Step 2: Get a freelancer. Step 3 is profit!
March 14, 2011 8:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm a consultant. The worst part of my job is writing tons of documents. If I outline the ideas and edit the final product myself, can I outsource the writing part? How would I do that?

I'm an IT consultant. As you can imagine, I end up writing a lot of documents to spell out how a system works / is going to work, why design decisions were made, arguing pros / cons of different approaches, and planning project. I enjoy gathering the data to write these documents, imagining and outlining the solution, and defining what information will actually make it into these documents. But I really dislike the actual act of writing it up, formatting everything consistently, etc. My clients pay me for my knowledge, not for my MS Word proficiency.

What I would like to do is create an outline of these documents and the content that should go into them and pay someone to return a not-very-rough draft which I would then edit into the final product. When I was at a larger company I did something similar with newer team members - I gave them the ideas, they wrote the drafts, then we met to make changes and finalize the document. It was wonderful and I would pay to have a similar situation again.

Has anyone done something similar? How did you do it? How did you find your freelancer? How did you manage each writing task, and how did you manage hourly rate and payment details?

I've heard of Mechanical Turk, but since this is a recurring need I think it would be better to connect with a single freelancer or a single organization so there is consistency and (hopefully) some learning. Also, I've seen some websites that offer outsourced technical writing, but I don't think this exactly fits that bill - it's not software documentation, it's business process and decision documentation.

Personal stories, things to consider, and links to resources that I should read are all welcome.
posted by Tehhund to Work & Money (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: There are a lot of job sites where people post their jobs and others bid on how much they will charge. As a job provider, you will have control over who you review and pick for the job. I work on the other side of equation as a freelancer for jobs of various types.

One site use quite a bit is Elance. They have a writers' section where you can put your own customized advert for a freelancer. They also have an admin jobs section that you might find useful.

Finally, (and of course) there is also MeFi Jobs!
posted by lampshade at 9:05 AM on March 14, 2011

posted by dfriedman at 9:09 AM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: Two services come to mind: eLance and guru. Both let you post descriptions of the work you want and review bids from interested freelancers. I've outsourced several tasks through elance with varying results. Discrete tasks worked out well, like formatting a big document or excel spreadsheet or ensuring that something made in a current version of Excel is backwards compatible. For these tasks I've provided a copy of the original document so the bidders could assess how long it would take. I've also outsourced research tasks where the desired product was a bunch of pdfs of pertinent papers and a summary of the literature found; here I asked people to estimate how many hours of research their bid covered.

In all cases, I've researched the providers ahead of time and then invited those with pertinent experience to bid. There's one guy I've established a relationship with who deals with a subset of this work. Now I just send those tasks to him. YMMV
posted by carmicha at 9:09 AM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: I'm a freelance writer, so, speaking from experience (on the other end). Hourly rates can vary pretty wildly, but good writing and a process that you don't have to manage or edit much is valuable. Sometimes I work on a fee-for-project basis, which can be far preferable to hourly billing. A client determines how much a document or project is worth to them, and I do a job that meets our mutual standards, and it doesn't matter if it takes me five minutes or five days if the work is excellent.

The hardest part of what you're proposing is finding somebody you like working with. Ask colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and so on if they have any good relationships with writers. Word-of-mouth can work wonders, and is often how I and my colleagues find, bring in, and distribute work.
posted by entropone at 9:10 AM on March 14, 2011

One more thing: here is an excellent option.
posted by carmicha at 9:13 AM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: Technical writers do this type of work (it's not just software documentation), although it sounds like you really want a technical editor with business analyst experience. Finding and contracting with them will be similar to your own situation since you, too, are a consultant -- find them by placing an ad or via networking, draw up a contract and pay according to its terms.
posted by Houstonian at 9:23 AM on March 14, 2011

There is also mefijobs. I have had great success with putting data-entry type postings there. I would guess that there are some talented mefite technical writers as well.
posted by rockindata at 9:23 AM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: The major thing preventing this could be your contract with your "employer" NDAs and confidentiality agreements probably prevent work-related information from being transmitted to 3rd parties.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:23 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Provided you have the proper contractual arrangement with your client, where you can sub some of the work, and NDAs don't prevent you from doing this - You might want to post an ad to your alumni association or MBA school. Provide a more mature student with work experience on a freelance basis, they get experience working with you.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:42 AM on March 14, 2011

The real question is whether you can afford to outsource that part of the project. Technical writers charge between $50 and $150 per hour. Once you figure out how little you'll be left with after paying your technical writer, you might be in for sticker shock if you've only outsourced the work to other coworkers.

When you're talking to prospective technical writers, be honest about that at the outset. And make it clear that this is an ongoing thing. Some freelancers will bend a little on the hourly rate if you can convince them that it's going to be somewhat steady work.

(Note: everyone tries to convince us of this. Don't be hurt if the writer is skeptical of your claims.)

Posting an ad to Craigslist will no doubt get you dozens of replies by the end of the day. It's a tough economy for us freelancers. ELance is another possibility, but it's also notorious in the community for being a "race to the bottom."

Better still, reach out to some of your business contacts and ask if they can recommend a technical writer.
posted by ErikaB at 10:24 AM on March 14, 2011

Nthing technical writer. This is what we do.
posted by vivid postcard at 12:45 PM on March 14, 2011

Try odesk. They list all kinds of outsourcers, many in eastern Europe and the far east, who work for peanuts.
posted by KRS at 3:46 PM on March 14, 2011

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