Networking tips for technical writers

By expanding your network you can...

  • land a new job or win contracts
  • increase your exposure to new ideas
  • find exciting projects to work on
  • share best practices and tool tips
  • get feedback and vent about stressful situations
  • take a break with like-minded people
  • build your reputation as a professional

Here are some tips for expanding your social and professional networks.

Join Techwr-l, HATT, the Content Wrangler Community (Ning), and other online communities and discussion groups. These groups are perfect for sharing tool tips, seeking career advice, and keeping up on the latest changes in the field. Just remember, everything you post is public, so think twice before making negative comments about others.

Take a walk. Ask a coworker or two along for a walk around the building. This is a great way to increase your circulation and alertness after sitting in front of your computer all day. The company where I work has a nature trail with wild berry bushes and wetlands, and is positioned next to a vast corn field. We enjoy soaking up the view and sharing stories about our families as we stroll around the building.

Be active in the STC. Share your expertise with other technical writers in your region, and get to know them as friends. By increasing your local network, your name is more likely to come up when nearby positions become available. Also, you'll receive informative publications and invitations to chapter meetings and events. Contributing to STC publications and events is also a great way for new writers to develop project management, writing, and social skills.

Start a blog. By sharing what you know with your readers, you build your reputation as a professional, and establish contacts with other bloggers. Through HelpScribe, I've had the pleasure of chatting with STC chapter presidents and other representatives from across the country, and I have readers in China, India, and other far away places. I frequently stumble across many of these fellow writers in discussion groups and on other blogs. Sometimes readers challenge the ideas I present in my blog. However, I've always considered such discussions insightful and enjoyable, and have only good feelings toward every single one of my readers. In fact, those that challenge my ideas are usually the readers I respect the most because of their insight.

Take a college course and get to know your instructor. College teachers have huge networks because of the vast number of students they prepare for the field. Many of these students keep in touch with their teachers long after they leave college, and frequently pass on information regarding open positions. This is a two-way street; you gain valuable connections via your teacher's network, and your teacher gains your insight about the industry that can be shared with students. Stay in touch with your college instructors and invite them to lunch now and then.

Join a company-hosted fitness or special interest group. Such opportunities allow you to build contacts from different departments in your company. You may find yourself in a yoga class next to the chief programmer for the software you document, and that's a great way to gather information in a casual setting. Also, special interest groups are a great way to develop friendships around common interests.

Take advantage of social networking sites by presenting a professional image. Think of these sites as public relations tools for furthering your career. Doing so shows that you are Internet savvy, presents a visible profile to hiring managers, and provides you with contacts to other members. Just use some discretion; hiring managers won't likely be impressed by pictures of you playing air guitar on Facebook. Act as your own PR consultant and manage your Internet presence accordingly.

Get away from your desk. Hanging out by the coffee pot may not look productive, but you'll be surprised at how much you can learn about the status of product releases, enhancements, and other valuable news by chatting casually with others while the java is brewing. Just lean back against the counter and say, "Hey, how's life?" to the first person who walks in. Chances are you'll get an earful and establish a new friendship with a coworker.

Get to know other media professionals. This is especially important for freelancers. By building a network of graphic artists, web designers, publishers, and so on, you gain the ability to share projects and help each other out. For example, a web designer may hire you to draft or edit content for their latest website. When deadlines are looming and you need a professional to help you complete a contract, such contacts can be real life-savers.

Read sites like Alltop.com and contribute to them. Sites that aggregate quality content are wonderful resources for online networking. Visit the articles that interest you most, and leave comments on those blogs when you have something intelligent or constructive to say. Over time you will get to know the owners of the blogs via your comments. I can name quite a few HelpScribe readers (Avi, Tom, Craig, and others) who have been with me since my early posts that contributed by leaving insightful comments. I'd gladly return their loyalty given the chance. Some people tend to downplay the strength of online connections, but incredible communities can emerge and accomplish amazing things. (Linux, anyone?)

Pursue your other interests. Being well-rounded presents others with opportunities to get to know you, but only if your interests are made public. My coworkers know they can get me chatting at any time by asking if I've caught any fish or read any good books lately. However, this is only possible because I've made those interests common knowledge. Wear your interests on your sleeve so that others can use them as conversation openers.

Give more than you receive. This is probably the best nugget of advice in this post. By focusing on how you can help others, you generate good will. Others will want to return the favor, and you'll sleep better knowing you've done some good in the world. Always try to give more than you receive.