Technical Writer meets Client – Exploring Expectations

At the beginning of a new project the initial discussions between myself and a new client are always interesting.  It’s usually a cautious exploration by both parties to determine what the other needs, wants, knows, and is capable of delivering.

What the technical writer needs to know…

The technical writer needs to know what the client’s expectations are, and how much the client knows about the process of creating quality documentation.

Are there enough resources to do this right? Are there existing standards? How many and what kinds of documents are required? What kinds of content are required? Text only? Graphics and diagrams? Print? Web? Help? Is all the expertise available? Will I get enough support from subject matter experts?

What the client needs to know…

The client usually wants to know how well the writer understands the industry, product or process that needs to be documented, and how much support the technical writer will need.

Can this writer deliver everything I need? How quickly? Will there need to be several people involved? How many and what kinds of subject matter experts will have to be made available for the duration of the project? Do we both have clear and accurate ideas of the project scope? Are they the same? What is the bottom line?

These are all valid questions. And both parties need answers to proceed.

A team effort

Producing quality documentation is a team effort. The larger the project, the more it must be broken into component parts. Also, on larger projects it may be necessary to have multiple people on the team, with specialized expertise.

With that in mind, it’s important to know what the technical writer brings to the table. This tends to be pretty subjective since technical writers come into the field from many backgrounds.

Share information ahead of the meeting

Before the initial meeting I like to do some research on the client and his/her business, products, and processes. Besides just being good marketing practice, this can tell me a lot about what to expect, and how good a fit the project will be. These days, with Google, clients’ websites, Linked In, Facebook, and so many other resources, you can learn a lot before you ever meet face to face.

In the same vein, I provide the client with my resume in advance, and encourage him/her to go to my website where I keep additional information, blog articles, and references. I also keep samples of my work there so the client can see real examples of what I have produced. I assume the client will probably follow up by checking me out on Linked In, Facebook and other online resources.

At the initial meeting

When we do meet I try to continue the learning process. Obviously, it’s important to know the scope of the project in broad strokes. But I also want to know as much as possible about the client’s concept of what technical writing is, what he or she thinks is possible, and (often more importantly) what is impossible.

I also try to share as much information as I can about my background, training, and experience, as well as how I approach the document development process. More than just information, I want the client to understand how I plan to drive toward the goal of completing the project. That may include tools, techniques, and processes I use to ensure success, but also a sense of commitment and passion that I bring to the work.

At the same time I need to communicate my expectations: what resources will be required and what the client must ensure to achieve his goals. I don’t want to overpromise and then not be able to deliver.

A good start

It’s my belief that projects that get off to a good start usually end well too. Establishing a strong foundation of expectations that are understood, shared and agreed on is one of the keys ensuring a successful beginning.

Sphere: Related Content

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply