Independent consultants need to find enough clients to match their overhead, and contractors need to land another contract after the current one ends. As a result, contractors and independent consultants need to know how to sell themselves. (Note: In this chapter, I often use the term “contractor” to include both contractors and independent consultants.)
According to an article in Business Wire (June 1999), “ … independent contractors, consultants and freelancers believe marketing and promoting themselves is the biggest drawback to being independently employed.” The article writer drew this conclusion from a Monster.com survey of over 5500 existing and wannabe agents. The article claimed that nearly half of the contractors polled believe that having to constantly market themselves is a drawback to being independent.
Contractors and consultants who do not like to selling and promoting themselves may find it difficult to make ends meet, for there will be competitors for the same clients who are out there, selling themselves, and getting the attention. However, with practice and encouragement, people who want to work independently can master the basics of self promotion and enjoy the freedom afforded those who work independently.
For independent technical communicators, maintaining steady income involves continual self promotion, which includes promoting yourself even when you have a full plate of work. Rather than vacillating between times of working and times of searching for work, successful contractors learn to braid their working and self promotion efforts in such a way as to create a continuous flow of contracts, clients and inquiries.
Granted, you may need to reduce marketing activities when you are extremely busy, but do not stop them altogether. When the current contract ends, you don’t want to be left without a single assignment or lead.
Learn to cultivate contacts today so that you will have prospects six months from now. To quote Harvey MacKay, remember to “dig your well before you’re thirsty.”
Having personalized business cards with current information is as rudimentary as having an updated copy of your resume. Giving out your business card can mean the difference between being remembered or being forgotten.
I like to use both sides of a business card. The front contains my logo, company name, address and phone numbers. The back lists the URLs of my related Websites. I have seen others use the back to list their experience and skills, add a positive thought, or give interesting statistics. Using both sides of the card allows you to pack a little more data onto your business card without crowding it all on the face.
For over a decade I’ve used PageMaker to create my own business cards. I would rather create and print 100 cards at a sitting than place an order for 500 cards, mostly because I move around a lot. But whether you make your own or order them made ready-made, remember to use fonts that can be quickly and easily deciphered. When it comes to fonts, resist the urge to be cute or unique.
You can find great advice for building a resume on Monster.com, Hotjobs.com, About.com and How-to-write-a-resume.org. It goes without saying that as a contractor, you need to update your resume more often than a regular employee. When I decided to become a technical writing contractor, I took advantage of the resume service offered by my alma mater. As my existing resume stressed teaching experience, I needed to downplay that in preference of writing experience; and as I had more computer skills than industry experience, I placed my skills right up front. I recommend taking advantage of a resume coach if you can. I believe you will find it worth your time.
Maintain Separate Resumes
Focus On Current Opening
To get inside the hiring manager's head, ask yourself "what will convince this decision-maker that I'm perfect for his or her opportunity but also that I won't abandon it for an even better one as soon as it comes along?"
Don’t Appear Overqualified
In addition, giving the recruiter more information about your varied experience than they need may cause you to seem less suitable for the opening. It takes time, but focusing your resume for the opportunity pays off in the long run.
Like your resume, edit your examples to death because your portfolio is considered representative of your best efforts. If your example is flawed, and you haven’t previously explained how/why/what you would improve it, you are sunk. You may want to include a short prefatory note with some of your samples, indicating some of the following:
Here are some ideas for getting around NDAs so that you can demonstrate your work:
Multiple Deliverable Types
Writing samples don't always have to have been done on the job. My portfolio contains some articles I have written for newsletters and some of my college project deliverables.
It is important for technical communicators to announce their existence and highlight their skills on their own Website. If you don’t have time to build your own, find someone (with a good portfolio of Websites) to build it for you. Take the time to look at existing vendor and contractor Websites to see what you like and what seems to work best for your type of work. Personal Websites are great places for online resumes and online portfolios.
Domain names can be 67 characters long. If the name you want is taken, and you don’t care for any of the obvious alternatives, consider making a domain name out of your slogan.
Flash and Splash
Selected Online Resume Examples
1. Interesting layout and use of color. The text should be wider for less scrolling. The writer’s personal references are included – which is not recommended. http://www.scribble-count.com/Company/SandersRes.htm
2. Interesting Website with some good information, but the layout requires lots of clicking. http://www.technicalwrites.com/index.html
3. Be careful with Flash presentations because they can be annoying … http://www.technical-writer-resume.com/
4. This one is attractive: http://www.wiredwriter.net/about/resume_web2.html
5. Use tables or stylesheets to narrow, or tame, your text so that it doesn’t
run from one side of the screen to the other. This is difficult to read – most
people won’t even try past the first line or two.
6. This is my online resume which includes an online portfolio:
Create a presentation about a technical writing or instructional design topic, a topic that not only interests you but about which you have personal experience or a unique perspective. Put notes to your PowerPoint presentation and create a handout. Then give your presentation to interested groups, like user groups, communication organizations, or even the local library.
Giving a presentation that you created sets you apart as an ‘expert’ in your field. It gives you exposure to managers who could use your skills for a current project and to other technical communicators who know about opening in your area. You can also add these presentations and handouts to your online portfolio.
Although it isn’t mandatory that you network with other writers, contracting agents and recruiters, networking certainly can make your life run smoother by making it easier to find the next client.
What is Networking, Really
Years later I learned that networking doesn’t have to be forced, impersonal or agenda-driven. Networking can be warm and polite, can involve a genuine expression of interest in others and a willingness to contribute. Effective win-win networking is all about gathering and disseminating information.
Helping Others and Yourself
Effective networking is dynamic; it helps make the world a little smaller and more personal. Participating in an STC Special Interest Group and attending chapter development meetings is a good way to either start or expand your professional network.
Beyond the old maxim “the client is always right,” it is good practice for contractors to occasionally stop writing / programming / designing and just focus on the client for a few moments. Each new client is a new relationship. The contractor needs to occasionally focus on what it is going to take to make this relationship work, to listen to what clients say they want and try to understand what they need. Besides working to make sure all of the client’s needs are covered, endeavor to understand and fulfill most of the client’s wants.
The client may not remember everything the contractor wrote or designed, but the client will remember how that client made him/her feel. If you mind the relationship you are creating with the client, you will be able to offer this client as a reference when looking for your next contract.
STC is a good place to start your activity, especially if you volunteer to serve on a committee, take a position on a board, or volunteer to write a chapter for an online book!
The interview (whether with an employer or a client) is one of the most poignant parts of your self promotion package. Everything else leads up to these few moments.
Some Pitfalls to Avoid
Something to Smile About
It was comical the way the man and I nervously ignored the sleeping woman, him trying not to appear mortified and me trying not to look at her. A few days later the company offered me a contract but I had already taken another opportunity.
You never know where or when you are going to meet someone who knows someone else who needs what you can do. You might meet a potential client at a wine tasting event, at a book signing, or at the reception after a play.
Learn how to sum up what you do in two sentences. Then, when you are asked, your summary of what you do sounds succinct, easy to understand and easy to remember. And don’t forget those business cards!
Like most contractors, I’ve perused plenty of self-help and freelance-type
books; some were good, some were not. But I do recommend these two:
by Ann Gordon, Assistant Manager