I received an email the other day from someone asking about my story.
While I’ve shared my story (in part or in whole) on stage at speaking events or during interviews, I don’t think I’ve mentioned it in blog posts.
Two of my favorite things are biographical TV shows and movies based on real life. In that spirit, here’s my business story with the hope it will inspire, encourage and motivate you.
In The Beginning
After years of working in marketing and advertising (including in-house and full-service agencies), I was tired of doing things someone else’s way. With an itch to break out on my own (even though I had no experience in running a business), I started investigating something brand new that showed potential in 1998: The Internet.
Could I actually run a business from my home? (This was something “real” businesses gasped at during those days.) Because my biological clock was also ticking, thoughts of having a baby were also swirling around.
My husband and I were married for several years before we decided to start our family. While I had a history of female issues, neither of us thought for a moment that they would play a role in our future. We were very wrong.
[Spoiler Alert!] While we didn’t birth a child, but we did birth a business in 1999.
As we waited month after month for a sign that it was time to take a pregnancy test, nothing ever happened. Nothing, that is, except more doctors’ appointments, tests, and procedures.
Finally, after years of chronic disappointment, two surgeries, seven procedures, and a couple of trips to the infertility specialist, we surrendered to the devastating fact that no child (of our own) was in our future.
It was a desperately dark time in our lives. I mourned as if I had given birth to a child and then lost him/her (something I now know is not an uncommon response.)
My business, Marketing Words, was one of the primary things that kept me going during this time. Initially started using an old borrowed Packard Bell desktop that had 2mg of RAM (yes, you read that right), I would print out copy and edit it on my lunchbreak or during slow times at the office.
Eventually, I was able to turn in my notice and work 4 hours per day until my replacement was hired and trained. That made for a smoother transition to working on my own.
By working 18-hour days (including my day job) and time spent on starting my business, I was tired. But it was a satisfying tired. The kind you feel when you know you’ve done something good.
At only about four years old, the company was entering a new era of Internet business by adding a fledgling service to our copywriting lineup: search engine optimized (SEO) copywriting.
The SEO Era
At the start, SEO copywriting was a breeze! Because there was very little competition (and no Google yet) getting ranked was a simple task. With compelling SEO copywriting and a few backend tweaks, brands would find themselves with some extremely attractive placement.
However, as is almost always the case in situations like this, expectations continued to be high year after year that the simple approach would still perform as it always had in the past. But it rarely does with anything like this because, as new technology progresses and more people enter an arena, you have more competition. More competition means more complexity. As the years went on, getting great rankings on Yahoo!, Google, and other engines was becoming more involved than ever.
It was during this time that I began to create products (physical books that I mailed) about copywriting. While it was only being promoted by one business friend and myself, I saw the value in selling training courses.
The next year I was approached by someone at Wordtracker. Together, we developed and they sold four ebooks over the course of several years. That lit a fire under me for digital courses that continues to burn today.
During the next four years or so we eventually phased SEO copywriting out. Why? Because, while it is still an excellent and necessary element of an SEO plan, it rarely achieved the level of success clients wanted on its own any longer. It almost always requires extensive work on the backend, ongoing link-generation and more.
The Product-Creation Era
While I had dipped my toe in the product-creation pool during the SEO period, I hadn’t continued to create products on a regular basis.
My intent was to use the additional time I would have to produce new digital training products. Around this time, Wordtracker decided to no longer partner with professionals to create and sell digital courses. They granted me full rights to the ebooks I’d written for them, and I sold a few of them on my own.
My interest (and the interest of those on my list) turned to blogging and a natural offshoot… affiliate marketing. These are two aspects of my business I have always been passionate about, but never ventured into teaching before.
By guiding the success of fellow bloggers and affiliates, I discovered another revenue stream that was also a delight.
As more ideas continued to be developed, I wrote and/or produced many other training products and toolkits, including:
My first introduction to Amazon FBA was when I was approached by an existing website copywriting client. This supplement manufacturer from New Zealand wanted to expand to the U.S. He found out that Amazon.com had a new program called Fulfilment By Amazon (FBA) that would allow him to market his supplements on Amazon’s site and have Amazon ship the orders from within the States.
His email asked whether Marketing Words had written any copy for Amazon listings. With an answer of “no,” my client replied with something along the lines of “Want to figure it out together?”
The Amazon FBA Era
While there is a lot of freedom in owning your own business, there can also be quite a long tether. Sure, we can make our own schedules, go on vacation whenever we want, work from anywhere in the world.
But for most entrepreneurs, it’s difficult to completely cut the tie to go on vacation. If you’re like me, you still have to (at the very least) check email and respond to clients/leads. I began to crave more freedom.
A friend of mine attended a webinar about selling on Amazon. It sounded so simple. You could shop at local stores, pick up things that were on clearance, ship them in and make money!
I love to shop, so Amazon FBA sounded like an exceptional way for me to earn income without being tied down. I began to investigate the Fulfilment by Amazon program. At the time, there weren’t very many training courses available, so much of what I did was guided by friends who were selling and my own mistakes.
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Selling on Amazon meant creating listings, which required enticing and optimized copy. This opened the door to two new avenues of income: Amazon copywriting services and Amazon copywriting training products.
Both absolutely exploded!
As the Amazon FBA phenomenon warped totally out of control, I saw enormous growth in my business. Marketing Words became one of the first companies to offer Amazon copywriting services and training, and we could hardly catch our breath.
I had a small team of writers who were each producing hundreds of listings every month, and the sales for my Amazon Advantage ebook and Amazon Product Description Boot Camp were off the charts! (So, as you see, we are still in the Product-Creation Era, which overlaps with all others from this point on.)
And while the growth was exciting from a financial perspective, the pressure to keep up was intense. The wish for greater freedom was compounded by the stress.
I gave selling on Amazon two separate attempts about two years apart. While I did have some success with retail arbitrage, I found the entire process difficult, complicated, and irritating.
The freedom I expected was replaced by packing boxes and doing a bucketload of administrative work. Yes, I could have outsourced that, but at the time I wasn’t in a position for the Amazon profits to pay for the additional expense. I prefer not to finance things like that.
The fact that (at that point in time) support from Amazon was frustratingly unhelpful made it all worse.
From having to pay sales tax in 50 states to Amazon changing policies on the spur of the moment (that negatively impacted sellers), I finally bailed for good.
I would much rather sell digital goods than physical ones. With digital products, there is no inventory, hardly any up-front cash outlay, and significantly lower risk.
The Printables & Pickleball Era
These days, I’ve found an excellent balance between work and play. I finally have the freedom I’ve wanted for about eight years or so.
I’m looking ahead and planning now for retirement. It won’t happen for another 10 years or so, but my business decisions from this point forward will center on:
- Things that are easy to implement
- As much passive income as possible
- Repeating, recurring, and repurposing as much as possible
The goal is that, by the time my husband and I retire, Marketing Words will be able to run 90% hands-off so I have the freedom to work only when I choose to.
Enter pickleball and printables!
About 2.5 years ago, a friend from church asked me to come try pickleball. I’d never heard of this court sport, but it was August in South Carolina and I am not typically someone who loves getting hot and sweaty outside, so I wasn’t very excited about it.
But my friend kept up with the invitations and I finally decided that — if I went one time and told her I didn’t like it — she would leave me alone. Lo and behold… I was addicted after my first game!
Now I play anywhere from 3 to 6 days a week, entered my first tournament in 2019 and won two medals, and thoroughly enjoy the people, exercise, and fun pickleball gives me.
Don’t know what pickleball is? It’s a combination of tennis, Ping-Pong, and badminton. Look it up!
My introduction to printables came quit by accident as I was searching for some décor items for my office. I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I decided I would try to make them.
I instantly fell in love with printables the day I bought four punctuation symbols from Etsy. Yep! Each one filled an 8.5 x 11-inch sheet of paper, and I printed them out on my home printer. I wanted to cut them out, mount them to foamboard and hang them as artwork on my office wall.
I thought the whole printables thing was very clever. Little did I know that it was the start of a growing movement. (Sound familiar? I seem to always get in on the front end of these waves and get out about the time they start to teeter-totter.)
An online friend led me into printables and I’ve been sharing her training (and others’) for about a year now as I also keep affiliate marketing and blogging in prime positions.
I set up an Etsy shop that I haven’t had a lot of time to expand lately, but it has a few printables in it and I make a sprinkling of sales every month.
Not only do I continue to earn a great income from printables, I enjoy what I do, which is important to me. After 22 years in business, I’m done with going to where the money is if I wouldn’t otherwise want to be there.
There are too many ways to earn a substantial living online without having to feel the stress of pleasing other people.
Where will Marketing Words go from here? Only God knows, but I look forward to the adventure!
What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. Use this form to fill me in.