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October 14, 2009

A mercenary view of STC

STC has announced their new dues structure.

To summarize:

  • Dues are going up.
  • Printed publications are no longer included in basic dues.
  • No chapter or SIG membership are included in the basic dues.
  • There are still tiered dues for “persons located in low and lower middle-income countries as classified by the World Bank,” but those dues have also increased.

Predictably, reaction is largely negative, such as this comment from Julie Ross:

Good luck, STC! Your membership is not worth $215, especially when it includes less than it did before! I will not renew at these increases. Money better spent in other ways.

I have been a freelancer/business owner for the vast majority of my career (so far). Let me say a few things about STC’s value proposition for mercenaries like me.

Flickr: amagill

Money // Flickr: amagill

Cold, hard cash

My participation in STC events, especially the annual conference, has led to enormous amounts of business for my company. Let’s take just one example: During an STC conference a few years ago, I was approached by representatives of a government agency to discuss a major project. (I found out later they had attended my session to see if they wanted to talk to me. I apparently passed that test.) That meeting resulted in a new customer and over $250,000 in revenue for Scriptorium.

We ask customers and prospective customers how they found us. “I saw you at a conference” is a common answer. I don’t have exact figures on how much revenue we derive from conference participation, but I know that it’s significant. Even if we only get one project a year from an event, the investment is worthwhile.

Those of you who are freelancers or consultants probably have similar experiences. Conferences are an excellent marketing tool. If you are a regular employee or the thought of speaking in public makes you ill, this argument is perhaps less compelling, which brings me to…

Wishing well // Flickr: dystopian

Wishing well // Flickr: dystopian


It’s become a cliché that networking is the best way to get a job. But I think a lot of people approach this the wrong way:

  1. Oops, I lost my job.
  2. Time to do some networking.

Wrong. Networking is a lifelong project. If you want help getting your next job, you need to lay the groundwork months or years ahead of time. Got a job opening at your current employer? Send it out to respected colleagues. Have an acquaintance who’s been laid off? Help them out; offer to review or proofread their resume. When you need help (and believe me, at some point we all do), your network will return the favor.

At the last STC chapter meeting I attended, at least 30 percent of the people there were unemployed. I wonder how many of them started attending meetings only because they need a job. A long time ago, I read Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty by Harvey Mackay, and I highly recommend it if you want some advice on how to become a successful networker.

Let’s say you change jobs once every five years or so. And let’s assume that networking inside STC can help you get a job just a few weeks faster than you would on your own. If you make $60,000 per year (for easy math purposes), that’s $5000 per month or about $1250 per week. Five years of STC dues is around $1,000. If you can find employment even one week sooner, your STC investment breaks even. If you find a job two weeks faster, you come out ahead.

I’m not even addressing the case where your network helps you find a better job where you make more money or improve your commuting time. What’s that worth to you?

You do not want to be a paper clip. Flickr: bbaunach

Don't be a paper clip // Flickr: bbaunach

Avoiding commoditization

The mission of STC is to “advance the arts and sciences of technical communication.” How does this help you, the member?

If STC succeeds, you are more likely to find jobs that pay well because your work is respected.

You are less likely to be the first person laid off in a downturn.

You are less likely to find job postings that include general office work among technical communication tasks.

You are less likely to be replaced by another, less skilled, less expensive writer.

In short, if technical communication is valued, your work is less likely to be viewed like a commodity.

Commoditization is very, very bad for your income and employment prospects. Paper clips are commodities to be procured at the lowest possible cost. Quality is rarely an issue. You do not want to be a paper clip.

Based on these major factors, the value of STC is clear to me.