This week’s Work-At-Home Success story comes from Steve McCardell of Your Speech Writer. He has offered writing and digital marketing services since 2001. His most visible and popular service has been speech writing, which he has offered since 2002. He has written business and social speeches for people around the world, including keynote talks, TED talks, and a presentation to the United Nations General Assembly.
1) How did you get started working from home?
In 2001, my wife and I were having our first child and we moved to Michigan so we’d be closer to family. After thinking long and hard on it, we decided I would try my hand at freelancing so I would have a more flexible schedule and could be more hands-on with raising a family.
2) How did you choose the work-at-home career you do?
I wanted to be a writer since early elementary school, graduated with a degree in English, taught English and creative writing for a couple years, then worked for a while on a monthly newspaper. It was all a natural progression toward a career in writing.
3) How did you get started (basic initial steps)?
I started near the dawn of the internet in most people’s lives. I had been learning how to build basic websites by then, so I set up a site talking about the writing services I offered. But I had the challenge that businesses still have today — getting people to the site. In some ways, digital marketing was a whole lot different than it is today; in other ways, of course, marketing is the same throughout the years. I needed to get the right people to the site and quickly show them that I could satisfy some need that they had.
So I spent the time to learn search engine optimization and digital advertising and began putting that to work for myself. Any time I didn’t have a paying job, I was learning how to promote my business.
4) How did you get your first client or customer or job?
While I was learning how to promote my site, I also spent time looking at other people’s websites to see who needed obvious help in their website content. I found a company selling reverse osmosis water filters, which was something we wanted in our home anyway. So I reached out to them and offered them my service in exchange for a water system. They accepted. And although it wasn’t a paying job in the traditional sense, it got me my first experience as a freelancer.
5) How do you market your business?
Most if not all of my work in recent years has come strictly from my visibility in the search engines when someone’s looking for a speech writer. But this answer is a little misleading, so let me qualify it.
By 2013, my two sons were entering middle school and, after 12 years of only freelancing, I was interested to take a traditional full-time position again. So today I head up digital marketing (which still involves writing) for a company.
But I continue to work for clients on a freelance basis as well. This is why I can rely almost entirely on my search engine coverage. If I were still writing full-time as a freelancer, I would spend more time in content marketing to drive even more search engine traffic, and I would invest in targeted digital ads.
6) What does your usual day look like?
Since I work in a full-time position, it looks like most people’s “usual” days. Except that on my lunch break, I often pull out my own laptop and work for a freelance client. Or on the way home, I may stop for coffee and again work for a client. I balance this around my family schedule though. Helping with homework or instruments, picking someone up from an after-school club, or spending time with the wife and kids, these are priorities. But I still find time to work with clients, and enjoy doing so.
7) What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
Plenty of things, but I’ll mention two here: 1) Especially as a writer, I wish I had known to produce content every day, or at least a couple times a week, from the beginning. This is at the heart of getting found in search engine results, and had I been consistent over the years, I could have built a powerful site by now. I would still recommend it for anyone trying to build the presence of a website if they’re willing to look at success as a long-term venture.
I wish I’d known the importance of contracts from the beginning for any larger projects. I got lucky and did NOT get into trouble in my pre-contract days. But no one wants to base their success on luck. There are contract templates you can work from to keep costs low on this kind of thing, but the main point is making sure everyone knows up front what’s expected of them and that they’ve signed their names to this. This is important for both client and freelancer. I don’t worry about these things for small projects, but when I used to ghostwrite books, this was important.
8) What advice would you give someone who wants to work from home?
My advice would be to remember the word “work” from home. If it’s your business, treat it like a business. That means doing the boring or hard things if you can’t hire someone to do those things for you. Keep financial records of expenses and income; think about how to keep yourself legally protected and what kinds of “terms” you need on your website; spend time understanding the basics of marketing and find the tools that can help you succeed without spending a ton of money if you’re on a tight budget; test and measure your marketing efforts so you’re not blowing through your marketing budget; and importantly, be grateful for the work you get and communicate this gratitude not only in words but in passionate work that’s on time and of great quality. You’re competing in a world where many people do NOT care enough about quality and communication. Those who take these seriously will greatly increase their odds of success.
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