Interview with a User Instructions Entrepreneur

If you’re a digital content or techcomm professional stuck in a desk job and dreaming of work freedom, our latest job Q&A may find you drafting your resignation letter by the end.

Ferry Vermeulen did exactly that when he quit his location-based work in 2015 to launch an online techcomm company with a team of remote workers. Now he combines his busy director’s work schedule with visiting more than 50 countries, in the process researching legal compliance for user documentation in different countries.

Find out the pros and cons of running your own virtual techcomm company, rates for the job and Ferry’s advice for getting started as we go behind the scenes in our latest jobs insight post.

Check out more interviews with professionals working across the field of digital communications in our Interview with a… series.

Ferry Vermeulen, user instructions entrepreneur, in MoscowWhat is your job title?

I am founder and director at INSTRKTIV GmbH. We have offices in Berlin and Amsterdam, and we help companies create compliant and user-friendly product assistance, such as user manuals, online help and how-to videos. We also support clients in their product compliance process.

What does heading a techcomm company involve?

INSTKRTIV is the second company I’ve founded in the technical communication industry. The company operates completely online: my team works from coworking spaces or home offices all around the world – just like myself.

As founder, my day-to-day work involves many different tasks:

  • Maintaining the blog– this form of marketing is how the work comes in.
  • Developing digital products for our web shop, such as compliant user manual templates that help others produce documentation.
  • Consultancy about the legal requirements on user instructions.
  • Managing my team and project managing certain contracts.
  • Everything else needed to run your own business!

What background or experience do you need to launch a techcomm startup?

I studied Industrial Design Engineering at university and after graduation I started my own product development agency in Amsterdam.

One day a client asked if we could create the user instructions for the barbecue that we had designed and engineered for him. We said ‘yes’, of course. This first techcomm job involved a combination of skills:

  • usability – to write user-friendly texts
  • 3D – to draw the illustrations
  • design – to create appealing documents for the user
  • legal knowledge – I like sorting out the legal product safety legislation side (this legislation gives requirements on the content of the user instructions).

The user manual business grew from there. Starting a business requires entrepreneurial spirit to try new things. We claimed some strategic domain names, added content and – bang! – a new company was born.

What is the most challenging part of the job?

It’s challenging to find a balance between working ON my business and IN my business. Tasks such as project management and consultancy do not directly contribute to the growth of the organisation. Maintaining my blog and developing products is where I like to spend my time most.

A healthy balance is needed so that’s why I spend mornings working ON the business and afternoons working IN the business. I always plan calls in the afternoon and my email mostly stays closed in the morning.

What is your favourite bit about being an entrepreneur?

Escaping the routine of going to an office and being stuck in the same old location! It came to the point that I had just had enough. So I quit my old business and start a new online venture where I could be location independent. Then I moved to Berlin where I lived for three years.

Is travel a big factor in your work life?

Yes. In fact, I am now combining travel with my interest in product safety as much as possible. Since starting INSTKRTIV, I have visited more than 50 countries to see how product safety legislation is set up in different nations and also to speak at various conferences.

The freedom to do this is definitely the best part of my new job. I just love sitting in a coworking space in Lisbon, Berlin or San Francisco for a few days.

What advice would you give to someone trying to get into your area?

Know where you want to go to and start each day with the most important task that will bring you to that goal.

What is the rate of pay?

Depending on the type of consultancy, my own rate varies from €120- €250/hour.

For creating a user manual, we usually charge €1,200-€15,000, varying from simple consumer electronics to machinery.

We also generate extra income from the DIY products that we sell in our online shop.

Is there job security?

Definitely! The more we surround ourselves with hardware or digital products, the more product assistance is needed. Also, product safety is getting stricter all the time and usability is always important.

Any advice on training and development options?

Attend techcomm conferences (for example, tekom/TCworld, MadWorld, Information Energy), read industry blogs and attend webinars.

I also love to read business and management books. It started with the 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. Some recent books that I loved are The ONE Thing and The Miracle Morning. Implementing holistic lifestyle principles is also something that also helps me a healthy work-life balance.

Finally, be adventurous. Being open will bring in new experiences and insights. (That’s why motto is: Never Refuse an Invitation, Never Resist the Unfamiliar!)

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, my company will excel in providing support to create compliant and user-friendly user assistance. Compliance is increasingly important because of globalisation and ecommerce. But combining compliance with other skills, such as usability and design, is a particularly interesting growth area for us.

Ferry Vermeulen is the director at INSTRKTIV GmbH, a European techcomm company that helps companies create compliant and user-friendly product assistance. It is Ferry’s ambition to visit all countries in the world to sort out international product safety. He is a regular speaker at conferences and his blog attracts 5,000 visitors per month. You can read it here or connect with him in the following ways: