Quitter to Winner

Monday, August 23, 2010

INTERVIEW: Ghostwriter and entrepreneur Jeanne Yocum

Ghostwriter and public relations consultant Jeanne Yocum has been on her own for decades. She shares some words of wisdom for those thinking about making the entrepreneurial leap.

Jeanne, you've been working for yourself for nearly 21 years. Why did you decide to go solo?

I freelanced for a couple of years in the mid 1980s before I was offered a job at a Boston public relations firm. The offer was so good that I didn’t feel I could turn it down. But after three years, I realized two things: 1) I really was much happier being my own boss. 2) I really am a writer at heart. I was spending more time managing people than I was writing. So I decided to go back out on my own. I’ve been at it ever since.

I am a public relations consultant, helping people get their company’s news in front of key audiences either through publicity or through Web sites and marketing brochures. I also do event management. The other part of my business is ghostwriting books and book proposals, primarily about business topics. I’ve co-authored two books, ghostwritten four others and edited another handful.

My Web site is www.yourghostwriter.com. You can see my blog, “Small Business Success: 20 Years and Counting,” there and I also write a blog on business topics for MassLive.com.

What are some of the perks of self-employment?

The thing I enjoy most about being self-employed is the ability to pick who I want to work with, which was something I didn’t have at the PR firm where I worked. I have specialized in working with consultants in various fields who are coming up with cutting-edge ideas. I always say I’ve earned an MBA from my clients because they’ve taught me so much about all aspects of business. The variety is great and intellectually challenging.

The other thing I enjoy most about being self-employed is the ability to make your own dreams come true. For example, 10 years ago I decided I needed a new writing challenge and that I wanted to try my hand at business books. A year later, I had sold a client’s book idea to a publisher and we were working on the manuscript.

How about the pitfalls?

The most obvious pitfall is that you’re out here all alone and if, like me, you’re single, you have no financial fallback position. It can be scary when a client is slow to pay or if business slows down as it did in the recession. But I’ve managed to survive three recessions, so I’m more sanguine that things will work out now than I used to be.

Some people may also find it lonely to always be working on your own. You have to arrange your day to include people in other ways than seeing them around the water cooler at work.

A third pitfall can be the unevenness of the workflow. Just yesterday, I had a sudden influx of business that made me wish I could clone myself. If you’re all on your own, you can end up working some pretty long hours and on weekends.

What advice do you have for people making the entrepreneurial leap?

Have a realistic view of self-employment, not a pie-in-the-sky view. Talk to a lot of people who are self-employed and ask them to share with you the good points and the bad points. And really listen to the bad points; don’t just let them go in one ear and out the other because you’re so enthusiastic about the idea of working for yourself. Self-employment is definitely not for everyone; be self-aware enough to know if you are someone who could cope with the downside.

Also, make sure there is a market for what you’re offering. Too many people start businesses about something they’re passionate about without really doing the research that is needed to know whether what they’re selling it something people will want to buy.

Is there a social media outlet that's helped your business more than others?

So far, I have used Facebook only for non-business purposes. But I am quite active on Twitter (as JeanneYocum) and in various groups on LinkedIn. I’ve met new people through both of these sites, but I can’t say I’ve gotten new business as a result. But I am ever hopeful!

Anything that introduces you to new people is a good thing and eventually will pay off. I had my Web site up for years before I landed any clients through it, but several of the clients I have gotten through it have been big ones, including book project client. So you just have to stick in there and sooner or later, you’ll see results.

Can you recommend some profiles on your blog that might help new entrepreneurs?

I’ve been doing a series of blog posts in which business owners answer questions about how they have succeeded. Here are a couple that I especially thought had valuable advice:

Small Business Success Q&A #1: Ann Brauer, Quilter Extraordinaire

Small Business Success Q&A #4: The O-Tones

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