7 steps to a profitable tech writing business

Are you tired of working hard to produce excellent documenation and seeing little profit at the end of your day? Chances are, a few small changes can make a huge difference in your bottom line. Here are some tips for kicking your technical writing business into high gear, so that you can reap the rewards you deserve.

Shift to clients with money to spend

To make money, seek out clients who have money to spend. You are investing valuable time and effort to create high-quality technical documentation. You deserve to be paid accordingly, and without hassle or delay.

If your primary source of revenue consists of small business clients or the self-employed, you may be asking for headaches. Such clients often have little operating income and may have trouble paying your invoices. Sure, there are exceptions, and you should value them. But don't let your clients make their cash flow problems your cash flow problems.

Instead, seek clients with large operating margins that can pay bills quickly, preferably via an automated process. Government contracts and large corporate contracts are worth the headaches. You may have to work harder to land these contracts, but the effort will pay off when it's time to collect.

Stop doing everything yourself

Hire writers to do the work so you can focus on scaling your business. How else are you going to find time to negotiate for better contracts or focus on growth?

If most of your time is spent writing, and you are happy with the limitations that imposes, fine. But if you want to increase profits you have a problem. There is only so much time in your day. You can only profit a certain amount from each contract. By acting as the sole writer you are limiting the number of jobs you can complete. You are placing a hard limit on your profits.

Take some time and consider why you are working in such a manner. If fear is holding you back, be honest about it. Moving from self-employment to business owner is a big leap. Your role will change. But if you don't make that change you will never reach your profit goals.

Skill up so you can increase your rates

Business is very much a competition. Sure, you need to give to receive and I firmly believe in helping others first. But you also need to stand out to survive.

If you find yourself offering the same services and expertise as your competitors, it will be hard to demand higher rates. How many jobs have you lost because you don't have the expertise or knowledge to land the contract? The very difficulty of these jobs means they are likely lucrative contracts. This is a simple result of the laws of supply and demand.

You are a winner. You've already proven that by venturing out on your own. That was a hard decision. But now you need to continue doing difficult things while your competitors take it easy. Increase your skills and knowledge so that you can land hard jobs with big paychecks. If you employ other writers, find training for them so they can learn the skills necessary to perform lucrative jobs.

Remember supply and demand; the hardest jobs will have fewer qualified competitors and therefore larger paychecks.

Expand your service offerings

If you follow the advice above, you'll be working on lucrative contracts for major-league customers. Make the most of it. Don't just offer them a single service. Think of additional services that you can provide, based off your existing skills.

For example...

  • Marketing whitepapers
  • Editorial services
  • Project management
  • Usability testing
  • User interface evaluations
  • Customer case studies

Don't be a one-trick pony. Make the most of the hard work you've already done to land your clients. They already trust you and have your payment information on file. So it's often a no-brainer for them to choose you for other services.

Be professional and present your business accordingly

Are you a business? Or are you a self-employed writer who wants to stay home in jeans and a t-shirt?

The former will have an easier time landing reputable clients with money to spend. Meanwhile, the latter may end up fighting to underbid others on freelance sites.

Make it easy for clients to trust you. Just as you need to be wary of a clients ability to pay, your clients need to be wary of whether you are able to deliver on time. Make a great first impression; dress the part for any client contact. Also, make sure your marketing materials (websites, online profiles, white papers, etc.) present you as a reputable business, not a fly-by-not operation.

Don't fall into the trap of believing such concerns are old-fashioned. While many contracts can be landed over social media, such clients may be easy-come, easy-go. Serious clients with large contracts (and equally large paychecks) will want to know who they are trusting. They will want to meet face-to-face and establish a working relationship. They may need to report to their superiors and ensure them that the job is in good hands. Make it easy for them to choose you.

Develop products so you can sell while you sleep

A business with a single revenue stream won't be in business very long. Protect your income by diversifying. If one stream dries up, you'll have others to rely on. And if some of that revenue is coming from products, your business can make money while you sleep.

As a business owner, time is one of your most valuable resources, because it is limited. If you sell products, you bypass that limitation, especially if your products are digital or easy to mass produce. For example, ebooks, training courses, audio seminars, and other products are easy to distribute and involve very little time commitment per sale.

Online shops such as Amazon make it easy for anyone to market and sell such products.

I know what you're thinking. "How is selling some crummy ebook on Amazon going to make me money?"

Well, I'm not talking about those kind of products. I'm talking about high-quality How To manuals, industry-specific training materials, and other products that have an unmet demand. Remember, corporations spend plenty of cash on training as part of their annual budget. And they won't hesitate to purchase information that solves the business problems they are facing. You, as a technical writer, are uniquely qualified to create such products.

Solve legitimate business needs, and your products will sell.

Invest in your process and tools

Small business owners are often torn between saving money and investing in the business. Investment is necessary, but should be made carefully.

Begin by closely examining the processes you use to produce your final products. Don't assume you need the latest tools, or buy tools outside the scope of your tasks. What tools would facilitate production and allow you to save time and money? Invest in those tools and reap the benefits of efficiency. You can increase output and save time. This time can be used to increase or improve your list of clients.

Don't just look at production tools, or those necessary to create documents. Also take a close look at how you run your business. You should be able to increase the efficiency of your entire project, from contacting a potential client to sending the final invoice. Set up templates for charting projects, budgeting, project management, and so on, so that projects flow smoothly. You can find templates for these tasks here.

Remember, writing is a service you provide, but your business is making money. If you can operate profitably, you'll be able to continue providing excellent service to your clients far into the future.

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