Crystalee Beck has built a million dollar copywriting business from her home in the Salt Lake City area while raising four children ages one, four, seven and nine.
She is founder and CEO of Comma copywriters, a copywriting agency serving technology and real estate companies. She also runs the Mama Ladder International, a community for moms who want to start and grow a business. She shares what she’s learned about how to do it all in videos on her YouTube channel, a sample of which you can see below.
“I wouldn’t be an entrepreneur without my babies for motivation,” says Beck. “I wanted so badly to be there for them and said I’d figure out how to do both.”
Beck is part of an exciting trend: the rise of multimillion-dollar sole proprietorships. In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 43,012 businesses with no employees other than owners generating $1 million to $2.49 million in revenue, up from 41,666 in 2018. Another 2,553 reached $2.5 to $4.99 million in revenue, and 388 hit $5 million in sales and beyond. There’s no telling how many of these companies are likely to emerge, thanks to free and low-cost resources such as cloud-based and artificial intelligence tools and robust freelance talent hiring platforms.
She masters lifestyle design to get it done. Beck works 20-25 hours a week Monday through Thursday and relies on 47 freelancers in 20 states. She expects to hire her first payroll employee this year.
Beck began to develop the skills that enabled her to build her successful business at her first jobs. Baker graduated from Brigham Young University in 2009 and landed a job as a content developer of in-flight training materials for flight attendants at SkyWest Airlines and became a flight attendant herself.
Wanting to get paid to write, she earned a master’s degree in communications from Weber State University. Then, after two years as a freelance feature writer at Deseret Digital Media, she worked as a corporate communications specialist at a global agency and then as a social community manager for Market Star, an outsourced direct sales organization.
After being laid off, she started Comma Copywriters in 2016. “I had a little warning that it was coming,” says Beck, who had been a freelancer. She juggled being a main breadwinner with being a mother of a one-year-old, with her husband in graduate school.
“I almost skipped out the door,” she recalls. “I was so excited to have some freedom to do what I wanted to do with my day.”
She took it seriously to grow the business quickly. “I bought myself a business license in February 2016,” she recalls. ‘I wrote in my diary: ‘This is going to be a multi-million dollar business.’ I had no idea how I would get there.”
One of her early projects was writing Joyce’s boya book chronicling the life of serial entrepreneur Alan Hall, who had been the president of the agency where she worked.
Through her network she won other clients. At first, Beck simply responded to what those customers asked. “I call those first few years my sandbox years,” she says. “I played the sandbox. I would just do what people paid me to do.”
Soon Beck had more work than she could handle. Instead of trying to do it all herself, she recruited a few freelancers.
Beck pulled in $100,000 in 2017, her first full calendar year in business. The company continued to grow and in 2019 she renamed it Comma Copywriters.
One of Comma Copywriters’ selling points to clients is that jobs are delivered on time or that they are ‘in house’. Last year, says Beck, the company delivered more than 21,000 pieces of content and 99.94% was on time.
She’s not worried about other agencies and freelance platforms that clients might consider “I don’t think about competition,” she says. “I see them as options, rather than competition. We are an addition. It is ultimately much more cost-effective for our clients to hire us than a full-time staff writer in-house.”
As the company has scaled, Beck has organized the company into three groups of writers based on the type of clients they serve: B2C (business to consumer), B2B (business to business), and agencies. “Team Leaders” manage each group. She also has a team support manager and a customer success manager.
When recruiting writers, Beck has found she does well by looking for people who align with the company’s core values of freedom, responsibility, humility, curiosity, and caring. Many are women who appreciate the opportunity to be part of an organization that offers them steady employment and professional development while doing housework. “I feel like we really have the best of both worlds for our writers, who want the flexibility of a freelancer and the support of a team,” says Beck.
To keep her freelance team motivated and aligned, Beck offers bonuses for punctual work, hosts monthly professional development events, and brings them together on an annual team retreat. After writers have been with the company for three years, Comma Copywriters gives them a $1,000 bonus to spend on checking something off their bucket list. A woman invested in camping equipment. Another went to Disneyland.
Comma Copywriters leaves it up to writers how much work they want to do. The team communicates about projects through Basecamp, a project management software. That enabled the company to keep things running smoothly no matter what. Last year, when the company first made $1 million, four of the seven members of the leadership team had new babies.
A major focus of the company is giving back, especially to women. One way is through the Comma Cares program. For every client it works with, Comma Copywriters sponsors girls’ education through a non-profit partner, Kurandza.
Beck also started a sister company, The Mama Ladder International, a year after comma launched. It offers workshops and a retreat to help women start and grow businesses, in response to demand. “All these women came to me and asked how you start a business with little babies,” she says.
The Mama Ladder offers the HIGH FIVE scholarship for mothers, which, along with several other $5,000 grants, provides to moms who want to grow their businesses but don’t have access to capital. This year, Lowe’s and Clean Simple Eats are sponsoring the fairs for the first time.
Beck knows from personal experience that raising children and achieving significant business success are not mutually exclusive. “There’s nothing a motivated mom can’t do,” she says.