This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.
Introducing Chris Kay Fraser, the founder of Firefly Creative Writing, a Toronto-based business that offers writing workshops and retreats.
1. Let’s start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
Firefly Creative Writing started seven years ago as I was finishing my Master’s degree in adult education and craving something more intimate than academia. I was teaching memoir writing to seniors in Scarborough through the school board. The teaching was amazing – the best part of my week – but the huge community centre rooms with buzzing lights and zero privacy frustrated me. I had an image of a small group of people gathered around an old wood table, drinking tea, eating fresh baked cookies and writing about their lives.
I put up some flyers and my phone began to ring. That first class was electric, and the business has been growing ever since. It now includes many different writing classes, writing retreats, coaching and online writing workshops. We’re a team of four – myself, two other writing coaches and a communications manager, and we have a “Nerdy Firefly” wing who offer technical writing clinics and copy-editing. Things are booming. I’m humbled and incredibly happy.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
Honestly, the word ‘entrepreneur’ was the furthest thing from my mind when I started this. I desperately, passionately wanted to run a writing class. I wanted to help people feel safe and supported in writing whole-heartedly about their lives. I didn’t have a business plan, a name, a website, any idea about “personal branding” or any start-up money. I just printed some flyers and everything has grown from there.
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
Our typical clients are people who have the urge to write, but haven’t found the time or the confidence to get started. They may have a specific story rumbling inside them, or they may have many. They may even be part way through a big project (a memoir or a novel) but got stuck somewhere along the path.
In terms of our demographic, it’s across the board. Our youngest client is 9 and our oldest is 92 years old. There are men and women, Torontonians and people outside Toronto who connect to us through phone sessions and online classes.
People used to find us with those little colorful flyers pinned around town, but we’ve long since let those go. These days about two thirds of our clients are repeats or word-of-mouth, and one third come from Google. We also love our Facebook and Instagram accounts.
4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
I split admin jobs with our communications manager, Meredith. She takes care of a lot of the client communication, accounting and advertising. I’m not going to lie – it was hard to hand that stuff over. I laboured for years under the idea that I was the only one who could do this right. Then I gave it a try, and within about ten minutes of her starting I knew I’d never go back.
Sharing these tasks is a huge weight off and Meredith handles them with professionalism and beauty that amazes me.
Coaching is an even split between myself and the two other writing coaches, Britt and Danette. These women blow me away. We all have different skills, so new clients fill out an extensive intake questionnaire, and then Meredith decides who they will work best with. As for groups, I run all the small retreats and workshops myself and I co-facilitate the large ones with them. Our “Nerdy Firefly” team sees all the clients with questions about grammar or other technical skills.
5. You’ve been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
I believe that our success grows directly from the intense care and respect we hold for our clients.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve received a text from one of my staff to share a sweet thing their client said or a small creative breakthrough. We pour over curriculum and retreat plans. We send handwritten mail and ‘writerly gifts’ to our clients and online class participants. We have pens and stickers made up that say, ‘There is no way to do this wrong’ and door hangers that say ‘I’m writing – please only knock if it’s urgent.’ We print up our favourite poems and seal them into tiny envelopes to give out in our classes. We have a ton of fun.
We’re also all actively working on our own writing. The four of us meet every month to coach each other through our creative struggles and resistances. It’s incredibly important to us that we’re in the process with our clients, not looking on from a safe distance. We’re never far from the huge risk and the joy of creating.
Really though, the secret might be this: I still bake for all my classes. My house usually smells like fresh-baked cookies. That may be the most important part.