Today’s technical writer needs to a bit of an entrepreneur

My late father had a tireless work ethic. It set quite the example for me when I was growing up. He had his day job as a respiratory therapist and always picked up extra work. I must have been a teenager before realized everybody else’s father only had one employer. I carried

Since my September 2012 layoff, I had to readjust to a whole new way of working. My side projects became my primary projects. Here are six reasons why technical writers should be pursuing side writing projects:

1. Maintains alternative income streams. My side projects used to go into my savings or became fun money for luxuries. When I was laid off, those projects helped me transition back into freelancing so quickly that I left my last full-time employer’s office at 2:00 pm and I was back to working at 4:00 pm.

2. Keeps professional skills sharp. The definition and role of a technical writer in some organizations can go very stagnant. If a technical writer is pursuing writing projects on the side, their skills can remain sharp even if budgets and politics at their day job may shift them to a non-writing role. One of the worst things that can happen to a technical writer now in today’s tight economy is to let their skills go. It’s just too competitive out there.

3. Demonstrates a passion for the craft of writing. Writers should be writing. Writers should be enjoying writing. Writers pursuing writing projects outside their normal 9-5 show a passion for the craft.

4. Helps drive learning of new technology. My side freelance writing projects got me to thinking and (better yet) writing about technologies that I did not see during my day job. My entire experience writing about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), enterprise mobility, and big data comes from side projects. I wouldn’t have a grounding in these subjects if it wasn’t for the projects I first started pursuing on the side.

5. Reinforces project and time management skills. To work on a part-time freelance project the right way you have to treat it as any other project. The part-time nature and off hours schedule make project and time management skills even more critical to the success of such projects

6. Reinforces client management skills. It’s one thing to manage a client you see face to face every day, but another to manage a client you work for part-time and virtually. Side freelance projects can help technical writers reinforce their client management and communications skills. There is a misperception in some circles that there has to be much face-to-face interaction with clients, but I am here to say that is not

As long as the technical writer avoids conflicts of interest, not using company equipment, and delivering on their day job then employers should see side projects as a differentiator not an issue.

An earlier version of this post appeared on my personal blog.

Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. His writing experience also includes writing technology articles for CNET TechRepublic and other sites. Will’s technology interests include collaboration platforms, enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), project management applications, and big data.


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