Client Spotlight: Maura Walters
Storytelling is certainly a marketing buzzword these days.
For our October Client Profile, we’d like to introduce Maura Walters, who felt the power of people’s stories even as a child. Maura is an editorial director, content strategist, and award-winning journalist. Not only does her company connect organizations and individuals to the power of messaging, but Maura also provides pro bono help to a Black-owned business or non-profit every quarter.
She loves unearthing the stories of brands and organizations to help them reach their audiences in the most effective way.
Can you tell us a little bit about your business and how you got started?
Yes, so I have always known that I wanted to tell stories. From the time I was a little girl, I knew that writing and talking to people and getting a sense of who they are and what they do was going to be my work. I have a little book report from first grade that I wrote about myself that said I love to write stories. It really has felt like my calling from the get-go.
I had a dream in high school and college of being a magazine editor. I pursued that pretty vigorously. I was a journalism major at Lehigh University. Everybody I knew at Lehigh was an engineering major or a business major, and they all had jobs by second-semester senior year. I was the girl with the big dreams of moving to the city and working for magazines. I graduated with no job, just a lot of passion for breaking into that world.
I landed a job as an assistant in the advertising department of Redbook Magazine. I thought, “This isn’t exactly what I want to do, but it will get my foot in the door. I’ll be at the Hearst Corporation. I’ll do this job for a year or two, and then I’ll transition to editorial.” And that’s what I did! I was an assistant for a year and a half at Redbook, and then I got an assistant job for the editor-in-chief for Town and Country. It really was a dream job; it was a dream opportunity. This was back in the days when editors in chief had two assistants and had someone whose job it was to get coffee and run dry cleaning pickups and all of those fun errands.
I slowly but surely crawled my way up the ladder of magazines, taking every assignment that I could, billing myself as a generalist so that I could get a project writing about food or get an assignment writing about fashion or lifestyle to really build up a portfolio.
I was in the magazine world for 10 years. As much as I loved it, there were a couple of things that sort of left me feeling a little bit hollow. One was the way things were changing in the digital media landscape in particular—so much about traffic and so much about things going viral. I remember getting a directive one day when I was working at L.com to focus on, “Kendall Jenner ponytail stories because those are performing really well.”
I was thinking, “This isn’t really what I signed up for.” Besides the fact that the industry was shrinking, and you were being asked to do so much. I found myself working more and more with less and less stability and less opportunity. At the end of the day, I was thinking, “I’m putting all of these stories out. I don’t really know who they’re resonating with or how they’re impacting anybody. Is there a way for me to use my storytelling to actually change someone’s trajectory?” I realized I could do that if I was working with businesses.
I got a job at an agency. I was there for three years. I learned a ton. I came into that job knowing how to write and edit, and three years later, I left knowing how to present to CEOs, knowing how to talk about the power of storytelling to convert clients, knowing how to put together pitch decks, how to use analytics to inform content. I learned about the myriad ways that storytelling can actually drive a business and the many ways that you can tell a story. That was really, really exciting for me.
Three years in, I was a little bit tired of the New York City grind, working 9-5. I had my second baby. I knew that I wanted more flexibility, and I knew that I wanted to do this kind of work for the brands and the organizations that I was passionate about. For me, what lights me up about this job is working specifically with female founders and with nonprofits. If I can work for a non-profit that was founded by a woman, I am super, super happy.
It’s been really amazing to see how storytelling, particularly in the non-profit space, can change their trajectories. I updated a nonprofit’s mission statement and that translated to dozens of donations. I worked with companies on thought leadership pieces pertaining to diversity and inclusion, and that will prompt the company to change its policies. It really does make an impact, and it has proven to me that copywriting and content writing are about so much more than selling. Great if you can sell something, but there’s so much more that you can do when you’re telling a story about these brands, organizations, and their people.
Working for nonprofits can be challenging because they are often understaffed
I came into this with the assumption that there just wasn’t money for content. The ones that I work with have the money, but they don’t have the people to execute.
What’s really exciting for me is when I can come into a project and look at the content ecosystem and help with newsletter or impact letter development, social media captions, press releases, website copy, mission statements.
I really like being the chief storyteller, so as much as I appreciate and understand the necessity of ad hoc assignments and I know they’re a way in the door, it’s so rewarding for me to be working with a client long-term and shaping that content for them. Finding those stories that make a brand really special, that’s what creates connection and loyalty. I love unearthing those stories.
You started working on your own?
Yes, with no intentions of starting a business. I thought I would take on a couple of freelance assignments here and there. It quickly turned into something that felt much bigger than me. Something that I could not manage on my own. I was very fortunate that I had so much work. Part of that was not reigning myself in and not saying no to anything. It was nice that one happy client led to another, and I’ve just been able to build this… business. I’m trying to think. What do I call it? Do I call it an agency? I don’t know yet. Hopefully, that will reveal itself soon.
You used to mentor with Girls Write Now. Tell us a little bit about that.
I’ve always been really passionate about writing and editing and how writing and editing can be cathartic and therapeutic. There are a lot of girls in the city who are underserved and who are not necessarily encouraged to pursue anything creative. I think particularly in minority communities—the ones that we work with right now—young girls are surrounded by family members and friends who say, “You are going to work, work, work to get out of this situation, to have a better life than we did.” Any kind of creative pursuit, if it’s not resume-building, is not something that they’re encouraged to do.
Girls Write Now was amazing in that it looked really good on the girls’ college applications. It was an incredible experience at the same time. I met with my mentee once a week. We would go over everything from an English assignment to a creative piece of writing that she was working on. I worked with her for a few years. I saw her through sophomore year to college, and we would work on her college applications essays as well.
In addition to that, the girls would come together every Saturday morning. An author would speak to them, or they would share their writings with one another, or the founder would give them some kind of inspirational talk or exercise. Not that we were saviors in any way, but I think it was a place for them to express themselves and use writing to figure out their worlds.
This was after my time, but the organization was honored by Michelle Obama. They went to the White House and met the First lady. It was incredible.
We saw that you were interested in working with women running for office last year. Tell us a little about that.
I haven’t been doing as much as I would like to, but there is a woman in my town running for Congress. It’s very interesting. I thought at first, “Who’s going to want my help?”, but so many people want help. I’ve learned a lot about my district in particular. I’ve learned how much local politics truly matter and how much inequity there is even in a very nice town like mine on Long Island.
Supporting the woman I’ve connected to—through editing press releases or putting her in touch with magazine editor contacts, or helping her with any kind of communications—has shown me that normal people can do really incredible things. She decided after Donald Trump was elected that she had to get involved in politics. Our long-serving congressman, who is a democrat but not really progressive, wasn’t really doing enough for his constituents.
She actually lost, but she’s running against him for the second time. It’s been really interesting to see her get back up, and she’s going to try again. We’re in a pretty tough district, but she has this fortitude and fierceness to her. It’s been really, really inspiring. She’s taking a big risk. She’s very, very progressive and I believe in that wholeheartedly, but a lot of people in our town and area don’t. I’m really proud of her. It’s been a great education to learn about how much goes into running a campaign, getting funding and endorsements, and getting your thoughts and messages out to the right people articulately. It’s been really eye-opening.
Every quarter you do pro bono content strategy work with Black-owned businesses or nonprofits.
Yes, I decided to make that a foundation of my business. I try in every way to be an ally to the Black community personally. But I knew, now that I’m in charge of my business, it was something that felt like an imperative to do professionally. I made it a point to actively seek out Black-owned businesses and/or nonprofits that I can support in some way with content.
My current client is Heroes. They are a community center in rural Louisiana, and they were founded by a woman who was HIV positive in 1984. Monica, the founder, is quite the force and she provides resources and education to communities especially affected and impacted by HIV in the Deep South. I’ve learned a ton. I didn’t know much about HIV in America until I started working with them. 60% of all HIV and Aids cases are in the Deep South. It really is an epidemic, and it’s ignored because the people who have it are poor or Black. With Monica, I’ve been working to rewrite all the content on the Heroes website, write all their social media captions, and we are in the process of drafting some grant letters as well.
Monica’s ultimate goal is to buy back land that her ancestors worked on as enslaved people. The plan is to build a new and improved community center on this land that has after-school programming and a community garden where they can grow fresh produce. She is just a force. Talk about not letting the world get you down! She is absolutely amazing, and it is truly my honor and privilege to support her.
I’ve also done resume editing and LinkedIn profile updates. I aim to do that for five Black professionals every quarter.
What do you love about your work?
I love helping people see what’s possible for them through storytelling. A lot of the clients I work with, particularly women, don’t know how to tell their stories. They don’t think their stories are relevant. Don’t think their career experience matters. Don’t think anyone will appreciate the fact that they took ten years off of work to be a mother. I like to show them that all of those things are assets and make them uniquely special. That has been a true joy— connecting the professional dots of someone’s journey into something that helps them get a new job or helps them attract a different type of client.
There’s a reason why writers have editors. Sometimes it takes another perspective to get to the heart of the story and to shine a spotlight on it. That’s what I absolutely love, and the nonprofit work is just incredible too. That’s a whole other unexpected part that is deeply fulfilling.
What do you find challenging about your work?
Brookelyn, my assistant, has alleviated so many of my challenges, but I think the administrative aspects of my job were really getting me down. I also find knowing what to charge very challenging. That’s something I work on daily. I work with a coach on that. I work with my peers on that. I formed a very small monthly meetup with three other copywriting friends because it can be very isolating.
I think what’s challenging also is being your own boss is the worst and best part. You’re responsible. Ostensibly, you can make your own schedule, and on the other hand, the money you make often feels directly tied to the amount you want to work. I don’t want to work 24/7. I don’t want to say yes to everything. But I feel like I have to. I’m getting better at saying no.
I think it’s very important to trust my instincts. When I know that someone or something is not the right fit, I know right away. I think I need to have the courage of my convictions to say no. A very wise person told me the other day that abundance doesn’t mean accumulation. It’s not the same thing. That has really stuck with me.
How has working with VaVa affected you?
The minute I was connected to my virtual assistant, I felt like I could take a deep breath. I still feel that way. Every day that I work with her, I wonder what I did without her. Just in terms of managing my calendar, responding to emails, making sure I don’t forget anything, keeping me on top of deadlines. She sends me a daily agenda every day. This is so helpful. She sends my invoices, sends my contracts. She proofreads my proposals. It’s like having a professional cheerleader, or a coach.
Everybody needs that second set of eyes, I think. It makes me feel so much less alone in my business. I truly feel like there’s nothing that I couldn’t ask for her support on either, from making a calendar appointment to putting a proposal in a beautiful template. Now that we’ve been working together for what feels like a very long time (but it hasn’t been), we’re at the point where she understands my voice and she understands my clients. It’s very funny because the other day, there was a potential client and my assistant said, “I don’t think this is going to be the right fit for you.” She knows, based on the urgency of their emails or the way that they come across. It’s pretty amazing. It’s like she’s my right arm or an extension of me, but so good at all the things that I’m not good at.
What advice would you give to fellow business owners?
Don’t take on too much too fast. Don’t let the idea of making money be your only motivator.
If your Zoom meeting can be a phone call that you can take outside on a walk, do that. This week, I have changed three recurring Zoom calls to phone calls to ensure that I get outside in the sun and that I’m not chained to my desk.
If you can afford it, outsource the stuff that is difficult for you.
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10153 1/2 Riverside Drive,
Toluca Lake, CA 91602
2480 Briarcliff Road,
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Atlanta, GA, 30329