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Making Things, Technical Communicators
I often tell my students that as technical communicators, we are professional gadflies. It is our job to buzz persistently, and bite when necessary, to get certain things done. We cannot move forward with documentation on a product that is languishing, so we interact with the developers to see how things are going. We ask for prototypes and working versions. We query them about deadlines, especially “When’s code freeze?”.
Endorsed Development, a new way of attracting a market for products we want to create.
Since the Stone Age, products have been developed based on need. They were meant to solve problems and assist us in completing tasks. To begin with, it was survival tasks, soon followed by transportation tasks, trading tasks, and leisure tasks. In design, form closely followed function.
As we developed greater technical skills, we began to innovate. We refined designs to be more usable and more attractive. Occasionally, because of cost and demand for the products, designs were adjusted based on ease of manufacture. When we had to get something to market quickly, we concentrated on making it work and shipping it as soon as we could.
With automation and the assembly line, speed of manufacture was handled so we concentrated once more on making things attractive as well as functional. We were still tied to the products-as-solution imperative, but we could add features that we thought were fun. Features became selling points, even though marketers kept reminding us that it was benefits, not features, that sold products.
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Contractors and freelancers are often asked to name their hourly rate for jobs, or state their salary expectations. Depending on the industry and the type of work you’ll be doing, rates can vary widely. I personally have found that for jobs I can properly scope, quoting a flat rate for the entire job is more worthwhile. But sometimes you need to know what figure to quote for work that will be billed at an hourly rate.
Here are some ideas that have worked for me:
As a working technical communicator, I often found myself as one of the few people (and sometimes the only one!) in the company who knew exactly what products we were working on and where they fit into the company’s vision. To do my job of documenting the products and consulting on their usability (how a product helps users achieve their objectives with it), I spoke to every department in the company at one point or another.
I was mostly involved with the research and development departments, but I frequently spoke to or worked with marketing to understand the customer they were trying to reach, and to sales to find out what aspects of the product(s) buyers were most interested in. This information gave me a sense of who the end user would be and what their needs were for the product or service they were purchasing. In that way, I could orient my documentation more effectively toward the user’s tasks.
Like dropping a stone into a calm pond, building your social network starts ripples that will pay off in ways you cannot even imagine. When I talk about networking for business, I mention the analogy of planting seeds. The harvest doesn’t come instantly, but when it does, it usually turns out to be well worth the wait.
A ripple spreading out across a pond takes time to travel, too. It may collide with other ripples, started by other stones — yours or someone else’s. Our social media activities are small gestures, just 140 characters, or a short status on Facebook, maybe even a brief comment on a blog. This is far less work than traditional business networking activities. You can achieve more with less effort.
Traditional businesses in the offline world, or “bricks and mortar” companies, had the same needs as anyone doing business online today: getting the word out about their products and services. Way back when, pre-1992 and the Web, we used personal networking as a powerful channel to tell other people about our businesses and get referrals.
We joined the Rotary Club, hoping for the chance to be a guest speaker and have the opportunity to talk about our business. We joined the local Chamber of Commerce and charitable organizations; we served on committees, meeting people who could, it was hoped, refer clients to us, especially after they got to know us and knew of our integrity and business smarts.
, Technical Communicators