doesn’t mean work has stopped or I have nothing to say; I’m just trying to be a little more judicious about how often I share. It turns out that January was a rather active month, personally and professionally.

Work Status

I’d love to tell you that everything is sweetness and light in the world of HTW, but I try to keep things real here. In the spirit of “real,” I will share that after eight years of paying my bills primarily through a single customer contract, I was told that my contract will not be renewed beyond the end of March.

Obviously this was a big of a shock, and I have now shifted into overdrive seeking alternative sources of income. I would prefer to maintain my previous arrangements:

  • Continue with self-employment
  • Work from home
  • Pay by monthly retainer
  • Work as requested, which has usually been about half-time compared to a 40-hour-a-week job
  • Bonus item: work in the space industry

Still: what will I do if that sort of employment is not available? Assuming my other, space -related customer does not have enough need for me to keep the roof over my head, I decided to make a list of alternatives, from most to least acceptable:

  • Non-space work from home
  • Space work in a local (Orlando-area) office
  • Non-space work in a local office
  • Space work in an office outside the Orlando area

I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t take a non-space job outside of Florida. Sometimes money is not enough. That said, I moved from the Washington, DC, area to Huntsville, Alabama 17 years ago because I was passionate about getting a space job, so who knows where I’ll end up? The goal at present is to stay here in the Sunshine State, but anything is possible.

How Else Does a Contractor Respond to Unemployment?

Personal Responses

The primary things I needed to do upon receiving this news were:

  1. Don’t take it personally. In this case, my employer decided to move some training functions in-house.
  2. Don’t panic! I was given a couple month’s notice to locate alternate employment, and my last paycheck will hit on my last day of work, so I’ll have through mid-April at worst to find alternate employment.
  3. Take constructive action on my own behalf. Eight years ago, when I last found myself in this position, I let people know I was looking for work, and then, miraculously, work found me.

Find Quick Ways to Replace the Work I Had

The first thing I did was reach out to my existing network–former customers and employers–to see if they might have work for me, even if it’s short-term. I have one lead on temporary work so far, so that much is right with the world.

A few months in the contracting world can be a long time. Time enough to prospect or interview for more permanent work, take on regular, full-time employment, or even change careers.

This led me to consider another possible option…

Take Things to the Next Level

I’ve considered becoming a consultant, where I would advise companies on various aspects of their technical communications. This might take a while to establish, as I haven’t fully defined which companies might require advice on my type of work (proposals, strategic communication, responding to government reporting requirements). I have to ask myself:

  • What sorts of problems am I particularly good at solving?
  • Where do I add value?
  • What sorts of things do I do easily that others struggle with?

These are the sorts of questions I’m starting to ask myself.*

Along this line of thought, I asked an engineer buddy if he’d be interested in starting a consulting business, which would make more sense because we have more skills combined than individually. That plan could go nowhere, or I might have something more interesting to report in March. Who knows?

That said, I’ll be busy on this end for the next few months.

(* And while I’m at it, I’m submitting a book version of the art-and-recreation-on-Mars paper to publishers.)


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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
This entry was posted in careers, clients, consulting, editing, freelancing, instructional design, job hunting, personal, proposal writing, technical writing, Technology, workplace. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to What a Difference a Month Makes!

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    Hi, Bart. I hope the cancellation of your last contract will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It might be helpful to sum up your last three bullets as: “What can Bart Leahy offer that no one else can?” You’re uniquely positioned at the intersection of the technical-writing world and the space industry, which might help answer that question. And, heck, now you’ve written a book about tech writing and a book about space. You truly are one of a kind, my friend. I wish you much success.

  2. Bart Leahy says:

    Gracias, sir! I’ll think through your advice and see where I can go from there.

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