Career technical writing contractor Michael Clark embarked on his contracting career in 2005 to expand his writing expertise and capabilities. Since then, he has remained in contract by maintaining a highly focused CV and adopting a specialisation strategy.
“After three years in my last permanent job, I was finding my work becoming very repetitive,” explains Clark. “So, to ensure I kept on learning about new types of documentation, in 2005 I decided to become a technical writing contractor.”
Since then, Clark has specialised in delivering disaster recovery and data centre migration documentation and ISO 27001 compliance documentation via his contractor limited company, Techwriting, creating technical documents for leading UK and global business-to-business and consumer brands.
Finding that first contract
“After making that decision, finding the first contract took a few months. I created a highly focused CV and uploaded it to a few job sites, such as Jobserve,” continues Clark. “After a while, I started to receive calls from recruiters and landed a nine-month contract with a telecoms firm.”
According to Clark, it was his CV, interview technique and increasing specialisation into niche documentation types that led to an ongoing stream of contracts throughout 2006 and 2007.
I've always kept my CV to a maximum of three pages with tabulated and focused highlights on the front page
Michael Clark, Techwriting
“I’ve always kept my CV to a maximum of three pages with tabulated and focused highlights on the front page,” says Clark. “That way my capabilities and achievements can be instantly grasped by an agent, who will be wading through dozens of CVs trying to locate a match.”
Clark adds that for technical writers in particular, the spelling, punctuation and grammar in a CV must be absolutely perfect, otherwise any contract application will be a non-starter: “And don’t use acronyms!”, is his advice.
Managing through the recession by specialising
When the recession began in 2007, Clark suffered simultaneous falls in rates and contract opportunities. Having started contracting via an umbrella company, he had incorporated a limited company in 2006. But the falling rates led his accountant to recommend dissolving the company and returning to an umbrella.
“Although I managed to remain in work throughout the economic downturn, things got so bad that at one point I accepted a permanent role,” admits Clark. “However, I only stayed three months as the work started to get monotonous. Many organisations have problems with their documentation, but once these have been sorted out, the work becomes routine.”
By the time the recession really started to bite, Clark had developed a reputation as a specialist in disaster management and data centre migration, and it is this specialisation that enabled him to find work both during tough times and as the economy has recovered.
“It was not initially a conscious choice to specialise, but just the way the contracts came,” he notes. “There are lots of technical authors out there, but very few specialise in the fields I work in. My track record has secured me interviews, and I find a consultative, solutions-oriented interview style has won me contracts nearly every time.”
Business continued to improve, to the extent that Clark’s umbrella company suggested it was time to re-incorporate, and Techwriting was born again.
Overcoming contracting’s challenges
Clark acknowledges that since the market picked up, it has not all been plain sailing. Contracting has thrown its fair share of challenges at him: “The most common negative experience I have is being offered a contract which is subsequently withdrawn because the client cannot secure the internal budget approval.
“But there’s no point making a fuss, as there is generally no dishonesty involved, just process failures with clients and agents. The best strategy is to take it on the chin and start looking for another contract.”
Being able to secure realistic rates is improving, but Clark says it’s not unusual for him to get a call from a recruiter who says, ‘My client has hired someone with a few years of experience on a low rate and the lack of experience is beginning to show in the quality of their work.’
“If a client or agency is seeking a skilled technical writer,” says Clark, “they need to be able to understand from a contractor’s CV and interview technique that they have the relevant experience and background.”
Clark concludes: “Although there are always lots of permanent technical writing jobs available, I’m definitely a career contractor and could not see myself going back into permanent employment.”