[Top Agency Series] How To Build a Technical Writing Agency With Caity Cronkhite

Caity (Caitlin) Cronkhite is the Founder and CEO of Good Words, a technical writing and documentation consulting firm. Good Words provides strategic, management, and implementation support to companies across different industries, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to small five-person startups. Caity grew up on a farm in Indiana and majored in technical writing at Carnegie Mellon University.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran sits down with Caity Cronkhite, the Founder and CEO of Good Words, to talk about building a technical writing agency. They also discuss the challenges Caity faced transitioning from a small town to a large city, and how the pandemic and the 2023 economy have impacted the tech industry.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • [01:50] Caity Cronkhite’s background growing up on a farm in a small town
  • [06:00] The challenges Caity faced moving and studying in a big city
  • [12:28] How Caity’s background has influenced her career
  • [13:53] Caity talks about starting her company, hiring her first employee, and managing the business in the early days
  • [21:19] Has the evolution of documentation tools impacted technical writing?
  • [24:49] The effects of the pandemic and the 2023 economy on the tech industry
  • [29:56] Caity’s most significant career influence

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

John Corcoran 0:00 

All right, today we’re talking about how to build a technical writing agency. My guest today is Caity Cronkhite, Caity Cronkhite. She is the Founder of Good Words, a technical writing agency. And I’ll tell you more about her in a moment. So stay tuned.

Intro 0:16

Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we feature top entrepreneurs, business leaders and thought leaders and ask them how they built the relationships to get where they are today. Now, let’s get started with the show.

John Corcoran 0:33

Alright, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here. I am the host of the show. You know, every week, I feel so privileged because I get to talk to smart entrepreneurs, founders and CEOs of all kinds of companies. We’ve had Netflix, Kinkos, Grub Hub, YPO, EO, and Activision Blizzard; you can check out our archives to see some of those different episodes that we had there. And of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25, where we help B2B businesses get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. And you can learn more about what we do at Rise25.com. 

All right. And I’m excited here today because I love interviewing other writers, and I’ve always been a writer through and through. That’s how I still identify, even though I don’t get to write as much as I used to. I’m mostly talking to people, which I enjoy doing as well. But my guest today is Caity Cronkhite, she’s the Founder and CEO of Good Words, LLC. It is a technical writing and documentation consulting firm. And they provide strategic management and implementation support to a diverse range of clients from Fortune 500 companies to smaller five or 10-person startups she’s originally from Indiana grew up on a farm there, and we’re going to hear all about her story. She’s come through the Bay Area where I live now located in the Seattle area, where we both fun fact just attended a conference and completely missed each other. So we are connecting over Zoom. But, Caity, such a pleasure to have you here today. And I want to hear about this growing up on a small farm in Indiana; you grew up in a 90-acre farm two miles outside of a 500-person, town. So, very, very small town existence. And, you know, I love to ask people about any entrepreneurial or scrappy side hustles they have as a kid, and just being on a farm is entrepreneurial. Because, you know, farmers need to make things do long time. What was it like for you growing up raising cows, corns, soybeans, all that kind of stuff?

Caity Cronkhite 2:24

That is true. I mean, I guess if you think about it, I was actually raised in a family business. So, you know, I, as you said, grew up on a farm in rural West Central Indiana and lived there for 17 years, my entire life. And yeah, it was it was definitely a scrappy place to live and grow up and learn. You know, it was a very different sort of place than where I have ended up in my career since then, you know, as I believe the last time I checked, you know, the, the average annual salary for an individual person in the town where I grew up was about $28,000 per year, which is quite different from where I’ve ended up, you know, in a career in technology, right living in Oakland, San Francisco, and now in Seattle. So

John Corcoran 3:22

did you have access to technology as a kid? Did you have computers in the home or anything like that?

Caity Cronkhite 3:27

This is hilarious. I’m kind of sure we did have a computer. We technically had the internet. But what’s what’s fascinating is that you know, up until, up until well, after I went to college, my hometown didn’t actually have access to any high-speed internet at all. Just dial up, just dial up. I was taking extra classes, for example, when I was in high school to prepare myself for college because I grew up in a small rural public high school system that didn’t have a lot of resources. So I actually took classes through the mail because I didn’t have internet that would actually support doing classes.

John Corcoran 4:16

You do not look like of the age of someone who would say something like that, that I took classes through the mail. Like, it sounds like, yeah, much older than you.

Caity Cronkhite 4:26

I mean, I Well, I think that’s, that’s a huge takeaway. Really, you know, it’s like, well, the rest of the world was moving on and advancing technologically around us. You know, I mean, I grew up in the 90s in the 2000s. And well, you know, people in cities were getting access to high-speed internet and, you know, watching cat videos on YouTube, like I was struggling to get an email to load until well after I graduated from college when I was back in my hometown. So, definitely a very, very, very different existence from Yeah, that I have since lived in the rest of my career.

John Corcoran 5:03

Well, the other lesson is you made it work. Like you, you found a way to make it work, right? Like, you found a way, like, instead of not taking those classes, you found a way to do it by mail.

Caity Cronkhite 5:14

That is absolutely true. And I think that has, you know, I do think that coming from the environment that I came from, and having to, you know, take the opportunities that were given to me, no matter what they look like, or, or what they were, or how they worked, I didn’t really have the luxury of saying, like, if that’s inconvenient, right, or that looks a little hard. Or if this person over here, like can do that a lot easier, a lot more easily than I can, you know, I basically learned the lesson very early on to take the opportunities that I was given. And, and I did, and I think that that’s, that has been that was a useful education for when I started my business eventually. And yeah,

John Corcoran 6:00

So what is it like for a small-town farm girl who goes off to you go to Carnegie Mellon, in Pittsburgh? What was your perception of what? Living in the big city? Like when you’re growing up on a farm? I,

Caity Cronkhite 6:17

I had almost no perception of what it was going to be like. I mean, it was crazy. My, my perception was that, you know, the city is where is where things happen. And to put it into context, you know, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Carnegie Mellon is. It’s not a huge city; it’s kind of between 203 and 100,000 people; you know, it’s a decent size, certainly huge compared to anything that I grew up with. But it might as well have been, you know, it might as well, when I, yeah, I remember being so overwhelmed by city noise. And I didn’t know how to take a city bus. And I didn’t know how to get around or how to do anything. And there were always people around, and it was it was really overwhelming for a long time. So it was definitely very different. Very different to where I grew up.

John Corcoran 7:06

Well, it didn’t scare you off from, you know, staying living in cities, you live in Seattle. Now, I don’t know if you’re in the city or outside, but you ended up in Oakland. So you must have adapted. I imagine.

Caity Cronkhite 7:18

It certainly didn’t scare me off I am I am right near downtown Seattle, as a matter of fact. And yeah, I mean, it, it was important to me; I knew coming from where I came from, like I said, you know, there were, there were opportunities that simply weren’t available to me. You know, whether that was having access to technology or having access to places to get a good education, or get good health care or something like that, you know, when I was growing up in Indiana, and that really, that really affected me, and that really impacted me and, you know, when I got my golden opportunity to go to CMU, and then, you know, move on to some other pretty awesome places to live and work. I didn’t take that for granted. I mean, it’s, it’s still a very challenging environment to grow up in for a lot of people who live in rural areas. And it, it’s that divide is has only gotten more stark as the years have gone on

John Corcoran 8:19

South. Yeah, yeah. Now Carnegie Mellon is very well respected for its, you know, scientific and technical degrees and programs and things like that. When you get to like the Bay Area, you are starting to work for startups and doing technical writing. Did you still, like, was there a part of you that still felt like, sometimes this happens, like an inferiority complex? Like, here, I am, like, not that far removed from growing up on this small farm. And now I’m walking into a skyscraper in San Francisco to tell this, you know, startup, how things should be done? Or did your background and training from Carnegie Mellon get you to a place where you’re like, Yeah, I belong here.

Caity Cronkhite 9:05

You know, that’s, that’s a really interesting question. It definitely took me a while to get over it. Feeling like I didn’t belong when I showed up at Carnegie Mellon, that’s for sure. You know, like I said, I came from a background where my education, my public school education, wasn’t great. It didn’t really prepare me for a competitive environment like CMU. But, you know, while I was at CMU, as you said, it’s a well-regarded technology engineering school. And I think the thing that happened while I was there that really contributed to me sort of questioning my sense of self was that I chose a primary humanities discipline at, you know, one of the best technology schools in the country, right? So I majored in writing I was also doing a lot of science, math, and technology education. You know, on the other side of my degree, but I remember I when I told my advisors and when I told some of my friends and my family that I was planning to concentrate in writing and go into a career in writing, whatever that was going to look like, I remember, a few of them looked me in the face and said, you know, okay, well, good luck being a barista for the rest of your life that and I mean, that’s really challenging, right? For college kid who has big dreams and big ambitions, you’re and it’s really challenging for them to overcome that sort of resistance to their big dreams. Right. Yeah. You know, when I, it’s been a really interesting journey. Like, when I got my first job, as a technical writer in technology in San Francisco, it was like, I made it, I did it. I showed everybody could do this. And that, you know, it means something. And that, you know, following my dreams, if you will, you know, wasn’t in vain. So,