ScaleUp Success: Darlena Kelley of ProWrite

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“It was never in my mind that I would be a business owner,” said Darlena Kelley, co-owner of technical writing and editing company ProWrite.

Last year, Kelley bought ProWrite from the couple who started it more than 30 years ago. She’d joined the company at the age of 19, after graduating with a degree in graphic design from the Bradford School. In the following decade, Kelley went from answering phones and making coffee, to filling the role of office and project manager. From there, it didn’t look like there was much further to go.

“‘I need something more; my head is hitting the roof,’” Kelley recalled saying to the owners at her annual review.

The couple, who were in their 70s and ready to retire, offered to sell the business to Kelley and her former colleague, Kelly Summers. At first, she didn’t take it seriously. Then the idea sunk in.

While she had no formal business-owning experience, Kelley did run a cake decorating company on the side for more than 10 years, filling orders from her kitchen for friends and family. Recognizing the skills she had as an organizer, her ability to work under pressure and delegate tasks, and the relationships she had built with the company’s existing clients, Kelley saw owning ProWrite as a challenge she could take on and an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

Darlena Kelley
Darlena Kelley

It would give her the chance to grow more than being an employee ever gave her. With no one telling her what she needed to do to fulfill their vision, she could create one of her own.

And that, she did.

“It was my goal — and my business partner’s goal — to make it the company where graduates with degrees in journalism or technical writing want to work,” Kelley said, “So that it is an attraction for the new talent out there.”

That means developing a business plan that modernizes ProWrite, establishes a strong online presence, and promotes their brand and services.

“As it is now, technical writing is often an afterthought,” Kelley said. “Companies who employ engineers or IT specialists — or anyone whose core skills don’t include clear and concise writing — depend on technical writers to generate a coherent document or report quickly and efficiently.”

But, they often wait until there is an urgent need. Then, when these companies do think of technical writing, freelancers are automatically associated with the service.

“They don’t think there is an actual company with a team of writers, designers, and all of that as a package deal,” Kelley added. “That is one of the things that makes ProWrite stand out.”

What Kelley’s company offers is a “one-stop shop.” ProWrite provides technical writing, translating and printing services, as well as training. Businesses can hire a ProWrite expert to instruct a class of engineers on the basics of grammar, concise writing and email composition. Assigning the pupils homework and marking it up allows for the tracking of progress as well.

To get the word out about ProWrite — to prospective clients as well as that new talent — Kelley joined YMT Consultants’ Entrepreneur Exchange program, funded by SBA ScaleUp America.

“I thought, you know what, I don’t have a business degree — nothing like that — and I want to be able to speak the business lingo and know what’s going on with how to run a company,” Kelley said, “So when I looked into ScaleUp, I thought, ’Yeah, that’s my key right there.’”

The program has given her the tools to better define and promote her company, Kelley said, helping her develop mission and vision statements, core values, a 30-second elevator pitch, and a three-minute sales pitch. She’s learning to visualize her plan to take ProWrite in its new direction, creating a business plan that engages clients old and new.

“I wasn’t groomed to run this business,” Kelley said. “I worked here for 11 years. I didn’t have to know all that stuff, and now it’s kind of being thrown at me like, ‘Hey, you need to be able to sell this company,’ and I’m not a salesperson. So, by having to do that in class and come up with this type of stuff and the business plan … it makes it a lot more condensed to where it’s easier to understand.”

Kelley sees ProWrite reaching her goal in the next five years. By then, she hopes to add five to 10 more writers and designers, and create a social media presence for the company that can keep that growth going.

“You have to continue to grow and change as people grow and change,” Kelley said. “It’s exciting, being able to control our future — how far do we want to take it, and have people want to work here and be proud of what we do and what we provide as a service.”

For more information, visit prowrite.com

To take the next step in scaling up your business, visit YourManagementTeam.com/EE to apply and learn more about the Entrepreneur Exchange Program, funded by SBA ScaleUp America.

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YMT Consultants is a microbusiness consulting and training firm providing monthly consulting and business development. We help microbusiness owners change their mindset, resulting in greater control of their business, increased revenue and bottom-line, and a strategic growth plan to achieve their “big-picture” vision for them and their business.