12 Steps To Getting Started as a Technical Writer

Most people think it’s difficult start a career as a technical writer. I used to think the same in my early 20s when I started in IT. In retrospect, I should have made more efforts to establish myself as a consultant earlier; the benefits certainly outweigh the downsides. As luck would have it, I was forced into a technical writing consultancy role when I lost my 9-5 job. Time to learn to hustling and bring in business. Harvard Business Review refers to it as The Hustle Strategy. More on that later.

3 Types of Consultant

Before we start, there are 3 types of consultants:

  1. Academic — those with academic achievements, e.g. PhDs, who are brought in to solve/explore/test problems. Their skills match the problem at hand. So you have it or you don’t.
  2. Management — those with senior management skills, such as in M&A, legal, international business development and
  3. Solutions — this includes the broad spectrum of 9-workers who’ve ‘repositioned’ their skills, want to work for themselves and/or have others working for them. This, I assume, it where you fit in. It’s where most consultant start out.

How to get started as a Consultant

The next question is: how do I get started? Here’s one way of approaching it.

  1. Focus — identify your top 3 skills (not technologies). Be honest. If someone put a gun to your head and said “what are the three things you do best?”, then you’d say ”what I do best is…”
  2. How do you see yourself — write a pen portrait (100 words max) of how you see yourself. So, if you were introducing yourself person to someone at a conference, you’d say “Hi, this is Amanda she,….” Remember, focus on the benefits you offer, not the tools. Tip – Start to visualize the person/consultant you want to become.
  3. Role Models — identify 3 business leaders and use them as role models. For me, Richard Branson is a good example, for you it might be someone else. Read everything about these people, soak up how they made it. It’s not in the words of their bio – but the energy, the drive they had. Having a role model gives you a frame of reference, something to use as a compass/anchor.
  4. Meet and Greet — Contact 10 people who are in a similar position as yourself. Meet up, for example, on a Saturday afternoon and see how you can help each other. Remember, you’re looking to link up with people for the long haul. Ignore the tire-kickers. Find 1 or 2 decent people that you trust and keep connecting with them.
  5. Be the Glue — Define one common goal with these folks and make it happen. For example, aim to run an event, workshop, training course (whatever) by a specific date. You have to have targets, otherwise nothing will happen. It will just be talking shop.
  6. Action Plan — doesn’t need to be fancy. List what needs to be done, assign names, and dates.
  7. Examine your USP – I know this sounds lame but you have to differentiate yourself from the competition. This is the key. If you become ‘that guy’ who does, for example, Facebook training, Social Media business communications, Proposal development for biotechnology or whatever, then laser focus on this. Your aim is to dominate this one area. You have to become ‘that guy’.
  8. Promotion — once you’ve all your ducks lined up, start getting the message out. Write guest articles in blogs, contribute to events, share information on LinkedIn, send free White Papers to people in your target market – do whatever it takes to promote yourself (and your colleagues) so that you become you become ‘that girl’. Girls, when I say ‘that guy’ I mean both guys and girls. You know that, right?
  9. Personal branding – get your site, business cards, sharp suit etc in place. People still judge on appearances. If you look successful…
  10. Network — Look for places to get out and meet people. People do business with people they meet. Again, it doesn’t have to be fancy. Find fast ways to meet up and find out where it’s happening.
  11. Stick to the plan — If you keep this up for 3 months, you’ll change your perception of who you are and also by meeting people, you’ll learn new things. While the web is great, the human touch is what counts.
  12. Follow the leader — Tom Peters, Chris Brogan, Richard Branson, ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ have all helped me in different ways.

Tip – if you’re a single mom, link up with other parents who want to run their own business and take turns minding each other’s kids:  that way you both get one night a week to get out there and network.

One last thing – the harder you try, the luckier you get. Take it one step at a time. Remember the turtle and the hare. Use everyday opportunities as ways to close the gap between where you are and where you want to go.

What’s your first step?

What advice would you give to those who want to start as a technical writer?

What’s the one mistake they must avoid?

What’s the best tip you ever got on starting your own technical writing business?