It might not be a great idea to start hiring people as soon as you’re making money. — That’s what I did with my agency model, but I was still in start-up mode and didn’t have very good standards and procedures established. So, it was very difficult to manage my people or measure whether they were doing a good job. Instead, I should have created a waitlist and started to document everything I do. Then, I could probably start with contracting a VA or maybe a referral partnership with someone else for editing. That would’ve been lower risk and smarter for keeping more money in my pocket.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cindy Childress.
Dr. Cindy, The Expert’s Ghostwriter, guides trailblazers and entrepreneurs to write nonfiction books that make money and make an impact. Her company, Childress Business Communication, took bronze for Most Innovative Company of the Year for the Stevie Awards for Women in Business 2020, and her clients go on to win book awards, give TEDx Talks, and achieve bestseller status. She holds a Ph. D. in English with a creative dissertation from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and serves on the Advisory Board of Women Helping Women 2 Network.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/8eeadeeda887ad7d5d12a042838b5bea
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I’ve always been a reader, and in junior high I read 2 ½ books a day. I liked to leave a little bit of today’s book for tomorrow to give myself something to look forward to the next day. I grew up in rural Tennessee where the public library was a lifeline, and I first started trying to write on an early model of the Commodore word processor. In high school I wrote a weekly high school news column for The Macon County Chronicle and saved up for my first pair of Guess jeans. That’s when I got my first taste of writing for pay.
At Western Kentucky University I majored in English with a minor in communication, and my Ph. D. is a generalist English degree, giving me a wide expertise from technical writing to personal essay. My deep study into public speaking and creative writing has paid me back in a lot of unexpected ways as the world has gone more digital. Not only am I able to advise my clients on speaking topics to promote their books, but I also find myself uniquely equipped to put myself on video and to participate in podcast interviews to promote my business. And as nonfiction books have taken on more of a narrative approach, they borrow the conventions of fiction and creative nonfiction where I already excel as a professor and writer.
My life took an unexpected turn in 2008 when I completed my Ph. D., and my now-husband had an opportunity to live and work in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I agreed to go with him, and we spent seven years in Southeast Asia where I was President of two non-profits. My proudest achievement was with the Balikpapan International Women’s Association, and in one year we raised the money and oversaw a construction project to build a new school room for a parent-funded school for differently-abled children. We outfitted the room with sewing machines and supplies so the deaf and mute children could learn sewing and have a trade to support themselves.
When I returned to Houston, TX in late 2014 I had a seven year work gap. I couldn’t even get an interview for admin assistant positions, much less anything befitting my expertise. What a rude awakening for someone as capable as myself. So, I became a certified personal trainer and quickly worked my way up to technical manual writing and supervising the call center for The Perfect Workout. That experience gave me the confidence to start Childress Business Communication in 2017, and within a few months I had my first three ghostwriting clients — two of which hit Amazon Bestseller status. And my business took off.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It’s better to have tried and failed than to live life wondering what would’ve happened if I had tried.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson
I first came across this line because the Victorian era was one of my areas of focus for my M.A. in literature. Tennyson’s words at first became my anthem for love affairs in my 20s, but very quickly also for making life decisions. In fact, it guided me to apply for Ph. D. programs in creative writing (what a crazy pipe dream, everyone said), to join my husband for a life overseas, and then to reinvent myself when we returned. Nowadays, when I commit to try a new platform or create a new offer, I still use this quote to tell myself there’s something worse than failure. I want to create a life that when I look back on it, I say, “Wow, that was an amazing journey.”
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle (1976) is a subject of my dissertation and a rough blueprint for how I’ve lived my life. The novel is an episodic coming of age narrative. What I love about it is that no matter what humiliation or difficulty Joan faces, she learns something that she takes back to her family relationships and renegotiates them. Joan and I both started out with perfectionist mothers we were never thin or successful enough for. I’ve never faked my death, but I appreciate how leaving the U.S. for seven years and coming back was like returning from an underworld like the victorious heroine who walks on broken glass to return a better version of herself.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
When I started Childress Business Communication, I very quickly hired employees and created an agency model. As a great marketer, I never had trouble getting enough clients, so my goal was to create jobs for people that are excellent writers and editors but would struggle on the sales and customer service side. My role would be sales and quality control, as well as client satisfaction. I thought success looked like being a boss and having people that work under and for you. Well, maybe, but also my biggest expense was payroll, and I took a lot of work that wasn’t that interesting to me just to keep my employees busy doing billable work (including writing SEO blogs for a tanning bed lotion seller). Not a winning strategy if I wanted to be happy.
Then, I tried being a solopreneur in 2019. Just me for hire. With a small number of ghostwriting and book editing clients, I could spend all my days writing and editing. Wasn’t that my life goal? It turned out that while that was way more profitable and less stressful than the agency model, I also felt creatively limited at times. What I’d traded out along with the agency model was my sense of self as a leader. So, this year I hatched an idea to lead group writing programs in addition to my private client work. In February of 2020, I told my email list I was opening a group program in March. Then, as my launch date approached, I watched state after state and city after city lock down for the pandemic.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
First of all, in spite of the pandemic, I launched Crank Out Your Book in 8 Weeks, my book coaching program where I teach you to be your own ghostwriter. Very soon, I had a ghostwriting client who requested to terminate our project because she needed to pivot her business, so my group program went from being “nice to have” to “imperative to keep my doors open.” I was able to replace that service provider income with my group program for April. Whew!
Then, in May I was an affiliate for a TED Speaker Coach’s program, which was a great fit for my audience because most people who want to write a book also want to speak on the TED or TEDx stage. Again, I was able to replace my ghostwriting income that month, and this time it only took sending four emails and eight social media posts. At this point, I realized I have to be an online marketer to survive, and started posting weekly IGTV videos. Within a few months, my Instagram following had doubled.
In the meantime, increasing my visibility lead to being invited to speak in Marcella Allison’s Titanides Mentoring Collective for a literary salon, and my talk, “You Don’t Have to Get Naked to Be Creative (Although You Can)” was so successful I realized I needed an offer to go with it, so I launched Success Story, a 6-week story writing course for entrepreneurs to write personal stories to build their brands. At this point, I saw that I needed a smarter strategy, so my online marketing wins weren’t so month-to-month.
I took Ron Reich’s A-Player program, attracted to the promise of “50K in 50 Days.” And I actually made 67K dollars in 50 days from August to September — not bad for a solopreneur. I did it by acquiring a new ghostwriting client and re-launching Crank Out Your Book in 8 Weeks with a free 3-Day Challenge to widen my reach, along with a Masterclass series to convert the leads into students. So, I changed my business to no longer depend on a small number of high-paying clients, because of course I want to be flexible with my contracts in light of the pandemic, but I still need consistent income to plan my expenses. Moving to a one-to-many model is allowing me to do both, and 2020 is going to be my most lucrative year yet.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
My mentor, Laura Belgray, is a huge motivation for my business model. She hit 7 figures last year with her business Talking Shrimp, which relies on email marketing and selling her own digital courses, as well as being an affiliate for other digital products. I attended her live Shrimp Club mastermind this past January in New York City, and I was inspired to create a group writing program where I could teach my processes for writing and editing instead of only performing those activities as an expert services provider. We went around the room and declared the amount of money we wanted to make in 2020 and how, and I have held myself to that vision even in the face of a global pandemic.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Fantastic. One surprise benefit of doing three launches this year is that I’ve gotten more interest in my ghostwriting and editing services because my business is staying top-of-mind, in addition to adding revenue with my new offers for group coaching programs. I’m looking at launching Crank Out Your Book in 8 Weeks in 2021 even bigger and with a better entry level offer, in addition to the VIP mentoring offer. I found that some people were delaying to purchase because they were concerned about being able to finish in the time frame or wanted to buy the course and wanted to delay getting started, so I’m adding a fully automated entry-level ticket to accommodate those leads, as well as the done-with-you VIP package.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Kenneth Childress Sr., my father’s father I called “Papaw,” was a brilliant entrepreneur. As I made the leap to become a business owner, I’ve often been struck by the similarity of my business to his. He ran a dairy farm and also raised beef cattle and even sold turkeys to NYC. He had fields of different crops, from corn and soybeans to tobacco and alfalfa. At times, he had small teams of men working with him, and at other times, he was mainly working on his own with just some help on targeted projects.
The bottom line is this: if something wasn’t working, he pivoted. And he carefully weighed his risks and always had several ideas in mind so if one thing didn’t work out, he could make money in a different way. He was always running figures on the note pad in the front flap of his overalls. For him, he had a wife and a family of five to provide for, which he did amply.
And I’m carrying his legacy forward. He wanted his children and grandchildren to live easier lives than he did, and he and Martha Childress, my Mamaw, instilled in us the value of hard work and education. Now, instead of farming, I use my intellectual property and adapt it to the changing demand and landscape, always with the Childress work ethic.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
My mind was blown last month when Melissa Sones, my awards consultant, called me to say I won a Bronze Stevie Women in Business Award for Most Innovative Business of 2020. It was audacious to continue with the application for 2020, and the contest had even offered to defer applications to 2021 because they recognized what a tough year this has been. But, I had decided to proceed with the application because I was proud of all the work I did in 2019 and 2020, so I didn’t defer.
The day Melissa called me was my birthday, so I called my Mamaw to tell her about the award. She passed away seven days later, and it means the world to me that in our last conversation, she got to celebrate this win with me and told me how proud she was of my business and what I’ve accomplished with my Ph. D. in English.
I’m so glad I didn’t defer my awards application, and it had impact for me beyond just getting the award. I also feel even more motivated to continue taking bold moves to expand the audience for my book coaching program.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. It might not be a great idea to start hiring people as soon as you’re making money.
That’s what I did with my agency model, but I was still in start-up mode and didn’t have very good standards and procedures established. So, it was very difficult to manage my people or measure whether they were doing a good job. Instead, I should have created a waitlist and started to document everything I do. Then, I could probably start with contracting a VA or maybe a referral partnership with someone else for editing. That would’ve been lower risk and smarter for keeping more money in my pocket.
2. Start with one offer.
I started with so many offers I could barely count them. I was comparing my business to massive agencies that provide turnkey solutions. That wasn’t reasonable and spread me thin I couldn’t specialize and be known for one thing. I joined Marie Forleo’s B-School and realized I needed to pick a lane instead of trying to offer technical writing, copywriting, and book ghostwriting and editing services. Then, I went all in on ghostwriting nonfiction books, and it became easier to get clients and easier to work with people and clearly define what my deliverables are and aren’t.
3. Hire a lawyer and nail down your contracts.
I entered some deals that were frankly very bad for me until I worked with Layne Lyons Pecoff, JD for my service provider contracts. Before working with her, I had open contracts with no firm deadlines for when the work concluded, so it was tough to plan for my availability. In trying to be competitive, I offered unlimited edits, but without specifying the frame of time, people were taking advantage, and I needed the backbone my contracts now provide to help people know how to work with me.
4. Choose 1 platform to start promoting your business.
I got overwhelmed in 2017 trying to learn Facebook, Instagram, and Linked In all at once. Then, I burned out and did very little social media in 2018. It took me two years to change my approach and start getting traction with a marketing system that starts with my email list and driving traffic to it from Instagram. I started with daily posts, then added stories and IGTV. Recently, I also added reels. When I get consistent results with one channel, I add another, and that slow growth has been sustainable, and except for consulting with my social media whiz, Jennifer Perez Medina, I’ve kept my social media in-house.
5. Be your own best customer.
You know the saying of the cobbler whose children have no shoes, right? I let myself be so fully booked I had not time to create content to promote my business in 2017–18. I created a belief that I was too busy and didn’t need an authority platform because in-person networking was working for me, and I had a good referral system. That was a made-up excuse not to be more visible and put myself “out there” as an authority. In Kevin Roger’s Real Free Life program, I started to see the benefits of writing for my business in the same way I guide my clients to create authority content around their book topics to build their credibility and reputations for expertise. Now that my brand is much more visible, I get better leads, and although my old systems are still working, now I also get great inquiries from people that find me online, and that’s fantastic, too.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
This is a great topic. I was a wreck, as I think most of us were, in the spring and early summer. Then, by the fall I was able to not be distracted by the news. What changed is that I borrowed a process from Byron Katie that when I get emotionally involved in a story, to consider if it’s within my sphere of influence, someone else’s, or if it’s a God/universe thing. That has helped me make practical choices and stand for my beliefs, but also not to get too affected by things bigger than me that I can’t control. A lot of baths, regular exercise, and naps help, too.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’d also encourage more entrepreneurs to add a give-back into your business model. That’s an important component I developed with Terra Bohlmann’s guidance in The Concorde Mastermind. You might think you have to make millions before you can make an impact, but that’s not true. I have a referral program in which I put 5–10% of the referral business into my Underserved Entrepreneur Account. When it hits 5K dollars, I give that money away. It was a little audacious to create a referral program that gives you the good feeling of helping someone else instead of a direct payout, but my network of clients and colleagues love it.
This past October during the pandemic, I wrote that check to The Off Ramp, which is a 501c3 that helps entrepreneurs in the developing world and refugees in the U.S. to create sustainable businesses and bring high-quality fashion and textile goods to the global marketplace. That money is helping a weaver and single mom in Mexico to stop working in an onion field and supports beading and sewing in Uganda and Kenya. I can’t wait to write that check again and help more people.
I would also lead a phenomenon of writing as healing from trauma, which is the subject of my dissertation. It’s an amplified form of story-driven self-help, and you can see how it operates in The Logical Law of Attraction (2020), which I co-wrote with Helen Racz. My Success Story writing program is built around this writing technique for creating transformational stories that not only show your moments of wounding, but also the healing. I think we become more empathetic and kinder the more of these stories we read and write, and by telling our stories, we can heal ourselves and show others the way to heal themselves as well.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Elizabeth Gilbert! Big Magic (2016) was a huge influence to give me the courage to help writers get their stories out and not get stuck in my own self-doubt, which could accidentally hold them back. In addition to all the processes, tools, and measurable aspects of writing, there’s also a magic running in the background, and we can work with it for better results. I’d love to share my story with her and chat about her thoughts on my writing processes and what else I can be doing to help authors shine brightly.
How can our readers follow you online?
Get your FREE Author Power Pitch template, where I give you a framework to talk about your book in a way that makes people want to line up to get a copy. And, when you fill it out, you can email it to me for my custom feedback. I still do this for free because I love giving this little bit of help to authors.
Come nerd out on books and cat pics on Instagram with me every day @cindychildressphd.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!