Kenzi Wood is a former marketer turned blogger and she writes content for marketing agencies, SEO agencies, Fortune 200 enterprises, as well as small mom-and pop shops. Her focus is on vanquishing the demons of content marketing—one blog at a time. Her mission is to stamp out flimsy copy and increase your reader engagement, boost website conversions, audience retention, and, best of all, the business bottom line, with content designed to win.
Tools / Books / Resources mentioned:
Tools: Asana (task management), Google-Suite, Timeular (time management), Slack, Doodle, zoom
Books: ‘BadAssYourBrand’ by Pia Silva
1:08 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Start doing what you enjoy and keep exploring possibilities to start a business.
Kenzi starts off by talking about how she started to blog for fun in the personal finance space, realized that she can make money by writing as a side gig, and finally took the plunge to quit her corporate job and never looked back.
2:52 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Support network is key to continued success
Kenzi talks about how her husband saw the potential with her blog to start her own business and encouraged her start on her own. She also found moral support in her parents. Finally, she attended a personal finance bloggers conference and found her first customer.
5:33 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Build customer pipeline by soliciting testimonials and building a portfolio.
Kenzi gives tips on building a customer pipeline by (1) always requesting customer testimonials after each project (2) keeping a portfolio of your projects on your website. She also talks about weathering lean times by keeping personal finances in order and being financially secure.
9:10 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Be proactive about managing different aspects of business by outsourcing where necessary.
Kenzi talks about dealing with the waves of solopreneur work by outsourcing work that someone else can do better (in her case it is customer outreach) and negotiating with customers on deadlines and as a last resort to refer other trustworthy freelancers.
11:05 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Identifying key customer segments and their specific needs is essential to grow your business.
Kenzi identified her sweet spot of customers as small and medium businesses where she can translate her large company experience and provide a white glove service for her clients. This focus helped her to get lot of customer referrals.
15:25 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Enhance your productivity by selecting proven tools.
Kenzi talks about the tools that enhance her productivity. Asana for task management, G-suite for email & docs, Timeular for time management, slack/google chat for customer communication, doodle for schedules, and zoom for video communication.
18:48 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Pricing right is key as well as tracking time and expenses.
Kenzi talks about few things that she could have done better. (1) Pricing right for her services. She thinks she underpriced her services initially. (2) having an accounting software to automate tracking and expenses.
22:14 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: It’s equally important to find the right customers and not just any customers.
Kenzi talks about the need to find the right customers to work with as she thinks it is very important to find the right chemistry. She has a check list that she goes through in selecting her customers.
24:59 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Find a way to turn service business into product business that sells itself while you sleep.
Kenzi is focusing on gradually turning her service business into a product business and she mentions a book by Pia Silva called Badass your brand that inspired her.
24:59 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Confidence, Quality, and perseverance are key to success.
Kenzi says confidence and dedication to quality are two important attributes that an entrepreneur needs. She also advises would be entrepreneurs to find ways to keep moving forward.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone, welcome to the agile entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and building your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance and possibilities. Today's guest name is Kenziwood. Kenzi runs a Content writing business, she's a former marketer and she used her marketing background and experience to turn her passion into a content writing business. She has helped over 60 entrepreneurs and agencies and she and her business provides content for fortune 200 companies. Hi Kenzi.
Kenzi: Hey there Ramesh how's it going? Thanks for having me here.
Ramesh: Pretty good, pretty good. Thank you for your time today actually.
Kenzi: Yeah thank you, I’m excited to be here and talk about all things entrepreneurship.
Ramesh: Excellent, excellent. So, let's get started with how you started your business.
Kenzi: Sure, sure so my business kind of bleeds over and you see a personal passion that I had. I think a few years ago about in 2016 I started blogging for fun. I was blogging in the personal finance space and you're writing for a while I kind of realized as like wow you know I can actually make money writing stuff into a computer and publishing it online. You know people really resonate with it and it's something I enjoyed and so I started blogging as a really as a side hustle at first, something I did outside of my main job where I was a marketer and you know the more that I kept working for other people, the more I thought ,"man it would be great to have the flexibility of working for myself and not having to, you know not having set work hours, not having to answer to somebody else and having a lot more freedom with my career and it wasn't until the end of last year in 2018, I was like you know what, I'm gonna do that, I'm going to jump off for my full-time job as a marketer and I'm going to start a business writing content. So, in October of 2018 I jumped off. I quit my full-time job which you know you talk to any entrepreneur and that's a very scary moment. But yeah, I jumped off and it's been about six, seven months into my business and it was the best decision I have ever made by far. I'm so glad I did it. It has been a great journey.
Ramesh: So, one of the things that I keep hearing about entrepreneurs is that initial movement of wanting to start the business, it's scary as you mentioned, and then other thing is that they also look for support from either family or other members before the jump in. So, was it just your own decision or other people helped you with the decision or how was your family support?
Kenzi: Yeah so that's a great question. I am married, I have a wonderful husband named Jeremy. He was a land surveyor. So, we work in completely different fields. But that said it's kind of crazy, because one of the things I would actually recommend to other entrepreneurs is if you do choose to have a partner in your life, that partner needs to not, I wouldn't say like blindly support everything you do, because that's not the case. But they need to see your potential when you don't and that's definitely what Jeremy did for me. He you know helped me crunch the numbers. My talent is in writing, it's not necessarily with numbers. I joked that he's my part-time CFO. We sat down, he said you can do this the numbers work out. You're making more as a writer than you are at your full-time job as a marketer, where you are for you know nine to ten hours a day and it wasn't until I had that outside perspective saying hey this isn't crazy, you know you can actually do this that I realized it wasn't just a pipe dream, it was real. So, in that way you know my husband instrumental in creating my business. The other people who were supportive was you know my parents and yeah, I thought you know they find it my college education and I thought they were going to be upset that I you know kind of quit my job in marketing. But they were like yeah you know going into business for yourself is one of the best things you can do. So, I was fortunate to have a very great support system.
Ramesh: Excellent, actually yeah so that confirms all the research that I’ve come across in this space. The second one is the very first customer. I mean that is where people struggle with getting their first customer. So how did you get your first customer?
Kenzi: Oh man so that's funny too. So, I went to a conference for personal finance blogging. Because you know I know that's like really dorky, but that is a thing that exists, and I went there to meet other finance bloggers. Because that's where I got my start and writing about money and while I was there, they had something called a freelancer’s marketplace. Because at the time I was a freelancer. I wasn't a full-fledged business at the time and I went there, and I connected with a fellow money blogger whose blog had grown beyond where you know he needed some help writing and we hit it off and he was my first client.
Ramesh: Excellent. So then after the first client I think definitely you feel
better. But how do you build a pipeline? Like what do you do to get the second customer and then the repeat customers and things like that?
Kenzi: Yeah so one of the things that I made sure to do was always ask for testimonials from my customers. So, after I complete a blog I'd say, hey I really liked working with you. I'd be interested in working further, would you want to just write me a two-sentence testimonial about how it was working with me and if you do a good job and you over deliver, which I tell people you always need to do, they're more than happy to provide that. So, after that first client you have that social proof that says, yes, I'm worth your money and then people are much more trusting and much more open. I would also say portfolio pieces, especially in these you know I'm a writer. So, people want to make sure that my style matches up with what they want. So, publishing a website that has portfolio pieces was also really important. Even if you know don't have your first client yet, I would say start with portfolio pieces. Whether you are a web designer, graphic designer, writer, whatever it is you do that also gives social proof and that'll help you build on that client base over time.
Ramesh: So actually, I want to keep focusing on the building the business piece of it a little bit here. So, there are two different challenges that entrepreneurs face. One is not having a consistent income. Right, if you have a job you have a regular monthly income and unless you have a pipeline that keeps building, there may be moments where you may not have an income. So, have you come across in from your experience and if so how did you overcome that particular challenge?
Kenzi: Yes, I pursued it a little bit differently than maybe most entrepreneurs would. So, I used the time while I had a full-time job and while working on building the business on the side as a time to use the profits from the business to pay off my personal debts. So, I was able to pay off my student loans and my car loans while working a full-time job, while building the business on the side. I did not sleep very much, I will say that. Coffee is your best friend. But I did that because now that I have my business full-time, I'm able to weather those harder months where for whatever reason there might not be as much work in the pipeline, because of a holiday for example, November and December can be difficult for content writers. Because not a lot of people are starting a lot of new campaigns those months. So, because of getting out of debt personally, I'm able to weather those more difficult moments you know when work might be lighter. So that's what I recommend is get your personal finances in order. So that way you can still pursue the business and not be in dire straits if something doesn't work out the way you think it will. Cause it won’t, stuff will go awry, and you have to deal with it. So, it makes it less challenging especially as a solopreneur without other employees in my business that I could take more of those risks that way by being financially secure first.
Ramesh: Correct. Actually, now you got segue into my second question. Which is as a solopreneur the other challenge that they face is that, if the business is booming and they're getting lot more clients than they can themselves support, they need to start looking at expanding the business. Either hire employees or outsource. So, what is your strategy? Are you in a situation where you have to deal with that kind of situation? If so, how are you doing that?
Kenzi: Yeah so right now I still keep all of my work internal, except for client outreach. Because I realized I was doing cold email marketing and I realized that it was not giving as much of a return on my time as doing actual client work. So, I just hired a part-time VA on Upwork. I think for 250 bucks a month and what he does all of my email outreach for me. So, I did the cost-benefit breakdown and hey for 250 bucks, I will gladly push that off on somebody else. So that's not necessarily the client work that I'm outsourcing. Because that's one of my, that's really my unique selling proposition is when I work with these agencies. I'm not going to pawn this stuff off on someone else. Because they rely on my expertise as a marketer to write this piece. So, if for example too much work comes up, I simply tell the clients hey if you want this done, you’re either going to have to wait longer or I can give you a referral. Don't be afraid to turn away work. People actually respect you whenever you know your boundaries and it helps with quality control as well. So, for me I keep a list of trustworthy people who I can refer work to and on the same, you know the same line if work ever gets slow for me, I can reach out to them and say hey you know is there any work that you have coming up that you need some help with and they're always happy to refer that. So that's kind of how I handle the solopreneur wave of work. You know it definitely comes in waves.
Ramesh: Correct. So good, so actually it's good so we're getting a little deep into the discussion on the business. So, you talked about the customers. Can you give us an idea of the profile of the customers that you are dealing with? Are they small businesses? Large businesses or agencies? Just give us some profile please.
Kenzi: Yeah so, my bread and butter are where working with SMBs, small to medium-sized agencies. So, I normally work with marketing agencies or SEO agencies. As it just so happens, I happen to work with more people that are based here in Texas where I am I'm in San Antonio. But also, a lot of people surprisingly on the west coast. I'm still trying to crack, you know crack the code on what it is. But for some reason a lot of West Coast agencies are outsourcing their content and there's been some changes in the content marketing landscape that I think are responsible for that. But those are the main accounts that I have. I do occasionally take on work from fortune 200 clients as well. Which is, it's nice because I had that experience in my career as a marketer you know working at some big companies on the enterprise level and, so you can take that enterprise experience and give that to the small businesses and that's something they're not used to. Which is that White Glove service that doesn't require the hand-holding and I think that's what really makes a solopreneur stand out when you can give somebody that detail and level of quality that you might expect for an enterprise client, but for an SMB. Because here's the thing, more business owners to each other. I cannot tell you how much of my business is referrals. Just people say hey you might want to work with Kenzi, you did a great job. So that's why it's so important to ensure the quality whenever you're working with these small businesses. Don't write them off because they're smaller, their budget is small. Because they talk, and they will land you a lot more clients than an enterprise client might. Because enterprise, there's so many people vying for those accounts that you know they'll undercut your prices and they can make demands, a lot more demands than a small business might, and a lot of business owners will cave to those demands, when maybe they don't need to or maybe cave is a strong word. But I prefer working with small businesses because of that. It seems like a much more of a collaboration definitely and they're fun to work with. So, I always recommend don't overlook them for sure.
Ramesh: That's a really good insight Kenzi. So basically, you're talking about number one is the referrals. There is lot more you get from this kind of clients and then second thing I think you mentioned is translating your experience and then with a large enterprise and then bringing that into the SMB is something you're in a very unique position. They're really good insights there.
Kenzi: Thank you.
Ramesh: And then you started talking about your unique value proposition. So, can you, is it a domain expertise your value proposition? What is it?
Kenzi: Yeah so for me what I realized working as a marketer I used to work, it's kind of like meta. I was a marketer working at a marketing agency and I write for marketing agencies looking for marketing expertise. So, it's like a tongue twister. But what I offer is that marketing expertise. Because a lot of marketing agencies, they will write content for their clients. But the problem is the resources are expended to promote their clients that a lot of the times these smaller agencies don't have the resources to promote themselves. So, then their client well is drying up while they're trying to promote other people and they say, oh snap my pipeline is dry. So, they come to me when they say we need someone to write about marketing to attract people who need marketing to our agency and they like partnering with me. Because I have that experience as a marketer and also as a small business owner. So, I'm kind of on both sides and they like that, because you can speak to what the agency needs as well as what the agency's clients needs.
Ramesh: It's very nice, very nice and then actually I went on your website www.Kenziwrites.com and I looked at some of your resources you're offering and one article that attracted my attention is the tools that freelance writers need or business owners need. So, can you talk a little bit about the tools that use and tools you think other entrepreneurs can benefit from.
Kenzi: Absolutely so the first tool that I use personally is Asana. It's a task tracking app and I used it during my full-time employment and frankly moving into my own business, I actually, I'm a solopreneur so I have no need to really collaborate a lot. So, I use the free version of asana. It's really important to keep those cost low when and you are a solopreneur. So that works out just fine for me. Also, I know it's an extra cost, but I do recommend people get G suite for your email. You also are able to collaborate with clients and Google Docs better. So as a writer I know some people work in Google Docs and I don't know how they function. Cause I'm like, my brain would just that's too much. So, I do everything in Google Docs and that way whenever a client wants to review my work, all I do is send them a link. They can even make comments in there and they can make suggestions. It's incredibly efficient for the content writing world and I wouldn't have it any other way. So that's another great tool. Something else that I use is a time tracker. I know there are some free ones available online. I use the one called Timeular. It's a paid one. I think it was like a hundred bucks. It's a little cube that you keep on your desk and as you switch through tasks or projects throughout the day, you move the cube and it tracks it for you. It's beneficial especially if you work on an hourly basis. So that way you automatically track oh how much time am I actually spending on this client piece. Because too often I think entrepreneurs aren't charging accurately. A lot of the times we're charging too little and so these time tracking apps make sure that you're charging what you've actually even have done for that client and it's just a lot more efficient and the last tool is a live chat app. So, some of my clients get in touch with me via Skype, some people get in contact on Slack. It really depends on whatever your preference is. Google Chat is another one. But something where people can get in touch with you immediately, especially if you don't want to give out your personal phone number or if maybe you don't have one, it's you know easy to just send a quick question off to a client. Like if I have a question about a source or really anything they need, it's an easy way to get answer instead of you know calling them on the phone. I feel like instant messaging is just a little bit more efficient. So those are the great tools I think any freelancer or excuse me any business owner can benefit from.
Ramesh: Excellent Kenzi, yeah actually that's one article definitely caught my attention. I heard about Asana from multiple entrepreneurs by the way. So that's that and then-
Kenzi: Yeah, its awesome. And they won’t pay me to say that. It's just good.
Ramesh: Yeah exactly. So, the other thing is looking at your experience right, so you have planned your transition from a full-time job in to you know solopreneur ship and the business organically in the sense that you didn't just quit one day and said I want to go start a business right. So, it worked out for you. But is there, could you have done anything differently looking back, anything that you think you could have should have done to start to run your business?
Kenzi: Yes, two things for sure. The first thing is I mean that's this is every entrepreneurs problem I feel like is charging what I'm worth. So, for example I charge a per word rate. When I first started out it was 10 cents a word and I thought ooh that's so much money and then I worked a little bit and I realized that is significantly under charging. Today I charge double or triple that rate and even then, I’ve been told that's not enough. So, here's the thing if I had charged more in those early days, I actually would have been able to jump off and start my business more quickly. So, it's kind of like in hindsight you look back and you think oh I was so dumb, how could I not have charged more and it's hard when you're new. Because people will try to take advantage of that and get a cheaper price. Because that's, hey that's what all business owners do. We are all trying to get a better deal. But yeah, I wish I had charged more and that's something that really you only learned from experience unfortunately or talk to the other people in your industry, see what they're charging. Don't be afraid to disclose your rates to other people. Because frankly if you're good enough at your job, you won't have to compete with anybody. So, you know get out of that scarcity mindset of, "I can't tell them what I'm charging. Because then it's like my secret sauce." it's not, we all deserve fair pay and the only way that's going to happen is if we're all open about pricing. So, pricing is the first one. The second one is financials. Keeping all the books clean. Oh, my goodness, I was using and again I’ll admit numbers are not my strength. I was using this like cruddy like Google sheets that was tracking everything and like it was just a mess. I could not figure out anything, it was not good. So, before I jumped off into creating my business, I bought a QuickBooks self-employed. It was, I think it was discounted on my like TurboTax subscription. I think it was like 100 bucks a month. It's really not that much. It's cheaper than an accountant and it does a lot of the work for you automatically. You still have to go in there and classify expenditures and things like that. But I can quickly run reports and I can quickly see whether I'm profitable or not. Because that's something everybody wants to know. Am I actually making a profit and when you have a software, it doesn't have to be QuickBooks self-employed. It can be anything. I hear some people talk about wave or fresh books. It doesn't matter what you need. Just have something that's tracking your expenses. Because the business will have expenses and you also need to track your taxes, because everybody needs to be saving for taxes. I personally saved twenty to thirty percent of my monthly income just for taxes. But because of that I'm not surprised by a huge tax bill at the end you know every April, it's not a big deal and it's all thanks to having the finances in order. So, if you're starting a new business, you need to have some kind of accounting software. Something set up. Because it's really going to give you a lot of clarity and help you make better decisions moving forward.
Ramesh: Excellent, excellent. So, the last two questions. So, one is what kinds of challenges are you facing now and then how you're addressing them one and then the second one is, what plans do you have for your business going forward? So, let's do the first one, what are the challenges that you're facing?
Kenzi: Yeah one of my challenges is something that I think a lot of business owners face who deal with client accounts. So, I service based business. The service is me writing for somebody and it's all about finding good clients and I don't mean just you know oh these people are going to pay my rate. Because I’ve worked with people who pay my rate and then they turn out to, it's just not a good match. I'm not you know trash-talking people or anything. But sometimes it for whatever reason you know we just don't mesh and so it's about trying to figure out and dedicating more time initially before we sign a contract for work to figure out, okay am I actually going to deliver what you need, and do we work well together. Because for whatever reason sometimes you just don't gel with somebody and it's best to flush that out before you sign a contract and then you're trying to work together. It's just more difficult. So, for me the challenge is always finding people that I am excited to work with every month and I'm just now really starting to fine-tune that and figure out like you know what? Like I'm really excited to work with this small agency. You know we would just mesh and that's because and I'm addressing that by setting up a checklist that I go through for the client onboarding process. I've lengthened the onboarding process. So, I used to just have a phone call and be like, "okay well I’ll send you over your blog's next week." you know it was very minimal and because of that you end up with people that they seem fine on that 15-minute phone call, but for whatever reason it just didn't end up working out and it's not good. So now what I do is I have a series of phone calls as well as a statement of work that we go over. So that way we're clear on the direction of the piece, what they're looking for, how their relationship is going to work, what the deliverables are going to look like and over the course of those conversations, I'm also like secretly evaluating you know their personalities and how we gel together. So, for example if somebody's like overly serious, as you can probably tell I'm like you know bubbly and you know I want to work with people who are also really excited about their work and if its just content to them or if it's you know just something to them, that's not what I want to be. So, it's about being more finicky about who I work with and I'm excited. Yeah somebody you're excited with.
Ramesh: Right right actually that's really good. So, the last question. So definitely it your business seems to be doing well and you're enjoying what you're doing. So where do you want to go from here?
Kenzi: This is the million-dollar question. So, the problem with a service based business like writing is that there's only so much that I can do right. The goal of any business is to get more clients, more clients and more work. Well I'm just person and I'm running not just the product, I'm doing the marketing, I'm doing finances. I'm doing everything in this business and as a solopreneur to have a service based business, so I read a really good book a while back and pardon my language, but it was titled "Badass your brand. It's by P.S Sylva and basically, it's like this framework for going through and turning your service based business into a product and the key to products is that they sell while you sleep. So, I can basically be choosier about who I work with to deliver that service and then have a product available that still helps people, but doesn't require a lot of my time. As of right now I'm in the process of creating something that's called jumpstart. Which is going to be, basically like a guide that I can refer my clients to that maybe can't afford my actual content packages. It's going to be a DIY kind of course basically that they can go through and create quality content by themselves. But if they ever need help you know that's when I can say, well I can step in and help you. So, I'm hoping that will kind of help bring instant income for my business, help people and that maybe can't afford a writer and then also you know bulk up my sales pipeline as well. So, I'm excited. I'm working on it right now. So hopefully it will come out soon.
Ramesh: That is really awesome. Actually, I think many service businesses go through that transformation, they want to go to the transformation. Some are successful, and some are not. But I think you're thinking in the right direction to grow your business. Any last-minute thoughts Kenzi?
Kenzi: Not really. My only note you know to the listeners would be just keep moving forward. You know keep moving forward whether you're starting a fledgling business or you're thinking about it, it takes a lot of confidence. I would actually say confidence and a dedication to quality are really all you need be successful as an entrepreneur. All the other things like tools and processes, those are nice. But if you're dedicated to those two things, you're really going to go far. So just have the confidence and stay the course as far as quality, don't be compromising on those things and you're going to be just fine.
Ramesh: Kenzi thank you very much, your excitement really comes through in the podcast. So, I wish you all the best and yeah, we will probably touch base in a year and see how it's going with you.
Kenzi: Absolutely. Well thank you again Ramesh, it's been awesome being here.
Ramesh: Okay, take care.