At some point, most who take one of my e-courses or read any of my ebooks get around to asking me about my background, so I just decided to include it with this course material.
I worked for a large legal publishing firm in New York City from 1987 to 1997 (Matthew Bender, which went on to become part of the infamous LexisNexis corporation). I left to pursue other career options twice (real estate and acting) – and was rehired – twice.
My employer was always happy to rehire me because I was a dedicated worker. One lesson I learned from this is to never burn bridges, because you never know when you will need to cross them again. Remember this, because it’s played a major part in my success as a freelance writer – and will in yours too!
In 1997, I left the publishing company for good – to go into business with my sister. We had both worked at this firm. In fact, she got me the job there when we were both in college in New York (she at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), and me at Hunter) .
A few years after I started working at the company, we started to take on outsource projects for them. We were paid separately for these jobs. Eventually, we started to make more on these freelance side projects than we were making as full-time employees. So, my sister left the firm and started Inkwell Editorial. This was in 1996.
My First Editorial Business: How I Started
When we felt that the business could support two salaries, I quit and came aboard. This was in late 1997.
Inkwell Editorial began as an editorial outsource company. We took on copy editing, coding (SGML), word processing and proofreading projects from companies and individuals alike. We eventually added a resume division and a division devoted to creative types and their projects (ie, typing up screen and stage plays, novels and TV scripts).
When we started Inkwell Editorial, our former employer gave us a lot of business. This is what I mean by don’t burn bridges.
Alas, a few months after I came aboard full-time at Inkwell Editorial, Matthew Bender starting outsourcing the work we were doing (SGML coding, copy editing, proofreading and inputting editorial changes) to overseas firms.
Naïve to business, we hadn’t diversified our income streams enough. We relied too heavily on one client (our old employer) to provide the bulk of our revenue; probably about 75% at that point.
Both of us knew that we couldn’t go back; not that our old employer wouldn’t have hired us back, but we didn’t want to go back. We had gotten a taste of entrepreneurship and liked it. So in a brainstorming session one day, we hit upon what would turn out to be a saving grace for our fledgling new company.
How We Saved Inkwell Editorial
While our old employer gave us the bulk of our business when we first started, we had managed to snag a few other clients – some quite prestigious: ie, Random House, McGraw-Hill and Kaplan, to name a few.
Some of these clients had asked if we could "send someone onsite for the day," to help with a project because "that last job we outsourced to you all was completed flawlessly.
Outsourcing Breeds a New Company Division
You see, we used freelancers to complete the projects that clients would outsource to us. Clients would messenger us projects, or we would go pick them up. As we were located in the heart of Manhattan (NYC) – right down the street from Madison Square Garden – we were very close to client offices, so it was easy to pick projects up, or send messengers for them.
Once we had the projects in hand, we would then assign them to a freelancer on our roster (we had several). We had never considered sending freelancers onsite, because on-site staffing was something we knew nothing about. And quite frankly, I just don’t think we realized at the time how lucrative it could be.
When projects from our old employer slowed to a trickle, we knew we had to do something though – and fast! So we made up a flyer offering to send editorial employees onsite for temp assignments and faxed it to all of our existing clients.
We also went through the jobs section of The New York Times and faxed all employers who listed a fax number in their ad (that was the preferred mode of contacting employers in those days; now of course, it’s email and social media).
We marketed ourselves as a niche agency that specialized in placing editorial talent (eg, copy editors, proofreaders, graphic designers, illustrators, etc.). To our surprise and delight, we started getting calls – and placements. This is when we realized how lucrative staffing could be.
With only a few temps on payroll, our little editorial agency was making more money than ever.
For example, if you bill $35/hour and pay a temp $20/hour, you’re netting $15/hour. Multiply that by 6, 10 or 20 temps working anywhere from 20 to 40 hours a week, and you can see the profit potential!
And, that’s how Inkwell Editorial went from being merely an editorial outsource firm to a full-fledged editorial staffing agency. While we still took on outsource projects, editorial staffing quickly became the way we made most of our money.
I recount this story for one reason – recognize when to seize opportunity and run with it! This story directly parallels my foray into SEO writing. I’ll explain how in just a bit.
Closing Up Shop
In 2004, I closed the doors on Inkwell Editorial as a staffing agency for good. The business suffered badly after 9/11, just like a lot of others. It could have survived, but by the time it was turning the corner into profitability again, I had made the decision to relocate to Atlanta.
I chose Atlanta because I’m originally from the south, had family there and wanted to purchase a home. Anyone who knows anything about New York City knows how expensive it is. I couldn’t afford diddly – that was livable to me – in Manhattan (the only borough I would consider).
I was burned out on staffing and itching to try something new. By this time, I also had a new business; an online business that specialized in ethnic décor for the home (Ethnic Home Décor). This business failed after a couple of years, but I wouldn’t trade the experience of starting and running it for anything because I learned a ton about doing business on the web.
Once I moved to Atlanta, I turned Inkwell Editorial into an online information portal (InkwellEditorial.com) for all types of editorial professionals. I never officially “closed” the business. I just changed how it operated.
Around 2006, the site found its core audience. It specifically provides information for freelance writers (new and experienced) on how to start, grow and/or manage a successful, home-based, freelance writing business – whether you write for yourself (eg, self-publishing your own line of ebooks), or you write for clients, or both.
My Foray into SEO Content Writing: The Beginning
Since 1993, I’ve been a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, copy editor – even when I did other things. In my past professional lives I’ve been a waitress, an actor, a realtor, a mortgage consultant, an ethnic home décor online retailer, a catalogue publisher, a recruiter and the owner of a staffing agency – and a few other things I’m sure I’ve forgotten.
Through it all, I’ve always had side gigs as a writer, editor, copy editor, etc. When I began my freelancing career as an editor/writer, I rocked along for years quite successfully; lucky enough to have long-time clients who supplied me with a steady stream of work. They kept me busy enough to pay the bills. But, something was missing.
Most of my clients up to this point were small business owners who contracted with me to handle projects like newsletters, brochures, web copy, etc. There tended to be a lot of back and forth.
Sometimes projects that I thought should only take a few days would drag on for a couple of weeks as I waited for clients to get back to me. Of course, this delayed getting paid.
This is nothing new; it’s just part of being a freelance writer. But it started to irritate me more than ever. I needed something new; something to excite me about what I was doing for a living. It’s against this backdrop that I decided to give SEO writing a try, mainly for the following reasons:
As this was a completely different field for me, I had to learn from scratch, and start marketing from scratch. This parallels what my sister and I had done when we saved Inkwell Editorial in that I had to “switch on a dime and seize an opportunity.”
The main things that stood out to me when I was initially researching how to write SEO content was how little competition there was and how lucrative it could be long term.
Discovering this niche and diving into it truly changed my freelance writing career. Once I started offering SEO content writing as a service, it quickly became 80 to 90 percent of my business.
In 2008, I started New Media Words, a full-fledged online (SEO) writing company, offering a variety of web writing, social media and other online, writing-related services. I haven’t looked back since.
More About Me
FYI, you can learn more about me and my businesses here.
The Next Lesson
Now that you know my story, let’s dive into the course material, which starts Module II. We'll start with an explanation of what SEO copywriting is, as I get this question -- a LOT!