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by Siobhán Ní Chatháin
Special to TCC
As a technical communicator, are you attracted by the prospect of greater independence and flexibility, but daunted by the prospect of losing security and support, having to find clients, and manage gaps between projects?
Freelancing with a service provider could be the sweet spot between full-time employment and striking out alone. Some of the advantages of freelancing with a service provider include:
- Contracts with regular working hours
- Support of a project manager
- Back-up of peer reviewers
- Team-based working environment
- Choice of working in an office or remotely
Three technical communicators who’ve worked with Irish-based service provider TWi, share their stories and advice.
As a part-time freelancer, Liadain moved from Ireland to Thailand for a year to immerse herself in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) training. During her year abroad, Liadain worked on various projects and spread her working hours over a 5-day week to ease collaboration with her team. She describes a typical day in Thailand:
I’d check emails before going training. Then I’d come back and do the actual writing or editing. I’d finish in the late afternoon and go training again. Sometimes I’d have a meeting afterwards to suit other people’s time zones.
Freelancing was compatible with living abroad and pursuing her training, and Liadain found the transition surprisingly easy.
As a technical communicator, your deadlines could be weeks or months away, so you must be self-motivated, and you’re often working with virtual teams anyway. I’d assumed there would be a learning curve, but it felt very similar.
Sharon inadvertently became a freelancer when she was made redundant. Freelancing allows her to schedule her workload around her children’s school and extracurricular activities. While Sharon enjoys the independence of freelancing, when working with a service provider she appreciates having project management, administrative, and peer support.
It’s nice to have a sounding board. Plus, having someone else looking after scheduling and issues lets you focus on producing content, rather than on admin tasks.
Sharon relishes the variety that comes with freelancing and the constant learning opportunities.
I love working on weird and wonderful niche projects that don’t need long-term, full-time writers.
Although aware that the variety might be exhausting for some, Sharon finds it stimulating and says it helps her keep her skills sharp. Consequently, she brings a broad spectrum of knowledge and experience to each new project.
The offer of a long-term freelance position with a service provider allowed Joanna return to work after maternity leave, without sacrificing closeness to her children. It also enabled her to participate in an English-speaking workplace though based in Poland.
We talk every day on Skype, in emails, and in meetings. I’m in this English environment even though I’m in my Krakow home office.
Joanna enlisted the assistance of an accounting company, so she can focus on her project work.
A challenge for me was taking care of health and social insurance, and calculating taxes myself – I’d rather do anything else.
Availing of ancillary services for financial planning and administration allows freelancers to spend more time and energy on core tasks, rather than the additional obligations that come with being self-employed.
Is Freelancing for You?
To decide whether freelancing suits your circumstances and characteristics, evaluate your experience, qualities, and priorities.
Evaluate Your Experience
Before branching out as a freelance technical communicator, you need to comfortably establish yourself in the profession.
Liadain wouldn’t recommend freelancing to newly qualified technical communicators:
After a year or two it might be doable. But I’m glad I had at least three or four years of solid experience.
Joanna points out that it’s important to be comfortable working independently:
If you’re used to working on your own, you’ve a good grounding in whatever it is you’ll be doing, and you won’t be trying to find your feet while you’re freelancing – then go for it.
Nonetheless, being realistic about the extent of your experience is not the same as being limited by it. Direct knowledge of specific types of projects or tools is not always essential. Sharon notes that transferable skills are valuable assets, if you can leverage them appropriately:
I get calls: ‘We need somebody to do X, have you done X?’ I say: ‘No, but if I don’t do it for you, I won’t gain experience of it. And while I haven’t done X, of these five other things I have done, this thing, that thing, and this other thing are all relevant.’
Adopt this approach to continually build your portfolio of experience.
Consider Your Qualities
Freelancers must be committed, hardworking, and organised, according to Joanna:
You need to be highly motivated and know what you want to accomplish. Your work needs to speak for you.
Sharon has seen people struggle to cope with peaks and troughs of work:
You need a certain temperament to cope with the ups and downs, busy periods and quiet periods. When it’s busy, it can be very busy. The compensation is that you get to take two or three weeks off.
Sharon uses breaks between projects to up-skill. She regularly undertakes online courses to explore new technologies.
If I’ve a week or a month of downtime, I don’t sit back and feel defeated. I’ll learn something I don’t know anything about.
If you share this capacity to treat potential difficulties as opportunities, you may be suited to freelancing.
Review Your Priorities
Being clear about your motivations allows you to manage your expectations and assess what compromises are worth making.
For Liadain, flexibility was more important than a lack of stability:
I wanted to work part-time so I had to accept that work could be patchy sometimes. It’s not a huge disadvantage for me as I don’t have a mortgage or family, so I was willing to take that side of it.
Freelancing and remote working are not synonymous, but often go hand-in-hand. As a remote freelancer, Joanna misses having casual face-to-face interactions with co-workers. However, for her the trade-off is worthwhile:
I think this is the best job. I have contact with people, with a foreign language, with technology – it’s perfect for me.
Freelancing isn’t for everyone, so weigh up the pros and cons before taking the leap. However, if you’re an experienced technical communicator looking for flexible scheduling, control over your workload, and the ability to work at a location of your choice, freelancing is an option worth considering.
While freelancing brings its own benefits and challenges, you don’t have to go totally solo. By establishing a relationship with a suitable service provider, you can off-set some of the potential drawbacks and accentuate the positive aspects, allowing you to strike the balance.
You can reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
(This text is checked for plagiarism. The author guarantees that this is an original text written specifically for TCC.)