So excited to introduce Susan Anderson, the founder of Working Writer, Happy Writer, and a few other entrepreneurial endeavors. This quick glance at Susan’s life is right off her rocking website, which is an amazing place for free and paid resources for freelance writers (I wish I had met her three years ago when I wrote my books and had to learn everything from scratch): “Susan splits her time between Huntsville, Alabama, and the Tri-Cities area of Eastern Tennessee. Mom to two teens and a small ark’s worth of animals, she counts walking on fire and breaking a wooden arrow with her throat as piece-of-cake accomplishments in comparison. If she’s not writing, she’s probably taking a long walk with the love of her life, trying to convince her chickens to weed the garden, or wiping the drool off of her 1959 Volkswagen Beetle Ragtop, Miss Mabel (built by said love of her life).”
Tell me about your business: what, why, for how long?
In 2005, I started Triumph Communications, a team of US-based freelance writers who provide white label content creation for marketing firms and their clients. That was my main business. I built on that and created Working Writer, Happy Writer, a course introducing talented writers to the business of freelancing, how to get clients, and how to do the projects clients want. That became my side business. And I’m also the author of “You Write, They Pay” and several other books.
I always had an aptitude for writing but thought EVERYONE could do it, too, until I hired a business coach to help me decide what to do when I grew up. I found out that there was a huge demand for writing services and learned how to build a business. Figured out on my own how to turn a one-woman show into an agency where I could help stay-at-home moms get paid for their words.
Tell me about your family:
I’m engaged, have two kids in college.
How do you balance your family with your businesses and life in general?
It’s not easy! But it’s gotten much easier as the kids have gotten older. In hindsight, learning to say “no” more often – and setting stronger boundaries about my work time and non-work time would have been helpful. Also, having an office would have been wonderful.
How did you balance your marriage, mommy guilt when the kids were younger, and building a business?
I’m afraid I didn’t balance it all as well as I’d hoped. But eventually, hearing “Mom, you’re ALWAYS working!” got through to me. During the school year, I made a point of doing drop-off and pick-up most days and not resuming work until after they’d gone to bed. During the summers, my kids loved staying up late and sleeping in, which gave me a few hours of quiet each morning. My ex helped as much as he could, and was supportive of my business.
What does your weekly schedule typically look like? How much time per week dedicated to your side business?
For YEARS, I worked 50-60 hours every week. Now that my agency is established, I average about 40 hours a week and usually take the weekends off.
No surprise, but the side biz often gets short-changed in my calendar. As all the big pieces are already in place, the work I now do on it can mostly be done in big chunks – like, I’ll take an afternoon (often on the weekend) to work on it.
What type of work are you personally currently doing? Writing, strategy, marketing, training, coaching?
Most of my work time is now devoted to strategy, client management, book ghostwriting, and copywriting.
Describe your start in entrepreneurship.
I had a VERY hard time finding my groove. After college, I went to grad school for psychology, quit when I saw what applied psych was like, eventually went back to school for accounting, sat for the CPA exam (but always felt like a terrible accountant), moved south and stayed home with the kids for a few years, and then started looking for temp jobs or something to earn extra money (my ex- was a pastor).
I tried starting up several businesses – usually craft-based – and soon realized they were not EVER going to be profitable. I read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” and “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind” and then Loral Langemeyer’s “The Millionaire Maker”. At the back of that last book, there was an offer for a free strategy session with a coach. I ended up buying the coaching program and that’s how I landed on the idea of creating a freelance writing business. I started with basically nothing, no relevant degree, no website (of course!), no paid experience, no portfolio… nothing. My coach showed me how to find work and helped me cobble together the foundation of my business.
How long did you use a coach?
We worked together for about six months.
When did you feel like you’ve made it? Or what’s your definition of success?
I really felt like I’d made it when I shifted from being a solo writer to having an agency of freelancers. While I netted way less money this way, I felt great about building a business that helped other writers support their families, too.
How long did it take to get there?
That took a couple of years. The first year, I was mostly on my own. The second year is when I built a team.
Plus, now that I’ve filled key positions in my business (project manager, editor, etc.), I don’t have to be quite so hands-on… mostly I do quality control on our projects, deal with clients, and spend the rest of my work time now doing copywriting for a major client who put me on salary. So, knowing that my own income isn’t entirely tied to the hours I put into writing feels like a huge “made it” moment.
How did you handle the slow or disappointing times?
Honestly, it’s always surprised me that there’s been NO slump in client orders. Even during holidays, we stay very, very busy.
How did you jumpstart your marketing? Especially in the beginning?
In the beginning, I found most of my clients on job boards like Guru.com. I committed to bidding on five projects a day, five days a week. It didn’t take long to fill my schedule and many of those projects became long-term clients.
Disappointing times, though… There’ve been times where the wheels just sort of fell off, times I’ve made bad business decisions and felt the consequences, that kind of thing. I try to look at these instances as being educational – and education is usually expensive. While it’s alright for me to grieve, rail, and freak out when this kind of thing happens, it’s not a state that’s conducive to progress. I end up picking myself back up, adjusting as necessary, making amends where needed and keep going. Knocked down seven times, get up eight, right?
Women are multitaskers-the good, the bad, the ugly-your views and coping method on this issue.
I’m TERRIBLE at multitasking. Distraction is my kryptonite, for sure. It’s even worse when life’s thrown some extra challenges into the mix (divorce, kid issues, a bankruptcy, several moves). So, I’ve learned to value focus. I know that I’ll work faster and better if I focus. The best coping mechanisms I’ve developed are: 1. Limiting how often I check social media or other distraction sites. 2. Working with creativity-supporting music. I put on my big, green gamer headphones and run this music at a low volume, and it’s like my brain realizes it’s work time.
How do you know you are approaching burnout?
I get whiny, maybe not on the outside, but still… Most days I wake up and say, “We got another day!!!” (kind of a motto for me). But any day I feel more attuned to what’s not great about life, I know it’s time for an attitude adjustment and maybe better self-care. I travel to see my kids a couple of times a month – a 5-6 hour drive each way – and when I started making that drive, I decided to like it. Audiobooks and podcasts help me enjoy the drive and give my brain a break from the usual stuff I think about for work.
Does “wanting to do too much” ever affect another side of your life? Like your relationship, parenting style, social life?
More and more, it does. I just turned 50 a few months ago. Where working 15-18 hours a day used to be an exciting challenge for me years ago, now, I just don’t want to do it. Yet, I still want to accomplish WAY more than I’ve got the bandwidth to do. What’s weird is that that drive has actually given me the opportunity to bring my kids into the business a bit. They do small tasks that I’d never get around to, and we’re building a BUNCH of websites together (they do some writing, social media, transcriptions, etc.)
I honestly don’t have much of a social life. My fiancé is a business owner as well (owns www.AirkooledKustoms.com) and we both enjoy working and collaborating on marketing stuff… so we often do that rather than go out. We’re both hermits and while we’ve got the kind of friends where we just pick up where we left off, it’s often months between get-togethers.
I’ll be the first to admit there have DEFINITELY been times I hid in my work rather than being fully present in my family. Especially when things got tough at home, and my ex had a major career change (and wasn’t making money for a couple of years), working seemed like the only productive way to cope. I think my kids get it now, why I was so often like, “No, I’ve got to work” – but at the time, they didn’t understand – and that’s tough in hindsight.
Share your biggest downfall, something you are working on changing.
I am way too sedentary. I sit all day, except when I get up to play with our dogs, take care of our chickens, do some housework… and possibly go to the gym. I’ve tried standing desks, and for some reason find it VERY hard to concentrate in that stance.
What’s your biggest strength, superpower?
Telling other people’s stories (especially businesses). If I can SEE someone’s greatness, I kind of fall in love with their business and it’s easy to communicate what they’re all about.
What’s your motivating source, re-charge mechanism: a person, a specific activity, a book, or a quote?
I pray a LOT. Nothing fancy but having ongoing conversations with God helps me get perspective, maintain a grateful and appreciative stance, let go of worries, and even break through writer’s block sometimes. My fiancé is also a HUGE support and we spend a lot of time talking shop, just playing and hanging out, and appreciating the work we both do (he reads my stuff).
Words of wisdom for women who want to do it all: business and family
Be honest with yourself. You only get to spend each minute of your day once, so make sure you use it wisely – whatever that looks like in the minute. While it’s tempting to put everything else on hold while you build a business, and it might even look like that’s working for a while, it’s CRUCIAL to make sure you’re taking care of the non-urgent but extremely important stuff. We, humans, are pretty resilient, and with time, your family will understand and appreciate your business – so don’t feel like you have to put it on hold… but don’t hide in it, either.
Favorite quote: yours or someone else’s quote that re-centers or lifts you up
We got another day!
Where can people find you and learn more about you?
Thank you for spending a few minutes on this interview with me and Susan. I would love to see your comments below with the biggest takeaways. What made the biggest impact? What did you find useful? What did you relate to?
ABOUT: Dr. Ruxandra LeMay is a licensed psychologist with experience and interest in communication, relationships, stress and anxiety management, executive coaching and entrepreneurship. She is the author of My Spouse Wants More Sex Than Me: The 2-Minute Solution For a Happier Marriage and My Spouse is Different Than Me: How to Mediate Irreconcilable Differences and Grow in Your Marriage. For more information, join her at ruxandralemay.com, a website for people who hate therapy, but still need it!