Columns January/February 2024

Advancing Your TechComm Career: Are You Sending Out Ships?

By Jack Molisani | Fellow

I learned early in life that opportunities for career advancement don’t usually appear “out of the blue”—you have to make them happen. Here’s an example.

When I first started working as tech writer, I wasn’t well known in the tech comm community so I set out to change that. I joined the STC, I volunteered in my local chapter, I learned everything I could about authoring tools and digital publishing.

In those early days of online help, publishing technology was changing fast. We went from DOS to Windows 3.1 to Windows 95, to an XML-based help, and more.

It was a good time to be a technical writer with online help experience—many companies were hiring consultants to keep up with the changes. In fact, Joe Welinski produced a conference called WinWriters that focused solely on creating online help.

I noticed one year that there was a panel discussion in the program where the Big Names in online help were going to decompile the WinZip online help (which was really bad), update it, and recompile it. The panelists would then show what they fixed and why.

I saw an opportunity to get some great exposure, so I asked Joe if I could be on that panel. He said, “Sure.”

There I was, practically a nobody in tech comm circles, sharing the stage with industry experts who wrote books on online help! I positioned myself as an expert by being on same stage as other experts.

Notice, however, that no one invited me on that panel, I had to ask (and the answer was yes!).

This is an example of what Chellie Campbell calls “sending out ships” in her book, The Wealthy Spirit.

Sending Out Ships

You’ve probably heard the expression, “When my ship comes in…” Any idea where that expression originated?

In the nineteenth century, merchants in Europe would mortgage everything they owned to build and provision ships to sail to the New World. When (if) the ships finally returned loaded with furs and spices and other goods, the merchants would be rich beyond their dreams.

However, there was no GPS and satellite telephones back then, so the merchants would go down to the dock each day, literally waiting for their ship to come in.

However, as Chellie observes, “I know plenty of people waiting for their ship to come in—but they aren’t sending any out!”

You have to send out ships for your ship to come in!

And you can’t just send one ship—there are hurricanes and sandbars and mutinies, all of which can prevent your ship from returning. So you have to send out multiple ships.

Every article you write, every blog post you make, every networking event you attend is a ship that might someday come in.

The secret to ongoing prosperity and “job security” is to keep sending out ships.

You Can’t Control When Ships Come in

Chellie also points out that you can’t control when ships come in, only when you send them out.

A case in point: After starting my outsource technical writing company, I called the head of documentation at a leading manufacturer of consumer electronics and asked if she had any projects to outsource. She said no, her current staff had things covered.

I replied, “Okay, I’ll check in again next quarter.” And I did. In fact, I checked in every quarter for almost two years. Then in my next quarterly check-in call, she replied, “I just got out of a meeting where they gave me a writing project and I don’t have anyone to do it. Come on in!”

And then, after the item I documented hit the market, PC Magazine said in a review, “The concise manual made setup easy.”


You better believe I put a copy of that review in my portfolio and showed it to every prospective client. That one project (two years in the making) has generated ship after ship (new clients)—all because I kept calling and didn’t stop after the first “no.”

Again, you never know when a ship is going to sail in. You’re just responsible for sending them out.

Keep A Ships Log

In her book, Chellie also recommends keeping a log of how many ships you send out. (She calls it, simply enough, a Ships Log.)

By recording how many ships and what types of ships you sent (going to network lunches, speaking at conferences, etc.), you can see how many ships out it takes before you get a ship back in.

I know from keeping my own logs as a recruiter that it takes me an average of thirty calls and/or emails to customers (or potential customers) before someone says yes, they need my help filling a position.

It gives me an idea of how much promotion I have to do before a ship comes in, and it takes all the sting out of people saying “No” when I ask them for business.

I used to get discouraged when potential customers said no. Because I know I need twenty-nine nos before I get a yes, whenever I get a “no” I think, “Great! I only need twenty-eight more nos!”

In other words, I know I need twenty-nine nos for me to get to yes, so I look forward to getting them. Each and every no is getting me one step closer to a yes!

The same could be said about applying for jobs and asking for raises.

Career Advancement: Asking For the Sale

Because I keep a Ships Log, I know how many nos it takes to get what I want (a new client, a new job to fill, etc.). That makes it a game, not a chore. And I love playing games where I know I’ll win if I just play long enough. (In my case, “long enough” is twenty-nine nos.)

Chellie knows this concept so well that she does a daily affirmation, “There’s money in the phone and I’m calling me some today!”

You might not be a Sales Person, but you are in sales. Every time you ask for resources, you’re making a “sale.” Ditto for going to conferences, learning new tools, and keeping up with the latest publishing technology.

Seize The Opportunity!

Some of my favorite film characters are the seagulls in the animated movie Finding Nemo. Whenever they saw food, they yelled, “Mine! Mine! Mine, Mine, Mine!”

I do the same when spotting new opportunities.

Are you afraid that AI will make you obsolete? Or are you leading the charge to see how artificial intelligence can make you more productive, save your organization money, perhaps even generate revenue?

You may be familiar with the Latin term, carpe diem, which means “seize the day.” I prefer carpe potestatem, which means “seize the opportunity.”

Is your professional development happening by accident, or by design?

Carpe potestatem!

Jack Molisani has been a project officer in the Space Division of the USAF, the manager of training and documentation of a multi-million dollar software firm, and currently is the owner of ProSpring Technical Staffing, an agency specializing in content professionals.

Jack is the president of the Los Angeles STC chapter, produces The LavaCon Conference on Content Strategy, and is the author of Be the Captain of Your Career: A New Approach to Career Planning and Advancement.

You can reach Jack at and connect with him on LinkedIn

You can connect with Chellie Campbell on her website