Web Work 101: New Web Worker? Who’s Got Your Back?

One of the things that can really help you when you’re starting out as a web worker is having a “safety network”  of mentors in your field.

The ideal situation is to have access to a few people with freelance experience whom you know well enough to be able to lean on a little, people who will gladly share their wisdom and let you pick their brains. You should have at least one mentor whose expertise you can draw on for tips, tech support, quality control — and even reassurance.

When I first started freelance tech writing, I had no clue how to charge or quote for a tech writing project. I had worked as an in-house tech writer and done some side projects. But I was second fiddle on those jobs; the guy I worked with handled the proposal and contract with the client, and was paying me by the hour. I didn’t have to worry about the details because my colleague, who had been working in freelance tech writing for over 15 years, took the lead.

So when the day came that I actually needed to quote on a tech writing job, I just asked him exactly what to do, and he sent me his secret formula. And then any time I hit a wall, I’d fire off an email to my guru and he’d help me out. In the first year or so, I asked him to give me feedback on what I’d written, to help me deal with scope creep, and for some assistance with software problems, among other things.

Similarly, when I started freelance translating at a high volume, my husband, who’d been at it for years, shared his efficient and logical file naming and organizing systems with me, gave me a quick tutorial and a list of keyboard shortcuts for the most widely used CAT (computer-assisted translation) tool, and was basically there for me while I learned to fly solo.

If you don’t already have such a network, don’t despair. The great thing about the Internet these days is that you have unprecedented access to experts in your field, and chances are good that you’ll find some who are generous enough to share. You may find the info you need just by reading their blogs, but you can also establish relationships with these virtual strangers by subscribing to their blogs and actively participating in the conversation.

If you’re not sure where to find your expert colleagues, mine the web. Set up a Google alert (or use Yotify, Alerts.com, Trackle, or another) to hunt for pertinent key phrases. Join professional groups in the real world and don’t forget to search for groups on LinkedIn (and/or Xing, or Viadeo if you’re in Europe) and, yes, even Facebook. My pro groups on Facebook are bigger and more active than the ones on LinkedIn!

If you have stories of how mentors helped you get started in web working, or ways to find mentors who can help you get started, please share them in the comment.