A year ago today, I registered my business name with the state of Ohio. Happy 1st anniversary, Words in Bloom!
I was ill-prepared to start my own business on March 30, 2022. It was a long-term goal that I hadn’t given much practical thought to. But circumstances moved up the timeline before I had a chance to make any plans or develop any strategies for success. I floundered. I flew by the seat of my pants.
A year later, I offer some important things I’ve learned:
– Get comfortable with discomfort. This is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, and my anxiety is often through the roof. This is normal when you’re growing a business. (Self-care is INCREDIBLY important because of this. As my business coach once told me, self-care should be part of your business plan.)
– It’s OK to say no. The inclination when you’re starting out is to say yes to everything. You need clients. You need money. But if you say yes to everything, you’re not leaving yourself available for the opportunities you actually want to say yes to. Learn to be OK with saying no to prospective clients and projects that don’t make sense for your business. (This is a lesson I’m still learning, by the way.)
– Ignore the “overnight success” stories and all the people out there who insist you’re not successful unless you’re making a six-figure income. YOU get to define what success looks like for you.
– You will need to spend money to make money. Make sure you’re budgeting for the software and other things you need to run your business.
– Make connections with other business owners. They understand all the highs and lows and can be great sources of support and advice.
– Most importantly, STAY THE COURSE. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about giving up. Especially when a recruiter would contact me about some corporate role that was a good fit. Remind yourself why you’re doing this. Lean on your support system. I’m finally at a point where I’m seeing growth and feeling optimistic about the future. But it took many sleepless nights and a lot of tears to get here.
In other news, I attended the ACES conference last week here in Columbus. It was a great way to meet a lot of editors and learn new things about my profession.
Highlights for me: hanging out with Ellen Jovin of Grammar Table and getting to speak to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and NYT Bestselling author, Connie Schultz. I met her five years ago, but I didn’t get a photo to document that occasion. I made sure to get a photo this time.
I’ve been a freelance writer and editor off and on since 2005. It happened by accident. We were living in Germany at the time, and I had a travel blog to keep friends and family updated on our adventures around Europe. Because of that travel blog, I was approached to write some travel guides for pay (not book-length – just short travel summaries for websites). It eventually snowballed into assignments with other companies in other industries.
It was the ideal way to make money as a military spouse. It’s difficult to maintain a career when you move every four years. But freelancing was done virtually, so my location didn’t matter.
It’s worth noting that I didn’t make a lot of income from doing this. I didn’t need to. My husband’s income at the time was more than enough for us to get by, plus I wanted to devote most of my time in Europe to actually enjoying Europe. But it supplied me with fun money to go on short trips with friends, go out for lunches and coffees, and buy books. I also enjoyed the work … most of the time.
Doing it wrong
It’s also worth noting that I did freelancing wrong for much of this time. I did a lot of work for content mills, which notoriously underpay. I rarely sent pitches, which is what I should have been doing. And I lowballed myself for fear of not getting the gig. I was basically the poster child for everything you shouldn’t do if you’re serious about freelancing.
I got lucky from time to time – two articles for The Seattle Times jobs section, and a full-time gig for several months writing facility descriptions for recreation.gov. But most of my assignments were nothing to brag about.
It was only a matter of time, especially once we were staring military retirement in the face, before I realized that freelancing wasn’t sustainable. Or at least I didn’t know how to make it sustainable. Once my husband became a civilian, I would need to work full-time, too. If we wanted to buy a house and have money to travel and enjoy our lives.
Changing my path
Not knowing what to do, I decided to get a paralegal certificate. At least it was a plan. And it led to a fulfilling, full-time job that sustained me through my husband’s final two years in the Air Force.
Then retirement came. And moving out of state. And leaving that job. And starting over again. There was no job market for that type of work here in Columbus. (Note: I didn’t work as a paralegal, but my legal knowledge helped me get that job.) Actual paralegal work paid well below what I had been making. So I thought I’d rely on my writing and editing background once again. That’s always been my first love anyway.
Not getting ahead
I’ve done some in-house work in marketing and communications since we moved to Ohio in 2016. But the corporate world has not treated me well. I haven’t been able to realize my full potential, even after getting my master’s degree in marketing and communications. I seemed doomed to be stuck in the same position at one company, unchallenged and unfulfilled, despite doing excellent work and asking for a promotion. (And not even being granted an interview when I applied internally for a position I was qualified for.)
I transitioned to another company in December 2021 – a better title, at least on paper. But it was clear right away that it wasn’t a good fit. I’ll say no more than that.
Discovering my why
At the same time, we moved to this house with over 5 acres of land and a lot of fruit trees. I didn’t know at the time we were under contract that this was basically a small-scale farm. I only learned that on the day of the inspection when the sellers informed us of all the fruit trees and fruit-producing vines we had on the property. It occurred to me immediately that profiting off of this land is my future. Selling at farm markets – fresh, whole fruit and/or fruit products. I never considered it before, but I decided to lean into it. This is now part of my journey. An unplanned part, but one that I embrace. (It’s hard work, but I love it.)
But the farm market thing won’t happen for at least a year. I need to go through one growing season first to see how much we produce. I need to go to farm markets, talk to other small-scale farmers. I need to figure out how this all works.
And I knew I could have multiple streams of income working for myself – not just the farm, but writing and editing, too. I was coming up with a plan to do all of this gradually over the next few years. It wasn’t something I planned to do overnight.
However, my full-time job wasn’t working out and was causing me an incredible amount of stress. And as spring arrived, I realized that I needed a lot of time to get this property in shape. A LOT of time. It’s planting season now, and I have a lot of weed removal to do in the vegetable beds before I can finish planting. (Fresh-cut flowers may also be part of the farm market plan, but the flower beds are choked with weeds, too.)
Taking the leap
I left that job a month ago. Thankfully, we have a safety net. Had it not been for that, I might not have taken the leap. And the thought of that is even more terrifying than the fear I am currently feeling.
At the end of March, I registered a trade name with the state: Words in Bloom Writing and Editing Services. My aunt (a graphic designer) designed a logo for me.
I started reaching out to people in my network and other professionals in my field.
So, I’m back to freelancing. For real this time. No content mills. I am using my connections to line up work. This is week 4 since I left corporate life, and I lined up two clients already. The work will be varied, so it should keep me on my toes. And since things are a bit slow at the moment as contracts and onboarding are finalized, I’m spending a lot of time working outside.
I come in from a day’s labor in the yard, covered in mud and sweat. But I’m happy. And I can hop in the shower and be online for a Zoom call with a client or spend some time writing or sending emails.
I was prepping my veggie bed the other day, getting ready to plant (lettuces and spinach very soon). And I was thinking about how gardening is a fitting endeavor for a writer/editor.
Well, a brand new garden is like a blank page. The possibilities are endless. If you’re meticulous as both a writer and a gardener, you plan. You create an outline if you write. You create a blueprint if you garden.
Once you plan, you can begin. You plant the seeds and watch them grow. You write the words and watch a piece take shape.
Like a manuscript, a garden is a living, ever-changing thing. If something doesn’t work, you change it. You rotate crops from year to year. You plant new things to replace things that died. You change out annuals for a bit of variety. In other words, you revise. You improve. You add and remove.
You keep working at it, hoping your garden will reach its greatest potential. Just as you would hopefully continue to work at a manuscript to make it the best it can be.
Weeding, to me, is similar to editing. You are removing what’s unnecessary. You are cleaning up. You are clearing out the clutter to allow things to really shine.
Both gardens and manuscripts require tending. They require care. And, if things go well, you reap the fruits of your labors. That’s the best part. And that’s what makes both so incredibly rewarding.
I keep thinking I need to update, but then I sit for a long time, staring at a blank page. Between work, grad school, and general adult responsibilities, I’m in a permanent state of exhaustion. That makes it rather hard to be creative when I sit down to write, but here goes.
Twenty plus years ago or so, I wrote poetry. I don’t think I was particularly good at it. But I wrote it anyway. I dabbled in playwriting, too. I wasn’t good at that either. Short stories? Meh.
I also made an attempt at a novel and gave that up. I still have it somewhere on my hard drive, and it might be fun (or horrifying) to read it. I expect a glass of wine or two will be mandatory.
I think most writers do that, don’t they? They experiment until they find what works.
Nonfiction ended up being my jam, specifically the personal essay. The travel essay, in particular. But I don’t travel much anymore, which is a sad state of affairs.
Maybe I always knew nonfiction was my true genre, somewhere deep down. I started out in undergrad as a journalism major. I wanted to tell stories – true stories. I think I majored in journalism for about a year, but I ended up changing to creative writing. I got this idea in my head that as a journalist, you would have to hound people frequently to get a story. And that’s not always true, which I know now. But at the time, that’s what I thought. And I didn’t have an assertive bone in my body, so I figured that wasn’t going to work.
Well, creative writing didn’t work either. I enjoyed the classes, but I think I had too much of a thin skin at the time to really handle the peer reviews. One poetry instructor strongly discouraged me from becoming a poet.
I don’t remember when I changed my major to English. It might have been shortly after I transferred to Ohio State from Bowling Green State University. Because I took some creative writing classes at OSU, too. But in the last two years of undergrad, I was immersed in literature, and creative writing took a backseat.
Of course, I heard the jokes about majoring in English. “Embrace a life of poverty.” “It’s a useless degree unless you become a teacher.” Blah blah blah. Twenty years later, not much has changed there.
Yes, STEM is the thing now. But there is still a place for English majors, too. Critical thinking seems to be in a sad decline these days. English majors? We have those skills. (Humanities in general, I hasten to add.) Writing? Editing? English majors are likely to have those skills, too. (I’m not saying all do. Trust me. I’ve seen that firsthand.)
And contrary to popular belief, not all English majors end up being teachers. That seems to be the obvious career path, and everyone assumed that’s what I would do. (And to my teacher friends, you guys are rock stars! I appreciate you!) Well, I actually hated teaching, to be honest. It took two years as a graduate teaching assistant to figure that out. So, no academic life for me.
So, back to writing and editing. You *can* make a career of that, and I have. Sadly, journalists seem to be disrespected a lot these days and there have been massive layoffs at newspapers. Editors don’t get much love either, it seems, as they are often the first to go if there are staffing cuts. (Why yes, I have noticed a sharp uptick in errors in print and online publications in recent years.)
But there is always marketing. And there will always be a need for marketers. And English majors are a great fit for this career, though you can come into marketing from any background. (Storytelling makes great marketing, and English majors know stories.)
I’m currently in the Buckeye Pen Pals program, an Ohio State-sponsored initiative that pairs a current OSU student with an alum. The pairing is based on major and the student’s career plans.
While I wasn’t paired with a student this year (more alumni were signed up than students), I am still in touch with my pen pal from last year. She’s an English major who is considering a career in professional writing. I know she’s concerned about her career prospects after she graduates. That’s understandable. I just don’t know how much of that is tied into being an English major – a lot, I suspect.
So, while an English degree is not the path to riches, it still has value. It does open doors.