Article Photo Credit: Lynn Laumann Photography
Meet Rachel Berg Scherer, a Minnesota-based writer, editor, and teacher. Through her business, Midwest Writing and Editing, she works with businesses, academics, and nonprofits. From writing and editing textbooks to taking in Minnesota’s greatest historical sites with her kids, it’s clear Rachel is passionate about her business and learning. Keep reading to learn more about Rachel’s path to entrepreneurship!
Tell us about Midwest Writing & Editing.
Midwest Writing and Editing offers writing and editing services for businesses, academics, and nonprofits. I am a writer, editor, and teacher. I love to help small businesses show the world the best-written version of themselves.
The Early Days
Describe your childhood in one word.
Describe your childhood personality in one word.
When you were a little girl what career did you dream of having “when you grow up”?
My parents were both teachers, so I idolized the profession. I would arrange all my stuffed animals as a class and read books to them. I’m pretty sure I also called out a few stuffies who were messing around instead of paying attention. But my mom always told me that teaching was “a thankless profession,” and I should do something else.
What was your first job?
I waited tables all through high school and college. I think everyone should spend at least part of their professional life in the service industry. It forever changes how you interact with every server and clerk for the rest of your life. Even though that stint at Red Lobster right after college was a bit of a professional low point, I’m grateful for the experience.
The Learning Years
Where did you attend college?
Concordia College in Moorhead, MN
What was your first job out of college?
My first job was technically waiting tables at Red Lobster during the all-you-can-eat crab promotion. Thankfully, my first “real” job came that summer. I started working for the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office as a “Consumer Services Analyst,” answering hundreds of phone calls each day from Minnesotans. I was promoted to a mediator soon after, where I helped Minnesota consumers resolve disputes with companies.
What did you do before starting Midwest Writing & Editing?
I worked for the AG’s office for three years, then my husband and I moved to the east coast two months after we got married. I worked on Capitol Hill for a small legislative branch agency called the Office of Compliance. We administered the 12 workplace protection laws—OSHA, discrimination protections, etc.—in the Congressional Accountability Act. After that experience, I needed the opposite of life on Capitol Hill, so I worked for the School Sisters of Notre Dame, an order of nuns in Baltimore. They were the most hard-working, caring, intelligent and fiercely feminist women I’ve ever known. It was an honor to serve as their Communications Director. Telling their stories was always easy. They were also an order of teaching nuns, so in telling their stories, I found myself talking about teachers and classrooms.
So after years of ignoring a calling and genetics, I enrolled in a teaching program at the University of Notre Dame of Maryland, a great college in Baltimore that also happened to be administered by my nuns. Because of a teaching shortage in Baltimore, I found myself in front of my first class after just two classes and a week before Christmas break. I made it through that first year because of strong school leadership and personal mentors, and I taught for five more years. When my son was born, daycare canceled out a meager teaching salary, and I really wanted to spend time with my own kid after teaching other people’s children for so long. My last day of teaching was January 20, 2012, three weeks before my due date. I thought I’d have plenty of time to get ready for baby, but my son was born on January 21.
The Entrepreneurial Years
What year did you decide to start your own business?
Why did you decide you wanted to start your own business?
I loved that I had the option to stay home with my son, but it was isolating and I wasn’t feeling challenged. Because it’s hard to be a part-time teacher, I explored other options. After a ridiculous attempt at selling lactation cookies, I started to take on small writing and editing projects. My very first job was a small editing project for the Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service.
How is your business different today than when you first started?
As my kids have gotten older, I’ve taken on increasingly more professional work. I’m fortunate that my business has grown along with my kids. It’s like my third baby.
I’ve also taken on more than small editing projects. I love larger projects, like textbooks, and I love work that draws on my years in the classroom, like lesson plans and other materials for teachers. I also love working with businesses over a long period of time to overhaul their website copy or promotional materials. If I can help even one person or business write just a bit better, I’ll consider myself a professional success.
I also rely on my History degree now more than I ever thought I would. I do a great deal of textbook writing, including plenty of history books. This work has allowed me to tap into a source of knowledge that I didn’t think I’d ever use again. It’s also helped with other projects, as I’ve honed my research skills.
What three lessons have you learned running your own business?
- Be patient. No one is an overnight success.
- Trust your instincts. If a project is calling, listen.
- The most important lesson: learn how to say no! If something doesn’t feel right—because it’s not the right kind of project or the pay is missing the mark or something intangible about it just doesn’t feel right—turn it down. Every time I’ve done this, work that does feel right has fallen in my lap.
What’s next for your business?
I’d love to do more to teach other small business owners how to write and edit more effectively. I’m also working on some writing courses, specifically for women. They’re actually more of a spiritual practice, so being a good writer is not a requirement.
I’m writing a book! The only downside to a thriving business is that I don’t have as much time for the fun stuff.
What’s your strongest skill set that’s helped you succeed?
I am ridiculously organized. It drives my family crazy, but it’s been a tremendous asset as a business owner.
On this journey, who have been your three most supportive people?
- My husband is such a supportive partner. In the days before our kids started school, but I still wanted my brain to be busier, he stepped up to take care of the kids at night and on weekends while I escaped to a coffee shop or library to work. He’s still the first to encourage me to take on work that seems too big or too scary.
- My mom taught English for nearly 40 years and was the teacher I always strove to be. But she started teaching at a time when women had very few other options, and, in her words, “I would’ve been a terrible secretary.” I think she always saw teaching as settling, but I always thought it was her calling. Now, when I work with clients to improve their writing or write something new, I always channel my mom.
- I have an amazing network of other female entrepreneurs. I meet regularly with a group of women who only uplift and encourage. They’ve shown me how to dream big and have never let me settle. My very first boss also owns her own business. She introduced me to the amazing world of organization through office supplies, and I still rely on her for motivation or advice.
The Bumps in the Road
Have you had any hardships or setbacks in your business or personal life?
Thankfully, I haven’t experienced professional setbacks. I’m trying to grow at a steady pace and have been selective about the people with whom I work.
Personally, however, my husband and I struggled a great deal to have our two children. We lost four pregnancies before my son was born, and we lost another pregnancy in between my son and my daughter. I also struggled with postpartum depression after giving birth the first time. But I was able to write about those experiences, which has helped other women walking through the same dark times. And now I write a parenting column for Rebellious Magazine for Women, where I get to continue to share parenting joys and frustrations.
How did you overcome them?
I overcame them through writing. First by journaling. Then my turning those personal writings into something that I hoped would help other people struggling to become parents or struggling with the overnight burden and responsibility of being a parent.
All About You
Did you always dream of owning your own business or was it a surprise on your career path?
This has been a delightful surprise. I’m sure that if it weren’t for my kids, I’d still be teaching. And while I loved being in the classroom and adored working with teenagers every day, I am so thankful to both of my children for steering me in this other direction.
I also feel, however, that owning my own business is in my genes. My maternal grandfather was a CPA and owned his own firm in Mankato. I may not have inherited his love of numbers, but I certainly got the organizing and entrepreneur gene. I also appear to have inherited his love of spreadsheets.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
I love to read. I also love to talk about books, but I loathe being part of a book club. They always seem to devolve into me teaching an English class. But when I can read the same book as my mom or my best English major friends, I’m happy. (Speaking of those English major friends, the four of us call ourselves “The March Sisters” after the sisters in Little Women. And we’re all meeting in Chicago this weekend to see a stage adaptation of Emma. You can’t get more delightfully dorky than that.)
I also love spending time in our backyard garden and going on long bike rides with my family. In the summer, my kids and I spend time at all our great historic sites. We visit one out-state Minnesota Historical Society site each summer. This year, we checked off Split Rock Lighthouse. I grew up going to Civil War battlefields on family vacations, so I guess this trait is genetic as well.
Tell us about your family.
I learned from my parents not only how to teach, but also how to be a life-long learner. They have both been retired for a while, but my mom is still active in local activist organizations, and my dad is a member of the local school board.
My two kids, now age 7 and 4, are still my greatest professional inspirations, both literally with my parenting column, and as inspirations for all the work I do. I wake up every day, hoping to do something that will make my children proud.
Describe your career path to-date in one word.
Sheridan Story. As a teacher, I know how important it is for kids to have full bellies. As a mom, I can’t imagine any child ever suffering.
Age you’d like to retire at?
I don’t know if I ever will. I can’t imagine a life without writing.
Travel location on your bucket list?
We’re on a mission to take our kids to all the Major League Baseball ballparks. This summer, we checked off Rogers Field in Toronto. We’re also traveling to all the state capitols. This year, we saw the State House in Annapolis. It’s the only one made entirely of wood!
Introvert or Extrovert?
Such an extrovert.
Night owl or early bird?
Crazy early bird. I love my workout crew at 5:15, and I usually come home and get work done before my kids get up.
Favorite podcast, YouTube channel, or blog?
I love Lillian Cunningham’s podcast series for The Washington Post. She started with Presidential, where she featured a different U.S president every week for the 44 weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Then she dove into the Constitution with Constitutional. Her series on the moon landing begins later this summer.
I also love Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell. Each episode explores a forgotten piece of history or examines something that we think we know all about, but really don’t. It’s fascinating.
Favorite business book?
Is it terrible that I haven’t read any? If I have time to read, I’m usually reading fiction.
Favorite business tool?
I’ve just upgraded from a spreadsheet to QuickBooks.
Who are three female entrepreneurs you admire?
- Caytie LaClare @ LaClare Group
- Karen Hawkins @ Rebellious Magazine
- Erin O’Brien, Katy Keeler & Jaime Wallis @ Bring It Studios
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