Brief Autobiography: Writing (Part 3)

marketing pen

By May of 2017, I became aware of an issue with my teaching certification. I was required to take an ESOL class online. I took the class back in January; it was apparently the wrong course number. I am sure it was the same content for each level. The county just wanted a way to charge me and waste my time. Remember: it’s a political system. I chose not to find a solution. I was ready to try something new in life.

Look back at my childhood, I thought of all wild hopes and dreams. I always wanted to be a writer of some kind. Writing novels is still possible, but realistically I could make money writing marketing content. I began applying at agencies even before the school year ended. I am glad I had the support of my team.

Direction INC

I was surprised employers were interested in me as a copywriter. I got more responses than I ever did with the county. Of course, most were rejections, but at least they were professional and consistent.

The Writing Job Search

The last week of school, I interviewed at a marketing group for lawyers called Webslaw. After a brief overview of the position, they gave me a short writing test. I had been using some old college history papers as samples. This experience was my first time writing something to sell a service. The employers tasked me with explaining the process of a foreigner applying for a student visa for the US and plugging some law firm.

That same week, actually the last day of classes, I interviewed at Direction INC for content writing internship. I felt a bit ashamed about my resume. I had printed off all my lesson plans for the year just before it, so it the ink was faded.

The interview went well, but I didn’t find the measly $8.50 an hour too impressive. Nevertheless, an it was a chance at experience. Most internships I’d seen online were unpaid and far from home. This position was at least in Fort Lauderdale.

I still needed a life. Most of the principles of copywriting and SEO I figured (correctly) I could learn online or through books. $8.50 wasn’t enough to compromise, given I needed to afford gas, food, and my student loans. Webslaw offered a $25,000-30,000 salary. Direction INC was ready to start me, but I couldn’t in good conscience accept the internship without yet hearing back from other company.

Not to mention, Direction INC was only offering an internship with the chance of full-time employment at the end. I wasn’t keen on putting work into a company only for them brush me aside after three months. I read that many startups just cycle through interns as a way of avoiding the costs of an actual employee. It would have been good as a college student, but I was 25 then and needed a stable career.

I was constantly applying places, at least three positions a day. The market for writers was much more open than education. About a month passed. I still hadn’t heard back from Webslaw. Then, I noticed a Direction INC posted a new position. It seemed to have the same description as their previous internship, but now it started as a full-time gig.

I applied for this new position and got to skip the interview process because it already happened a month prior. I walked into the office expecting only to fill out paperwork all day. I was used to tedious onboarding materials and orientations from my time in education. Instead, the two gentlemen immediately set me up on a computer and assigned me a project. They had a lot of faith in for some reason.

The Corporate Machine

My contract wasn’t ready until later in the week. The hourly rate was still minimum wage, but now I was promised $1 increase each month with a “big” boost after three months. I was familiar with most employers having a 90-day probationary period. However, before long, I realized it wasn’t clear how Direction INC would grow. We had about eight or nine small clients. I didn’t see us expanding to gain more.

One of our largest client was an online car dealership, Oz Leasing. I fell into a routine of writing product descriptions for all the major vehicle brands. Before, I never cared about fancy sports cars, but now I know more random automobile facts than most people.

Soon, we began working more extensively with Riverside Recovery Center of Tampa, a drug and alcohol detox resort. I became somewhat of a drug expert by writing pages about all the treatment plans for different substances. The company eventually hired a social media specialist, PR manager, and graphic designer to help build and promote the website.

… then we got screwed.

In August, Riverside Recovery Center of Tampa officially had officially opened and admitted their first patients. Evidently, they didn’t get enough patients and blamed our agency for not promoting them enough. The client locked us out of the website with the intent to terminate their contract with us. Of course, the agreement locked them into a yearly service charge. They couldn’t just leave after a month without notice. Then, we had many unpublished articles stored on backend of the site. We owned the rights to them, so the center was essentially stealing from us.

The extra staff members Direction INC hired were let go. After negotiations failed, the company took the rehab center to court. I am not sure the outcome, but it all made me feel less secure in my job.

I was still needed to write content for all the other, smaller clients. By this time the CEOs had appointed me manager of the other writers and our freelance team abroad. I enjoyed working with people by giving freeback and seeing them improve. I had a knack for creating training material. My late nights scrambling together lesson plans finally paid off.

Unfortunately, my pay remained the same with no added benefits. I should have declined the extra work until my employers defined it with me in my contract. I figured they were busy enough in the legal battle, and, frankly, I wasn’t confident asking for a raise.

Post Hurricane Irma

Then, on September 10th, 2017, Hurricane Irma struck South Florida. Debris and downed trees blocked the roads for a week. Power and clean water were absent for longer in different parts of the area. The company owners evacuated to Washington, D.C. They used this time to connect with potential clients. Constantly, the two gentlemen talked saying, “We’re nearly there with another HUGE client.” I didn’t find the ambiguity reassuring, especially since they were “nearly there” for months.

The storm caused severe damage to the office in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The city condemned the building. I still worked remote, but I felt awkward in this limbo period.

Dog after hurricane Irma
My dog got more sticks to play with after the storm

Direction INC’s CEOs returned to Florida for a week to sell their home. They had purchased a large mansion-like house outside the nation’s capital and wanted to move the business there. They offered me the option of continuing to work remote from Florida and possibly joining them at a later date. It was more vague promises I didn’t care for, but I was too naive counteroffer.

It was now October and I was long overdue for the “big” boost in my position. I messaged my employers back and forth about it. They made everything a waiting game. I should have picked up on the signs here and there over the months. They had no consistent management style and often acted unprofessionally. I survived because I did my job well, but the company was far from ideal. Maybe disorganization is standard “company culture” in startups.

My employers did send a new contract a week late. It was nothing like I expected. Yes – the salary was generous given my lack of experience. But I was still an “at will” employee with no health insurance or PTO. I might as well have gone back to teaching with that deal. I signed the paperwork because I needed the extra cash, though I began to explore other options for work.

I had given up hope they would ever move me to D.C., and my living room was not an acceptable workplace. The families internet service was spotty and my personal laptop much slower than the office desktop. Conference calls were embaressing with my dogs barking and brothers talking loudly.

I clung to the idea that Direction INC would at least provide a health insurance plan before my birthday. I was fed up with them now and made January 12th my absolute deadline or I would have to resign. After that date, I’d be 26 and leave my family coverage plan.

I started messaging every week about the status of potential benefits. They were always “in the works” with no specific date. Then, Christmas was fast approaching, and I asked about the expectation for the holiday week. I never got a clear answer.

My family decided to take me to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure as an early birthday present on the weekend of December 15-17th. I pressured my employed to give me a clear answer on if I can have any days off for the holidays. No reply.

Finally, I decided to work late on day getting all the work done for the remainder of the week in advance, and then simply said I had family plans for the weekend. One of the bosses replied, “Okay, thanks for telling me.” My family already bought me tickets and paid for the hotel. How could I could say no to them? Besides, I would only miss Friday afternoon of work.

I quit education partly because it was controlling my life. I would physically get sick over the amount of stress from teaching (and my deteriorating portable). I wasn’t about to let this new career do the same. I was looking for other jobs at the time anyway.

Just after riding Toon Lagoon for the second time, I received an email that my work Google account had been deactivated. I knew what that meant. The following Monday I got an email from one of the CEOs stating, “Unfortunately, we are unable to continue employment due to a variety of factors.”

Direction Termination Email

The bosses didn’t even have the decency to call me or be completely honest. In fact, they never gave me any formal letter of termination. I will probably never know the real reason they let me go. I believe they just needed to dragged me out while they got established up north and built a team there without me.

What are the positives from this experience? Well… I learned how to use some programs, like Airtable and Grammarly; got some writing sample I can use with employers, and received a beautiful studio photo of myself.

Moreover, I am happy I learned the business world. Being a good writer isn’t enough to make it as a career. You have to be confident and shrewd to make it through the corporate machine.

Critical Supply Solutions

Over the holidays, I put out applications more aggressively, now tracking them in Airtable.

Mid-January, I started work at a trucking company called Critical Supply Solutions as a copywriter.

Fast forward to the present – I am still working here! At first, I just produced content for their websites, but now I mostly write and distribute ads for drivers and document internal processes. Again, I am applying my teaching experience by creating staff manuals.

I am not sure what’s next… but like Mr. Barry used to say, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know Him who holds the future.”

I’ve avoided mentioning names throughout this narrative. Certainly, there are other events I could detail about my family and church life, but I’ve tried to keep this summary brief.

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About the Author: Jonathan Crow

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