Maybe you’ve been hearing in the news lately that the future of the workplace will consist of independent contractors who land “gigs” to provide a wide range of clientele with “just-in-time” products and services. While an Uber app for technical communication might be unlikely anytime soon, our field already has a vibrant community of entrepreneurs who leverage their TC expertise to deliver technical writing services and advocate for the importance of our work in many places and industries. So what do we know about TC entrepreneurs? And what might we want to know if we’re considering becoming one?

On September 27, 2018, STC Carolina hosted a talk with Dr. Stacey Pigg of NC State University’s MSTC program entitled, “Entrepreneurial Career Paths in Technical Communication.” The talk was based on research that she conducted along with Dr. Ben Lauren of Michigan State.

How do you know entrepreneurship might be right for you? Compare your experiences with those of the successful TC contractors that were interviewed. Let’s think of it kind of like a résumé…

Background: Almost any field can provide you with a unique niche, network, and subject matter expertise to market TC skills. For example, the participants ranged from English to Government to Construction.

Objective: Why did they want to pursue TC contracting instead of traditional employment? Many had a variety of reasons: their personal values or lifestyles might be more suited for independent work, such as caring for children or elderly family members. They might have had a negative experience at a company that pushed them into self-employment. And often it was a conflux of external factors like economic trends and the location of their family “base” in contrast to where the industries were typically based.

Education: Good news: you don’t necessarily need to have a specific degree for technical writing! Even better news for those who love learning: learning never stops, you always seek ways to professionalize and develop skills relevant to your practice.

Skills: Because the entrepreneurs marketed their services in a variety of industries, the skills that they shared in common were often “soft” skills as opposed to “hard” skills, like DITA-OT…though it seemed in general that tooling knowledge never hurt! If you have a knack for picking up on the following things, you might have the skills you need to transition into professional consulting, even if you’ve never thought of yourself as an entrepreneur.

  • Continuous learning combined with applying skills in new areas, from projects and industries to interdisciplinary methodologies.
  • Passionate and intentional projects that let you connect with a cause you matter and build a reputation as a thought-leader in this niche.
  • Advocacy of your skillset, clearly explaining a business problem and demonstrating the value of technical communication towards solving it.
  • Information and project management, making technology work for you and prioritizing your work and after-work time for activities that bring value to both yourself and the people you work with.

Dr. Pigg concluded the talk by leading a lively discussion about entrepreneurship in tech comm. One thing many participants agreed upon was that these skills aren’t exclusive to consultants or independent contractors; all of us as professionals cultivates similar skills to navigate the corporate, academic, or other worlds we find ourselves in.

So how can you start moving your career path forward? Check out some practical ways that can start today!

  • Follow trade journals and thought leaders in your field, and share insights on your social networks.
  • Volunteer in a local professional org, such as STC Carolina.
  • Mentor or get mentorship in the field. STC Carolina has a great mentorship program that I can personally vouch for!
  • Write a blog post to start building your reputation as an expert in the field. If you want to write a short post for the STC Carolina blog, reach out to me to discuss!

Event recap contributed by Art Berger.

Interested in learning more? Check out STC members-only content related to entrepreneurship that is published in the Technical Communication journal and Intercom magazine.

Toward multidirectional knowledge flows: Lessons from research and publication practices of TC entrepreneurs

8 tips for healthy contractor relationships with clients