Technical Communication with a Purpose

Working at Expert Support

What’s it like working at Expert Support?

First of all, Expert Support is a consulting company. Nearly all of our revenue comes from projects that we do for our clients. The first requirement for our employees is that they understand what it is like being a consultant and that they enjoy the benefits and challenges of being a consultant.

The benefits of being an independent consultant include:

  • Opportunity to engage with leading-edge software, either with start-ups or with industry leaders pushing into new areas
  • Freedom to move rapidly from one technology to another (one of our employees calls this “technology surfing”)
  • Ability to focus on defined tasks and deliverables, without caring about company politics
  • Freedom to determine how much (or how little) you want to work

The challenges for independent consultants, consultants working on their own, not with Expert Support, include:

  • The need to market and sell yourself after every engagement
  • Uncertainty about where the next engagement will come from
  • Isolation or absence of a collaborative, supportive environment
  • Requirement to do all of the “business stuff” yourself

Expert Support tries to give our employees the benefits of consulting while minimizing the challenges.

Some of the benefits we provide to our employees are:

  • Sales and marketing. While you are working on one engagement, we are working to develop the next one.
  • Billing and collections. We bill the clients. We make sure we get paid.
  • Medical insurance and similar benefits. We have group medical, life, long-term disability, and long-term care insurance, and a cafeteria benefit (FSA) plan.
  • Taxes and employment verification. With us, you are an employee with a standard W-2 for tax purposes. You don’t have to file your own business tax forms. When you apply for a loan, you aren’t self-employed, you are a regular employee.
  • Business insurance. Most big clients only contract with corporations and they require a long list of business insurance policies. We spend over $10,000 per year on insurance to comply with their procurement requirements.
  • Support group. You’re not alone. You are a member of a collection of people who have similar abilities, interests, ambitions, and issues. You can expand your abilities, share your interests and ambitions, and resolve issues with colleagues who share a common perspective.

You have to keep up with the technology to make sure you are still marketable, but that’s a lot easier when you don’t have to also worry about marketing, invoicing, health insurance, taxes, and business insurance.

An article in Tom Peters Fast Forward describes some of our principles and practices.

Lifestyle

Some of our writers work at home; some of them work on-site. Some of our writers work full-time; some of them work 20 hours a week. Some of them work year-round; one used to take December off to go diving in Polynesia. We really don’t care about any of that, as long as your customers are happy with your work and you keep the commitments you’ve made to them.

We want world-class tech writers—and we mean that literally—who can work independently for demanding clients who are doing ground-breaking new products. We want people who are always open to criticism and improving their skills, people who can argue about what the perfect reference manual would look like and be precise about their arguments.

It is unpredictable when we’ll need new writers. Sometimes we get a blizzard of requests from clients and, when that happens, we can practically place all the technically strong writers we have.

Consulting

Consulting for a company is different from being their employee. You must understand that the client is paying you for results, not for simply showing up. You are an outsider in many ways, but you must find a way to fit in with the company culture, procedures, and policies. These vary from client to client, so you must learn to figure out how things work within each client environment and then modify your own behavior to be effective in their world.

You must take responsibility, not only for the quality of the work you deliver, but for the customer’s satisfaction. Customer satisfaction includes both satisfaction with the results and with the process for producing those results. Even if you deliver good docs, if you are a pain the neck to work with, you won’t be successful as a consultant.

You must also take responsibility for your own professional development. You need to expand and improve your skills as the needs of our marketplace change. You need to stay on top of new technologies as they appear. You need to stay current with documentation tools and techniques. Years ago that meant producing paper manuals; the tech pubs world is evolving rapidly to delivering mostly via the web. You also need to be active in soliciting constructive criticism, and then acting on the advice that you get. In the world of software, if you stay within your comfort zone, you’ll quickly become obsolete.

Compensation

Your compensation is based on the bill rate that we bill our customers for your work and the number of hours you are able to bill. Most of our employees work on a salary-plus-commission basis. We pay you a small base salary that is a draw against future commissions. Your total compensation is a percentage of what we bill our customer.

 

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Paul Gustafson is Expert Support's new president. Learn more