Hello friends; it has been a while. The last time I posted was in the winter, and here we are, a week after Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of summer. I had to take a step back the last few months, as I figured out my next steps in terms of continuing education. That being said, the last post I wrote was for the “Fearless Females” series, so let’s start where we left off!
This month, I am featuring my friend from high school, Theresa Sullivan. Theresa was one of my first friends when I started high school. I am lucky that we have kept in touch over the years. I have always admired Theresa for her kindness, compassion, intelligence, and creativity.
Theresa took that creativity and parlayed it into a career. She is a website copywriter for entrepreneurs, having started her own company, “Little Flame Creative.” She was kind enough to recently sit down with me, and tell me a bit about her career path, and how she turned her passions into reality.
- I remember your love of writing and creativity back from high school! Were you into writing as a kid? What type of writing did you enjoy doing? Words have always been my thing! Reading and writing came naturally to me and I loved how it was possible to create just about anything I could imagine with words. Somewhere in a stack of my parents’ boxes you’d be able to find all of the typical school writing projects – short stories, little poems, a play or two. In high school I finally discovered the world of contemporary poetry (despite what school may have taught you, not all poets are dead men, friends!) and started developing my own writing practice, but I kept it pretty private.
- At what point did you first think of pursuing writing as a career? I thought of it in high school, but honestly didn’t actually believe it was possible until a few years ago! Thankfully, I think different types of writing careers are becoming more visible these days – there are many more possibilities beyond journalism or academia.
- What did you study in college, and what made you decide to pursue a graduate degree? Did you take time off in between? Surprising no one, I majored in English! I studied a lot of literature, took creative writing classes, and wrote a collection of poems as my thesis. (Earlier, I’d had a vague idea that I’d probably end up getting a Master’s degree in English too, but it turned out that being good at writing essays didn’t mean I wanted to continue down that path!)
I assumed I’d need to get a “real” career after I graduated from college, but going to graduate school for poetry was always in my heart too. My plan was to take a few years to work professionally, complete a two-year MFA in Poetry, and then “return” to whatever my career would be after that. (So yes, ya girl went to Poetry School.)
- What professional experiences (internships/real-world work) did you have during your undergraduate and graduate experiences that helped you realize your professional goals? Looking back, I can see that I always felt a tension between my creative and brainy sides, and I’m so glad to have grown into a place where I know it’s possible to have both in my career. In college, I interned at a poetry magazine, taught in a youth arts program, was a professional stage manager for faculty theatre productions, and worked as a research assistant to a brilliant Black History professor and scholar.
These opportunities to create and to support scholarship were so meaningful to me, but I have to admit that none of them felt like sustainable career possibilities to me at the time! I believed the myth that it was too hard to support yourself as an artist, and I knew I didn’t want to teach and go into academia, so I didn’t really imagine being able to continue that work.
- When you weren’t in school, what full-time roles did you hold? What did you learn from these experiences? Let’s talk about two of those roles! I worked for the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies when I was completing my MFA, and that job ended up surprising me because it involved a lot of data and database-building – skills I’d never thought would be in my job description. But I had wonderful colleagues and came to find the work much less math-y than this word nerd feared! That opportunity helped me see myself in a different light as more capable of learning technical things.
After grad school, I worked for many years in fundraising and communications at an affordable housing nonprofit. As a pretty mission-oriented person, I expected my career to be in the nonprofit sector, and I loved being a force for good there. That job ended up being a training ground for my own leadership skills, in addition to a great example of the different kinds of writing jobs that are available out there. “Writer” wasn’t in my job title, but I did a lot of it every day.
- At what point did you decide to start Little Flame Creative? What was your “why” for doing so? I started my business for so many reasons – I was itching for more freedom in my work, the chance to really get to be myself every day, and the opportunity to focus most on what I really enjoyed doing. For a long time, the idea that I could actually support myself as a self-employed creative person seemed like a pipe dream, but the thought kept nagging at me. When my niece was born, something finally shifted inside me and I decided to go for the life I really wanted.
I built my copywriting business, Little Flame Creative, side-hustled while working full-time, and then eventually made the transition. Now I support entrepreneurs and creative businesses as their copywriter, helping them use their words for sales and self-expression. I write for designers, photographers, wedding pros, coaches of all kinds, wellness experts, and more, and it’s the BEST.
- What is your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur? Maybe the most unexpected thing, too! We’ve all heard the old “being self-employed will be lonely, you won’t have colleagues” blah blah blah, but for me it’s been the exact opposite. My business has brought the most interesting, creative people into my life from all over the world, turning “internet friends” into real friends. Sometimes I’m still so happily shocked when I scroll through my phone and see all of the texts and messages I exchange with my biz buddies every single day. I’m so grateful for the way that my life has gotten bigger and way more fun through entrepreneurship!
- What is the most challenging part about being an entrepreneur? You’re accountable for everything when you run your own business, which can be hard (although it’s definitely a self-development fast-track!). You’re the one with the vision, you’re the one who’s executing it, and you’re the one who has to have your own back. There’s no boss to set priorities or bigger company to support you, so it definitely takes focus and follow-through.
Financially, entrepreneurship is also a brave step in a culture that really only incentivizes being a traditional employee. Paying for your own health insurance, making estimated tax payments, and navigating alternative ways to save for retirement are all the flip side of the coin. I know this reality holds a LOT of talented people back from pursuing their goals and I’m constantly advocating for ways we can shift the culture.
- What is a typical day like for you? On Mondays I work on the business, and the rest of the week I work “in” the business on client work! I’m not a morning person, so there’s such delicious freedom in not having to stick to a traditional 9-5 now. I start by taking the day slow, reading and eating breakfast before I shift into work mode. I typically take care of emails and smaller tasks before lunch, and then after a long walk my deep focus gets going and I spend a few hours writing copy for clients. My desk treadmill is my bestie, and I swear by “cafe ambiance” videos on YouTube when I need some white noise in the background. When I power down in the evening, I’ll do a barre or spin class at home, hang out with my husband and bunnies, and enjoy some TV.
- What are some of the current projects that you are working on? I primarily write website copy for solopreneurs and creative businesses, and every new project gives me the chance to indulge my curiosity about an entirely different type of biz! My excitement level is 10/10 on the project I’m about to start – writing for an incredibly cool and talented Boston florist! – and I already miss the client I just wrapped up with, a brand designer in New Hampshire whose work is so richly textured and utterly gorgeous. Past fave projects also include work for an anti-diet dietitian, an Intuitive Eating and body image coach, and a bright and bold Boston wedding photographer! (I never get bored in this job, can you tell?)
- What are your goals for Little Flame Creative? I’m not one for a rigid business plan or five-year vision, but when I see my future it involves writing for hundreds more kind, creative clients, taking lots of time off to explore and play, and continuing to make a sustainable income that proves that creatives don’t need a “day job”! Creating my path is so satisfying, fun, weird, complicated, and challenging. It keeps me present in my life and in control over my own future in a way I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Thank you so much to Theresa, for taking the time to answer my questions and inspire me! Please visit the Little Flame Creative website, as well as follow Little Flame Creative on Instagram!