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 that serves tech and real estate companies. She also runs the Mama Ladder International, a community for moms who want to start and grow businesses. She shares what she has learned about how to do it all on videos on a her YouTube channel, from which you can see one example below.
“I wouldn’t be a business owner without my babies as the motivation,” says Beck. “I wanted so much to be there for them, and said I’m going to figure out how to do both.”
Beck is part of an exciting trend: the rise of million-dollar, one-person businesses. In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 43,012 businesses with no employees except the owners that brought in $1 million to $2.49 million in revenue, up from 41,666 in 2018. Another 2,553 hit $2.5 to $4.99 million in revenue, and 388 made to $5 million in revenue and beyond. There’s no telling how many more of these businesses are likely to spring up, thanks to free and low-cost resources like cloud-based and artificial intelligence tools and robust freelance platforms for hiring talent.
She’s mastered lifestyle design to pull it off. Working 20-25 hours a week from Monday through Thursday, Beck relies on 47 freelancers in 20 states. She is expecting to hire her first payroll employee this year.
Beck began developing the skills that allowed her to create her successful business at her first jobs. Graduating from Brigham Young University in 2009, Baker got a job doing content development 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 communication at Weber State University. Then, after two years as a freelance features 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 getting laid off, she started Comma Copywriters in 2016. “I had a little bit of warning it was coming,” says Beck, who had been freelancing on the side. She was juggling being the main breadwinner with being the mother to a one-year-old, with her husband in graduate school.
“I practically skipped out the door,” she recalls. “I was so excited to have some freedom to do with my day what I wanted to do with it.”
She got serious about growing the business quickly. “I bought myself a business license in February 2016,” she recalls. “I wrote in my journal ‘This is going to be a million-dollar business.’ I had no idea how I was going to get there.”
One of her early projects was writing Joyce’s Boy, a book that captures the life of serial entrepreneur Alan Hall, who’d been the president of the agency where she worked.
Through her network, she won other clients. At first, Beck simply responded to what those clients requested. “I call those first couple of years my sandbox years,” she says. “I was playing the sandbox. I would just do what people were paying me to do.”
Soon Beck had more work than she could handle. Rather than try 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 business continued to grow, and by 2019 she rebranded it under the name Comma Copywriters.
One of Comma Copywriters’ selling points to clients has been that assignments are delivered on time or they’re “on the house.” Last year, Beck says, the company delivered more than 21,000 pieces of content, and 99.94% was on time.
She doesn’t worry about other agencies and freelance platforms clients may consider using “I don’t think about competition,” she says. “I think of them as options, rather than competition. We’re a supplement. It ends up being much more cost-effective for our clients to hire us than a full-time headcount writer internally.”
As the company has scaled up, Beck has organized the company into three groups of writers based on the types of clients they serve: B2C (business to consumer), B2B (business to business), and agencies. “Team leads” manage each group. She also has a team support manager and a client success manager.
When recruiting writers, Beck has found she does well by looking for people who match the company’s core values: Freedom, Accountability, Humility, Curiosity and Care. Many are women who appreciate the opportunity to be part of an organization that offers them steady work and professional development while they are managing household responsibilities. “I feel we really have the best of both worlds for our writers, who want the flexibility of being a freelancer and the support of a team,” says Beck.
To keep her freelance team motivated and aligned, Beck offers bonuses for on-time work, holds monthly professional development events and brings them together at a team retreat annually. After writers have been with the company for three years, Comma Copywriters gives them a $1,000 bonus to devote to ticking something off their bucket list. One woman invested in camping equipment. Another went to Disneyland.
Comma Copywriters leaves it up to writers how much work they want to take on. The team communicates about projects via Basecamp, a project management software. That’s allowed the company to keep things running smoothly, no matter what is going on. Last year, when the company broke $1 million for the first time, four out of seven members of its leadership team had new babies.
An important focus of the business is giving back, particularly to women. One way is through the Comma Cares program. For each client it works with, Comma Copywriters sponsors a girls’ education through a nonprofit partner, Kurandza.
Beck also started a sister business, The Mama Ladder International, a year after launching comma. It offers workshops and a retreat to help women start and grow businesses, in response to demand. “I had all of these women coming to me and asking how you start a business with little babies,” she says.
The Mama Ladder offers the HIGH FIVE Grant for Moms, which provides a $5,000 grant, along with several others, to mothers who want to grow their businesses but lack access to capital. This year, Lowe’s and Clean Simple Eats are sponsoring the grants for the first time.
Beck knows from her own experience that raising children and achieving significant business success are not mutually exclusive. “There’s nothing a motivated mother can’t do,” she says.