Companies from various industries are looking for more and more technical writers.
That’s not surprising; people who have in-depth knowledge of one area and know how to turn that knowledge into a readable piece of writing are rare.
If you have those skills, freelance technical writing could be an excellent source of income.
But how to become a successful freelance writer? Keep reading, and you’ll find out.
Define Your Area of Expertise
Technical writing is present in so many different industries today that having a specific area of expertise is essential for success. However good you are, you can’t cover it all.
That’s because the concept of technical writing has evolved over time.
According to technical and business writer Kara Latz, this is the traditional definition of technical writing:
However, restricting technical writing to manuals is severely outdated by now.
As a tech writer, you can find work in basically any industry.
For instance, take a look at the data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics about the top industries that employ technical writers in the U.S.
As you can see, it’s a wide variety of industries, from the IT industry to scientific research—and they need more than just user manuals.
Depending on the industry and your area of expertise, the following is only a partial list of technical writing documentation you could end up writing:
- User guides
- Medical research
- Case studies
- White papers
- Press releases
- API documentation
In short, by having a defined niche, you can present yourself as an expert in your field.
You can start by utilizing your education and previous work experience. For example, having a law degree gives you a good starting point for writing legal documents.
On the other hand, if you, like technical writer Craig Wright, have a background in the IT industry, you should emphasize that as something you’re an authority in.
Nobody can be an expert in every field that requires technical writing, and employers know that.
Therefore, it’s wise to play to your strengths to increase your chances of getting freelance gigs.
After all, if you didn’t write a line of code in your life, would you be able to write something highly technical like, for example, an API documentation guide for Pardot?
Most likely not, or with a lot of trouble and questionable results, that wouldn’t look good in your portfolio.
And a portfolio is the next thing you should invest your effort in if you want to be a successful freelance technical writer. Let’s see how to build it in the next section.
Build a Technical Writing Portfolio
Once you decide what you want to write about, it’s time to start doing it and building your portfolio showcasing your skills.
Having a great portfolio can significantly increase your chances of landing some paying freelance work—why not show your potential employers what you can do instead of just telling them?
As you probably know, before creating a portfolio, you should have some samples of your published work.
If you’re wondering where to publish it to increase your chances of getting more work, there are several options.
For example, if you’re tech-savvy, you can start your blog. That’s what Linda Ikechukwu did so she could write and publish on CodeWithLinda.
If that still isn’t an option for you, you can publish on other platforms, as this Quora user suggests.
“I was slowly noticed by several companies and I now write articles in three different languages for dozens of clients around the globe.”
However you decide to do it, once you have something to put in your portfolio, you can use online tools to build it.
One is Writerfolio, which provides you with a homepage for presenting your writing.
For example, below, you can see a part of the portfolio belonging to Crystal Thomas, a freelance technical and UX writer.
Once you publish your work and pick the best ones for your portfolio, you’re ready to expand your professional network.
Let’s find out how.
Expand Your Network
If you want to improve your chances of getting writing work as a freelancer, becoming a part of a professional network can benefit that cause.
Being a part of the technical writing community is recommended for any tech writer, but even more so for freelancers—since they don’t have a team of colleagues at their workplace, it requires more effort to get noticed in the industry.
Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to expand your network.
Let’s start with the most accessible way—social media.
For example, multiple Facebook groups bring technical writers together, allowing them to exchange ideas and engage in discussions.
One of them is Technical Writers, which has nearly 2.000 members.
Another lively place for technical writers is Reddit.
With over 17.000 members, the Technical Writing subreddit is a wealth of information and possible connections that you can form.
And let’s not forget LinkedIn, the world’s biggest online professional network.
Besides following other technical writers and industry professionals, you can expand your network by joining their Technical Writing Community group.
If you want to take networking offline, conferences can be a great option to connect with other writers from all over the world.
For instance, LavaCon is a conference for a broad spectrum of content creators, including technical writers.
In addition to having a chance to listen to industry leaders from companies like Netflix, Amazon, Google, Adobe, Microsoft, etc., you can meet many people there and create some exciting opportunities for yourself.
As you can see in the photo below, the conference is always packed.
There are plenty of ways to connect with other writers and people from the industry you want to write for.
As a freelancer, you should take any chance possible to do so, as it can only benefit your long-term prospects.
Research Market Prices
Before you go on a search for technical writing jobs, you should do your research on the state of the market and what you can expect regarding payments.
According to Kate Miller-Wilson, technical writer and author, the market for freelance writers is favorable compared to regularly employed writers—at least in terms of earning potential.
However, the catch is that as a freelance writer, you don’t get other benefits like, for example, health insurance, which salaried employees do.
If we look at some data, we can see that the difference in pay can be significant.
Miller-Wilson mentions that it’s common to see freelance technical writing projects that pay around $50 an hour, which translates to an annual salary of around $100,000.
The data from Glassdoor supports her claim—they came out with the median payment of $108,374 a year for freelance technical writers in the U.S.
On the other hand, the median salary for regularly employed technical writers is lower.
Here’s the data from Zippia:
However, there are more factors that come into play when we talk about payment for freelance writers.
You should research what the industry you want to work in pays its technical writers.
According to the U.S. Labor of Statistics, these are the highest paying industries when it comes to technical writer salaries:
Although these wages are for employed writers and not freelancers, seeing as we’ve already mentioned that freelance writers often earn even more, it’s safe to say that you can expect good compensation for your services.
Also, you should take into account your level of experience.
If you’re just starting out, it’s logical that you won’t get paid the same as someone with several years of experience.
For example, you might need to produce a lot of quality work to be in a position to charge as someone experienced like John Espirian, who, by his own admission, charges a minimum day rate of £600.
To sum up, you should research the market prices and consider your industry and experience. That way, you can adjust your expectations when looking for jobs.
Look for Technical Writing Jobs
If you have followed our advice, you know your area of expertise, have a good portfolio and a network and have an idea of the payment you want. Now is the time to look for jobs.
But, even if you’re prepared, breaking into technical writing can be challenging.
That’s why you should employ different strategies at once—the more you put yourself out there, the better your chances are.
You can start by reaching out to people in your professional network. Remember those social media communities we mentioned earlier? You can ask for help there.
You can also browse them for job openings and opportunities.
Another good solution is to set up a profile on major websites for freelancers and look for technical writing jobs there.
For example, Upwork is one of the leaders among freelance platforms and has several hundreds of technical writing gigs open at all times.
While looking through freelance platforms and social media, why not send a cold email to a company you want to work with?
If you researched your market, you undoubtedly noticed some of them.
Holly Hughes-Barnes, a marketing copywriter for B2B companies, advises that you research the company and personalize the email.
For instance, take a look at the introduction of this email:
It’s immediately apparent to the reader that this isn’t a template email the writer sent to a dozen addresses—it establishes their interest in the employer’s industry and the company itself and states the reason for contacting them.
Being proactive like that while looking for jobs is a surefire way to succeed.
Maybe it won’t be the first job on a freelance platform or the fifth cold email that will land you a great opportunity, but persistence is key.
Keep Up With the Industry Developments
Regardless of the industry you write for, keeping up to date with current developments is crucial.
If you think about it, it’s logical—who would want to hire a technical writer who shows no interest in trends and the state of the industry?
Therefore, by keeping up with the latest developments, you can have more to offer to potential employers, and they can be sure that you’ll accommodate readers’ needs.
Julie Norris, an expert in technical communication, firmly believes that extensive reading is the way to stay in the loop.
If you’re working in the IT industry, as many technical writers do, you can keep up with it by regularly reading blogs from experts.
You don’t have to be an expert in software development to enjoy and understand his writing, which makes it an excellent resource for technical writers who aren’t necessarily on that level of knowledge.
A convenient way to keep up with the industry is to subscribe to a newsletter from your preferred publication.
We’ve mentioned Medium before as a place where you can publish content.
Of course, you can also read it there or get their Medium Daily Digest newsletter with articles curated to your interests.
In addition to reading about current hot trends, it’s also important to keep up with the latest technology and tools that can help you in your technical writing.
Learning to use Archbee can help you write better documentation and show your potential employers that you take your job seriously.
You can be the most talented freelance technical writer in the industry, but the reality is that sometimes, there will be failures.
That’s especially true when starting out, as technical writer Antonello Zanini points out.
However, the beginning of your freelance writing career is the best time to learn to accept failure and to learn from it.
If you detect why you fail, you can address the issues on time and become a better technical writer.
Clients aren’t satisfied with the quality of your work? Take an online technical writing course and polish your skills.
For example, the course for beginners at Skillshare has excellent reviews and doesn’t take long to complete.
Do you fail to land clients to write for? You might be giving up too easily.
As Jorden Makelle from Writing Revolt reminds, you need to be patient and experiment with different approaches.
“I changed niches, re-designed my site, wasted time trying marketing methods that didn’t work well for me.”
And while you should accept failure when it happens, the good thing is that it’s usually accompanied by feedback.
For example, at the beginning of her freelance technical writing efforts, Hailey Grant didn’t know that a white paper is a comprehensive and formal type of technical writing on a particular topic, like the one about privacy and GDPR from BDO.
When she wrote it in a casual tone like any other blog article, the client gave her harsh feedback, and she had to deal with failure.
“I felt horrible and began doubting my skills, wondering if I was even qualified to be doing this work.”
However, she managed to use that failure to learn more about white papers and proceeded to master it.
That’s the point of accepting failure—you should fully embrace it with all its opportunities. Only that way can it be a chance for improvement.
We hope we’ve provided you with an insight into the process of freelance technical writing.
That certainly isn’t for everyone—you should have excellent writing skills and a good knowledge of the particular industry to make it in freelance writing.
Moreover, if you fail to define your area of expertise, build a portfolio and a professional network, and research market prices, or don’t know where and how to look for jobs, neglect to constantly improve or never learn how to accept failure, success might not come.
Luckily, if you read this article, you know what to do and how to do it—it’s time to start!