Our London Virtual Office client profile series continues with Rachel Henry, founder of Write Stars...
I’m trying to find the RAF club on Piccadilly five minutes away from our Mayfair offices when a lady asks me my name - this is Rachel Henry, subeditor at a national newspaper and founder of Write Stars, a creative writing network providing mentorship, encouragement and competitions for budding scribes all over the world. Before I know it we’re upstairs sitting by an enormous window sipping tea.
She’s also one of our Berkeley Square Virtual Office clients, so we settled in for a chat about digital literacy, Children in Crisis and mentorship. I ask her where it all came from.
She tells me she started it because there are so many people out there who want to write but need help, or don’t feel confident enough... People sometimes need a push, so if she can help people to get writing and provide them with a platform, nudging them towards getting their words written then that can only be a good thing.
She partners our writers with specialist authors and editors in their respective fields. It’s essentially about mentorship; helping and guiding people according to their needs, and validating their efforts with professional advice. It's focus is on courses and consultation, often pro bono, because the market is largely comprised of people who can’t afford, or don’t have the time, to write full-time.
"It can be a bit lonely being a writer; the isolation and the lack of collaboration opportunities."
Sounds a bit like starting a business: risk, self reliance, a sense of the unknown (or the unpredictable, at least). People need a hand; some advice now and then. How does she deal with people’s sensitivities?
“We emphasise the good first, and discuss what we like about it – whether it’s one word, phrase, image, or something else. Then we talk it through and make some suggestions."
Even just a word or two of encouragement can be enough. It’s something we’ve been mulling over here: how to engage the skills of our client base and be more useful to them.
A big issue for budding startups is how they present to the world, because client interface is changing.
As a virtual business we do most of our talking over the phone, but meeting our network for these Client Profiles has been an extremely positive experience. It’s something that’s hard for all businesses, especially in a global marketplace, but the personal approach works.
It extends to all areas of the online world. The internet has re-evaluated information authority by introducing rampant choice, equalising (in both a good and bad sense) the playing field completely. People require some qualification – anything – to verify an author’s credibility, and continue from there. In that landscape, where everything is fair game and anyone can be an authority, the social value of reaching people on a personal level can shoot up in inverse proportion to more distant, web-based relationships.
It’s no surprise that Rachel is passionate about the importance of keeping people physically writing in a changing publication landscape and doesn't quite feel typing has the same importance as the (hand-) written word.
With everything going digital, the traditional interactions and exchanges involved in writing and consuming literature – from writing to publishing, to learning about an author or book, to physically buying it and reading it – are slowly becoming unrecognisable.
"It's a more surface level way of communicating with people."
We talk about the implications of English becoming an ever global language, about how the language becomes more detached from its past: a more oral language.
With emojis, internet specific words and slang becoming assimilated into everyday speech, the internet is evolving language pretty rapidly.
Language with a capital L loses some of its roots, becoming almost a-historical: retaining the vestiges of a literary tradition, but in a more suppressed way.
It's something mirrored by the digital business landscape. Just as there are new ways for words and expressions to pop up all over the place out of nothing in the virtual, social media saturated world, so silicon valley “unicorns” emerge from the most unlikely of ideas - "'Expedia for golf', 'Facebook for cars', 'Nest for water' and 'Tinder for dogs'".
Slang, as an act of merging ideas together, is a means for people to create a shared language based on culture and context, driven by a generalised principle of simplification; simplification is the foundation of the modern app-based service industries as consumerism finds new ways to make consumption easier.
Need to book a table, hotel, flight? Don’t bother with menus, phone numbers or travel agents, we’ve sorted it for you – just click here.
A pop-up language for a pop-up culture: a pop-up business model for a pop-up economy.
But at the same time it’s opened up the possibility of us reaching people all over the world. Rachel finds it's always a pleasant surprise to receive something from New Zealand.
She goes on to tell me about the charity Write Stars supports, Children in Crisis. A third of all the proceeds from their competitions go to supporting “children suffering the effects of poverty and conflict in Africa and Asia - specifically in Afghanistan, Burundi, DR Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone” through various education projects.
It’s an example of how businesses today are beginning to focus on social responsibility and sharing. Altruism can be, ironically enough, a valuable commodity. But 1 in every 3 pounds is a figure rarely seen in company philanthropy duties.
Rachel works on Write Stars part time and it's reassuring and refreshing to see a company not driven by profit but by a genuine desire to help out other people in their niche.
For more information about Children in Crisis, click here.