Melissa Whitten

Don’t let failure defeat you. It’s just a lesson on how to do something better next time.


Melissa Whitten is an experienced content writer and editor. She created Written by Whitten to help B2B businesses connect with their audiences authentically and establish their expertise through custom, value-driven content. Written by Whitten serves a variety of industries including hospitality technology, meetings & events and occupational safety.

Where did the idea for Written by Whitten come from?

I realized the millennial generation — which has the most purchasing power of any current generation — views marketing in a totally different way, and that many businesses haven’t caught on to that yet. Trust and authenticity now play a huge part in successful marketing. I started Written by Whitten as a way to help brands transition from the old school “hard sell” method to a new model that wins customers by building trust through custom content.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I don’t really keep a set structure. My daily tasks such as communicating with clients and prospects, working on assignments, admin work, etc. are sprinkled randomly throughout my day.

For me, the key to having a productive day is to be flexible and not force things. I keep a daily and weekly list of tasks, and I do them at the time that works best for me.

When I was at my former 9-5 job, I really struggled to complete tasks at set times. What if my schedule says at 10 a.m. I need to edit a guide, but I happen to be hungry and distracted at that time? I’m not going to do my best work like that.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Research! I get an idea and go down a research rabbit hole. By the time I resurface, I’ve got enough information to mold my idea into a compelling narrative.

What’s one trend that excites you?

User generated content. It’s excellent social proof that a brand’s product or service is being used by others, and it’s a great way for a business to lower content marketing costs by not having to produce 100% of the content.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I always make time to take care of my personal health and wellbeing. Many people think taking this time for yourself is unproductive, but I find I work harder and more efficiently when I’m feeling my best.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t fear failure. When I was younger, I would second guess myself constantly because I was afraid of failing at anything. Now in my 30s, after failing at things both big and small, I understand that it’s not the end of the world. Failure is just a lesson on how to do something better the next time.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I’m completely on board with the AP style guide’s decision to no longer require hyphens in commonly recognized compound modifiers.

Many of my fellow word nerds are freaking out about this because “commonly recognized” is open to interpretation, which means it opens the door to inconsistencies. If you’re worried about this, just make a style guide for your company to reference.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I always have someone else proofread my work before it goes to the client.

It’s extremely hard to catch your own mistakes. When you proofread your own work, your brain will overlook errors because it knows what you meant to put there. Someone who isn’t familiar with the work can more carefully review the document.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Networking with others in my field. These people are your colleagues, not your competition. I’ve learned so much from the writers and editors I’ve met. They’ve been invaluable in that regard alone, not to mention the number of referrals they’ve provided me when a client has asked them for something outside their expertise.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I did a terrible job managing my taxes in the beginning, and it cost me money, time, and sanity. I thought if I read enough about business taxes I’d be able to figure them out on my own, but I finally had to admit that it’s just not something I’m good at. I hired a tax professional and now she handles all that so I can focus on the things I do well.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Start a professional organizing company that works exclusively with businesses. Take a peek at the copy room of any business and you’ll immediately see the need.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

My partner and I took an unplanned road trip to Destin, FL to spend the day on the beach. The weather was perfect, and we had an amazing time.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I use for tracking time, creating contracts and proposals, sending invoices, and recording expenses. It’s such a timesaver to have so many important tools in one place.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Content Marketing Writer by Jennifer Goforth Gregory. If you want to be a freelance content writer, this book lays out the path to success. Jennifer is extremely generous in sharing her knowledge and experiences to help new freelancers. She also has a Facebook group by the same name where writers freely share their insights.

What is your favorite quote?

“This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.” — Winston Churchill, in response to an editor clumsily rewording one of his sentences so it wouldn’t end in a preposition.

Clarity and readability are more important than perfect grammar.

Key Learnings:

  • Working yourself to exhaustion causes you to be less effective in your work. If you make your health and happiness a priority, productivity and profit will naturally follow.
  • Don’t be afraid to network with people in the same field as you; they aren’t your competition. They’re a great source of information and referrals.
  • You can end a sentence with a preposition. You can start a sentence with a conjunction. Don’t sacrifice readability in the name of “perfect” grammar.
  • Don’t let failure defeat you. It’s just a lesson on how to do something better next time.