Balancing Business and Family Concerns
How do you balance the tasks of fulfilling your projects, soliciting new accounts and being a stay-at-home mom?
I don’t work a 40-hour week, for starters. In fact, I don’t plan ever to do so. I expect to max out at 30 hours this fall when my youngest child starts first grade. When I first started out a little over two years ago, all my client contact – networking, meetings, and phone interviews – had to be accomplished around the 8 hours a week my youngest child was in preschool. That was challenging, to say the least. I wrote with the children at home, but my productivity was poor due to continual interruptions. Summertime is always a challenge, because I do not have regular childcare.
How do you keep your home life separate from your work life?
Frankly, it’s a juggling act. Much of my work time is fragmented because of the needs of the kids. The two worlds overlap quite a bit – when I take my kids to the pool in the afternoon, for instance, I always bring work with me. While the balancing act has its frustrations, being available to my family is very important to me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You mentioned in your website that starting Coale Communications allowed you to leave the “one income lifestyle behind.” Can you please elaborate on what that means?
When my four children were very young, I was a stay-at-home mom, and my husband was the breadwinner. With four children and one income, frugality is important, and I spent a lot of time stretching our pennies. Ironically, it was out of these efforts that I landed a newspaper column in 1999 about money management, which is syndicated in four Maryland newspapers. Today, it’s a joy to be able to buy my children clothing in the mall instead of at yard sales. We can afford to go on vacations. We also have achieved one of our most important family goals, which is to give our children a private school education. None of that would be possible without my income. If my modest income projections come true, we’ll be able to build a second home in a few years on land we recently purchased for our retirement.
Do your kids or other family members help you in your business?
My four children range in age from 6 to 13. My husband and I were just talking the other day with our accountant about employing our children in some capacity in my business. We haven’t reached any conclusions yet, but this is something we certainly want to explore. My husband is my computer tech support. I actually pay him a retainer to back up my files regularly and troubleshoot my computer problems. Since I pay him less than $600 per year to do this, that income is not taxable for him, but it is a deductible expense for me.
Growing Your Business:
How has your business grown through the years? Did the types of services you offer shift as your business grew?
My first year in business, I took almost any writing project I could get, sometimes taking less money than I felt the work was worth. My typical client was a very small business owner who needed lots of education about marketing. While the types of projects I work on have not changed, the clientele has. While small business owners still make up a majority of my clients, they have bigger budgets and understand the importance of investing in good copywriting. They don’t need nearly as much hand-holding as my earliest clients. I have developed relationships with several ad agencies and web design firms, who refer or subcontract work to me. It took me a year to build up a portfolio in order to approach these firms. I also get some outsourced work from corporate marketing and HR departments; I would like to concentrate on growing this segment of the business more.
How do you handle the growth of your business and the increase in the number of projects? Do you have an assistant?
At this point, I do not have an assistant. For three months last winter, I had an intern for about 10 hours per week, and it was a great arrangement. She conducted a lot of background interviews and research for me, and she even did some of the writing. At some point, I would consider getting a contract assistant to handle the chores I dislike, such as filing and record keeping.
How do you decide if a project or client is worth taking on?
Since I get most of my clients through networking or referrals, I get a real sense of who they are in our first conversation. Most people are delightful to work with, but sometimes I sense that someone will be difficult. The few times I’ve gone against my intuition and taken on a difficult client, I’ve really regretted it. Now I listen to my intuition and don’t take on those clients. I occasionally turn work down because it’s not the right fit for what I do. I’ve turned down jobs editing a book, writing resumes, and doing a PR campaign. These were great opportunities to pass referrals along to colleagues, who are likely to repay the favor at some point.
Can you describe examples of your best projects?
Two of my most measurably successful projects were postcard marketing campaigns. I created the concept and copy for two different postcards, and the response rates were 8% and 12%. In the direct mail world, that’s outstanding – the average response rate is 1 to 2%. My personal favorites, however, are web copy projects. I feel the most satisfaction when I provide all-new web copy for a web site that was poorly done before.
What do you do if a client is not satisfied with the results of their collaboration with you?
My fee includes two rounds of revisions, and I have never had to go beyond that second round to satisfy a client, although I would do so without charge if I felt it were justified. The only time I had an unhappy client was when she did not understand the collaborative nature of the work, and got very upset when the first draft was not perfect. She didn’t even want very many changes, but she pulled the plug on the project at that point and said she would finish it herself. It was a good lesson for me, though. Now I make sure my clients understand the give and take necessary to produce a product they are happy with.