5 reasons technical writers should be pursuing side projects
I had a job interview a while back where the company took issue that I pursue side writing projects. It got me thinking since it had been a while since I heard an objection to that facet of my professional career. It has been a part of my professional life for a long time and something I make sure to keep a wide separation from my day gig. So in the past, I’ve stayed away from projects that potentially put me in conflicts of interest or where the side project was working for a competitor of my employer at the time.
There is no better reason than seeking side projects than to have an alternative income stream to build up the war chest. There are also some more professional reasons for a technical writer to pursue freelance writing projects on the side including:
1. Keeps professional skills sharp
The definition and role of a technical writer in some organizations can go very stagnant. If a technical writer is pursuing their writing projects on the side, then their skills can remain sharp even as budgets and politics at their day job may shift them to a non-writing role. One of the worst things that can happen to a technical writer now in today’s tight economy is to let their skills go. It’s just too competitive out there.
2. Demonstrates passion for the craft of writing
Writers should be writing. Writers should be enjoying writing. Writers pursuing writing projects outside of their regular 9–5 shows passion for the work.
3. Offers a chance to learn new technology
My side freelance writing projects got me to think and write about technologies that I did not see during my day job. My entire experience writing about social media and mobile applications comes from side projects. I wouldn’t have the grounding in these subjects if it weren’t for the projects I pursue on the side.
4. Reinforces project and time management skills
To work on a part-time freelance project management the right way you have to treat it like any other project. The part-time nature and off-hours schedule make project and time management skills even more critical to the success of such projects.
5. Reinforces client management skills
It’s one thing to manage a client you see face to face every day but another to manage a client you work for part-time and virtually. Side freelance projects can help technical writers reinforce their client management and communications skills. There is the misperception in some circles that there has to be a lot of face-to-face interaction with clients but I hear to say that is not true because I’ve worked on some client projects where the client was located elsewhere, and I was working off hours. Success on the project meant I had to manage client expectations and communications to the degree that my part-time schedule was never an issue.
As long as an employee is avoiding conflicts of interest, not using company equipment, and delivering on their day job, then employers should see side projects as differentiators versus an issue. While some IT professionals pursue open source and volunteer projects (both worthy of merit), paid side projects should not be seen as a threat but another tool of professional development.
Do you pursue freelance projects on the side?
My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content strategist living and working in the Washington, DC area. My current focus is thought leadership and technical marketing content. I got my start writing user guides, administrator documentation, online help, and later moved into SDLC documentation. My articles about enterprise mobility, BYOD, and other technology topics have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, Samsung Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.