How to Become a Freelance Technical Writer (6 Key Steps)
Companies are increasingly looking for people that can transform complex conceptual ideas into straightforward content for customers and stakeholders. If you have a technical background but are looking for a more flexible career option, freelance technical writing might be excellent.
By learning how to become a freelance technical writer, you can become your own boss and work from anywhere. In other words, you can turn your expertise into a flexible, lucrative, and rewarding career.
Excited? Let’s go!
What Is Freelance Technical Writing?
Freelancers don’t just work for one company. They work with several writing clients who pay you as a non-employee service provider.
In particular, freelance technical writers specialize in creating written content about highly technical or specialized topics such as engineering or website development.
Benefits of Working as a Freelance Technical Writer
Whether you decide to freelance full time or you want to earn extra money on the side, freelance writing offers several benefits, such as the ability to work from anywhere on your own time.
When surveyed, 68% of freelancers chose this work style over the traditional day job because of the increased flexibility. Since freelancers aren’t considered an employee to clients, you don’t need to clock in and out every day.
Freelance writing work revolves around deadlines, not regular work hours. This type of schedule can give you the freedom you need if you have non-work obligations (like raising children) or just want more control over your time.
In addition to schedule flexibility, location independence is one of the most significant benefits of a career in freelance writing. No more requesting time off to travel — you can work anywhere as long as you have a computer and an internet connection.
Higher Salary Potential
Freelance writing isn’t just a side hustle option; it’s an excellent full-time career choice. Furthermore, freelance technical writers can demand a higher salary because of their specialized knowledge and skills.
Freelance technical writing opens the door to work on a wide variety of projects across multiple industries. You can find clients in IT, finance, government, manufacturing, education, and medicine, to name just a few.
What’s more, you’re not limited to one industry at a time. Working with several clients at once lets you add variety to your work and explore the topics and industries that interest you.
Freelance Technical Writer Salary
According to ZipRecruiter, freelance technical writers earn more than the average freelance writer. On average, a general freelance writer makes around $61,935 annually or $30/hour. On the other hand, freelance technical writers earn an average of $70,191 a year, or $34/hour.
Several factors affect your rates as a freelance writer, including industry, level of expertise, and content type. Technical writers that have higher levels of knowledge or specialize in niche topics can price their services higher.
Most Common Types of Technical Writing
As a freelance technical writer, you can choose from various content types to offer your clients. Here are some of the most common types of freelance technical writing projects.
Technical articles refer to any editorial pieces focused on a specialized topic or product. These articles are typically published in magazines or other online publications, and they don’t require supervised research.
You can find work writing technical articles for almost any type of client, from robotics manufacturers to legal firms and everything in between. Here are a few examples of technical content from some of these industries:
Technical Guides and Manuals
Technical guides and manuals are how-to handbooks intended to help customers learn how to use a product and get the most out of it.
A technical manual may include instructions for installation, use, maintenance, troubleshooting, and best practices depending on the product. API documentation is another popular type of technical guide used by software companies.
Policies and Procedures
Businesses use policy and procedure manuals to define a standard protocol for various situations. As a technical writer, you can work on documents such as hiring procedures, work-from-home policies, employee benefits packages, or workplace conduct guidelines.
These projects are especially relevant in the education, government, and healthcare sectors as they’re frequently subject to federal regulations. A good example is the Code of Ethics and Business Conduct published by SHRM.
Business plans serve as the roadmap which defines a company’s goals, objectives, and strategies. Startups, in particular, may employ technical writers with acute business acumen and product-related knowledge to draft a business plan to present to potential investors.
If you have experience working in a B2B industry, you may already be familiar with white papers. White papers are documents used by sales and marketing teams to explain new solutions or highlight product or service details.
White papers range in length from 6 to 15 pages, and they’re one of the more lucrative offerings for writers, clocking in at $3–6,000 on average. High-end white papers can go for $10,000 or more; however, you will often need to research and create or suggest designs for the document.
Similar to white papers, case studies are used to help sales and marketing teams sell their products. But, instead of explaining product features, a case study provides an in-depth look at how a product (or solution) helped a single customer or solved a specific problem.
Besides Kinsta’s case studies, you can check out MailChimp’s How Her Campus Media Increased Subscribers by 72%, and Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Evaluating Biochemical and Cell-Based Profiles using Nexavar to see examples.
And finally, we have corporate reports, which detail a company’s financial information for potential investors. Corporate reports include quarterly reports (Form 10-Q), annual reports (Form 10-K), and reports of significant events (Form 8-K).
To write corporate reports, you need to understand accounting basics, financial documents, and the company’s product and competitive environment.
Our favorite examples of solid corporate reports include the Oracle Fiscal 2021 Fourth Quarter and Annual Report and the ExxonMobil Corporation Annual Report 2020.
Skills You Need to Become a Freelance Technical Writer
If you want to become a successful freelance technical writer, you need to have technical acumen and the skills to build and run your own business.
Here are the top requirements and skills you should have before starting a career as a freelance technical writer.
Technical Knowledge and Expertise
Some freelance writing niches don’t require formal education or training. However, that’s not usually the case with technical writing. Technical writing is one of the freelance niches where you’ll regularly find clients that want you to have at least a Bachelor’s Degree.
Since clients need you to break down complex concepts into user-friendly language, they’ll often look for someone who has relevant working experience too. Or, if you’re writing articles for someone’s website, you should know best practices for on-page search engine optimization (SEO).
For any professional writer, written communication skills are a must. Technical writers should be able to write in a plain, concise, and neutral style of voice. Most importantly, it would help if you could distill complex material into approachable content.
Written communication skills also come into play when dealing with clients. As a freelance writer, you’re not going to be in the office with your clients every day. You need to be able to manage expectations and communicate effectively with your clients via email.
While you may be tempted to group editing skills with written communication, editing is a crucial step in the writing process that deserves undivided attention. Some clients may even hire writers and editors separately.
However, if your client doesn’t have in-house editors, you need to hone your editing skills. Make sure you have a solid grasp of grammar and punctuation rules, and then learn how to proofread your work to check for the appropriate tone and a logical flow of ideas.
Time and Project Management
At times, freelancing involves a lot of juggling. When you work as a freelance writer, you don’t have a manager checking in on your progress and keeping you on track. Accurately budgeting time is crucial if you plan on keeping your full-time job while you freelance.
So, to ensure you meet all of your deadlines, you should master your time management skills and learn how to use project management tools. It’s your responsibility to create project timelines, troubleshoot problems, and communicate any significant changes with your clients.
Any successful freelancing business requires some level of self-promotion. If you want to turn freelancing into a full-time career, you need to market yourself to potential clients. You have to think of yourself as a small business and put yourself out there to find new clients.
How to Become a Freelance Technical Writer
Now, on to the practicals! These are the steps to become a freelance technical writer:
- Choose an area of expertise
- Create writing samples
- Create an online portfolio
- Contact potential clients
- Negotiate rates
- Finalize contracts
Let’s have a look at what each of these steps entails.
1. Choose an Area of Expertise
For new freelance writers, there are a few ways that you can select a writing niche. One of the easiest ways to start is choosing industries related to your educational background and work experience.
You can also choose to specialize in certain types of projects, such as white papers or technical manuals. As you continue to gain experience in a particular area, you can hone your skills and charge higher rates.
2. Build a Writing Portfolio
Once you know what you want to write, start writing. It would be best to have relevant writing samples to create a portfolio to share with potential clients.
Even if you don’t have clients, begin by writing examples pertinent to your writing niche. If writing hasn’t been part of your recent work, it can be helpful to take an online writing course to refresh your skills.
After you have your samples, it’s time to build your portfolio. To start, your portfolio can be a folder of sample documents that you can share with clients.
3. Grow Your Personal Brand and Generate Leads
Starting with a shareable writing portfolio is a good step, but if you want to bring in more clients, you should create your own website that showcases your work and tells clients exactly what types of content you offer.
To optimize your freelance website for lead generation, make sure it has the following elements:
You can also add positive reviews and ratings to your website once you’ve worked with a few clients.
After your website goes live, make sure to reach out to relevant industry publications to find opportunities for guest posting. With guest posts, you create content for someone else in return for a link back to your website.
We also recommend choosing one social platform where you can consistently share content to showcase your expertise and gain exposure to potential clients. LinkedIn, Quora, Medium, and Reddit are all excellent choices for technical writers.
4. Contact Potential Clients
If you’re not hearing from prospective clients right away, you might need to use some outbound contact strategies to get your first few jobs. When you start freelance writing, there are a few places to look for your first clients.
To start, reach out to your existing professional network, browse job boards to bid on projects, and then make a list of target clients you can contact.
At this point, you need to learn how to pitch your services compellingly to get clients to take meetings with you. The good news is that plenty of successful freelance writers share their best pitch templates online. Find one that works for you and start contacting people.
5. Negotiate Rates
As you develop relationships with potential clients, you can uncover writing opportunities. If someone is interested in hiring you, they’ll typically ask for a project proposal. In that proposal, you’ll outline exactly what you’ll deliver and when.
After you review your proposal together, it’s time to negotiate a rate. We recommend coming up with a price per project (rather than per word or per hour) for highly technical projects. Do your research on market prices and decide your minimum acceptable rate before you negotiate.
6. Finalize Contracts
Always write up a contract for your freelance projects. Contracts help protect you and ensure that you receive payment for your work.
While they don’t need to be complicated, your contracts should define the scope of work, content ownership, payment terms, deadlines, and revision policy. In some cases, clients may ask that you include a non-compete clause or confidentiality statement.
Here are some freelance contract templates you can use to create your own:
Getting Paid as a Freelance Writer
So, you’ve got your first client, and contracts are signed. Once they’re happy with the work, how do you get paid?
Well, for the most part, you’ll get paid like any other business. Most freelance writers use invoices to bill their clients at the end of a project.
How to Send Invoices
Your contract should include how much you get paid and when. You’ll use these details when sending out invoices.
Make sure to include the following information on your invoice:
- Invoice number
- Your contact information
- Issue date (the date the invoice was created)
- Due date (for payment)
- Line item description
- Total amount due
- Payment methods
Using invoicing software helps you keep your finances organized and lets you accept more payment methods, such as bank transfers or credit card payments. Popular options for freelancers include Freshbooks, Quickbooks Self-Employed, Bonsai, and PayPal.
Understanding Freelance Taxes
In addition to understanding the invoicing process, you need to know the basics of paying freelance taxes. As a freelancer, you’re considered self-employed, which means your income is subject to self-employment taxes.
Accounting software such as Quickbooks Self-Employed can help you keep track of tax documents and estimated tax payments. However, if you’re starting, it’s helpful to consult with an accountant who can explain how self-employment taxes work.
A technical freelance writing career might be the perfect option for you if you want more independence and flexibility. If you have the technical knowledge and well-trained writing skills, it’s also an excellent way to make extra money part-time.
Freelance writing opens the door for you to work wherever you want and find projects and clients that match your interests. All you need to do to get going is start writing!
If you have any leftover questions about becoming a freelance writer, let us know in the comments section below.
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