Christy Pretzinger | From Freelancer To Agency Owner and Tips for Serving the Healthcare Industry

John Corcoran 11:59

Is there anything that you do deliberately in the hiring process? Or in your own content marketing, that you put out on your own website that that would attract people

Christy Pretzinger 12:11

like that? Yes, very much. So I mean, I think that there’s a lot of people when people look at our website, especially if they’re women, because it is a woman in business, and it’s called WriterGirl. And they’re like, oh, I want to work there, I think it would be fun. And we are very, pretty loud and proud about our values, which are we are empowered, curious, kind, and fun. And so we do that in our own content marketing, we talk about that we talk about, we have a program called kindness counts, and we use that the organization to go out and do things in the community. You know, whether it’s, you know, volunteer someplace, or go clean up, you know, something that’s a mess, things like that. We also do something called moment makers that we do for our clients. So we try and mark a moment for them if they get married if they have a baby if something happens, and so we do something. And we actually have a file within our SharePoint called moment makers, where we can put all that stuff so everybody can see it, and draw and build on it. So all of these things we do talk about quite a bit. And then the people that work for WriterGirl talk about it a lot. And they tend to have friends who want to come work and their friends tend to be project managers and writers or content strategists and things like that. So we get a lot, a lot, a lot of people that way.

John Corcoran 13:18

And did you know, many companies, when COVID hit in 2020 found that they had to make deliberate changes to their culture, because all of a sudden, everyone’s dispersed. They’re not under the same roof. I don’t know if they were before. But did you have to make any deliberate changes in order to maintain that culture that you wanted when COVID hit?

Christy Pretzinger 13:37

Well, what’s interesting is when I was building the business, as I started hiring people, I never wanted an office because I would have to go there. And I didn’t want to have to do that. I didn’t like that whole environment. And, again, I think I’ve shared with you, John, that my goal was always to work as little as possible and make as much money as possible. So I didn’t want anybody to see that I wasn’t going to the office. And so I mean, I was hoping that would happen at the time, but it didn’t you know how it is when you’re building a business, like working 24/7. But I was hoping to get to the point where I am now where I don’t, don’t work as much. So we’ve been virtual from day one. So we did not miss a beat when COVID hit. And in fact, what we were able to do was help a lot of our clients who you know, largely work in hospitals and healthcare and some agencies that serve you know, like big agencies that are full-service agencies that also are clients of ours that serve hospitals and health care and help them figure out how to do that virtually. You know, are there different tools that you use? How do you collaborate? How do you make sure that you still feel like you have a culture going on? And so much of it has been ingrained in us that we never had really pulled it apart before. And looked at it and didn’t like, Well, why does this work? You know, what is the magic that makes it an environment where people truly feel like they can thrive?

John Corcoran 14:52

Yeah, some companies like Zappos, for example, developed a whole b2b culture consulting division, I interviewed the head of it a bunch of years ago, where you were it? Was this something that you just kind of did as an add-on without charging for it? Or did you ever think like, you know, we have built a really good culture, we should turn this into its own business initiative?

Christy Pretzinger 15:15

You know, we never really did. It was just, it was really more ad hoc. And again, it was building those relationships with our clients. I mean, our mission is we build relationships, one word at a time. And then our values are, we’re empowered, curious, kind, and fun. So that kind of underpins everything that we do. So if we had a client who’s like, Oh, my God, I’m working from home, my kids are homeschooling? I’m not really sure. And we were always like, Okay, first of all, just don’t worry about it. It’s fine. I got kids here, too. It’s okay. Let’s just make this work. And then they’d be like, Well, how do you? I don’t even know how to use Zoom. What is this? Like? You know, so just helping people with things like that? Yeah. Now, with the, with the book that I’m writing and things like that, that’s that really, it’s, it’s not so much about being a revenue generator, find if it is, it’s really more about having an impact on other business owners, you know, like us, that have a direct impact on culture, probably smaller business owners, although, within an organization, I’ve never worked in huge fortune 500 companies, you know, the smaller groups within organizations have their own cultures write within a huge organization. So, my mission, personally, is to sort of reinvent the way people look at the world of work by making it someplace where it is literally life, work, balance, not work-life balance. Hmm. I want

John Corcoran 16:27

to ask you also about your niche and decided that you wanted to work with hospitals. Talk a little bit about that. the thought process behind that, and how you did that. And were there bumps along the road? I mean, there’s been major health care legislation that has come down in the last 15 years, I don’t know if that ever, you know, changed the way that you had to operate.

Christy Pretzinger 16:52

Well, you know, what’s interesting is chaos creates opportunity, right? And if, if nothing else, you can say that healthcare in the US is chaotic. When we started working in healthcare, only trying to think like, even I know, 11 years ago, I think that the Affordable Care Act had just passed a little bit before that. So there were all sorts of things and hospitals, it was really just chaotic. They didn’t even know how to price anything. And that was one of the requirements at the time. Because they would just build it all into the, you know, the CAT scan that you had, or whatever, they have no idea how much surgery costs, how much anything costs, I still don’t think they do. But that was a general idea of trying to control costs by at first understanding them. So we had a lot of communication, there was a lot of opportunity for communication there. In terms of getting into it. As I said, After that one client hired me, it just I looked around, I was like, there are hospitals everywhere. And they must be doing things like this one is doing like, you know, doing entirely new websites where they have so much content that has to be written, who’s going to do that, it just seemed like a really, it seems simple, you know, you tell yourself the necessary lie, right? It’ll be easy. That’ll be easy. And that looking at hospitals, and at the time, strictly content, not even content strategy was like we write words on the page. And the reason I did that was that that’s what I understood. I didn’t want to try and sell at the time search wasn’t even a big deal. But I didn’t want to do web development or design or any kind of that because I didn’t understand it. And I didn’t want to look stupid, trying to sell something that I really didn’t understand. So we ended up probably inadvertently, narrowly, narrowly niching in a way that worked really well, it ended up being a very narrow and very deep niche. We’ve never had any problem having gross numbers within just that narrow niche.

John Corcoran 18:42

I want to ask you also about what you mentioned earlier about the importance of relationships. And you said it’s always been about the relationship with the client. But you’re at a size now where I’m sure all the relationships don’t go through you. So as you as you grew to a larger point, you had to step away, step back and let others manage those relationships. How did you, you know, oversee that process to ensure that other members of the team were building that relationship and the way that you really wanted it to be built?

Christy Pretzinger 19:15

You know, it’s so interesting, because so much of things around culture and relationships is very, it’s very esoteric, isn’t it? And it’s kind of hard to quantify it, which is exactly what I’m trying to do by looking at culture through the lens of a balance sheet. So one of the things that because first of all, I was bootstrapping it, it grew slowly. So I would still be involved at some level, and I could see how someone was working. I did once have a project manager who was working with me. And she started behaving very passive-aggressive manner to me, but at the time I didn’t realize she was treating the client that way. I thought she was just doing that to me. Well, then we went to a client meeting, and I saw how angry the client was with her and I was like, Oh my gosh, so that was a big learning for me. It’s like, oh, however they treat me is how they’re treating the client. So I start sorting for that, and watching for the kind of people who would be more interested in a? What’s the word, not a transactional relationship, but a solicitous relationship and appreciative relationship. And then what because I was still like I said, I was still involved, at some level for quite a long time, I could observe that and see, you know, what’s happening here. And also, another thing that I did very early on is we use the Enneagram as a tool. And even when we were much smaller, we have an Enneagram, coach who types everyone. And then, when we were much smaller, we had full company groups when they were like, I don’t know, seven or eight of us. And we would have workshops, full-day workshops. So we really understood and dove into that. And I don’t know if anybody, any viewer, or the audience is familiar with Enneagram work. But if you have an excellent coach in the Enneagram, it’s more about your motivation, and really understanding why someone does what they do. And so when you know that about your co-workers, it builds empathy for them. So like when I was still managing more people, like, say, for example, I had an employee who’s a three and I had to kind of, I can’t remember what I had, it was gonna be a challenging conversation. And so I was able to call the Enneagram coach and go, What should I, okay, this is what I have to do, which I do. And she was able to coach me through and say, Well, remember, as a three, she needs to feel like she looks good and that she’s winning. And so I could communicate with her in that way. And so we did that a lot. And so there’s this core group that has a real solid understanding of that. And we are continuing to build that out, we’ve grown, you know, we added, I don’t know, 15 people all at once we doubled in size, like within a six month period. And those people don’t have as much core knowledge about that as the rest of us. But we are actually bringing everyone in town for a retreat, and a big part of that is some Enneagram work to let people know how to use that. Did that answer your question?

John Corcoran 21:59

Yeah. Nothing I want to ask about, which I think is fascinating. I can’t tell you how many businesses, I’ve talked to business owners I’ve talked to where, you know, they’ve experienced these big downturns and they’re predictable after nine eleven.com, meltdown, 2008 COVID, that sort of thing. And you say that you’ve actually you actually grew through these time periods. So I’m wondering if you could unpack that a little bit kind of reflecting back on you know, the years with WriterGirl and why you think that was the case?

Christy Pretzinger 22:31

Again, some of it, I’m so not a, well, here’s your technique, kind of business owner, I’m much more esoteric than that. So for me, when we grew in, oh, eight and nine, I had a coach say to me, that WriterGirl is you and it won’t grow until you do. And so I very deliberately spent time every day on personal development. For me, some of that was a kind of some sort of spiritual kind of reading. I didn’t read a lot of business books, I’ve never been a big business book reader, I don’t, they just don’t interest me that much, generally speaking, unless they talk a lot about the culture and things like that. So I did a lot of that kind of work. And that was when we actually hit a million for the first time when I did all this work on myself. So I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think that that correlates, especially when you are a sole owner of a business. And I think even if you’re a partnership, you know, being able to grow yourself, and recognizing your blind spots, your weaknesses, and embracing those, you know, and as I hire for my time I would hire for my weaknesses, I knew that this was not a strength of mine, I’m going to find someone who’s got that as a strength. So it just coincided that spiritual work happened to coincide with the big Oh, eight, nine, downturn, and our business just grew phenomenally now. I’m trying to think I didn’t hire my first salesperson until this is 22. And she’s been here 11 years today. So until 11. And that was a big deal. Hiring a salesperson was huge because that took me out of the day-to-day sales. And I actually hired her and said, go build it

John Corcoran 24:07

relates to the relationship piece as well, because the salesperson is building the relationship.

Christy Pretzinger 24:12

Absolutely. And so she was with

John Corcoran 24:14

you hired her 11 years ago, and you have the same salesperson, love

Christy Pretzinger 24:18

to have more but still have her she was seven, she’s 38 She had just gotten married, and now she has five kids still works full time. So I’ve literally watched her, you know, grow up. And it’s, you know, really

John Corcoran 24:29

What do you think that relationship work? Well, because again, another one that I’ve heard a lot from different business owners as they go through different sales reps.

Christy Pretzinger 24:37

Yeah, I’ve had the same sales rep in the next sales rep has been there eight or nine years. So, you know, I think part of it is that and I would really love to ask Reba that’s her name this question, but I think what she would say is that I always knew that you had my back. You know, when I hired her, I had just gotten that big $450,000 piece of work from IU. I handed that over to her and paid her commission on it. And she worked very hard and earned it because I knew from watching some other businesses, I didn’t want to compete with her, I didn’t want to be out selling against my salesperson. So everything I did was to set her up for success. And so when I first was hiring people in those roles like that, I tried to do everything I could, to make sure they were going to win. And she always knew that and saw that, and, and, in fact, has said many times, you know, we have we very much appreciate each other that, that she’s always felt taken care of, for lack of a better word by me. And she said a lot. You know, we’ve been through a lot in 11 years, a lot of family things have happened on both sides. And, you know, she’s always had a very supportive environment for when these things happen.

John Corcoran 25:46

I mentioned I touched on COVID Briefly, but can you talk a little bit about how that downturn starting in March 2020 affected your business?

Christy Pretzinger 25:56

Yeah, when it happened. I told everybody because we were already all virtual. I said that anybody who wants a job with WriterGirl through all of this will have a job. We are not letting anybody go during COVID. There’s not gonna be any reductions in staff or anything like that.

John Corcoran 26:11

You said that early on.

Christy Pretzinger 26:12

I said it right away. I said, Yeah. Because Because because of our model, you know, we work with so many contractors, we could just shrink the contractor pool and bring the work into the people and keep them busy. If we needed to. That did not happen at all. Partially, largely because we worked in health care, and talked about chaos, right? I mean, that was completely chaotic. And they still needed to communicate with people and communicate differently. They might not even more, yeah, differently, and more. And so we were able to help meet that need for them.

John Corcoran 26:43

Yeah. So but you did have to pivot though, to different types of communications. Right. Okay. Yeah, definitely like, communication. Okay. Okay. And did that feel like, well, we got to do it, I gotta do, or did it feel like, okay, here’s what we’re gonna, you know, an opportunity for us? I mean, sometimes companies resist thinking, okay, maybe this moment shall pass. But then as it goes on, they realize, oh, you know, we really do need to meet this demand in the marketplace, we can’t build that big website project, because they put it on hold, we got to help with the crisis communications.

Christy Pretzinger 27:15

when we could do that. Because again, we have, you know, we have 30, 29, or 30 employees. And then we have upwards of 8010 99 writers that have been trained through the WriterGirl Academy. So they’ve been, you know, they’ve been vetted and trained. And we have, like a database of areas of expertise. So some of them might be marketing writers, some of them might be highly skilled medical writers, and some of them might have crisis communication and PR experience. So we could pull from that, as well as recruit for that, if we needed it. I think we did a few if I’m recalling correctly, a few kind of crisis management. Like, you know, binder kind of things for people that could then be adapted for whatever crisis they’re facing. COVID was the one but let’s make it as kind of like, put crisis here. And then these are the things that you have to do. And we were able to do that. And I think we might have leveraged that, and done that for a few different clients at the time and said, Hey, we know how to do this, we can help you do this, because it could talk about their communication plan and the different kinds of things that they needed to do. You know, we’ve always had a big group of people that we were always willing to pivot and do something new. And again, I never once saw there’s someone who’s like, well, I don’t know if you know how to do that. But the person who does our recruiting is like, Well, we’ll find somebody that does, yeah, we’ll figure it out. And done that, you know, and I’m sure it was during COVID, that we started working with some consultants on various things. And one of the things that they helped us do was guide us through developing an ideal client, and then red, yellow, and green projects with those clients. And so then that helped us to kind of narrow down so we weren’t, again, niching even further, to make sure that we know these are things that we do, we do not do a lot of medical content writing, it’s very expensive to find those people, it lowers our margins, it’s challenging because we don’t do a lot of it, it’s hard to source it. So that becomes a red product project that we probably wouldn’t take on unless it was with an ideal client, and they really, really needed it. And then we would do that.

John Corcoran 29:16

You mentioned WriterGirl Academy, that sounds like not a small endeavor to build that out. Talk a little about what that looked like and why you decided to create what sounds like a training program for your writers.

Christy Pretzinger 29:28

Yes. And that was many years ago, I kept wanting to do it. And we probably Gosh, we’ve probably had six or seven employees. And I kept saying I really want the WriterGirl Academy. And then I realized absolutely no one is scared of me because nobody was doing it. But I also wasn’t forcing it to, you know, be done. So then a person who is now one of my EVPs of operations, I really wanted her to be an employee and I think she’s been here eight or nine years now. And she had contracted with us before and I reeled her in and didn’t have actual work for her. So I said here, just go build out this you know WriterGirl Academy. And so with absolutely no training or instructional design background she did. So she didn’t even know what a learning management system was. And I forgot to tell her because that is not my strong suit details. And so, but she did, she built it out, and over time has adapted it and changed it and added to it. And at one point, my intention was to build that up as a separate business. And I did kind of try that. And I wanted to fail fast if it wasn’t going to work. And I think it was, I had the idea so many years ago, that if I would have done it, then I didn’t have the time, the money, or the resources. By the time I had the time, money, and resources, the moment had passed. And it was going to take way more money and a lot more of my time than I was willing to invest. So I did it and was like, nope, not doing that. It was gonna be called Wonder Writer. And then we just I scrapped that, but we have all the content we developed for that, and brought that into the WriterGirl Academy, but it’s still it’s, you know, it’s still a challenge to keep it updated. Because unless you have a full-time, you know, learning management, I mean, you know, the person who’s an HR instructional designer, it’s challenging to keep that up to date, but we do a fairly good job of it, and everybody does is run through that.

John Corcoran 31:12

Right. And you see that that helps get people prepared to hit the ground running and to do the job?

Christy Pretzinger 31:18

Yeah, a lot of it is training them on the WriterGirl way. And now we’ll be training them because we’re making a big investment in Salesforce. We’ve been using Salesforce, but we’re vastly upgrading it so that it will be good for the next five years at least. And there’s a portal that our 1090 nines can now access, they have not been able to access Salesforce prior to now. So now they will and we’re getting rid of all these other things like Basecamp. And, you know, harvest time tracking all these different kinds of things. So we’ll do a formalized training for them on this. So and that will be part of the academy as well.

John Corcoran 31:48

Got it. Got it. Well, this has been great. Christy, thanks so much for your time, where can people go to learn more about you and connect with you to learn more about WriterGirl?

Christy Pretzinger 31:56

Well, they can find me on LinkedIn. Unfortunately, somehow, again, I’ve hit my limit in technology, somehow I have two profiles on LinkedIn. And I’ve never bothered to get rid of the one that’s wrong. But the one that has more than 500, you know, is me, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. You can also find us at writergirl.com. And you can email me directly. I’m [email protected] I’m happy to talk with younger businesses that would like to experience share. I also offer to coach. And I’m happy to talk with people about that. And I really, as I said earlier, I think that it is so invaluable when you are a young growing business to find places as you know, Jason Swenk mastermind, like Entrepreneurs’ Organization because they’re like-minded people who can help you scale so much more quickly than I did. So I would highly recommend that.

John Corcoran 32:47

Yeah, absolutely. I second that. Christy, thank you so much for your time.

Christy Pretzinger 32:51

Thank you, John. Appreciate it.

Outro 32:52

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at smartbusinessrevolution.com. And while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.