Any technical writer working as a contractor knows the importance of self-marketing. Though referrals and agencies are fine ways to secure contracts, finding a new client completely on your own is like discovering buried treasure.
Just how do you find unadvertised companies in need of technical writers? Here are five less-traveled routes. Though they don’t offer the faster return of conventional job search methods, each will achieve the goal of circulating your name and making new connections, which could in turn lead to your phone ringing down the road.
Donate your Skills
Many schools or organizations hold goods and services auctions as fundraisers. A wide range of bidders attends these auctions, some of whom work for local software companies, others who may be running their own side business.
Consider donating a block of your time as an item to be auctioned off, for example – six hours of writing services. Slant it at your specialized service, such as web projects, or for wider exposure, offer a block of time toward any business/technical documentation need: company brochure, software instructions, general documentation consulting.
To post your service at the event, make a small poster or flyer that describes what you are offering and the terms. Talk to the auction manager to determine how their event is set up. Typically, your poster will be placed with others on a silent auction display table or in a booklet and viewed quickly by many passing eyes. Make it eye catching and highlight the types of services you are willing to provide. Include a stack of business cards with your display.
Since writing jobs likely take longer than the amount of time you will donate, this could turn into a paying venture once you have exceeded your donation. Be clear up front about what your hourly rate will be, and consider offering a reduced hourly rate in the spirit of the donation.
Focus on Small Companies
Though not as prevalent as they once were, start-up companies are still around. These companies typically do not house their own technical writer but have a large need for good documentation. A good relationship with a forming company can be a source of repeat business.
To locate start-up companies, keep your ears open at business gatherings. Pay attention when you hear of someone changing jobs, or someone with a “side venture”. Expand your hunt by searching employment boards or your local newspaper for the words “start up” or “energetic, new company”. Send along your brochure to any that you find. Follow up with a phone call to find out where these companies stand in their documentation effort. If you are fortunate enough to speak with the correct person, use your phone conversation to feel out how they are addressing their documentation needs and perhaps offer a few free recommendations.
Spread your Identity
On your own or with an experienced designer, produce a logo with your name and contact information (ideally, include your web site) and use it in as many ways as possible. A visit to your local copy shop should provide plenty of inspiration: anything from tee shirts to coffee cups to pencils can be embellished with your logo. A good initial investment is a bulk order of small notepads bearing your logo. Use the paper for notes you send to anyone – the school, doctor’s office, postman. Give blank notepads to family and friends and encourage their widespread use.
If you are having a particularly profitable year, consider sponsoring a local youth sports team that you enjoy. You will gain visibility while helping out an appreciative cause.
Once people see your business logo, out of curiosity they will explore your web site and make a connection between your name and your services.
Run Routine Blind Mailings
Consider blind mailings an annual part of your business and attempt to launch at least two per year. Over the course of the year, maintain a running list of companies that interest you or that are new to the area. If you attend writing conferences or trade shows, add those contacts to your list. Browse the local paper for companies that would use your type of writing services. To save time, keep your list on a word processing program capable of supporting bulk mailings.
Whenever things are slow, spend some time researching each company to identify the name of the person in charge of documentation. Avoid mailing to a general address or to human resources, as they may simply file the information before the proper party sees it.
Once you have a list of contacts and prospective companies, compose a general letter explaining your services. Include your brochure and business card (and perhaps a complimentary pad of your note paper).
Most likely, you have ordered software and received truly bad directions, or thrown up your hands in despair at an incomplete or poorly written web site. Consider approaching these companies and offering your services. Perhaps mark up a small section of the piece in question, or summarize in a letter the problems you had and the improvements you could offer. Remain extremely tactful, particularly if you are dealing with a small or one-man operation. The person you approach could very well be the proud author of the material you are putting up for improvement.
For the independent contractor, constantly seeking new prospects is the backbone to keeping the telephone ringing. Keep your efforts strong by scheduling time each month to review and work on your marketing goals. When business is slow, look for new ways to make contacts: try out a different networking group, or poke around the internet for some new sources of inspiration. When business is booming, take a break from production briefly to keep up with your marketing plans. If you’re too swamped to spend sufficient time on it, schedule a block of time as soon as your workload lessens.
Having a job come your way based on your own legwork is one of the best rewards of contracting!