“Writers are a dime a dozen.”
Those words were spoken to Linda Wegner when she was trying to establish her writing business, Words of Worth. Undaunted, Linda forged ahead and was rewarded for her efforts: this year, the company celebrates 13 years in business, 10 of them in Powell River.
“I began by writing for a number of newspapers in rural Saskatchewan, reporting on community events,” she explains. She then expanded into the provincial arena, writing for Western Producer. In addition to writing, Linda was travelling to various prairie communities as a speaker and workshop facilitator for the Saskatchewan government. She still writes a weekly column for several Saskatchewan newspapers.
The start-up was not without its challenges, one of which was moving her business to Powell River. “When we lived on the Prairies, my primary focus was agriculture. I was researching and writing about heavy farm equipment, which doesn’t exist here in Powell River.”
“There isn’t a field big enough to turn one of the tractors around in,” she adds jokingly.
A stint as a researcher with a US-based company paid the bills while she worked to establish a business presence here on the coast. Her labours have paid off. Among other projects, she is the author of a monthly column for Country Life in BC and covers local agriculture events for that publication. She’ is also working on her sixth book, a history of First Credit Union.
Linda has some advice for writers and other small business owners at the beginning of their career:
1. Develop a focus. “I began by writing about agriculture, and I got quite good at that. I understood the concepts of precision agriculture, which is a combination of technology and agriculture.” Upon moving to the coast, Linda used her transferable skills to transition into other arenas. “Through my work as a researcher for the US-based company , I learned how to create, conduct, and analyze surveys. That enabled me to do research projects for PRREDS [Powell River Regional Economic Development Society] and PREP [Powell River Employment Program] Since then, I have focussed on writing about business.”
2. Choose your colleagues carefully. My motto as a business owner is, ‘To go fast, go alone; to go far, go together,’ which is an African proverb. In the 10 years she’s been in Powell River, Linda estimates she has provided work for approximately two dozen local people. “I felt that I was giving back, paying it forward for people who had helped me get started.”
Two subcontractors in particular stand out: “Sara Blum and Suzanne Eddy worked with me the longest and they provided incredible support.”
Linda insists on paying her subcontractors well, while providing perks along the way. “I sent them coffee cards midway through or we went out for lunch. A good subcontractor is a treasure and I want to treat them that way.” When working on a team project or involved in community non-profit boards, she works hard at team building, holding regular meetings and welcoming her subcontractors’ input.
3. Consult the professionals. “A good web presence is key to business success,” says Linda. “I choose to pay a webmaster because I know that what I create would not be up to snuff. I also pay for an accountant because I don’t stay current on all the taxation rules.” She credits both Career Link and Community Futures with providing support, while PRREDS has been an invaluable resource.
4. Learn to budget. “Creativity is my strength. Math never was. I’m so grateful for Excel spreadsheets and formulae.” Linda’s very first cheque, in the amount of $15, went straight into a Words of Worth business account. “I keep my business finances totally separate, paying myself each month and keeping track of every invoice. Otherwise, you don’t feel like a real business and can get yourself mired in trouble.”
5. Engage in continuous learning . Computers posed a significant challenge in the early days of Linda’s business. “I always joke that, the day I retire, I’m going to destroy every ounce of technology in my house. Just today, I had to do something new and kept putting it off, hoping I’d find an excuse to avoid it. Of course, once I start I’m fine.”
Linda recommends that business owners check out BC Microbusiness Training [www.bcmicrobusiness.com]. “There are some conditions, which fortunately I met. As a result, I was awarded $1500 in training and took three courses, all to do with marketing on the Internet. I just sent off a marketing video to my webmaster this morning.” The video was created by Peter Harvey, a fellow Toastmaster.
Community Futures also helped Linda access business training, while Toastmasters provided a huge boost to her self-confidence. “Just this morning, I successfully negotiated a raise from a publisher because I decided that I’d been working for them a long time and I deserved it.”
6. Establish community connections. Linda is a firm supporter of the Powell River Chamber of Commerce. “You may feel you don’t need the Chamber of Commerce, but we need you, and at some point you will need us. Be sure, too, to take out a business licence with the City of Powell River. I know there are many home-based businesses that don’t bother, but it’s the right thing to do as a citizen. You also receive the extra publicity that comes from being a city business.”
7. Project a professional image. People with home-based businesses may be tempted to lounge around in their pyjamas. Linda is not one of them. “Treat your business as a business: when someone comes to my house, I’m professionally dressed. I also have a separate room in the house for exclusive use as an office and when I go in there, I go to work.”
8. Guard your integrity. Honesty is a key value for Linda. “You can work a lifetime to gain a reputation as being upright and honest, then blow it in 30 seconds or less.” She also cautions business owners to protect their family and other relationships.
9. Don’t give up. “There are going to be highs and lows, as well as times when everything in you just wants to cash it in. But don’t give up. Surround yourself with people who encourage you, both intellectually and emotionally. And if I can be of any encouragement, give me a call.”