Marketing the Wily Technical Writer
by Michael Knowles
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If the world really is run by C students, then you have to ask
yourself a question: How do I market myself in an ocean of
average? Today's competitive job market can be a hard nut to
crack. How do you stand out in that crowd?
One of the
several reasons that I publish a newsletter is as a way to make
myself stand out. There have been a few newsletters out there
over the years, but only a couple are kept current and feature
useful information. I believe that mine is one of those few. But
good newsletters don't get you the good jobs. There is only one
word for the business of standing out. Some call it
I call it hustle.
What Every Writer Has To Know
If you are going to find the interesting, fun work, the kind
of work that leaves you feeling pumped, then you must know:
- The types of work that you do well;
- Which of that work makes you feel the best; and
- How those map into what needs to be done in the business
You must know what your special skills are so you can (a) hone
them and (b) market them. Most of the time it's the work I do
well that leaves me feeling the most satisfied. Getting the first
two items straight in your mind will focus you for doing the
Marketing in the Corporate World
There is a certain amount of ego required to market yourself
in the corporate world. Not, "Hey, I'm magnificent, look-at-me"
arrogance, but the kind that comprises personal confidence and
self-knowledge. You must have the chutzpah to look for
opportunities, otherwise you'll find yourself in the backwaters
of technical writing.
Of course, if that's where you want to be... There are many
good places to scare up interesting work. Here are three:
- Product Marketing: If your company has a product
marketing group, get to know the product managers. Engage them in
conversation about the products. Much of the time, these people
have a pile of papers that need to be written with little time to
do them. Offer your services. Keep offering your services.
Hustle. That's how I got my first white paper, and
probably how you'll get yours. It's also a great opportunity to
help put product specifications together. Most of the good jobs
are taken by those who just happen to be around. Why not
- Customer Services: If there was ever a group in
desperate need of your skills, the Customer Services group is it.
These folks are beyond busy. They're solving problems and, most
of the time, writing them up quickly for their own personal
databases. I walk into CS groups and ask them about their biggest
problems, the most aggravating phone calls, and why they get
them. The response? "Well, it's hard to find this information,"
or, "It isn't covered in the documentation." Voila -- work that
needs to be done. I've helped many CS groups get a handle on
their information needs. This is called knowledge management, by
the way. Bet you didn't know it was a person, did you?
- Engineering: You know about engineers. These are the
people who know so much that they don't know what they don't
know. But one thing they do know is that they hate to
write specifications. In every company I've ever worked for,
engineering managers loved it when I came in and said, "Hey,
would you like some help writing your specs?" If you are
technical enough to handle this one, and like diving into the
depths of a product, then you'll find work that'll keep you busy
for the duration.
Marketing for the Independent
As an independent, you have two things working for you: your
reputation and your desire to hustle. Reputation is based
on job experience and personal competence. Hustle consists of
marketing your skills and services in a variety of ways. There's
that word again...
The single most powerful way to market yourself is
face-to-face. Always carry a business card with you, and when
someone asks you what you do, be able to tell them exactly in 25
words or less. I use several different pitches, depending on the
audience. I use this one a lot:
I create technical materials that help companies
promote and support their products.
I also maintain a personal Web site that I populate with my
resume and samples that always represent my latest work.
As an independent, having a personal Web site is more than a
convenience. It's a necessity.
As an independent, you must always have your eyes open for
potential work. For instance, I recently happened upon a set of
course notes created by a CEO who used to teach sales seminars
for a living. I realized that these were the makings of a book
that would probably sell pretty well. I talked to him about it,
and what do you know -- we're writing a book together.
The top ways to get work as an independent:
- Establish partnerships with other independents, such as
graphic artists and other writers. When you have more than you
can handle, share the load and they'll share with you.
- Stay in touch with your customers. Successes are short-lived,
so help them remember you by remembering them.
- Subscribe to sites like Guru.com and Workaholics4hire.com. They're great resources
for shorter gigs, if you're persistent.
In the end, it's about personal competence, persistence,
and relationships. Being a writer is about human interaction. The
relationships you establish and maintain will enrich your work
life and ensure that you get to do as much of what you love as
you can handle.
Find Out More...
Copyright © 2001 Michael Knowles
- Succeeding as a Technical Writer - Michael Knowles
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Michael Knowles creates technical materials that help companies market and support their products and services. He also writes nonfiction, and poetry, publishes the weekly WriteThinking newsletter, and is working on the third draft of his first novel. He lives in North Carolina, with his wife, two sons, and six cats. And he laughs. A lot.
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