Contracting: Is it for you?
By Gordon Turner
In an economy that is constantly changing, many technical writers are (or have thought about being) contractors. Being your own boss certainly does have a certain cachet. But is it for you?
The terms contracting, freelancing, and consulting often get confused, so let's use the following: consulting is when you tell someone how to do something, contracting is when someone gives you a project or task to do, and freelancing is when you try to sell someone a project that you want to do. The basic difference between contracting and freelancing is that the former is long-term while the latter is generally short term.
Probably the biggest advantage to being a contractor is that you have total control over your schedule. If you want to work for five months and then take two months off and go on a tour of Southeast Asia, you can do that. You are not bound to a time clock. If you want to get up at noon, work until six, then pick up the kids and knock off at nine, that is up to you. You also get to pick from a wide range of projects. You can do work for companies in the high-tech, legal, financial, and health fields, for example, thus being able to broaden your knowledge base.
Not only are you a technical writer, but you are your own computer technician, bookkeeper, office manager, receptionist, and janitor. As a free agent you are responsible for your health insurance and retirement plan. You have to spend your own time scoping out the competition to see what they are doing and what they are charging and you have to buy all your own computer equipment and ensure that it is working at top speed. Of course, you also have to find all your own clients. In short, you, and you alone, are completely responsible for making (or breaking) whatever project you are working on.
So which one is for you? If you can say "yes" to most of the following, you might want to seriously consider being a contractor in your field.
If you think that you can handle the struggles (and joys) of contracting, maybe it's time that you set out your shingle and got your first client. Good luck!
Gordon Turner is a volunteer writer for the Willamette Galley. He can be reached at Gordon66@Spiritone.com.