Freelance Technical Writing

Understanding Freelance Technical Writing: Ultimate Guide (2022)

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Going into freelance technical writing is becoming a career choice for most people in the technology industry today and freelance writers are increasing on a daily. 

For software engineers doing freelance technical writing, it provides another income channel, a way of contributing back to the developer community (while also getting paid), and perhaps, a way of attracting software engineering gigs too.

For in-house technical writers, freelance technical writing could serve the same purpose I mentioned for software engineers doing freelance technical writing, with the addition that it could also serve in achieving major career goals such as a career pivotal (moving from an in-house work environment to a remote one).

What’s important to also consider alongside the reasons for the new career decision is that becoming a freelance technical writer also comes with its unique challenges.

If you have been working as an in-house technical writer, then as a freelance technical writer, you will have to deal with new experiences you were not exposed to in your familiar in-house work environment. 

This would include working with multiple clients with varying needs and wants, shorter delivery times, and higher expertise demands among other challenges. More on this is below.

In this article, we cover the common topics that are of concern, especially if you are just coming into the freelance technical writing space.

A portfolio builder for tech writers

  • What is Freelance technical writing?: Here, we would provide unique insights on freelance technical writing and how it differs from technical writing (in-house). This section would also expose you to the challenges of freelance technical writing to enable you to prepare for the demands of the niche.
  • Top blogs on freelance technical writing: This section curates resources you can consult to gain in-depth practical knowledge of the technical writing field.
  • Top websites for freelance technical writing jobs: This section curates some top freelance platforms that provide you access to a global marketplace where you can land freelance technical writing gigs with clients from anywhere in the world.
  • Tips on becoming a good freelance technical writer: This section curates some tips you want to keep handy to succeed in the freelance technical writing space.
  • How to scale Freelance technical writing:  This section covers the next steps in growing your freelance technical writing career once you’ve crossed the first hurdle of nailing your first clients.

What is Freelance Technical Writing?

Freelance technical writing is when a technical writer works with several clients, as opposed to working in-house in a company, to produce various forms of technical documentation deliverables.

A highly proficient freelance technical writer must be a technical writer with a considerable number of years of experience working across different industries and niches, and an expert in a wide range of technical topics. 

This is most relevant given the relatively shorter time period—compared to an in-house job—freelance technical writers get to work with each of their clients.

Most freelance technical writing gigs would usually run between a time period of a few days to a maximum of six months or a year.  Only a few freelance gigs continue for longer periods of time.

What this means for a freelance technical writer is that you must be able to work with your clients to create technical documentation within a relatively short period of time.

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When working in-house, a newly employed technical writer would be allowed the time to get familiar with the company products, read up on available documentation, and network with the other team members to gain a good understanding of the products they would be creating documentation for. 

During this time period of learning, these new members won’t be given demanding tasks such as documenting a new company product or doing fresh API documentation. 

At best, they would be tasked with less demanding jobs like updating current documentation, patching current documentation, and doing minor clean-ups to improve the quality of the current documentation. 

The time period for this phase could last up to six months depending on the size of the company. Companies like Google could have new technical writers spend their first six months in this phase.

With freelance technical writing, this phase is totally eliminated, or shortened to perhaps, a few hours or few days.

You must be able to get on the team, understand the product (at least the part you are tasked with creating documentation for), and get started creating whole technical documentation content as quickly as possible, depending on your agreement with the client, the delivery time, and set milestones.

This could prove an impossible task except if you possess deep expertise and experience doing that sort of technical documentation in a previous job or role.

So here you must endeavor to examine your experience and expertise depth across various topics, niches, and industries to know the technical writing gigs you can comfortably handle and deliver a good job on—which is very important in building your reputation with clients.

Top blogs on freelance technical writing 

Technical writing as a field doesn’t have a lot of blogs about it.  However, there are some quality blogs online that provide the in-depth knowledge you can consult on the technical writing field.

Here are a few of them:

Contentre Blog

You can start learning more about the technical writing field right here in the Contentre blog resources.

Contentre Blog would be particularly useful for you, especially in helping you understand the foundations of the technical writing field as well as gain insights from the stories and life experiences of other technical writers who have made successes as freelance technical writers.

Idratherbewriting

I would always recommend idratherbewriting to anyone who is new to API documentation. Idratherbewriting is a technical writing blog by Tom Johnson. 

The distinct quality of his blog is that housed in his blog site is a full API documentation course made available for free to all technical writers who are interested in learning about API documentation. You should check it out. 

The course is practical and wholesome enough to help you launch a successful freelance technical writing gig doing API documentation for clients.

Read more on other technical writing blogs available to you for use in building your technical writing knowledge.

Top websites for freelance technical writing jobs 

A good place to start your freelance technical writing career is to check out some of the most popular freelance platforms on the web today.  These include platforms such as Fiverr, Upwork, and Freelancer.

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Fiverr

Fiverr is a global marketplace for freelancers. It works by allowing freelancers (sellers) to create a gig for each service they want to offer to buyers.

Fiverr is a great place to start off a freelance technical writing career. It is less stressful in that you don’t have to apply for jobs or pitch clients, at least not initially. Instead, buyers (clients) visit a niche they are interested in, then proceed to pick the seller with whom they want to patronize. 

Some useful tips in setting up a good gig are to ensure the specific pain points/value proposition you are targeting with your gig is clear and specific in your gig title. For instance, “I will create API documentation for your e-Payment platform using Sphinx“.

Also, ensure you provide a good description, a video pitch that displays your expertise, and some portfolio items too.

Upwork

In contrast to Fiverr, Upwork works by allowing clients to post their jobs on the platform. Interested freelancers then proceed to apply for each job. Each application to a job costs freelancers connects, which is variable depending on the job.

Getting jobs on Upwork depends strongly on your ratings and reviews just like any other freelance platform. 

Upwork allows you to create multiple profiles to match each of the services you intend to offer. This usually consists of a general profile for all your services and specialized profiles for each of your services.

If you are new to the platform, it is best to focus more on getting your first job and improving your reputation than on job specifications like the pay type (hourly/ fixed fee jobs).

The platform also has a good search system that allows you to easily filter jobs down to the ones that appeal to your interest.

Freelancer

Freelancer works similarly to Upwork. The only distinguishing feature is that in addition to jobs, it also has a contest platform that allows freelancers to participate in a contest usually hosted by clients.

This works by allowing clients to post a job to be done. Freelancers apply to the contest by submitting their entries. The best entry, determined by the client, wins the prize.

Tips on becoming a good freelance technical writer

As a technical writer, your ability to convince your clients that you can deliver on the job depends on the strength of your portfolio, as it offers the best physical representation of your experience and expertise.

So make sure to include relevant technical content in your portfolio. Ensure it demonstrates your depth and breadth of knowledge in the particular niche/topic/industry relevant to a job a client has for you.

Check out our blog post on five tips for building a good portfolio

Additionally, We have detailed how to become a good technical writer and how you can stand out from the crowd and become a better and sought-after technical writer by clients and companies?

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How to scale Freelance technical writing

Once you’ve successfully launched your freelance technical writing career,  and crossed the first hurdle of nailing your first clients, then the next step is to scale your freelance writing career. Let’s go over some best practices for achieving this.

Good Reputation

Protect your reputation with your clients. This is the number one rule to scaling your freelance technical writing career. A lot of your progress as a freelance technical writer depends on your reputation, as it speaks for you

Most freelance platforms allow you to record your reputation in the form of reviews and ratings from clients. 

You want to ensure that you get top ratings– a five out of five–and good reviews from your clients. If you get a low rating on a delivered work, communicate with your client on unsatisfactory aspects, then negotiate with them on rectifying these aspects so it matches their expectations. 

Don’t give up until you get your five-star ratings and quality reviews. Negotiate with your clients until you achieve this. It is very important.

Repeat customers

Repeat customers are very important because clients tend to increase their demand the more trust they have in a seller. This follows from the previous point. A good reputation would naturally earn you repeat customers. 

Repeat customers offer you more jobs at less cost. Think about how much in terms of time and marketing costs you have to invest to gain new clients. With repeat customers, you don’t have to indulge in any of these expenses. A win-win!

To ensure repeat customers, you must indulge key skills such as your communication and emotional intelligence skills, both of which are very important to ensure you are paying attention to your client’s specific pain points. This will not only deepen the business relationship but will also gain you more clients–through word-of-mouth marketing done by your client.

Join technical writing communities

Joining technical writing communities is a good way to expand your network, grow your connections, and place you in the right place to win technical writing gigs.

If you are not part of any technical writing community, then I recommend the Contentre community as a good starting point.

 Writethedocs is the largest technical writing community and its slack channel boasts several channels on the different aspects of the technical writing field. Relevant to the job fronts is the work-wanted and jobs-posts-only channel. 

Final words

So these are good steps to extend your network and scale your freelance technical writing career. For less experienced freelance technical writers, you might also want to check out this content on how to approach scaling your technical writing career.

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Founder Contentre.io | Grow your technical writing career in one place.

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