Funded and Series A startups face many unique challenges that come with scaling the business to the next phase. Expanding staff, marketing, and infrastructure tend to be the focus during this stage of growth while remaining agile enough to gracefully adapt to fluctuations. But during this time of team building and customer growth, a pivotal area that frequently gets overlooked is its documentation.
As a startup matures, so does the need for comprehensive documentation of products, services, and internal processes to efficiently and competently guide both staff and end users, particularly during such a transitive time. Competent documentation can be the determinant of how long a startup stays within this phase, as it can have cascading effects on customer support and internal team communication. But technical writing and documentation duties can easily fall to the wayside, only to reemerge as larger problems further down the road. How could such a critical task go neglected? Here are some common reasons:
A. No time for non-core tasks
Operational staff may find themselves immersed in core business activities, leaving little to no time for non-core tasks like documentation. In addition to small business staff generally being overworked, launch deadlines and market uncertainties tend to take priority during this growth stage. But a need to release a product quickly often supersedes a need to release it right, eventually affecting both staff and end users if accompanying documentation is incomplete or contains errors.
B. Limited employee resources
Hiring full-time technical writers can be a costly concept for companies focusing resources on significant growth and sustainability. This can result in having developers write documentation, which usually leads to poor documentation quality and additional edits and revisions. Or worse, no documentation can be created at all, affecting anything from internal teams lacking process documentation to properly train new staff to frustrated customers lacking necessary help docs to properly use or install a product or service.
C. Expert writers are hard to find
Technical writing requires specialized skills and knowledge that may not be readily available within the company, so finding freelance writers or documentation agencies becomes more viable. Successfully catering documentation to audiences requires experience in specific fields or industries, as not all end users are created equal. But even this can present a challenge, with many writing agencies acting more as staffing firms and less as project management partners. Writing quality can also vary, with many agencies often outsourcing writing globally to non-native English-speaking writers, resulting in errors or readability issues.
D. Maintaining documentation momentum
As a startup matures, its processes, services, and products evolve in complexity and functionality. Quality documentation becomes crucial for ensuring consistency, accuracy, and compliance. Abundant knowledge base content and help docs can ensure customers remain guided. Poor documentation can lead to costly mistakes and even potential legal issues. Finding technical writers with knowledge of industry best practices can help avert embarrassing and costly mistakes further down the road.
Relegating documentation duties to contract writers or tech writing agencies can provide numerous benefits to a maturing startup, and a variety of options exist for hiring technical writers. Here are some of the advantages to outsourcing documentation duties:
Managed technical writing services can be a practical solution for startups looking to run lean while meeting all documentation needs. Contract documentarians or tech writing agencies can provide services on an as-needed basis, which can save the company money on salary and benefits expenses associated with hiring full-time technical writers.
2. Access to specialized expertise
Insights gained from professional writers provide access to specialized expertise that may not be available within the company. A contract technical writer with a competent skill set and proven track record can provide high-quality documentation that not only adheres to industry standards but also acknowledges unique problems faced by similar end users. Technical writers who are knowledgeable in specific industries can help ensure products or services comply with applicable laws and regulations. This can reduce the risk of fines, legal action, and damage to the company's reputation.
3. Focusing on the bigger picture
Relying on managed technical writing services frees up a startup's operational staff to focus on their core competencies, such as product development, marketing, and ultimately growing the company. Scalability becomes more viable when departments aren’t colliding or being called in to put out fires. For example, software developers should be focusing on building updates and improving features, not scrambling to write documentation before a release date.
4. Creating a winning team
Internal procedural and process documentation is essential for training team members effectively and efficiently. Good documentation helps improve employee collaboration, keeping everyone on the same page and minimizing confusion regarding tasks and processes. Creating and retaining a cohesive staff of employees is crucial for both maximizing operational efficiency and ultimately making a startup more appealing to potential investors.
5. Getting it right and on-time
Another benefit of utilizing professional technical writing services is the timely delivery of quality deliverables. Contract workers or agencies have the expertise and resources to deliver documentation within a reasonable timeframe, meeting product deadlines and fulfilling the need for accurate customer guidance and support resources.
With professional technical writers handling documentation duties, a funded startup can avoid common pitfalls that come with a lack of documentation. Incomplete or inadequate documentation can ultimately lead to confusion and errors, as well as wasted time and resources. By finding the right technical writing agency, a blossoming business can access high-quality documentation that allows it to grow as fast as possible by meeting the needs of its employees, customers, and industry partners.