A mercenary view of STC
STC has announced their new dues structure.
- 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.
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…
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:
- Oops, I lost my job.
- 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?
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.
Very nicely put. Factual, logical, and fair.
Your stock just went up in my view.
An interesting viewpoint you bring up. I like the point about networking, it needs to be a lifelong pursuit, not just something you do when unemployed.
Maybe STC could help folks improve their comfort level with this critical skill?
Thanks, Sarah. I agree completely.
That last one, avoiding commoditization, might be the most important reason of all for staying with STC. But it’s probably the hardest to justify in terms of ROI. Maybe STC needs an ad campaign: Don’t become a paper clip.
May I have permission to post this article on the Phoenix website? Better said than I could.
I can add to your $$ benefits. After attending one of your presentations, I bought several of your books. 🙂
I can top your story about the $250,000 client. My association with Documentum (later EMC) began in early 1999, when a Documentum pubs manager stood up in an STC meeting and said that he was looking for some help. Over the next 7 years with Documentum, my salary, bonuses, ESPP, and options brought me in excess of $800,000. I had a secure, remunerative position through the dotcom bust, all because of a contact at an STC meeting.
Of course, your mileage may vary, but I’ve heard many similar stories.
Very nicely done!!! Every newsletter editor in STC ought to be begging you to reprint this.
Very nice article, Sarah. I think a lot of the problems in our profession (perceived or real lack of respect, commoditization, being the first in line for resource and budget cuts) stems from many technical communicators (TCs) focusing almost entirely on their technical skill set, and very little on business. Over the years, I have heard many TCs argue that they shouldn’t need to deal with ROI or budgets or decision makers; they just want to write. TCs are certainly free to ignore the business aspects of their profession (including the value of STC membership and participation), but they eventually suffer the consequences, and the rest of us in the profession feel the ripple effect.
Sarah, thanks for sharing your great perspective. Over the years I have gained great benefits from STC-sponsored professional development opportunities. I also credit my STC network for enabling me to develop the rich and rewarding relationship that I have with the National Cancer Institute. I expect to renew my dues for years to come.
My observations on this logically argued, great post:
(i) Cold hard cash: Cannot comment coz I am not a freelancer or a businessperson.
(ii) Networking: Does not need STC membership. When I network within the TW community, I do it regardless of someone’s STC membership.
(iii) Avoiding commoditisation: Does not need STC membership. If STC were to eventually succeed in advancing the art and science of tech-comm (and STC’s been in existence since?), it would benefit the entire TW fraternity – not only STC members.
Just taking a contrary view here – but I am trying very hard to convince myself to renew my STC membership for next year, and failing. Especially in this age of easy communication where information and knowledge is so readily shared by willing people (like you yourself Sarah – your footprints on the Web contain a wealth of learning for anybody)
STC provides one avenue for networking. It’s obviously not your only option, but it’s a good one. And when I need my network, I want to have the widest possible set of options. I’m a member of several different chapters (including India) because it allows me to follow discussions on the various mailing lists and see what how priorities differ from one location to another.
regarding commoditization: I am willing to contribute membership dues to STC because I think that a large organization stands a better chance at accomplishing the mission than I do as an individual with my $200. You can certainly choose to let others contribute and hope to benefit from their efforts without participating yourself. However, if a sufficient number of people take that approach, the organization will fail and with it, the mission. It’s basically a prisoner’s dilemma.
The other side to this issue is the awfully slow pace at which STC adapts. $215 is a lot to invest in an organization with an archaic approach to the tech industry. Your last point about commodities is correct, but is based on “if STC succeeds”. Outside perception also contributes to the value of commodities. I don’t think being associated with STC can hurt my reputation in any way. However, it may not give me anything either, especially when skills drive the hiring process and most of my learning occurs outside of STC.
I don’t want STC to fail. I want it to succeed by being adaptive and adding a lot more value outside of its name. I am renewing next year with hopes that it happens.
You bring up some interesting points. I’m interested in hearing more about point #3.
How is HQ “advancing the arts and sciences of technical communication”, exactly? It’s a fine mission statement, but I have no idea of what HQ is doing to make skill at technical communication a more valued commodity. What are the specific steps being taken? How do they help — especially in Tier 1 countries other than the US, where we’re being asked to pay the same rates?
I will not be renewing my dues with the STC, which is sad, I’ve been a member since 1999. I am widening my scope because technical writing, specifically in my area of the country, is a combination of project management, business analyst and quality assurance. I am taking my $215 and dividing it up among those professional organizations. STC hasn’t given me much in recent years and the prices have gone up. If they want my business, they should have increased their offerings (like PMI and IIBA) THEN raised their dues when they had something to offer. I have done freelance work, and none of it has come from STC. Most tech writers here in Birmingham have either never heard of the organization or network enough outside of it to not need to join.
Catherine Ludwig Donleycott
Although I am far from thrilled about the increasing costs, and think increasing dues is only going to reduce STC income–because so many people will not renew–I’ll renew. I’ve gotten more than one job from people who recognize my STC accomplishments, or have found me on the STC website, i.e., the most recent being the contract I just completed.
Last March, 2010, the iRobot Maritime technical publications manager in Massachusetts found my resume on the STC site and recruited me for a contract in their new facility in Durham, NC. Thanks to my STC membership, I got to write the initial volume one user’s guide for an unmanned, underwater vehicle (UUV) for advanced oceanographic research!
A very logical argument, unless you’re a student or an educator in the field of Technical Communication. Apparently the STC does not wish to encourage the participation of future Tech Commies.
STC is too US-focussed. This makes the issues or topics they discuss at times irrelevant to lots of others, including those doing work outsourced from primarily the US.
There is an impression that the reason why people cling on to STC is to further their career prospects using or not using the STC tag. STC do not have any hold or bargaining power with companies or the governments. Whether an STC member or not, a technical writer’s progress depends on his or her skill sets, and the value as perceived by the company. This perception is very vague and is not easy to measure. When hundreds get kicked out, STC cannot do anything, except find jobs faster. To be a true representative of technical writers all over the world, STC needs to grow beyond just an onlooker.
I’ve been an on-again off-again member of STC since 1998, and unless my company ponies up the $215 this year, I’ll be another one of the writers who does not renew his membershp.
I joined primarily to make contacts in the hopes of landing a tech writing job in my area, and also to gain some professional knowledge as I was new to technical writing.
I began with the usual newcomer’s enthusiasm, even volunteering to serve on my local chapter’s admin council. After about 3 years (two of which I paid my dues out of my own pocket, the other my employer only paid half) I became somewhat discouraged for a number of reasons:
– Every meeting was basically one of two types; either a senior member of the chapter would give a presentation about what they do at their company (and by the way, we’re not hiring), or a sales rep from a software company would give a demo of a tool that was “the future of technical writing.”
– Since the cost of attending a meeting was only slighty higher for non-members as opposed to members (maybe $5 tops) I realized I could get the same benefits of attending as a non-member, and save myself $100 a year.
I let my membership lapse in 2002 due to the time constraints of attending Grad school at night, and only re-joined in 2005 when my present company offered to pay the entire cost of membership.
I got shanghied into serving on the admin council again two years ago, and found things pretty much the same as I had left them in 2002. At this point, I really had to question why I ever joined in the first place.
Though I have made some contacts in the local tech writing community, not one of them has ever led to a job. Every job I’ve had since I’ve lived in this area I got through either answering an ad, or just posting my resume on Monster.
To me, $100+ a year for two magazines is a waste. Now, they’re going to raise it to $215 with the magazines and SIG memberships being extra. What, exactly, am I getting for my $215?
I think Sarah summed it up best with “If STC succeeds, you are more likely to find jobs that pay well because your work is respected.”
If and when they succeed, maybe I’ll re-think my position.
Sarah, you make a strong case, but as a business owner with upmteen years in the field you have a very different perspective than many members.
I joined STC from 2000-2002 and again from 2008-present. I’m currently a lone software UA writer who joined in order to increase my skills and knowledge of what’s happening in the profession. While I truly did get something out of the conference this year, I get next to nothing out of Intercom. I’ve never liked how it looks (it reminds me of lightweight magazines from the 1950s and the look hasn’t changed in the 10 years I’ve seen it), and the content is more often than not useless to me because it’s of no interest or because it doesn’t go deep enough. Also, the Web site is a nightmare; I get frustrated every time I use it.
I think the society has serious problems with credibility. About all I would get out of $215 is a tax deduction and a line on my resume. My boss couldn’t care less that I’m in the STC. I can spend $215+$40+$100 on books and use other (free) sources to get what I need.
By the way, I’m one who recommended to STC that the printed magazines not be included in the membership, in order to save money (I’m a tree hugger). But, aside from the fact that I might not be able to afford to join in 2010, the change that disturbed me most was the extra charges for the chapter membership and a SIG. These are community-killers. If the STC is not about community, then it has no reason for existence.
Thanks for quoting me, but I thought some others’ comments were better put. 😉
@Charles: STC has a number of initiatives in the category of “advancing TC.” The two I find most interesting are the body of knowledge (http://stcbok.editme.com/) and certification (yes, I know it’s the third rail of STC).
@M.A.: I would not conclude from this post that STC is not interested in academia. You might conclude that I don’t know anything about STC’s initiatives in that area.
@Vishnu: I agree that STC is too US-focused. However, the membership is 90% in North America. (I can’t remember if the 90% number is North America or U.S. only.) How do you think STC could or should grow outside the US?
@Joe: See my comment to Anindita. If enough people take the “I’ll come back when they succeed” approach, they guarantee that the organization will fail. Prisoner’s dilemma.
@Julie: The title of the post does indicate that my arguments are for the business owner/consultant/mercenary types. They may or may not apply to others.
Although the arguments for joining are good ones for someone that has gotten jobs from STC participation what are the stats on people who have never gotten a job via STC. I haven’t, and don’t know anyone in my area who has.
I agree with the comments about the web site but I am fine with putting Intercom on the web–I rarely read it, it is not relative to any work I do. I would rather the rates not go up and that I could just opt out of receiving Intercom.
The website is clumsy. I know at least one member who has never been able to access the web. I don’t think it an isolated case, but we will never know because these people who can’t access the site can’t register their issues, and getting someone at the office is just as difficult–it took me a month to straighten out an issue to access the web, my friend was unwilling to spend the time necessary to contact them and resolve the issue. Not everyone has the time to devote to this issue so they just drop it and probably will not renew.
Another problem that cropped up this year was when a lot of people suddenly started getting email from people who should not have had the email addresses. How did that happen?
I attended a webinar for Captivate that I thought by the description, would give me some information on actually using the software, it was only a sales presentation and I don’t think it was a very good one. Luckily some other department in my company paid for it and scheduled the room.
So far, I am not sure STC is giving me anything I want that I can’t get through other established venues.
I will most likely not renew my STC membership in 2010. I get little benefit from the group.
I have never gotten a job because I was in the STC. I haven’t attended many yearly conferences because of the costs. I don’t read “Intercom” because the articles aren’t interesting to me. I used to attend my local meetings. However, they became the same thing month after month and year after year. When the local meetings did include people from local work places and education, they never represented the majority of people and companies in my area.
For many years, I wanted to see the STC, both at the national and local levels, promote technical writing, editing, and so on. I wanted them to educate local companies and governments about our profession so they’d understand and accept the benefits we provide and the professionalism we have. I have not seen that at all. The feelings about tech writers seems to be that anyone can do it and the salaries here have basically stayed the same for 5+ years.
The only real benefit I get are from the two SIGs to which I belong. I learn a lot from these people and will miss them tremendously.
“…I wanted them to educate local companies and governments about our profession so they’d understand and accept the benefits we provide and the professionalism we have…” Well said, Ellen. I totally agree with you.
“…The feelings about tech writers seems to be that anyone can do it…”
This is the reality. Many think that technical writing is a copy and paste job and it is an inferior job compared to coding and testing. The amount of focus or visibility a developer or tester gets is much much higher than a technical writer gets.
What can STC do to change this perception, not just in the US, but also in countries like India?
I just wrote an article about the value of the STC and why I make oodles of money by being an STC member. (I’m hoping to break the $1M mark next year; that’s an official “oodle.”) You’re welcome to download it at http://www.hedtke.com/downloads/Of_Course!.pdf
Thanks Sarah, for the great post. I’ve read tons of views and comments on this topic. I’m fighting the same battle as Anindita in trying to convince myself to renew my STC membership.
I thought about commenting my views here, but realized it was huge when I completed it. So, here’s my take on the topic on my blog at http://coffeebreaklabs.com/sri/index.php/2009/10/29/what-i-expect-from-stc/.
Great article. I’ve been a little cranky about the increase, and your article provides a great counter to my attitude. Would you mind if we provided a link to it in Nov. issue of the Northeast Ohio chapter Newsletter.
Yes, feel free to link to it.
I understand what you’re saying. However, it’s hard to come up with $215 when you’ve only worked for 3 months out of the last 2 years. Your advice is worth acting on when I get back on the roles of the gainfully employed.
It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that STC is a member-driven professional association, and not some agency that provides services in return for our annual payment. Like other associations, the benefit you derive is directly proportional to your investment of time and energy. STC provides opportunities to lecture, teach, research, be published, judge documentation, have your documentation judge, network, become certified, and more. Sarah reaps a great deal because she sows a great deal. This is not so much mercenary as it is good business…and we all benefit from her work. Of course, if you don’t have the money, then you don’t have the money. 🙁
@N. Heitz: I am sorry to hear about your employment situation. And yes, that is obviously a case where the dues present a truly formidable barrier.
@Jeanette: This is an important point. There’s a lot of “what does my $$$ get me?” But STC is actually a charity and not a trade association. Worth keeping in mind…
Your message is very succinct.
Would you give permission for the STC Twin Cities chapter to place it (or parts of it) on their website?
STC-TC Membership Manager