Below is more than you EVER wanted to know about my professional history and the process of moving from a traditional job to owning an online business. Don't blame me, you clicked on that link (you can always go back to the home page -- but hurry, while there is still time!). You have been warned.
Before The Internet Changed My World
My first full-time professional writing job was back in.... uh... 1989. I was a cub reporter for a local weekly newspaper in St. Mary's County, Maryland. I landed the job just before my eldest son had his first birthday.
I got the job following the strangest interview I've ever had. The editor glanced at my carefully crafted resume for approximately two seconds, then flipped through my stack of writing samples and picked up my hefty undergraduate thesis (on the impact of the bowdlerization of classic fairy tales on children in modern times) and flipped through the 100+ page, professionally bound document.
"Well, you can write!" she announced -- and offered me the position on the spot.
Being paid to write put me in heaven. It made me legitimate! I was a writer. (I called my parents immediately.)
I spent a few months as a reporter at the paper before transferring to a sister paper the company owned where I covered courts, the crime beat, and community issues. I learned everything I could and came back to the original newspaper as managing editor in just over a year.
Going Independent - The First Time
When I had my second son, I left the paper to go out on my own as an independent contractor. I had a contract with a local cable TV station to write scripts for commercials and I sold advertising spots. I wrote and directed promotional and training videos for a local government office. That work caught the eye of a local politician who asked me to serve as the media consultant for his bid for re-election. I also served as an independent contractor to secure corporate sponsorships for the local Navy base's annual air show.
In between these larger projects, I helped local servicemen prepare effective resumes by converting military experience into civilian language. I helped them to research and target civilian industries in their home towns that would benefit from their service experience. I even offered "mock interview" sessions to get them comfortable with the process, since many had never been formally interviewed for a job.
I moved back home to Kentucky in 1993, finished my English degree at Centre College in Danville and worked for the fundraising arm of a regional medical center while coordinating their cancer program. That job kept me involved in the community. It was a wonderful way to learn how to interact with community groups, serve on boards of directors, build interest in causes, and manage both intimate and huge, elaborate fundraising events. It also taught me the business and financial aspects of promotions, events, and ongoing ventures.
In 1999, before my daughter turned two, I started writing for online clients. The century hadn't quite rolled over and I was still sweating the possibility of Y2K. (Yeah, I'm a bit of a conspiracy theorist.)
A few months later, I launched my first business website. It was a virtual assistant services site and it embarrasses me when I see screenshots of it now. Based on that alone, I should have starved. My second and third and subsequent websites were much improved. The more I learned, the better they looked.
I did some writing, mostly newsletters and brochures in the early days. I also helped clients organize their business plans and gain a more effective online "storefront." I made enough to pay the bills and considered myself successful. After all, I built a business out of thin air using only my brain, my sweat, and sheer determination. (That's "success," right?)
Since I launched, my business name has changed three times. The first change was from CumberlanDunes to WickedWordCraft.com in October 2002. Name changes may sound indecisive, but I prefer to call it "evolution." (Maybe I should call it something a little less passive and a little more painful... like "birthing.")
My Meandering Path
My background in advertising, journalism, events, marketing, fundraising, and corporate sponsorship management supported my online business venture. It seemed a shame to let all my PR experience go to waste, so I decided to use it. I wanted to be a writer, but I had all this marketing-related experience in my favor. I thought, "How different could Internet marketing be?" The answer, as I would find out later, is "completely different."
At that time, I wasn't confident enough to believe that I could make a living by my pen (or my keyboard). So I called myself an independent web-based entrepreneur. Being a "freelance writer" sounded too scary for someone supporting three kids as a single mom. It sounded too much like starving to death. I did hope working in the marketing field online would afford me the opportunity to write for clients regularly. I like helping people communicate in all formats and I am tech-savvy. It seemed like a good fit.
Despite my advice to clients to niche their services and their offerings and to simplify their business model, mine expanded. I never was any good at listening to my own advice. I've always been much better at giving it to others.
I have been a geek for as long as I can remember. In middle school, I was helping my father solder in silver connector pins into hand-drilled computer boards before such things came "pre-stamped." Our house had the second home computer in the state (back in the late 1970s) and I still remember "listening" for the data I wanted to use on cassette tapes before those huge floppy drives were a reality. (Gosh, I'm old!)
While my peers were learning to count in Spanish, I was counting in binary. My father tried to teach me to program in Fortran/machine language, but it didn't stick. (I rebelled and waited for BASIC before I started programming.)
So you see... when I launched my business it only seemed natural to give my clients advice on hardware, software, and computer network security. I quickly became the "go-to" girl for all things tech for my clients and their circle of contacts. Most of my clients now had me on speed-dial. It was flattering.
I liked having tech in my services listing, even when it spread me too thin as I tried to keep up with all the new developments, especially in the arena of mobile tech. It was an impossible task and I knew it -- I just didn't care. I launched and maintained a couple of websites on the topics of mobile technology to further complicate my daily routine.
Ignorance Is NOT Bliss
I have a confession... I love to learn. Information is my drug of choice -- that and caffeine. I'm a junkie on both counts. Mixing those weaknesses with an Internet lifestyle probably wasn't the wisest choice.
I learned everything I could about Internet marketing -- day and night -- for several years. Working online, marketing online, being online was completely different from traditional work models and marketing techniques. By the time I figured out how different, my business had swallowed my life. I was in too deep to let go. Besides, I'm no quitter.
Soon, I grew into my title as an "Internet Marketing Specialist" and ranked #1 in Google for that term and for "Marketing Specialist" -- both without the quotes -- for an extended period of time. (It was quite a feather in my geeky little cap!)
Note to anyone considering this career: People who make this work/lifestyle choice should have a cook, a maid, a nanny, and a great network of delivery services -- like grocery delivery, pizza, laundry, and a UPS guy. (I'm not sure if having a spouse would help or hinder.)
Let's just say that for a long time, I didn't get out much.
Success Wasn't So Sweet
When it was all said and done, I was making an impressive amount of money per year. It allowed me to openly gloat at those people who said I couldn't move to the country, launch an online business, and raise three kids by myself. I proved them wrong, and I liked that... delighted in it, actually. But the joy from a good gloat is short-lived.
I was still writing, although not very often, and I woke up one day (around April 14th, I believe) to discover that making all the extra money and working all the extra hours wasn't helping me -- especially once Uncle Sam took his share. I looked at the bottom line for the year and wondered where it all went. I lived simply, I didn't have a diamond-encrusted anything. I didn't even drive a new car -- I've always preferred junkers. What I did have was a whopping bill payable to the IRS and the State Treasury.
This gave me pause. SERIOUS pause. I'd finally achieved my financial goals -- at least my income goals. But, my two eldest children were young adults and the "baby" was no longer a baby. Her age was approaching double digits.
I had this earth-shaking personal revelation and made some decisions. I wanted my life back. I wanted to write. I didn't want to work 24/7. I didn't want to blink and miss anything else.
Business In Focus
I started to make some of the changes in my own life and business that I'd successfully taught others to make in theirs. I finally decided to follow my passion, rename my business, and settle myself down to do what I enjoy most: Writing.
It took over a year to come to terms with that decision, to cull my existing clients and keep only those individuals and companies I truly enjoyed helping and those who relied most heavily on my writing services. I had to make some big changes, including overcoming an innate resistance to changing my business name and the willingness to lose the marketing "currency" I'd built online using that name. I needed a fresh start and a new name... one with the word "writer" in it.
It represented my dedication to the new direction. It was necessary.
The geeky-tech mobility guru/marketing specialist (formerly known as WickedWordCraft.com) who primarily served the Real Estate Industry and still managed to do some writing on the side was retiring.
WickedWriter.com was born in August 2008.
All the real estate articles from my old WickedWordCraft site joined the tombs of articles, posts, and miscellany on my blog. I gave myself quite a bit of latitude over there. The site is huge, but it's the place I could chase multiple interests with abandon and without guilt that I'm not fully investigating one topic or another. I just have random fun. My blog was a wicked mess -- it was everything I told my clients to avoid. It was all over the map. It was an outlet for all of my interests... none of them focused or culled. It was chaos and it was fun.
Wicked Writer & Cool Jazz
As the Wicked Writer, I only offered small business marketing assistance through website content and writing services. Pure and simple. I no longer attempt to be all things to all people. I help my clients communicate more effectively. I help them become visible on the web with search engine optimized content for a natural, lasting, and organic boost in the search engines. I used my writing skills to appeal to clients' website visitors and search engines because there is no reason a website shouldn't attract both.
In 2010, I let go of programming and the techie services I had always offered my clients. I started contracting with Steve Knight of DanvilleComputerDoc.com to do custom programming and build SEO-friendly websites and serve as their hardware and software technical support. They loved him. His ability to write clean, effective code complimented my SEO writing and we were both able to focus on our strongest skills. We made a great team.
In June 2013, I officially joined forces with him and opened a second office in Danville, Kentucky to serve my clients, his clients, and our mutual clients.
In January of 2015, we became a legal partnership (Cool Jazz, LLC) and launched CoolJazzWebDesign.com to serve our growing clientele of small business clients. Cool Jazz specializes in helping entrepreneurs, small businesses, and nonprofits succeed.
(If you need a new or revamped website to more effectively draw customers, marketing consultation to improve your bottom line, or technical services to make your business run more efficiently, our offerings have proved to be a winning combination for many clients.)
The Charmed Pen
During the Pandemic, my business (like so many others) changed. While other businesses suffered, mine seemed to ramp up... especially the website work. People wanted to keep their businesses afloat as in-person contacts declined. The best way to do that was to jump online for the first time or improve their existing web presence. Cool Jazz kept me busy and I stayed busy with writing clients through Wicked Writer. Steve and I gave up the brick-and-mortar office in downtown Danville, KY... since people seldom wanted to meet in person in a pandemic.
Going virtual again felt a little odd at first -- almost like sliding backward. But, in a short time, I got hooked all over again. Setting up my official office on the farm and working there (and elsewhere as needed) was nice. I was mobile again and met with clients virtually from wherever I happened to be, or scheduled meetings with them in their offices. During this time, there were two businesses to run (my writing business and Cool Jazz Web Design) as well as a few pet project websites.
Life had started burning my candle at both ends again. (It couldn't possibly be me doing it this time because I knew better, right?) Regardless of how it happened, it was time to take corrective actions. This seemed to be a pattern in my life. I'm often a slow learner when it comes to my own best interests.
There were other reasons I wanted to slow things down... I felt blessed to still have both of my parents in my life and I wanted to spend more time with them. Steve and I had a pandemic wedding after being business partners and best friends for over ten years and we wanted to stop working every day of the week and most weekends. In addition, the creative writing that I was going to do "someday" never seemed to materialize -- and it was time to fix that. After all, I wasn't getting any younger...
During this time of transition, I knew the name "Wicked" no longer suited me. I wanted to ditch the witch. Wicked Writer had worked well for more than 20 years (and rebranding was a little scary) but the time had come. In mid-2021 I decided it was time to make a change. I took the leap at the beginning of 2022.
It's much easier to help others create their business identity than it is to create my own. I struggled. I wrestled it. I came up with several options before settling in. I found several solid writer-centric names with available URLs (about 30!) and they were all quite respectable, but they didn't move me. I wanted a name that retained a little touch of "magic" without any negative interpretations.
After all, writing (and anything else creative that delights the muse) is the closest thing to magic for mortals. The magic of creation. When I write, I'm transported and it FEELS magical. My pulse quickens when the words flow, and as they gain speed and a life of their own. I smile and laugh to myself and dwell in a realm of pure delight. I don't want to interrupt, dampen or extinguish the magic. I want to ride it for as long as possible before I have to crash back into routine reality.
I chose "The Charmed Pen" for my new business/writer identity because more than any of the other options -- it felt right. Creating the logo solidified it. I retained a touch of purple because the color still suits me. It's the color of creativity and reflects just a "touch of magic" -- especially with a few sparkles swirled about! I lightened the shade a bit to make it more periwinkle and wrestled with the rest of the details until the new name and its logo felt just right! (I was very "Goldilocks" in my approach to this rebranding, as any business owner should be!)
Granted, I am always this picky for clients who are branding or rebranding, but it was harder to do this for myself.
What the Future Holds
I love working with my content clients and have several interesting and "juicy" projects already lined up for this year. If you have a website and you want more business, you need a web content writer on your team. Having one with my background may be just what your business needs. Contact me and we can talk about it!
When I'm not working for others, I'll be making progress on my current novel.
Most importantly, now and into the future I will continue to focus on recognizing and expressing my gratitude for the wonderful life I'm blessed to lead. I work with people I truly enjoy and get paid to do what I love best... to write... and to help others realize their goals along the way.