Why is technical writing so expensive?

Why is technical writing so expensive?

This is the second post in my ‘technical writing prices’ series. Last time, I looked at how much technical writing costs. This time, I’ll explain why technical writing can be so expensive.

Here are 10 reasons to explain why freelance technical writers charge what seems to be a lot of money.

Office costs and insurance

Office costs and insurance

Working from home means freelancers have to pay for their own office space. Rent, power, heat. All the boring stuff that no one thinks about when enquiring about rates.

Some technical writers also pay for professional indemnity insurance (PII). It isn’t often that claims are made for copywriting failures, but responsible writers will often insure themselves all the same.

Software and hardware

Freelancers don’t have an IT team to set them up with a fancy computer and all the latest software. No, they have to pay for all the kit and do their own setup.

This can be an expensive endeavour in most lines of work, and technical writing is no exception: the last MadCap Flare software & support bundle I purchased cost me £1300. But even that is small fry when compared with the costs of the hardware on which my little empire runs.

Software and hardware

Holidays

Holidays

In theory, freelancers can determine their own schedule, taking time off when needed. But there’s no holiday salary: time spent away from work is completely unpaid. Freelancers therefore have to ensure that their productive time is paid at a rate that allows them to take the occasional holiday.

A rested freelancer is a happy freelancer. A happy freelancer is a productive freelancer. A productive freelancer is someone you want on your team.

Illness

Even if holidays are considered a luxury (they really aren’t), illness definitely isn’t. If freelancers are unwell and can’t work, their pay takes a hit.

Unlike employed office staff, freelancers aren’t entitled to sick pay. This has to be taken into account when freelancers work out their rates.

Payment protection insurance can help in some situations, but, of course, that’s another expense.

Illness

Admin and marketing

Admin and marketing

Writers get to write. Some of the time. But when they’re not doing their core job, they’re acting as their own HR department, and dealing with tax and VAT returns.

And then there’s personal marketing. Freelancers have to forge their own brand identity. That means they have to create and maintain a website, blog and social media presence. All of this takes time and drags them away from being productive.

Training

Self-employed pros have to pay for their own training. Workshops, online courses and exams all cost time and money. There are also expenses associated with continuing professional development (CPD) – attending conferences, paying for professional memberships, reading industry blogs, listening to podcasts, watching webinars.

(Hiring a writer who isn’t in touch with the latest developments in the field is a good way to waste your money.)

Training

Client communications

Client communications

Freelance writers have to take the time to manage communications with their clients. Although most emails might not take too long to write, don’t forget that your chosen technical writer will be a one-stop shop for everything related to the job. They will attend conference calls. They will make site visits. They will hold meetings with your product managers, support team and any other relevant stakeholders.

Although some travel expenses can be reclaimed, the whole process still takes up time and money.

Research

Each job has its own requirements and few technical writers can simply pick up a project and start cranking out words straight away.

Time has to be spent planning and researching the work, and often this period will be the longest part of any writing project.

There’s a lot more to say about researching technical writing topics, so I’m going to expand on this in part 3.

Research

Expertise

Expertise

Expert writers find ways to captivate the audience, helping clients to improve their relationship with customers.

Expertise is built through a combination of innate ability, study and experience. Just as any consultant would charge for their expertise, so too does a writer. Remember: you’re paying for someone’s value, not just their time.

While attending an advanced software training workshop, I listened to an interesting exchange that went something like this:

Delegate: ‘I don’t think I’d charge anything if that [software process] took me only five minutes.’
Instructor: ‘Why? You’ve spent time and energy learning that skill. It might take someone else a week to find out how to do it. I’d charge full whack because the client is benefiting from my expertise. They’ve got a problem and I’m solving it for them. I’m just doing it quickly.’

Everyone got the message: we should value expertise and not be afraid to charge for it.

Editing and proofreading

Writing content is one thing, but editing and proofreading it is quite another. Most writers will do their best to leave a little time between writing a draft and editing it, so that the content appears fresh when it’s reviewed. But this adds to the time taken to produce the content, and that adds to the price.

An alternative approach – one that I particularly favour – is for the writer to engage the services of a professional editorial consultant. This is someone who can provide an independent review of the text before the client sees the final version. So long as there aren’t any non-disclosure clauses preventing this sort of activity, seeking editorial help is the best way for technical writers to improve the accuracy and consistency of the content they produce. And, you guessed it, this also adds to the cost of the job.

Proofreading

Summary

There are plenty of reasons to explain why freelance technical writing services can be so expensive. Freelancers pay for their own setup and training. They’re responsible for their own marketing and accounts. They take on the many costs of doing business, and it’s only reasonable to expect that they reflect this in their charges.

Part 1 contained an overview of what technical writing costs, and this part set out some reasons to explain why it’s so expensive. But what do you think? Are technical writing services overpriced? I’d appreciate your thoughts, so please leave a comment below or catch up with me on Twitter. I’d love to hear from you.

Join me in part 3 for a look at the topic of research.

Series list

Catch up with the other parts of this series here:

  1. How much does technical writing cost?
  2. Why is technical writing so expensive?
  3. Do technical writers need to do research?
  4. How do technical writers charge?

Before you go … ☕️

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Thanks for reading, John Espirian

  • StraygoatWritingServices

    There’s often public liability insurance too. A couple of my past jobs insisted on it.

    Also, we often provide extra services as part of the job, such as software testing.

    • Thanks for your comment, Craig. The costs soon mount up, don’t they!

      • StraygoatWritingServices

        They sure do! For one of those clients, I had to buy safety clothing to be on the shop floor as well. There’s always something to eat away at your money. Sorry, your business’s money.

  • Gerard O’Neill

    “Remember: You’re paying for someone’s value, not just their time.”
    Next time I find myself afraid to mention my actual costs, I will always remember this line.
    Great Part 2 of what is exceptional advise from a pro.
    Thank you for taking the time to assist and share your knowledge with others, John.

    • Thanks, Gerard. I can’t claim that idea as my own, but it’s certainly something I bear in mind whenever I question my own prices. This idea is pertinent to something I’m going to discuss in part 4 – stay tuned to find out what!

  • Lauren Conrad

    This is fascinating. I’m a technical writer for a company. I get full time salary and benefits. I’ve seen technical writers who freelance and think to myself, I don’t think I could do that. I like the security of working for a company. This is a fascinating perspective. Thanks!

    • Thanks for your comment, Lauren. Security is a good thing but I’d say we’re not in same the marketplace we were 40 years ago. I thought my job was secure less than 10 years ago. Turns out it wasn’t. When my employer closed operations in my city and I couldn’t get work elsewhere, I decided that freelance life was worth a shot. That was the best professional decision I’ve ever made. Being your own boss might not be for everyone, but it’s been the right choice for every freelancer I’ve ever met. Never say never – perhaps you too will try it one day.