So, a lot of you have been asking for more information on my former article writing agency – New Arbor Enterprise. And after a busy couple of weeks, I’ve finally taken the time to put pen to paper (err… fingers to keyboard?) to share with you everything that went into building and growing an agency that sold over 2,000+ web articles at premium prices.
As you might expect, this isn’t going to be a short story. In fact, given how long this article has become, I’m going to release it in three parts throughout the week. If you have absolutely no interest in writing or writing agencies, don’t worry – we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled ethical marketing conversations next week.
But before we jump into how to build an article writing agency, I want to share some background info with you. The truth is, I never planned to start an article writing agency. In fact, the steps that lead to me getting my first client had nothing to do with pursuing work as a freelance writer.
In 2007, I was about a year out of college and working as a school secretary – not exactly the glamorous life I’d been led to expect by the professors at my top public university… I wasn’t making much money, but the one thing I did have was time at a computer and a boss who told me to fill that time however I could.
Past secretaries in this position had done things like read romance novels or watch the “panda cam” on the Toledo Zoo website, but I figured that there had to be a way I could make some extra money online with all this extra time.
So I started searching online for things like “make money online” or “earn income on the internet”. I was blown away. Not only were there people making tons of money online, but there was a seemingly never ending list of ways to do it! I dove in and started trying everything from taking online surveys to Adsense marketing to running PPC ads to CPA offers (FYI – that last one is *not*a good idea for newbies!).
At some point in this exploration, I came across an info product on blogging and decided that that was how I was going to make my money online. After tons of brainstorming, I settled on the idea of blogging about living the good life on a secretary’s budget – your basic money-saving tips and tricks kind of info. And thus, the Sexy Secretary was born (and if you want to know how that turned out, check out my post on choosing a web host…).
Over a few months, I built up the blog, but I never really grasped how to monetize the content. Fortunately, by the time I was getting tired of writing blog posts without seeing any kind of financial reward, I had come across another new concept – site flipping. Before long, I had listed the blog on the old Sitepoint Marketplace forum and sold it for a few hundred dollars.
Now, here’s where things started to get interesting. It turned out that the company that had purchased my blog was in the business of buying “starter” websites like mine that had good content but no traffic or monetization, and turning them around for a profit. So in addition to my newly-acquired website, they had tons and tons of content sites in their portfolio, in niches as diverse as pregnancy, wedding advice and auto reviews.
One day, a month or so later and totally out of the blue, I got an email from the owner of the company – he liked my writing style and wondered if I’d be interested in doing some freelance writing for their other websites. The rate was $50 for three 500 word articles, and to start, they could offer me at least 6-12 articles a week.
With the total lack of foresight, planning or business-growth oriented thought that characterized most of my early business decisions, I jumped on the offer. I mean, heck, school secretaries really don’t make that much money, and a few hundred extra dollars would go a long way towards paying for groceries or other bills. And besides, I was sitting at a computer all day anyways – surely, I could write up a few pages of content a day just to kill time.
For the first few months, I spent some time refining my writing technique. I tend to write in a very conversational way, and since I hadn’t taken an English class in years, I wanted to brush up on some of the basic rules. (If you’re at all interested in doing freelance writing, I can’t recommend reading Strunck & White’s “Elements of Style” enough!) Figuring out how a 500 word web article should flow was another process that took some time to get right.
Shortly after this introductory period, I received another email from the owner of the company I’d been writing for – he had a business contact that was looking for writing like mine, and would I be interested in taking on more writing work?
So now I wasn’t just a marketer or a site flipper doing some writing work on the side – I was a full-on freelance writer! I figured it was time to make things official, and decided to register a business name as a sole proprietor and open a business checking account to keep my article writing finances separate from my personal accounts.
And now, before we get too much further into my story, I want to take a moment to share some advice on this topic…
Number 1 – If you expect that you’ll make more than $400 from your internet businesses (in any combination), the IRS considers your activities to be a business, not a hobby, and you’ll be expected to report this business income on your annual tax return. Make this as easy as possible for yourself by setting up a business bank account from the very beginning and keeping track of your income and expenses throughout the year.
Number 2 – For my business, I decided to register for a sole proprietorship instead of an LLC, just because it was a crap ton easier. In my case, registering a sole proprietorship involved completing a one page application, having it notarized and filed with my City Clerk’s office and paying a small fee. LLCs (I’ve had both in the past for different businesses) require much more complicated legal filings and reporting at the state level.
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use an LLC for your business, as there are certainly some protections offered by that business model that you don’t get with a sole proprietorship. However, in most cases, I think you’ll find that article writers don’t need the level of protection offered by LLCs, making the ease and low cost of setting up a sole proprietorship much more advantageous.
Of course, keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer, and that you should consider your own needs and business model before making this kind of decision based on what someone else tells you on the internet… 🙂 The important thing is that you have a legal business structure in place in the eyes of the IRS.
The last thing I want to cover in this first section is business names. I chose the business name New Arbor Enterprise for my business – the “New Arbor” section comes from the fact that I was living in Ann Arbor at the time, and just plain liked the sound of it. And I chose to follow that with “Enterprise” because I wanted something intentionally vague. I hadn’t yet determined what the scope of my business would be, and didn’t want to limit myself with something like “New Arbor Article Writing” if I wanted to get into something like web design or marketing consultations later on.
I also decided to use a pen name in my business. For some reason, the use of pen names is somewhat controversial in internet marketing, even though it’s well established in the print publishing industry. For me, the decision came down to the fact that my maiden name (which I was using at the time) was very unique – there were only four of us with the same name in entire US. To maintain my privacy and to prevent disgruntled clients from coming and pounding on my door, I decided to operate as Sarah Russell (the Sarah part is real, the Russell part came from Russell Brunson – one of my marketing idols at the time).
Now, a couple of thoughts on business and pen names. First, a lot of freelance article writers forgo the business name and advertise their services under their real or pen names (for example, “Sarah Russell Writing” or “Sarah’s Article Services”). While it can be helpful to only have one name to publicize, operating under your single name can also limit your ability to grow your business, compared to a separate business name.
In addition, I think there’s been a major shift since I started working online a few years ago towards more transparency online. With the rise of sites like Facebook and other social networking tools, people seem increasingly comfortable sharing their real lives online. I don’t see as much of the fear of internet stalkers or the desire for anonymity that characterized online freelancers just a few years ago.
For that reason, using a pen name to protect your privacy may not be as important to you. Personally, I have enough time and effort invested in “Sarah Russell” that it doesn’t make sense for me to switch back to using my real name at this point. But again, this decision should come down to your own comfort level, so it’s one that’s worth putting some thought into.
Be sure to check out Part II of my article writing service series, where I get into more of the nuts and bolts of marketing and growing an article writing agency.
Any questions on the info here, just leave a note in the comments!