The freelance technical writer works as an independent contractor, rather than as a salaried employee of a company. There are many positive and negative aspects to freelance work. Carefully consider the pros and cons before deciding to perform freelance work.
The freelance writer can usually work from home, except for occasional interviews or job site meetings with project team members. Most of the time, the writer communicates with team members through e-mail, fax, instant messaging, or telephone calls, rather than face-to-face. Manuscripts are usually delivered to printers via courier. Payments are mailed or sent electronically through PayPal or credit card. Most freelance writers spend little or no time commuting.
Hours of Work
The freelance writer is an independent business owner who works when it is conducive to his or her schedule, keeping in mind that deadlines must be met.
The freelancer can usually work as much or as little as desired. The freelance writer can decline projects that do not pique his or her interest. Many freelance technical writers enjoy the sense of autonomy.
The freelancer works on a variety of projects and learns constantly. The writer who learns specialized terminology and technology can choose to focus in one lucrative subject area.
An independent business owner can deduct many expenses from his or her income tax that an employee cannot.
Since the freelance writer is a self-employed contractor, he or she does not receive company benefits, such as health care coverage, 401k/retirement accounts, and other perks enjoyed by full time employees. The freelancer must arrange for these benefits independently, such as private health insurance or Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), which can be costly and confusing. Several writers' and editors' associations offer discounts on insurance and tax advice. The freelancer does not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits.
The freelance writer does not have job security and cannot count on regular paychecks. A client who pays for work "on acceptance" is better than a client who pays "on publication". The writer may wait a year for payment if the client pays only "on publication". If the contract does not stipulate a "kill fee" will be paid if the assignment is cancelled or the work is never published, then the writer has worked for nothing. The project manager must sign off on your work at regular intervals, to indicate the work to-date is acceptable. Be prepared to pursue a defaulting client through the courts. To succeed as a freelancer, you must be comfortable with constantly marketing yourself, your abilities, and your portfolio to build up a steady stream of work.
The freelancer usually has no back-up coverage if he or she becomes ill. It is a very serious breach of contract to miss a deadline and the freelancer could forfeit payment for partial work if he or she is hospitalized or disabled. An emergency bank account containing enough money to cover three months' worth of expenses usually provides adequate protection. The freelancer must exert self-discipline to accumulate this safety cushion.
The IRS does not withhold taxes from freelancers, so it is up to the writer to have enough money set aside to pay taxes each year. The writer must keep pluperfect financial records for at least seven years. Money management seldom comes easily to artistic types, so the writer may incur the extra expense of an accountant.
Some freelancers miss the camaraderie of daily interactions with co-workers. Working from home can be isolating. Many writers take advantage of widely available Wi-Fi to work from coffee shops, bookstores, libraries, or other public places for a change of scenery.
A writer must strive to find a life-work balance to stay psychologically healthy. Workaholism is an "acceptable vice" that some employers encourage. Some freelancers have difficulty separating their private lives from their work lives. A sign of workaholism is always being "plugged in" at home, in contrast to someone who leaves work at the office.
Online Job Search
It is difficult to establish a freelance career. Some writers choose to work full-time in a writing or technical career while gaining experience and building contacts. They can then choose to freelance part-time to supplement their regular jobs. Other writers plunge into full-time freelancing immediately, often after a lay-off, early retirement, or due to relocation. Some writers slowly establish themselves as freelancers, while others simply get lucky and find jobs easily.
There are many places to look online for freelance work. An excellent source is the Society for Technical Communication, at http://www.stc.org. STC advances technical communications by providing networking and ongoing learning opportunities. Most STC national job postings are for members only, but some are accessible by non-members. STC also has many local chapters with job postings. STC lists a variety of technical communications jobs, including: Translation, instructional design, academia, information architecture, usability, editing, developing, illustration, and human factors.
Another good resource for job listings is Online Writings Jobs, at http://www.online-writing-jobs.com. This site is dedicated to job listings for all types of freelance writers, but the jobs are organized by category, including a freelance technical writing category that is easy to find.
Offline Job Search
Although much freelance work can be found online, some writers mine the hidden job market through networking, private contacts, and word-of-mouth referrals. Some freelancers with impressive portfolios submit their unsolicited resumes to companies they research and target as needing technical writing assistance.
Last Updated: 09/18/2014