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Meet Dan O’Sullivan and Anna Goldsmith of The Hired Pens in Davis Square, Somerville

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dan O’Sullivan and Anna Goldsmith.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Dan: Anna and I met through a mutual friend in 2001. She had just come off a long-term freelance assignment, while I’d recently been laid off. So basically, we each were looking for something to do.

We decided to join up and start a copywriting firm. We figured we’d look more official if we were a company as opposed to just two freelance writers. After filing the necessary papers and building a laughably primitive website, we were good to go.

Within a year or two, we had pretty steady business coming in and realized it was a viable business model. Around the five-year mark, we were getting more work than the two of us could handle ourselves. At that point, we started bringing other freelance writers into our little orbit. Over time, we became what we are today — a virtual agency anchored by Anna and me, and augmented by 12 to 15 senior-level writers who work for us on a project-by-project basis.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Anna: It’s been pretty smooth. We don’t have much infrastructure — I work out of a co-working space, and Dan out of his home. And we only have one employee. It’s pretty minimalist, so we don’t have all those financial concerns that bigger companies have — most importantly, meeting a big payroll each month.

Our biggest struggles came early on, when we were trying to establish ourselves. We spent a lot of time then going to networking events and trying to get the word out. But it’s a chicken-and-egg thing; clients are less inclined to hire you unless you have an impressive portfolio, but you can’t build that portfolio until some clients hire you. Once we started getting some regular work, things started to steamroll.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about The Hired Pens – what should we know?
Dan: We’re a copywriting agency, but that’s not a good term to use because some people confuse it with “copyright” (i.e. legal stuff). So let’s say we provide business writing services. Clients hire us to write pretty much anything in the marketing realm — website content, email campaigns, blog posts, white papers, case studies, feature articles, product descriptions, etc. Some of our top industries are healthcare, technology, consumer/retail, higher education and nonprofits.

What sets us apart is the size and quality of our copywriting team. We can offer clients access to senior-level copywriters (i.e. 10+ years of experience) who specialize in particular industries as well as formats. Furthermore, when clients have high-volume needs in a tight timeframe, we can quickly ramp up a team of multiple writers for the project. Individual freelance writers or smaller firms can’t scale up like that. We’ve found that clients, especially creative agencies who don’t have writers on staff, have responded really well to this business proposition.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Anna: Too many to mention. Especially when we were starting out, we talked to so many people — friends, colleagues, ex-coworkers — to get advice not only on marketing ourselves, but also on the many aspects of running a business. I made way too many calls to friends with legal or accounting expertise, for example. I think they’ve finally forgiven me by now.

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