Faces of Entrepreneurship: Terri Whitmire, Writers Tablet Agency

2021-12-09T14:59:51-08:00 December 6th, 2021|Developing a Product/Service|

Terri Whitmire founded The Writers’ Tablet Publishing Agency in 2011 to help others achieve their writing goals and aspirations. Whether helping others achieve their goals or tapping into her entrepreneurial spirit, Terri is not one to shy away from a challenge. She obtained a B.S. from HBCU North Carolina A&T State University and then worked for several Fortune 500 companies. She advanced her education by becoming certified in children’s literature, which led to a career in writing. Terri has authored five books and several online writing curriculum programs. Utilizing her passion for literacy, technology, and education, Terri established Fun Creative Writing, an afterschool program where students become published authors, and LIFT2Enrich, Inc. (L2E), a 501c3 nonprofit, where she currently serves as the executive director. 

What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Terri Whitmire: Entrepreneurship means I have the ability to imagine, create, and build my business in such a way that I accept the risks but also enjoy the rewards. It means the freedom to create my own hours, to work with amazing people whom I choose, and to pour my heart, soul, and talents into my business.

How did your company come to be?
TW: I was sitting at my desk on the 10th floor of an office complex. I had a pretty decent job as the manager over IT reporting. I had just returned from maternity leave, for which I’d insisted I be given my full 10-week family leave. That’s when I heard a knock on my door and my boss asked to see me. Long story short, with tears in her eyes she announced I was being let go. I’d had no idea; this seemed to come out of left field. Not me! I had won almost every award the company had offered, some twice. Yes, me. I had no backup plan. With two little ones at home and monthly bills that needed both our salaries, my husband compassionately told me, “Don’t worry about it, just come on home.”

I wish I could say I immediately began working on my plan to become an author and publisher, but that was not my journey. It went a little something like this: my husband said, “Why don’t we open a vacuum business?” Growing up, my sisters and I worked in our dad’s two vacuum stores for years. So, in a small Atlanta suburb, we opened the doors to The Vacuum Place for 11 years. Prior to this business, my sister and I had a gift basket business. Then, on a whim, I decided to become certified in writing, after all, I loved writing and thought I was pretty good at telling stories.

On the day our vacuum business closed, I released my first book and I produced one book every year after that for five years. Then my neighbor suggested I teach writing as an after-school program at our kids’ school, so I launched Fun Creative Writing, and our after-school program was taught in several blue ribbon schools. We received a proclamation from the state of Georgia and many officials recognized our fun writing programs. Adult aspiring writers heard of my writing programs and wanted to learn as well, but I declined. Then it hit me, after hearing horror story after horror story of friends and aspiring writers being taken advantage of by vanity publishing agencies, the aha moment arrived. I could combine my love of writing, teaching, creating, and my computer background to start my own self- publishing agency. I called it Writer’s Tablet, based on the scripture from Habakkuk 2:2. When I realized our underserved kids needed this same outlet to express themselves through their writing, I founded LIFT2Enrich, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization to support Title 1 schools and disenfranchised communities.

How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
TW: COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine gave many people the opportunity to reflect and work on projects they had been putting off. As the issues with mental wellness surged during this time, many people took to penning their story and I believe writing saved the lives of many. As a result, Writer’s Tablet has taken off. We have more than doubled our number of clients and continue to work with individuals and corporations that need assistance with writing projects. Most of our clients come through referrals of previous clients who absolutely love our work.

Unfortunately, we closed our after-school program, Fun Creative Writing. It was time. I then focused my energy on LIFT2Enrich, Inc. However, our non-profit suffered greatly because of the pandemic. Donations halted and schools were going virtual. In 2020, we quickly pivoted to virtual classes as well, providing a much-needed creative outlet to 30+ students. We also launched our Mentor Me program. We helped our first scholarship recipient, Cristiana Nevaeh McGuire, write and publish her book. We also were able to supply free summer reading books in partnership with Half Price Books to various Metro Atlanta communities.

What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
TW: My proudest moment was when two fifth grade students who had attended my after-school club since the second grade, presented a journal to me during our end-of-year final red-carpet celebration. In it, they wrote:

“Dear Mrs. W. You have inspired me countless times, made me feel important, and gave me a love of learning. So from the bottom of my heart THANK YOU” – Marina

“Dear Mrs. W. You are so amazing! You have lead [sic] me every step of the way since the first grade to help me get to this level in creative writing. Thank you for being one of my most valued people in life” – Lavanya

My darkest or lowest moment was when I discovered just how clueless I was about bookkeeping. For the first few years of my business, I did minimum bookkeeping. But once my business grew and I hired more contractors for my expanding clients I kept the same methodology of tracking sales, profits, losses, earning, which was minimal. When I enlisted the help of an accountant and she shared all that I had not done, I felt defeated and slightly depressed. When she filed my taxes and I learned I had been under paying, it was difficult to write that big check to the IRS. I sulked and griped for weeks. In the end, I was happy to have her point out my mistakes and help me fix them. And it feels good to know that my finances are in order and the IRS won’t have to send someone to seize my property. (Just kidding, but not really.)

How is your company changing the landscape?
TW: It almost seems writing has taken a back seat in the schools, universities, and workplaces. With the advent of texting and social media, we are seeing the impact – a degradation in communication skills. I love that I get to build student writing confidence, sharpen corporate communication, and encourage aspiring authors to fulfill their dreams of authorship. Some need more hand-holding than others, but we are always willing to support them in whatever way they need.

What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
TW: I wish I had asked for more help in supporting my weak areas. I selectively worked hard on all the fun stuff and turned a blind eye to the areas that were difficult for me, i.e., bookkeeping, marketing, and strategic planning.

What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
TW: My scriptural foundation for my business is Habakkuk 2:2: “Write the vision, and make it plain upon the tablets, that he may run that readeth it.” Every business idea, invention, or research begins with writing down your vision. Whether it’s a book, website, corporate communication, presentation, or essay, we help people write it down, and make it plain so that they can run with it.

Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
TW: Hank Stewart, a poet and friend of mine, spoke about a scrapbook he created to remind himself of all the positive accomplishments he has had in his life. As creatives, we can be very hard on ourselves; I understood the impact a scrapbook would have on my psyche, so I created one as well. Putting it together was so heartwarming, to see all the people I’ve helped and the things I’ve accomplished. It’s so easy to forget those things when challenges arise but the scrapbook reminds me. I probably don’t pull it out as much as I should, but when I’m bored or feeling uninspired, looking through it keeps me hopeful. Being an entrepreneur means every problem is yours to solve. It can be extremely overwhelming. When I’m faced with a challenge, I ask for help and wisdom, first from God, then from whomever he leads me to. When I quit being stubborn, I always find the solution.

What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
TW: I honestly have never thought of how success looks. I suppose it would look like my business and non-profit surviving and thriving long after I’ve left this earth.

Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
TW: Not really. It remains the same. Professionally I want to bring more exposure to what I do and how I can help other individuals or businesses succeed. Personally, my goal is to make a tangible difference in the lives of my clients and students, where they can visibly see how I helped them succeed.

What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
TW: I often recall a quote that my friend and mentor, Jay Bailey, stated. He said, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” No man is a silo. And it gets pretty lonely working solo. But as an entrepreneur, we feel we can do it all. And often times we can, but I believe it is better for me to do what I do well and allow my staff to do what they do well. I used to spend days performing a complete edit on documents. Small jobs like this were pulling me away from working my business and handling the bigger projects. I learned to stay in my lane. I perform the developmental edits and I allow my brilliant editors, Marsha Malcolm and Donnetta Booker, to correct typos and syntax and fact check. They are brilliant at this. I find it more exhilarating to work with likeminded people. I learn so much from working with partners. It’s amazing how another perspective just opens the door to creativity. I encourage everyone to create a focus groups and brainstorm with your peers. They will help you think outside the box for creative solutions.

Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
TW: My morning routine involves preparing my mind creatively. I don’t use an alarm clock to wake up. It sends shock to my nervous system and It takes an extra 30 minutes to calm myself down. But like clockwork, I’m up and out of bed by 8:24ish am. I spend time in prayer, listen to a scripture, stretch, and have a very light breakfast. It helps when I plan my schedule the day before by creating a to-do list. I can rest easy when everything is written down and out of my head.
Prior to COVID, I utilized office space in Atlanta at the RICE Center but now, I work from home. Because I like to work in different settings for different projects, I have several cozy workspaces. I sometimes take my laptop outside to work on nice days. For creative design projects, I play music to help inspire me. I also enjoy meeting my staff at coffee shops and lunch spots to stay connected.

What keeps you motivated during this time?
TW: Seeing the excitement on a new client’s face or the exuberance from a child who loves to write gives me all kinds of motivation. Many times, my clients come to me feeling defeated. No one understands their need to write or their desire to share their story. Many have been discouraged from writing and shamed into working in unfulfilling jobs. That’s when my staff and I pick them back up and provide the structure, organization, and encouragement needed to help them reach the finish line.

What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
TW: I want to be the entrepreneur who makes each client feel like they are my only client. Meaning, I want them to have my full attention and support. They should feel like they mean more to me than just a paying customer. I care about each of their projects and am so inspired by them.

What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
TW: My favorite quote is “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Have you experienced mentorship in your career? Do you feel it was easily available to you?
TW: Most of the people I seek advice from are at the top of their game and so it’s difficult to carve out dedicated time with them. In addition, it is difficult for me to find a mentor because, from outside appearances, people seem to think I have it all together. And nothing could be further from the truth. I make mistakes and get discouraged. I struggle with taking Writers’ Tablet and LIFT2Enrich to the next level. We all need a helping hand and I’m no different.

Who are the people who have mentored or influenced you in your life or career? How has their influence changed the trajectory of your entrepreneurial journey?
TW: Jay Bailey was a tremendous support to me. Because of him, I became a founder of the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, where I was exposed to great community leaders and teachers. This allowed me to really open up and lean on all the support available. I was able to elevate my brand, fine-tune my messaging, and enhance my programs. My husband, Will Whitmire, has been the greatest influence in my life. He has supported my dream to become an author, publisher, and educator. His advice and knowledge in finances has helped me tremendously. Whenever I’ve felt at a low point, he has encouraged me to keep going. He is the reason I was able to stick out those tough building years and persevere, all while he supported the family financially and spiritually. I am so blessed to have him as my husband and friend for close to thirty years.

Do you have someone you’d like to nominate to be profiled in our Faces of Entrepreneurship series? Please let us know by emailing media@thecenter.nasdaq.org or submit your nomination using this form.

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