Solopreneurs as Technical Writers

I once read a book on time management, where I came across possibly the best definition of time management anyone has coined: “To make a life out of the work time, and to make living out of the non-work time”. And, I have thrived to bring it to operation ever since I read it. Believe me – it is not as easy as it sounds. The advent of the internet has, virtually, widened our reach by reducing the distances. It means more contacts, more opportunities, and more flexibility. It also means no rules, no boundaries, and no ethics (in some ways!). So, what is the connection between the two? From where I see, I can ask my boss to give me the VPN access, so that I go out and sit by the sea as I prepare release notes for my company. Sounds good, isn’t it!

According to a blog, which I read recently, there is a sharp increase in the number of people opting working as freelancers. The term, Solopreneur, is coined to denote all those who work alone. Of course, they work remotely – working, to contribute to a company located distantly.

As told by Tom Johnson, in his blog that answers the industry-related questions on technical writing, outsourcing the writing effort to countries like India is one of the major threats to the tech-writing careers in the Unites States of America or the United Kingdom. While it is important for writers, as Tom thinks, to be physically present at the location where a code is written, it is equally true that once you know the rules, and the standards of documentation, you do not need to be physically present. Now, there are two trains of thought that run parallel on this topic. One that says: A career as strategic and critical as technical writing should NEVER be outsourced. Another, which says: The central idea is still to communicate about the products in a technically accurate and grammatically correct manner. I too have been a freelance writer for quite some time, and I know what I wrote was valued.

Personally, I feel Tom was right in what he meant. But, personal opinions do not really matter. Market trends tend to bend more towards letting people take their picks! And for once, it has more than one strong reason. First: It lets people “choose” what they do with their lives, by letting them be more flexible to really “manage” things at their end. Second: It lets companies ward off their biggest fear – that their employees might use them to switch for a better opportunity just at the “wrong” time or that their “resources” are idle when the market does not have to contribute to their balance sheets. So, a win-win situation, as it turns out, working freelance can provide both, the employees (or freelancers) and the companies, with flexibility in operations in a “cost-effective” manner.

While working as a freelance writer, I always had an impression that I would do well. And of course I performed fantastic, no question about it. But, things did not come easy for me. To write the exact description, at times, a minute was enough, but, at times, even a day swept by and I hadn’t walked a block. I had to step into others’ shoes, without stepping into them! I mean, it is always difficult to “visualize” what is not in front of you. If you do not get the heck of it, you will never write a heck about it. Simple, it is! You should be physically present, and talking, with the subject matter experts (SMEs) to understand the functionality and phrase, and rephrase, the documents. Now, given that a distantly located writer prepares a write-up for you. Any change or edit will require that person to understand what you have in your mind and pen it down. Remember, you do not talk only with your mouth; your facial expressions, the paralanguage, and the kinesics, it all contributes in the communication. I think I have explained too much on this one.

One more reason it is not advisable to have the role of a technical writer, or the likes, played by the “ad hoc” team-players, is that the “contractors” are reluctant to perform. As they say, flexibility flourishes in liberty. And, the flip side of this “flexibility” is a really costly affair. And that’s that with Solopreneurship as well. I do not know how good would they find fitting into a profile as technical, yet as creative, and critical, as writing technical documentation (Now, creativity is a topic that demands a separate discussion altogether; you know why!). A freelancer will find it difficult to get his mind “On” and “Off” as and when the company wants. What about the equation of the “work time” and “non-work time” people talk about? Rules, for instance, aren’t really meant to be broken. A scheduled work plan, when executed with care, dedication, and creativity, can fetch far better results. But, too much of liberty might spoil the show. Additionally, shouldn’t the cost of the spoilt show be borne by the company hiring such solopreneurs? It will only make the job worse. More work, most of which is duplication, more time consumption, quicker deadlines, quality at stake, and yet there is no surety that the result will be as expected.

Although as an employee, I would like to stick to the point of view of a solopreneur. As of now, my train of thoughts is on the same track as that of the other trains of thought. And, till the time, the time tells the truth, I’d prefer to flow with the flow. Take your pick!

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