Jay Crisp Crow is a business owner, messy mother, and ex-showgirl who used to sing on the back of monster trucks before having children and getting ‘sensible’. She spent far too many years working in private school communications believing she couldn’t make a living as a writer before having an epiphany and taking her own gig on the road.
She somewhat surprised herself by becoming a multi award-winning copywriter, editor, and copy coach working with brands and business people around the globe. Building an incredible career based on the art of writing words that sell, Jay has turned her love of stories and people into something she never thought possible – a sustainable, thriving business. She regularly teaches, presents, and speaks in Perth and online on everything copy and words.
For most of a lifetime, Jay believed she wouldn’t be able to make a living as a writer. She is thoroughly enjoying disproving that prediction.
Here’s The Inside Story on Jay Crisp Crow.
What ignited the spark in you to start your business?
I’ve always been an insufferable, incorrigible writer. On maths exams, on napkins, in the shower steam. An incredible Literature teacher in High School and a Major in Creative Writing at Uni didn’t quite divert me from the path I’d been on since age 2, that of Musical Theatre performer. It took children to do that. 14 years in private school communications and I was tired of writing amazing things that a Principal passed off as his own. I’d hit the ceiling for an hourly wage without another degree. I never wanted to write another policy and procedure but the marketing and communications aspect of my job made me light up. I sat with a fellow business-owning friend and told her I was going to find another job. She told me I was crazy – encouraged me to “take everything I do as an employee and start a business with it.” I started Crisp Copy as a side hustle.
The moment I launched, the business snowballed. I came up with a 5-year plan to ensure the business could replace my income. Within 18-months I was knocking back clients, even though I’d dropped down to 1 day a week at work. It was time to take the plunge and create a life where writing would pay, and I’d have total flexibility and responsibility for my success. Going all in meant bundling my fears and anxieties in a receptacle like a Pinterest-inspired Mason jar stuffed with salad, and throwing the whole lot into the wind in wild (terrified) abandon. That was just over a year ago and, when I look back, I sometimes cannot believe this is my life now.
What is the vision for your business?
I know how gutsy you have to be to play ball with the bigs of the online world. There’s so much noise. And you want everyone to like you. Playing safe (and writing stuff that’s middle-of-the-road) makes no one feel special. You don’t help your readers self-weed, and you don’t make your ideal clients sob with joy that they’ve finally found you.
The women I write for or teach to write are so good at their ‘thing’. They just want to build businesses and be paid while they work in their genius. But their copy lets them down. Because it’s a little bit scary to be yourself online.
My vision is women writing copy that’s a thousand percent them. Proud, eloquent, truthful, and crisp. I want women to write copy that’s remembered, makes people think, question, and ultimately – makes those businesswomen the kind of money so they never have to go back to being employed, unless they want to.
The success of Crisp Copy helps fund the social enterprise I launched with my daughter, Ella. I use the copywriting skills I’ve honed to work with women who otherwise wouldn’t tell their stories – everyday, extraordinary women who aren’t confident to speak on a stage or write a blog – I take their dot points and first drafts and, along with our amazing collaborative of copywriters and editors – we bring that story to life.
What did you want to be when you left school? Did you study?
A rollerskating waitress, a lawyer, and a writer – all at once – Age 2 – 10
A Musical Theatre performer – Age 11 – 21
Came back to writing at 22
I studied Musical Theatre at WAAPA, then a Double Major in Drama and Literature/Creative Writing at Murdoch. Until my first baby came along and derailed all my best-laid plans. Thankfully, as I think I’d have hated the performer’s lifestyle.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I wish I’d started earlier, but don’t we all? I’d believe in myself harder, earlier. I’d take everything I learned about myself from parenting 2 beautiful children alone with a chronic illness and realise I was far more capable than I gave myself credit for.
I’d be unafraid of using my own voice. I’d ignore the copycats, the haters, those women who muttered, “how dare she?” and keep my eyes on the prize. In all fairness, though, I didn’t realise how much I could be. Having an illness and being a single parent had made me scared and small. I had to experience the lived actuality of me making it work to believe it would work.
I have a little more faith in myself, now.
Was there a significant turning point when you decided to become an entrepreneur?
I’m not yet convinced I am an entrepreneur. Not in the pure sense of the term. A business owner; yep. A creative in business; closer. A paid writer; yahoo! Finally. And a mother.
There was a moment in time I realized I didn’t want to be employable. When the accountant sent me the numbers for last financial year and I realized I’d pay as much in tax as I lived on as a single Mother on a pension just 8 or so years ago. I had a shiver of realization. This was my new life.
What do you believe was the best decision you made in business?
When I got to the point where growth and scale seemed like the sensible way to go, and every marketing expert and strategist I studied recommended it, I resisted.
I know my strengths, and managing people isn’t one of them. I’d led a team before as an employee and always ended up doing other people’s work. I might be a decent business owner, but I’m not a crash-hot manager.
The best decision I made was to stay small. Not build an agency. Not hire other copywriters. Not bring on a team. Instead, I developed recurring income sources, built a referral network of other talented copywriters, website designers, marketing experts, and branding mavens to send clients to, and focused on what I was best at. I streamlined my services and upgraded my skillset in those areas. Not only has this positioned my authority, but it’s delivered me a smashing collective of talented people who are killing it in their own areas – and who can work collaboratively.
Looking back is there a piece of advice you wish to pass onto someone starting out their entrepreneurial journey?
It’s probably relevant to admit here that I started with exactly $0 to invest. I started Crisp Copy with a borrowed laptop and no website. Who hires a copywriter without a website? Risk takers, that’s who! So, for all my cries of “OUTSOURCE, sisters!” I was a DIY queen for the first year.
Now, when I travel about speaking to other women on how to build a sustainable, manageable business that fits with raising three children, being the main bacon-home-bringer, and giving the middle finger to a chronic illness, I’m often asked what the one piece of advice I’d give start-up-me if I could go back in time is.
While there are more than a handful of things I could have done differently (labelling myself the entirely pretentious title of ‘Communication Designer’ because I was too chicken to call myself a proper Copywriter stands out), hiring experts changed my business entirely.
I’m good at Canva but no, I should not make my own magazine advertisement.
I can count (just), but I should not ignore expert advice about my financial accounts.
I know my rights as an Australian businesswoman but I shouldn’t put together my own legal contracts.
And, even though I can spot a spelling error in a sea of copy with deft precision, I definitely shouldn’t proofread my own stuff.
So even though I may be able to do all of the things, I shouldn’t.
If I focus on the copy, the coaching, the clients, and the customer service, the experts can tend to the rest.
You know the funny thing? This model actually turns out to be cost-effective. The time I spent faffing with things I shouldn’t have saved me oodles of dosh.
This is not your weekly shop where you collect all the catalogues to hunt down supermarket specials. This is your business, where investment pays off and cheap imitations or DIY are like a bad paint job. It may seem good initially, but it won’t be long until the paint is peeling and you need to start again.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
- The ability to be totally and utterly grateful and celebrate all the things.
- The capacity to turn inspiration into determination and grit.
- An understanding that being brave is necessary, but it doesn’t mean being fearless. It means feeling absolutely terrified and doing it anyway.
Who do you look up to in business? Who inspires you?
Gosh, can I please have 1000 more words and the option to come back to add to this list?
Every woman who signs up to my Copy classes. How freaking audacious. I adore them.
It’s interesting to watch women out in the wide world making huge waves but I find the women who are in my immediate circle are daily inspiration:
- Lauren June – I met her at my front gate when she sold me an aqua bowl and she bossed me from the get-go. She asks questions like, “how you going to monetise that?” a lot. Then respects and helps me with my love-jobs. We work on quite a few projects together and those relationships that are both business and friendship can be really tricky – and ours often is – but we always work through it.
- Sam Hudson – my VA and all ‘round superwoman. I wish I could clone her.
- Kendall and Sophie – my ‘non-business’ friends. They say things like “WHO?” when I worry about rubbing bigwigs of my industry up the wrong way and make fun of everything of mine being on brand. They keep me grounded and remembering to talk about life outside business, we have an ongoing, daily discussion about feminism, race, discrimination, love, and children and they also listen when I download all the entrepreneur life stuff. They are smarter, kinder, and better than me in every way and I simply love them.
- My daughter. She has a core of steel and a heart of gold and is a better writer than me already.
These are the women I stalk on social media when I need a ‘smart, savvy woman, go out there and change the world’ hit – Ash Ambirge, Clementine Ford, Tess Holliday, Stasha Washburn, Lilly Singh, Lauren White, Angela Gallo, Lacey Filipich, Clo Bullen, Katie Winnen.
- Anyone petty and mean. It’s pointless. This is business, not warfare. Save your bullets for the real enemy – mediocrity and glass ceilings.
What do you think your key to success has been?
The moment I realized I had something no one else could replicate or sell was the moment my business started working for me, rather than just me working the business all the time. I cash in on the only thing I have that no one else does, my USP – me.
There are so many talented copywriters in the world and all at the touch of a fingertip, there’s no point trying to compete. I stay in my own lane and I do me.
How have you personally measured your success?
Kids are fed. Debts are finally being paid off. I’ve gone from pensioner to philanthropist in a few short years (thanks to 100 Women!) I am proud of myself. I am flexing my brain muscles. These are a couple of a thousand tiny things that each day prove to me I made the right choice, and I should keep striving.
Being my own boss has meant freedom. Freedom not only to work in my ugg boots, prioritise my health and my children (except assemblies; I thought I was missing out – turns out they are SO boring. I always magically find myself booked up on assembly day), but also freedom to stretch my abilities, challenge my own boundaries, do pro-bono work for projects I admire, turn into the woman that illness and fear once made meek.
How do you make the most of your day?
As soon as the little voice of my 6-year-old son comes hollering through the front door in the afternoon, I’m done until he goes to sleep. If I’d wanted inflexibility, I could have stayed employed. Because the work is so often enjoyable and all-consuming, I have to be strict with myself about putting it down and watching my front porch get turned into a skate park or hearing about new findings about dinosaurs. My older children are just as time-consuming – you think they’ll get easier and less reliant on you as they get older but, in fact, they just need you in different ways. And I don’t want to miss out on conversations or experiences with them – they’re hilarious and smart and thinking and conscious. They’re the best things I’ve ever done.
Being totally present in the conversations with my three blindingly brilliant children and one super gorgeous husband means I am constantly being reminded how flipping lucky I am. I don’t need external reminders of how fortunate we are to live in this country, have this life.
Other than your business, what other hats do you wear?
Co-Founder of How Dare She?
Mama to Jackson – 18, Ella – 15, and Hugo – 6
Dog, cat, chook, duck, geese lady
Unofficial mentor/empathetic ear/queen whinger to other businesswomen with chronic illnesses
Wife of a cricket-loving, roadie expert, Viking King
Daughter of the best woman in the world
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