Interview by Uriah Young
QFTD: Tell us about yourself. Who is Jeanette Juryea?
Jeanette: Ha! At one time I wouldn’t have been able to answer such a question. For a good part of my life, I was so busy being a daughter, sister, friend, wife, coworker, student, and mother that there was nothing left for me to be me. Then one day, when I was in my late 30s, my husband received some very interesting information about his family’s genealogy and I felt so strongly that this information — this story — needed telling. So, I sat down and I wrote my first book. As a story, I wasn’t happy with what I wrote, but I thoroughly enjoyed the process of writing it. In fact, I was hooked. I decided right then and there that I wanted to be a writer.
That’s also when I realized for the first time that I had been a writer all along. No matter what I did, or for whom I did it, people had always come to me when they needed something written. Or if I had to write something for myself, I always threw my whole being into the project. So, I joined writers’ groups, attended writers’ conferences, took writing classes, applied for - and got - corporate writing jobs, and I also started working on other fiction and non-fiction projects.
QFTD: You stepped away from a management position at a national insurance company in 2007. What nudged you to make that move?
Jeanette: Well… in 2004, I had finished writing my third novel and, for the first time, I felt it was good enough to publish. Now, you have to understand that writing a novel was the easy part. SELLING the novel takes a lot more time and hard work – especially children’s fiction. By 2006, I decided that my day job was getting in my way. I had been trying to create a fiction career with stolen moments during evening and weekend hours. Then, I watched as a graphic designer left the company where I worked to start her own design firm. She doubled her income while I would have been happy halving mine. I suppose that was my nudge. Seeing someone else do something similar. I imagined myself working part time as a freelance writer, earning just enough to pay my bills, while focusing on writing and selling novels with all that spare time I would have.
QFTD: Starting your own company, QubComm, took courage and discipline. Elaborate on how each attribute has helped you grow since 2007.
Jeanette: You can call it courage and discipline. At the time, it was desperation. Sometimes, I even think I was an accidental tourist. But, no. It wasn’t a total accident. And yes, I suppose there was some courage and discipline involved. Henry David Thoreau once said, “Build your castle in the air, for that is where they ought to be. Then go and build a firm foundation under it.” I had visualized my castle. So I spent the next six months building my foundation.
I didn’t quit my day job until I had a minimum earnings goal, a decent emergency fund and my first client in my back pocket. On May 1, 2007, I hit the ground running and my business grew so fast, it surprised even me. That’s where the accidental tourist comes in. I didn’t even try to get more customers, yet they found me. They came in droves and, very soon, I found myself working full time, then over time, then engaging other freelancers for help and finally hiring full time help. After four years, my accountant suggested that I incorporate to save on taxes.
Okay, yes, I like to think it wasn’t a complete miracle and maybe I’m being a bit modest about the skill and discipline involved. I mean, customers do come to me readily enough, but I do keep ‘em coming back, hopefully, through professionalism and quality work. Ironically, in spite of my corporate writing success, I STILL haven’t sold my fiction stories, which was the whole reason I did this in the first place.
QFTD: When I first met you, the passion for what you do was very apparent. Teaching about your field and opening up about your journey was very unselfish. What made you want to present at the 2014 Philadelphia Writers Conference?
Jeanette: “Help thy brother’s boat across, and lo, thine own has reached the shore.” That’s one of my favorite Chinese proverbs. I’m surprised, shocked even, that every writer doesn’t do what I do. I didn’t even try and yet my writing business grew by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile… I hear horror stories of other freelance writers giving up their dream careers to go back to the cubicle. And they tried!
I own at least a half dozen how-to-be-a-freelance-writer books written by some of the country’s most successful freelance writers. Yet, in every one of those books, there’s only a single chapter – sometimes a single paragraph – that touches on what I do and how I do it. I just want to teach other writers how to do what I do so they don’t have to crawl back to the cubicle with their tails between their legs.
In fact, I’m just now finishing up a book called Freelancing in the Fast Lane. It’s a lot different from other books that are already out there. I’m currently posting snippets from the book on a blog called FastLaneFreelancer.com.
QFTD: I understand that you have Fortune 500 companies on your client list. What has been your strategy to secure strong business relationships with these clients?
Jeanette: First, let me clarify… I have ONLY Fortune 500 clients on my list – that’s part my success strategy. As to securing a relationship with them, that’s another strategy. Your behavior can draw clients to you, or repel them. It’s like flipping a magnet to the positively charged side. You want to draw clients in. You want to be the “go-to” person in their busy day. A “go-to” person is someone you can depend on to not only get the job done, but also to get it done right. There’s a level of trust involved.
Before starting my own company, I spent 27 years as both an employee and a manager. I’ve been a “go-to” person for most of that time. I’ve also had my own private stash of “go-to” people for most of my career. On both counts, I observed behaviors that are important in a corporate setting. For example, you have to be accessible, dependable, and professional.
You should also be an eager student, as well as a teacher. Don’t be so egotistical that you think you know everything about your business. Be open to learning more. Then, share what you’ve learned. Corporate clients will often send me an outline of what they want in their communication. But, I’m not afraid to tell them if I think something is a bad idea. As a result, they value my opinion. They ask me for advice about writing challenges. And they keep coming back to me with more work.
QFTD: With what you do, "plain language" is critical. What does that mean, and when do you know your final draft is ready for submission?
Jeanette: Plain language is a relatively new movement in business. It’s been growing since the early 2000s, but the 2010 Plain Language laws kind of solidified it. The law only applies to government entities, but highly regulated industries like banks, insurance companies and pharmaceuticals, are embracing it as well. It was originally about making sure the general public, regardless of education level or mother tongue, can understand the content. But, I’ve also found it to be about respecting people’s time. Basically it’s a conversational tone, active voice, everyday words, uncomplicated sentences and a helpful attitude. It works in any kind of writing – even contracts. My mother grew up in the 1940’s when girls weren’t expected to finish high school, let alone have a fabulous sense of vocabulary. Today, she’s always calling me up to come over and interpret mail for her. Sometimes it’s just junk mail and sometimes it’s not. But, that shouldn’t happen – ever! I know that my final draft is ready for submission ONLY when I’m certain my mother will understand what I wrote. And that’s what Plain Language is all about.
QFTD: In 5-10 years, where do you see yourself? What will it take to get there?
Jeanette: Ahh, sadly… or excitedly, whichever you prefer -- my brain is always working on a solution to my original problem –- finding more time to spend on my fiction career.
Normally, freelance writers can choose to turn work away -– or stop marketing their services when they have enough work. But, as a corporate freelancer, work comes to me without marketing. I can’t turn it off unless I stop being a corporate freelancer. And that would mean heading back to the cubicle. It would take me full circle, but it wouldn’t solve my problem.
Whether you charge flat rates or hourly rates, a writer-for-hire can only ever earn as much as there are hours in the day. When I hire help, those writers help me keep up with demand, but my profitability stays relatively the same. I have to pay salaries, taxes, health insurance, workers comp and other business and employee-related expenses just like any other business owner. And I’ve been doing this long enough to know that I can’t simply turn my workload over to my employees; I have to earn MY OWN salary and benefits, too.
It comes down to increasing profitability — earning more in less time — without raising rates (which never goes over well with clients). Well, necessity is the mother of invention, right? And I think I’ve found a solution, but I’m still testing the market to see if it’s viable. If it works out, I believe I will have invented a new outlet for any freelance writer to do the same thing.
Clearly, I can’t talk about it yet. But let’s just say, stay tuned for more.
To see more about Jeanette's business, click below.