This week’s Work-At-Home Success story comes from Caryn Starr-Gates of StarrGates Business Communications. She is a professional copywriter working in advertising, marketing and public relations. She and her team write for all media—print, broadcast, and digital—for a broad range of clients across many industries, for consumer and B2B accounts. Caryn and her writers create promotional copy for ads (print, radio, TV, online), marketing materials, newsletters, articles/blog posts, press releases, websites, email marketing, and social media content as well as new product concepts. Her clients are small businesses and solo-preneurs, as well as boutique and larger agencies (digital and full-service marketing, public relations, advertising) and their clients.
1) How did you get started working from home?
My first iteration was back in the early-to-mid 1990s as a field service supervisor for a national restaurant chain. The company was based in the Boston area, but I worked remotely from northern NJ, and visited my stores in territories across the US every other week. After our daughter was born in 1995 and I left that job, I started my own gift basket business (as well as an organizing service) that I ran out of the house so I could be available to our child, as well as have something of my own to work in. I was not interested at the time in working full time in a corporate environment and we had the space for me to set up a workshop, so I did.
2) How did you choose the work-at-home career you do?
My current career, as owner of StarrGates Business Communications, is actually a full-circle professional iteration for me – my first career was as an advertising copywriter. Throughout all my various other professional pursuits, I always used my writing and marketing skills in some way so when I was ready to make a change again (after 13 years in the gift business), I came back “home” to my copywriting career.
(I have also been a professional cook, a restaurant manager, the aforementioned operations supervisor, then gift basket designer/retailer, home/office organizer and finally, back to copywriter.)
3) How did you get started (basic initial steps)?
For this particular career, I started mentioning to networking colleagues that I used to be in advertising. About 12 years ago, an organization I was involved with asked me to proofread and review some program materials and that eventually led to me not only writing and reviewing their marketing materials; over time, this in turn led me to start freelancing on the side until I was ready to make the move back to copywriting as a full-time career.
I was still working my gift basket business (1996-2008) when I began freelancing for local advertising and PR agencies as a writer. By the summer of 2008 I realized I had the answer to “what next?” right in front of me. I worked my last holiday gift season, took down the gift company website on Jan. 1, 2009 and officially launched StarrGates Business Communications that month. Since I’d already built up a healthy network from years of networking in my other business, and had built a positive reputation, it was easy to simply tell people in my networking organizations that I had reinvented my professional life (once again – I’ve had several career iterations) and I began building up the practice.
4) How did you get your first client or customer or job?
The founder and president of a startup agency was in a networking group with me and he asked me to come on board as his agency’s writer; the owner of a public relations firm who I knew through someone started using me to write for their accounts. Other colleagues started asking me to work on their projects and LinkedIn was a great way to introduce my services to businesses.
5) How do you market your business?
LinkedIn is very valuable to me—I participate in lots of group discussions, and I share pertinent articles, information and viewpoints with my groups; active in several networking organizations /groups (broad-based business and industry organizations); I get great word-of-mouth referrals and my network refers me to others. Also fairly active on Twitter. My website and blog are other avenues.
6) What does your usual day look like?
Up very early with the dogs and then after making coffee, I’m at the computer around 7:30 a.m. to check emails and social networks, and perhaps read an article about the industry. By 8 or 8:30 I’m prioritizing projects and working on the day’s assignments. I take a midday break to run errands, check social media and emails – then it’s back to work.
Client calls are scheduled throughout the day as needed, and the (very) occasional on-site client meeting pops up. Since calls can take up a good amount of time, I don’t always have a lot of time to actually write. Therefore, after a break for dinner (not always and usually not at the same time every night) and I typically work into the evening.
7) What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
It’s vital to also create boundaries for yourself around your work hours – when you work at home, you are always at work!
8) What advice would you give someone who wants to work from home?
- Make sure you have a room with a door you can close, if you live with other people. You need your privacy and the boundaries of your work space that a door creates.
- Have your own business phone line with a professional outgoing message. Make sure the audio quality on your phone is clear and sharp.
- Explain to family and friends that when they call you during the day, they are calling you at work. Depending on your time constraints, you might not feel free to take personal calls at any time they want to talk so set boundaries around that as well (caller ID is helpful).
To connect further with Caryn, visit
- Website URL: StarrGates.com
- Twitter Handle: @Stellarcopy
- Facebook Page: StarrGatesBusinessCommunicatio
- LinkedIn: Caryn Starr