Start a technical writing business by following these 9 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your technical writing business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
STEP 1: Plan your Business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How long it will take you to break even?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
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 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.
Who 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.
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.
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.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is very important. Read our detailed guide on how to name your business. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.
After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your technical writing business is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Check out the Top Business Formation Services from our friends at StartupSavant.
You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Find the right bank for you, read our review of the Top 5 Banks for Your Small Business
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
STEP 5: 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.
STEP 6: 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.
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, read our article, 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.
STEP 7: Get Business Insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: 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.
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.
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.
STEP 9: Establish your 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.
Start A Technical Writing Business In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Is this Business Right For You?
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 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 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.
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Take the Next Step
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.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
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 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.