Case Study: From Freelance Writer to Communications Strategist

with Erin Straza

My client Erin Straza was once “just” a copywriter. When she first started working with me, she shared her vision of what more she could do for her clients. Not quite a year later, Erin is bringing transformational engagements to nonprofits and helping them no longer just with copywriting, but with strategic marketing communications.

In this episode of Profitable Joyful Consulting, hear how Erin has changed her business by focusing on transformation and working with perfect clients – large enough to really value her services.

Erin never had trouble attracting clients, but she was yearning to do deeper work with fewer clients. Now, she’s repositioned herself as a communications strategist and she’s making a bigger impact for her clients. Erin is solidly working in her Joy & Genius Zone™ and, to my delight, she’s grown her revenues dramatically – tripling in two years!

Key areas discussed in this episode

  • 3:49 Why Erin decided to work with me
  • 4:26 Too many clients and too much task-based work
  • 5:23 Why Erin was on her way to complete and utter burnout
  • 6:00 The shifts that made a huge difference for Erin
  • 7:50 Specific actions Erin took to create the changes she wanted
  • 8:34 Erin’s experience in The Path to $2 Million™ program
  • 9:58 The community Erin connected with in the program
  • 11:21 How her entire approach to her work has changed since the program
  • 14:07 The impact of these changes on Erin’s revenue and income
  • 17:40 Erin’s top three takeaways from The Path to $2 Million™
  • 19:25 What Erin would tell her past self 
  • 20:16 The key shift Erin made to her daily work
  • 21:02 The biggest difference between next year and years past

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Podcast Transcript

Hey, it’s Samantha Hartley of the Profitable Joyful Consulting Podcast. You have heard me talk many times about transformational engagements and working with perfect clients, but really there’s nothing, I think, more persuasive than actually hearing from someone I’ve worked with about how they changed their own business, brought transformation into their own business by focusing on those things. 

So I have a guest today, Erin Straza, who is going to be sharing her own journey in her work with me. I’m letting her tell it in her own words without being in there to interrupt it. Before we go in there, I want to share with you just a few things that stood out to me. 

The first thing is that Erin didn’t have trouble attracting clients. She had tons of clients. But what she was yearning to do was deeper work. When you do deeper work, you really need to work with fewer clients. The kind of results she’s bringing are amazing. It’s really only possible when you’re able to focus like that. So we changed her business model to enable her to do it that way. 

The other thing is that she was a copywriter. She was built as a copywriter, known as a copywriter, and that kept her stuck in tactics. The truth was that she was doing a lot more and yearned to do even more for her clients in terms of like, let’s not just get this piece right, let’s get the whole thing right.

So wanting to be more of a strategist to her clients, and when I heard her talk about that, I was like, “You’ve got to reposition yourself and really take on more.” She took on that mantle of more of a strategist, communication strategist, and ran with it. Now she’s making a bigger impact for her clients, like it’s win-win for everyone. It isn’t just about making more money. It’s about making a bigger impact to get better results that your clients are excited to pay for. They really do want to invest in that. 

The last piece is, I love when a fellow marketer or words person, communications person, who is really much more into the creative part of the business, will adopt that role as a person who’s tracking her numbers. You’re going to see a chart here of Erin’s business growth. She decided to start tracking her numbers and then pay attention to that. It turned out to not be stressful, but gratifying. Enjoy her chart.

Erin’s one liner about her business is: I help nonprofits make their mission irresistible to donors. Erin Straza works with nonprofit leaders, CEOs, executive directors, communications staff and fund development teams. People like those who are ready to exchange and inspire generic disordered communication efforts for compelling, precise, organized messaging so they attract and secure more revenue more consistently from their donors. Enjoy hearing from Erin and I look forward to hearing your takeaways. 

Erin Straza: I decided to start working with Samantha because I was having trouble moving from scrappy freelance writer to full on communications strategist.

I needed somebody to come in and help me move forward and grow my business so that my work could really focus more on what I’m good at and what I like to do. I was just struggling, trying to move from one place to the next. I had a couple of people refer me to Samantha, and I thought, “Oh, let’s do it.” 

As I was looking at my work and the struggle I had with it, it wasn’t that I didn’t have work. I mean, I actually had plenty of work. It’s that there was too much of a certain kind of work, and I couldn’t keep up. I think in one year in particular, I had billed like 34 different clients over 12 months, and it was just so much to manage and to handle.

What I found is that I was completely exhausted because I wanted to serve my clients well and I loved the actual work, but it was rather task-based and there were so many deadlines. I knew something had to change there. 

If I hadn’t worked with Samantha, I probably would have hit complete and utter burnout. To be honest, I probably would have made a career switch.

I think because my work could fit into a lot of different categories, I could have just said, “Oh, this isn’t working, I’ve got to do something else completely.” I really didn’t have another option. I also knew that long term I didn’t want to keep doing it the way I was doing it. I wanted to do it differently. 

One of the most significant aspects of Samantha’s program was understanding that the work that I was doing was already quite valuable, and the person who wasn’t seeing it was me.

I was doing great work and I was able to pull from my experience, my education, my expertise, the three E’s, if you want to call them that. I was doing all of my work out of those three E’s. That just came with the tasks that I was completing.

So let’s say clients were coming to me for content. Yes, I will do the copywriting for your website. Yes, I will write a donor campaign. Whatever you need, I will write it. I was drawing off of all of this to write the task and to get the task done.

What I wasn’t doing was starting with all of the back end. I was just landing here and completing the task. What Samantha showed me was that there’s so much more to what I’m doing. Samantha helped me peel apart and discover the glorious framework that became my signature system.

The key difference maker for me was outlining a signature system. I think that it was hard for me to see concrete elements of that framework since my brain works creatively, but once I started to see it, I could shape it. Then Samantha helped me realize that growing my business and growing my system was a way I could be creative.

The Path to $2 Million™ pushed me and forced me in all the good ways to reassess what I was doing and helped me to grow into change. But growth is just hard. So it’s so great to have someone like Samantha being both a cheerleader and that voice of reason and honesty to help you see what’s holding you back. I really appreciated that part of it. 

The Path to $2 Million™ community has been life-changing. It’s the first time I’ve had a community of people who are working on their businesses to grow professionally and serve their clients better. That sort of focus and intention is something that you don’t get everywhere.

I really haven’t experienced it in that context or concentration. I think the week-by-week participation was huge to help me stay on track. It allowed me to interact with other members and ask questions.

Samantha was always available for questions, which I really appreciated. There was something about everyone moving in the same direction. Maybe at different points in their growth and even different points of the program, but everyone was wanting the same thing and encouraging each other to move forward. Taking the really scary steps to do the things that we all know will be better for our work and for our clients in the end. 

Now the way that I’m presenting my expertise is different, and the way I’m offering an opportunity to work together is drawing different clients from the get-go. Now I’m talking with CEOs and executive directors and development directors at the front end. Explaining here are the things that would create the best communication strategy for your donors. 

The end result is I am being compensated much differently for my work. My work is structured on long-term monthly retainers, and long engagements, rather than single one-off projects. This creates a sense of partnership and collaboration that I didn’t have in the past.

 

The biggest tangible outcome is shown on my income chart, my revenue chart, which really is something that I would have never even done before. I’m actually tracking and looking at my business as needing to grow, even wanting to grow and watching how it grows. That has been fun.

The chart is really just showing the result of the work. It’s not driving my work by any means, but it is sort of a tangible reminder of, “Oh, you are growing because the type of work that you’re doing is changing.”

Compared to 2021, this year’s income is almost double that and compared to 2020, this year’s income is triple. So you can tell that that growth and that trajectory is moving forward because of how I am shaping and approaching my projects.

So much of that is because I have been able to be pushed and I’m able to grow because of the team and because of Samantha’s coaching. It’s made such a difference in looking at the potential and realizing that by shifting things around, I actually can do better work by having a better offering. Now I think of my work as a client that I also tend and grow and that I can take ownership of and I can develop creatively.

I have never before had money on the books for the next year, so to have money on retainer, knowing that that work is already there, is such a comfort and also an excitement of being free to keep growing and to keep doing more of what I’m doing. It helps me to keep looking forward to trust that what I’m doing is working because clients want what I’m providing and it’s working for them, and that just boosts my confidence all the more.

Top 3 Takeaways from the Path to $2 Million™ 

My offering is the three E’s: Expertise, Education and Experience. That’s my magic that I didn’t know that I had. So that’s exciting.

The second thing and I wouldn’t have thought about this at all before working with Samantha is that inner work isn’t optional. Even though it’s business, it’s like wherever I am personally affects how I serve clients, how I think about my clients, how I think about my work. So I love that she brings that aspect into the coaching because that isn’t something that I would have naturally tied together and now it just makes so much sense. 

Working on my business is part of my daily work. It’s on my mind all the time now, I love it. It’s so freeing because I think before there would always be a little bit of that guilt factor of like, I’m working on this and I’m working on that and I should be working on client things, but really working on my business, it does serve the client. So I think that’s just a total mind shift that has been fed into her program, that has sunk deep into my being, and it affects me every day.

The third thing is that I feel like Samantha makes it okay to move on from old things. So whether that’s habits or patterns or what I used to do in my business. I feel like she has created a way for us to say, “Hey, you did that before. If you don’t want to do it, but you wish you still could, you can grieve it, you can be grateful for it, and then you gotta get going and move forward.” I feel like there’s a really good sense of looking at where you are and being okay to move ahead. 

If I were going to visit my past self before this program and calm all the fears I had before I actually signed the dotted line, I would want to tell myself that, if I could have figured it all out by now on my own, I would have. It’s okay to say, “Oh, this isn’t working, I need someone outside of me to come and help me and to coach me along and do something new.”

There’s never really a good time to change so you may as well just start. There’s never going to be the perfect moment to do something different so it’s going to be uncomfortable no matter what. So just go ahead and start now. 

As I look ahead to 2023, I think my perspective has changed because I’m actually looking ahead. I’m not really a look-ahead planner kind of person. So that is very different for me. It’s like, who is this Erin who has an income plan and has things charted?

I think that because I’m not naturally a numbers person, I think in terms of words and grammar I thought, “Oh, none of that is for me, I can’t be that person.” Once I could see the connection (to planning my income) to the creative side of how that speaks to me and how I can make it creative to inform my work has just changed everything. It makes me feel more purposeful.

It makes me feel more confident. I just feel like there’s work waiting for me and I’m going to work until I get there. I love the aspect of being able to grow my business and I’m just super excited about the future for it. 

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