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A technical writer works with technical information to fulfill a number of company objectives. Their job may include writing manuals, official documentation, or how-to guides. They may work for technical companies and write for technical audiences, or they may work with everyday businesses and write for lay people.
Who is this business right for?
Technical writers should be excited to explain complicated concepts to readers quickly without patronizing them. They should be able to boil down a lot of information into a helpful document that a reader will retain. Ideally, it’s for someone who has an interest in engineering or technology who craves flexibility beyond a standard 9 to 5 and a touch of creativity.
What happens during a typical day at a technical writing business?
Technical writers won’t necessarily spend the whole day writing and may actually put more time into researching their topics and organizing their ideas. Additional activities may include invoicing clients, advertising their services, or estimating the amount of time needed for each assignment. As technology changes, writers may also need to get continuing education to ensure they continue to meet company objectives.
What is the target market?
Most companies need some type of technical writer to document official processes, which makes the target market fairly wide. Even a non-profit may hire a technical writer to create reference resources for employees. This could be anything from simple SOPs (standard operating procedures) to complex style guides to instruction manuals for using a robot. Technical writers may work as an independent entity for one company, but most will freelance their services across different companies.
How does a technical writing business make money?
Technical writers will either charge by the word based on the amount of research necessary or by flat rate for a document. Highly specialized technical writers (e.g., those who write solely for PHP developers) may charge a flat rate per word based on their level of expertise.
What is the growth potential for a technical writing business?
There isn’t a lot of competition for technical writers, as most writers prefer to do something on the more creative side. People who are able to grasp high-level technical information will either choose real-world applications for their skills or do independent consulting for a living. Someone who loves to write and can easily adapt and conform to a company’s style can have unlimited growth potential.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful technical writing business?
Technical writers don’t necessarily need formal education, but they may have difficulty scoring higher paying jobs if they don’t at the very beginning. Writers are more likely to be hired based on their previous work rather than their credentials, so they should budget in some time to learn the ropes at the beginning. It will be more difficult (though not impossible) to learn technical concepts on-the-fly without the help of a trained instructor.
What are the costs involved in opening a technical writing business?
There are very few costs involved to open a technical writer business, especially if a person isn’t planning to take additional classes to prepare for their job. Writers can work out of their home with the help of a computer and internet connection. Technical writers should invest in an online presence, but they don't necessarily need to spend money on online advertising. Sites such as SquareSpace offer DIY websites that can be completed for less than $200 a year.
What are the steps to start a technical writing business?
Once you're ready to start your technical writing business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your technical writing business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your technical writing business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
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What are some insider tips for jump starting a technical writing business?
Technical writers will need plenty of samples to show clients when they get started. Preferably, these samples should span across several topics if a technical writer isn't planning to specialize in one particular topic. If they don’t have any formal writing online or in an academic journal, they should at least have a blog or an online portfolio where clients can peruse their particular writing style.
Even though it’s not the most competitive field, technical writers may want to consider lower-paying jobs if they’re having difficulty attracting the bigger fish. Some company owners are hesitant to hire someone without a lot of experience, which means a technical writer may want to focus on the breadth of their sample size before doing anything else. Studying style guides can also help you be more adaptable as you start getting more clients. Every company will have their own preferences when it comes to how their writing is formatted and presented.
Everyone knows what it’s like to be given an instruction manual that is so complicated, it’s essentially useless. Technical writers should prove to companies that they can deliver crisp, clean sentences that don’t overwhelm or confuse the reader. Consider specializing in one particular type of technical writing so you can really build your craft and make connections in the right circles.
How to promote & market a technical writing business
The best way to promote yourself is to get in touch with as many people who are hiring freelance writers or looking for independent contractors. You can also consider getting in touch with a recruiter to see if there are companies who might be willing to hire you as an independent contractor rather than a full-time employee. In this way, you can still keep your own business while building relationships that will eventually net you additional clients.
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How to keep customers coming back
Technical writers need not only to fulfill the requirements of each job but also to find a way to connect with the reader on a deeper level. In other words, technical writing doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, but it shouldn’t bore a person to tears either.
How and when to build a team
Technical writers don’t necessarily need to build a team immediately, if at all. For those who don’t want to handle the administrative tasks associated with technical writing, they can consider hiring a part-time secretary or an assistant to help manage their calendar, invoicing, and deadlines. You can also consider hiring additional writers to pick up the slack if your workload becomes unmanageable.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a technical writing business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Technical writing businesses should consider requiring clients to sign a services agreement before starting a new project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, service level expectations, and so on.
How much can you charge customers?
In-demand technical writers can charge the going rates are for their field. A person writing about complex computer concepts can easily make $2 a word or more. However, most technical writers start off making $.20 a word or less. It all just depends on the complexity of the material and the company who’s hiring.
What are the ongoing expenses for a technical writing business?
Much like start-up costs, ongoing costs for technical writers can be kept very low. Standard wi-fi, computer maintenance, and website costs can all be kept to the bare minimum.
How much profit can a technical writing business make?
A technical writer would need to write about 33,000 words to make $50,000 a year if they're charging $1.50 per word. Technical writer make an average of $70,000 a year or so, but this number can go up significantly for someone who’s willing to put in extra work.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Writers can consider offering marketing services to their clients in an effort to bring highly technical work to a larger audience. For example, they may begin developing an advertising campaign to introduce complex robotics to a lay audience.