Monday, December 6, 2010

(Tactful) Tech Writer for Hire

How exactly do you approach a company and tell them their documentation sucks?

I have to figure out how to do this nicely and professionally, because there is indeed a nationally-recognized company based in Rexburg that I want to approach to offer my contract services as a technical writer. They have proof on their website that they have someone who can type, but not someone who can actually design documents that don’t make them look foolish.

I’m going to start with a fellow I know, a local man-about-town, or at least a man-about-the-business-community, who may know someone who knows someone who works in a higher capacity for the company, to whom I can present my offerings.

And I need to say our offerings, because I’m probably going to drag Michelle into this as well. Together, I think we make a pretty good team. I don’t mind talking to any Tom, Dick, or Harry, nor going onto the site to get a feel for what is needed, documentation-wise. And Michelle is aces with InDesign and making things look absolutely right. We’ve both got the editing and writing credentials to start our own business: I’ve been in journalism for ten years, technical writing in five; I’ve got a masters degree in technical writing. She, meanwhile, designed award-winning yearbook pages for Sugar-Salem High School, has edited one manual for Madison Memorial Hospital and is in the same masters program I finished just over a year ago.

One of the ideas I’m pondering is this: This company in particular offers their manuals publicly – to their clients, ostensibly – on their web page. They’re in a format that is easily downloadable, cut-and-pastable; a format we could easily take and use to recreate the manual but in a manner that makes it look as if it were designed, not merely pooped out on the slab of Microsoft Office. But do I dare take one of their manuals, re-write it and re-design it on spec, then take it to them under fear that they’ll flip out that we, a non-customer, have got and modified one of their manuals without their express knowledge? Even if the first manual were done on spec, and offered to the company at a discount price, that seems like a risky avenue to take. So it’s back to the man-about-town idea.

Another problem is this: There’s definitely a good ol’ boy vibe afloat in this town, and I’m fairly certain it infects this company in particular. I’m hesitant to approach them as an uppity outsider without knowing a bit more about the people behind the corporate voodoo masks. Again, that’s maybe an assignment for the man-about-town. He’s beginning to loom larger in my perspective.

Also is this: We ought to offer a grant-writing service, but to do that we need to write a successful grant. That would help us expand the business’ offerings, especially in an area where few if any school districts (offhand, I can think of two) who have dedicated grant writers on staff. So the ball is rolling on that. Just sent the preliminary letters to our local school district today. Hopefully, 2011 will bring some success on that front.

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