The Anatomy of an Article Writing Agency

The Anatomy of an Article Writing Agency

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!

Image: jjpacres

28 Responses to The Anatomy of an Article Writing Agency

  1. This post was very interesting. And I agree, your writing style is very conversational and easy to follow. Making the business legit is something I need to do asap but have no clue how to do it, other than getting the bank account.

    • Sarah says:

      Randy – Thanks for reading!

      Regarding legal business structures, the sole proprietorship model is typically available on a city/county level (assuming you’re in the US). Contact your city or county clerk’s office for more info.

      If you think an LLC might be the right structure, you can contact business lawyers in your area (most will give you free consultations to estimate the costs of setting this up), or check out a site like LegalZoom which offers the paperwork without a legal consult.

      (Again, not a lawyer, just some suggestions based on what’s worked for me…)

  2. Adrienne says:

    Wow Sarah, I read the entire post! Love reading how you got started doing this and you are definitely one of a kind having a boss tell you to fill your time however you could. I would have loved to have a job like that when I was first starting out.

    I can’t wait to read what comes next because I really find this interesting. I never considered myself a writer but I always had people telling me that I was so good with words. I helped a LOT of friends write letters because they couldn’t ever find the words to express themselves. Guess that’s why I enjoy blogging so much.

    Okay, I’ll definitely be back for more. Thanks for sharing this.

    Adrienne

    • Sarah says:

      Adrienne – Glad you enjoyed it :)

      I was discussing in my chat show last night, and realized for the first time that the boss who told me to do whatever I could to fill my time at that job was probably one of the people who’s changed my life the most – though probably not for the reasons she realized!

      Check back tomorrow for part II!

  3. Sarah, aloha. With your disclaimer, I thought I might take you up on your suggestion. As it happens, because your writing style is so strong and your story so fascinating, I devoured the entire post.

    What I loved about how you started, Sarah, is the difference it tells about people. Many others had held the same position you did. While they chose to read romance novels or watch the “anda cam,” you took action.

    Sarah, no doubt a reason for your success is because you treated this as a business from the very beginning.

    Okay, Sarah,type faster. I’m ready for the next installment. Until then, aloha. Janet

    • Sarah says:

      Janet – Glad you liked the post!

      You’re right – we all have opportunities in our lives, it’s what we choose to make of them that determines whether we succeed or fail.

      Stop back tomorrow for more :)

  4. Nanette says:

    Good morning Sarah-

    I loved hearing about your early exploration and trying different things.

    So often, we see others who have achieved success and we forget that there was a “testing” ground, a time and a place, where they, like us, were finding their footing.

    I can’t wait to read the rest of the story!

    Wishing you well–
    Nanette

    • Sarah says:

      Nanette – Thanks for stopping by!

      I think that reading too many sales letters and success stories gets us caught up in this “end-game” mentality, and we miss the value of the process needed to get there.

      Learning constantly and using your failures to move forward is probably – in my opinion – one of the most important factors when it comes to success :)

  5. Peggy Baron says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I, too, find your story interesting and like your style. It flows well and you make some valid points. Your transparency makes YOU interesting.

    I’m looking forward to the next post; I love a good success story. :)

    Peggy

  6. Tisha says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Your story showed the outcome of a time well spent compared to time wasted.

    Because of your decision to use your time wisely you were blessed with rewarding business opportunities.

    Thanks for explaining the LLC and sole proprietorship. You clearly showed that it is better to file internet business under sole proprietor, like you said it make much easier to file for taxes.

    I really enjoyed reading your post and congrats to your success.

    ~Tisha

    • Sarah says:

      Tisha – Just for the record, the sole proprietorship was the better business model for my circumstances. That’s not to say that it’s better than an LLC for everyone, and I’d caution people to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each with respect to their own business models :)

      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Hi Sarah,

    A very good and open story where I could make use of some awesome points. I must say that your story of getting hired resonates with me.

    Impressed with my guest posts on A-list blogs I have got a couple of Freelance writing opportunities since the end of March. And I must say I am being paid a very decent amount.

    I do read dailywritingtips to help me with some writing tips.

    Cheers,
    Jane.

    • Sarah says:

      Jane – Awesome! Glad to hear that your hard work with guest blogging is paying off with some fun opportunities.

      Thanks for stopping by :)

  8. Josh Garcia says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I enjoy reading successful stories like this. That is great that you took a skill and turned it around to make a profit from it.

    I could see a lot of people needing your services of writing since a lot of people just don’t like doing it.

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m looking forward to the rest of the story…

    Josh

    • Sarah says:

      Josh – You’re right, a lot of people just plain don’t like writing. Works for me, though!

      Thanks for stopping by, and I’m glad you got something out of the story :)

  9. Marcus Baker says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your early writing journey.

    I am always fascinated by how opportunities coupled with the right person can lead to so much productivity.

    You also provide lots of practical advice in this post which I am sure many people will be grateful for.

    ~Marcus

    • Sarah says:

      Marcus – Thanks for sharing!

      You’re right – a lot of what happened for me with this business was just being in the right place at the right time, and acting on it.

      But I think we all get opportunities like that, and it’s important to roll with them when they happen :)

  10. Jon says:

    Sarah,

    This is such an intriguing background story! It’s fascinating how one opportunity rolled into the next. But none of it would have happened if you hadn’t taken that first step.

    You are the architect of your destiny, keep moving forward. Now off I go to read Part 2.

    Jon

  11. Awesome article! Not very many people even touch on the legal entities available for creating an online business.

    Maybe at some point you can go into greater detail on why you chose to do a sole proprietorship over an LLC.

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks for stopping by! I’ll add a discussion on internet business legal entities to my list of post ideas for the future :)

  12. Ian Belanger says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Excellent post, I agree with Randy. Your writing style is very easy to follow. I can see why you have been successful as a freelance writer.

    I am currently just getting my business up and running. I am a web and graphics designer, as well as an internet marketer.

    One of my biggest struggles has been writing a business plan getting all the paperwork filed. Your post has given me a few pointers on where to start, so thank you for that. I will be signing up for your email list when I am done commenting.

    Thanks for sharing Sarah and have a great day!

    • Sarah says:

      Ian – Thanks for stopping by and for commenting!

      You’re right that getting the legal side of things set up can be challenging, although if you go the sole proprietor route (assuming your US-based) it shouldn’t be that difficult to do.

      As for business plans, you can tell from this story that I’ve never been good at those myself :) Maybe that’s something I should be working on…

      Take care!

  13. […] of posts I did last week on how I turned a single article writing project into a full-fledged web content writing agency within a few months […]

  14. […] throughout my internet marketing career. It all started with the site I sold that launched my article writing agency, but since then, I’ve bought and sold dozens of websites in plenty of different niches. In fact, […]

  15. […] Monday, I gave you a lot of background info on how my former article writing agency – New Arbor Enterprise – got its start. When we left […]

  16. Christopher says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for this great post. I just ran trough a guest post you posted on Onibalusi’s blog about finding freelance clients. I noticed that you were talking about Flippa as being a great place to find clients. I just wanted to know how you went about it. Did you contact sellers on Flippa directly or did you go to their website after the sale and looked for their contact info? And how did you select good prospects to advertise to, like which type of sites would you consider contacting? Thanks!

Leave a Reply