A 360-page novel begins with a single sentence. That’s themantra of Amanda Patterson, founder and CEO of The Write Co, an organisationthat teaches people creative and business writing skills. Launched in 2003,just in time to take advantage of South Africa’s burgeoning publishingindustry, The Write Co’s flagship course is Writers Write, developed by Pattersonto teach people how to write fiction.
“University courses teach students aboutliterature, but our aim is to help them understand the nuts and bolts of thewriting process so that their work becomes as publishable as possible,” saysPatterson. She’s come in for some criticism from thelocal literati, but her formula clearly works. A total of 27 Writers Writegraduates have been published across a range of genres, turnover has grown froma few hundred thousand rand a year to well over R4, 5 million, and Pattersonwas nominated for the SA Woman of the Year award in 2006.“I’ve always been an entrepreneur and Ihave always wanted to write,” she says. “I had completed my BA degree andopened three children’s clothing boutiques when I decided to write a book andsubmit it to Mills & Boon. It was rejected, and rightly so. I had no ideawhat I was doing.”
Patterson subsequently bought every bookshe could find on writing, and wrote and sent two manuscripts to Mills &Boon, both of which were published. “It was an experiment,” she says. “I tookwhat I had learnt about the mechanics of writing and turned that into acourse.” Her first workshops were presented on an adhoc basis in hired venues, but the demand grew so rapidly that she turned heridea into a business. She has subsequently developed a further 10 creativewriting courses. In addition, Patterson has set up abusiness writing division which offers 10 business-focused writing programmeson topics such as editing, crafting press releases, writing for the media andeven a course on creating a public relations plan beyond 2010. Among herbiggest and most regular clients is the Government.
“Our focus is no longer only on writing,but on communication across the board. The longer I have spent in this business,the more I realise how poorly South Africans communicate. My goal is to enablepeople to express themselves clearly.” Patterson says she grew The Write Coorganically by listening to what people wanted. “My policy has been to neverget into debt. We have always done everything on a cash basis. It’s a simplebusiness model.” The Write Co now employs five permanent employees, as well asa large number of expert facilitators, all of whom are subject experts in theirfield.“My biggest challenge has been management,”says Patterson. “I am creative and entrepreneurial by nature, but I am not amanager. It was initially difficult for me to find the right people to help mestructure the company and I lost a lot of money as a result. However, once allthe proper management systems and structures were in place, the companyunderwent phenomenal growth. We are now acquiring SETA accreditation for ourbusiness writing courses.”
The Write Co is in the process of beingregistered as a proprietary limited company. Patterson has franchised thebusiness, with the first franchise having recently opened in Cape Town. Shedecided to follow the franchise route over two years ago, but took her timecollating the business documentation and finding the right person. The CapeTown franchisee, Sarah Bullen, is a writer and presenter who has herselfcompleted the Writers Write course and, says Patterson, has the passion andmotivation required to run this type of business. The move to franchising came about as aresult of the interest expressed nationally and abroad. “I have had enquiriesfrom England, Ireland and Australia. As far as I know, there are no similarpractical writing courses of this nature on offer there, so we are definitelyinvestigating opportunities for expansion into those markets.”