The Happy Guy Marketing Inc. is also known as THGM Writers and THGM Writing Services. Those three aliases describe who THGM is and what it does. The “Happy Guy” part perfectly describes its brand, which is laser focused on making clients happy – customer satisfaction.
THGM provides a wide range of writing services. The clients are primarily individuals, small businesses and small not-for-profits. The services are mostly:
- Book manuscripts, mostly fiction and memoirs, but also for business, self-help, children’s and spiritual books
- Speeches, especially for weddings and commencements
- Website content
- Press releases
The story of THGM Writing Services
If ever there was a story of a carefully planned operation, with goals, objectives, strategies and resources required, this is not that story. Even the name of the business happened by accident This is more the story of “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”
David and Chantal had been living well in their downtown Toronto. But when baby number one came along, a move to the countryside made sense. Giving up their well-paying day jobs was a life decision, not a financial one.
David wrote his book, Climb Your Stairway to Heaven: the 9 habits of maximum happiness. He set up to become a jet-setting motivation speaker.
He was a good speaker. However, he grudgingly admits that he was not nearly as good a speaker as Zig Zigler. As for Zigler’s legendary sales skills, David was pretty much the opposite. In particular, he sucked at selling himself as a speaker.
A career twist
In the department of “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans,” David did amazingly well at propelling his website to top rankings. He wrote a visionary article on the future of search engine optimization (SEO). Back in 2005, almost nobody in the world of SEO was looking ahead five or ten years, so this article stood out.
It stood out so much that David had three SEO clients within a couple months.
The dream of speaker writer was over. The career of SEO writer was launched.
He set up a website to sell SEO services and writing services. And that’s when “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans” happened again.
Becoming a freelance writers agency
People started asking him to write novels. And screenplays. And all sorts of books. Besides being too much for one person, many of these were not David’s field of expertise.
Fortunately, several writers also contacted him: “Can we work for you?”
It was a match made in heaven. And David’s time was increasingly being spent as a matchmaker. As David said in a 2019 podcast interview, “The secret is don’t do everything yourself.”
This slow transition from freelancer to agency meant growth. To become a “real business”, with real employees, David and Chantal decided to incorporate in 2006. They took on the roles of CEO and CFO respectively.
Challenges in the market
Both the economy and the fickleness of search engines gave THGM Writing Services a roller coaster ride. Business dipped significantly during the 2008 recession, shortly after they hired their first (and last) employee. It was too much overhead to bear in a suddenly diminished marketplace. It was a hard lesson to learn.
Working with freelancers gave THGM more flexibility to scale up and to scale back as needed. David and Chantal focused on marketing the agency’s services and on making sure each client’s projects were delivered to the client’s satisfaction.
Over time they built a team of talented book writers and creative screenplay writers who could be trusted to write well and treat the clients like kings and queens, two equally important skills. For a brand that focuses on customer satisfaction as strongly as “The Happy Guy, the latter skill was paramount.
David recalls a time when he learned that lesson. Twice!
Lessons learned the hard way
In an interview with Authority Magazine, David recounts how a client woke him and Chantal in the middle of the night, accusing them of extortion. A new writer on their team had refused to continue working until the client paid more money than had been agreed to in the contract.
This would not do, so David promised the client to assign a new writer and finish the job for the quoted price, which probably would have meant taking a loss on the project.
The client wouldn’t have any of it. He insisted on keeping the same writer.
So, taking the route to customer satisfaction, they allowed the client to pay what they called “the extortion fee.” But that was the end of THGM’s relationship with that writer.
One year later, the same thing happened again.
Another new writer on the team.
Another extortion attempt.
Another offer to complete the project with a different writer.
Another refusal to accept a different writer.
This time, a valuable lesson was learned. New writers are vetted not just for their writing skills, but for how they handle client relationships. It’s as valuable a skill as good quality writing.
By 2011, The Happy Guy Marketing was shedding its SEO client to better focus on writing. As Maryna Shkvorets learned, a business has a better chance of succeeding with a clear focus. They set up a website just for writing services. And they began using primarily the THGM Writers and THGM Writing Services names for branding.
THGM still relies on search engines for much of its new client acquisition. There is no specific place, no platform, no hashtag to identify people who want help writing a book. However, as the business has matured there have been other. As he said in a 2021 interview:
“Repeat clients are our second-biggest source of gigs (after the search engine queries), with client referrals and clients gained through networking being two other big sources. Right now, we’re working with seven repeat clients, and another seven names are still up on the whiteboard because they have indicated they intend to hire us for additional projects (a few of them likely will).”
Opportunities lie ahead
Over the past five to six years, the requests for screenplays has been slowly increasing. In 2019, we started noticing people specifically mentioning the growing Netflix market. I would say most of the growth in screenwriting has come from people wanting to adapt their books to film and people with series or mini-series ideas.
In response, we have boosted our strength in that area. With both our offspring coming of age and both heavily involved in the performing arts, they are also helping us serve this growing market.
Increasingly, screenplay requests are coming from experienced players with IMDB profiles. This bodes well for the future.
While Chantal continues to handle the finances and make sure the writers get paid, David continues to do some of the writing himself. Most of what he writes are speeches, including wedding and commencement speeches, as well as speeches for SEOs. And he has written a few non-fiction books, such as the “non-fiction-novel” he talks about when interviewed on how to make history interesting.
In 2022, they launched the THGM MUSE scholarship for young writers heading off to university, saying that its time to give back to the community and to help build the future.
How The Happy Guy Marketing got its name
By now, readers might be wondering where the “Happy Guy” name came from. It was not carefully planned using focus groups or discovered through an app like Namify.
In keeping with their entire approach to business, the name was another example of “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”
In David’s words:
“I had just published my book on happiness, and I was valiantly but hopelessly pursuing speaking opportunities. I was touring local BNI chapters, and I had a minute to introduce myself.
As fate would have it, I had just agreed to write a column in a start-up magazine. The column was to be called “The Happy Guy”. So, I introduced my self as ‘David Leonhardt, the happy guy’.
When the meeting was over, several people came up to me to chat. It was, after all, a networking meeting. Every one of them addressed me as ‘Happy Guy’. None of them remembered that I was David Leonhardt.
A half hour after that meeting, I had bought the domain name.”
The start-up magazine never landed the needed funding. It never published. The Happy Guy name, however, lived on.
Advice after almost two decades in business
David insists he is not a model that others should follow. “Do what I didn’t. Make a plan,” he says. He cautions about being flexible enough to tke advantage of opportunities or to adjust to changing situations. But he is convinced that their business would have done better with a plan.
He also wants young entrepreneurs to know that they are not alone, and that they should not go it alone. He points out that there are several ways to get support.
- Outsource the things that you can’t do yourself, can’t do well enough or would take too much time
- Don’t be shy to barter services, if you are tight on cash.
- Network for sales. Network for brainstorming. Network for partnerships. Network for emotional support.
He encourages entrepreneurs, noting that anybody can start a business. If you have a dream, if you have a vision, make a plan and pursue it.
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