By GREGORY ZELLER //
Poems By Carolyn got its start churning out rhymes for bar and bat mitzvah candle-lighting ceremonies, along with the occasional Sweet 16 sonnet.
Fifteen years later, Carolyn Gilbert Schwartz’s professional network includes major regional event planners, and her business list has swelled to include startups and national corporations.
And poems are just the half of it: Penning everything from marriage proposals to snappy website content, the entrepreneur has thought about changing her company name – “I’ve niched myself with poems,” she lamented – but has run up against one of the best problems any business can have.
“I can’t change the name now,” Schwartz said. “Everyone knows it.”
Poems By Carolyn’s rise to essential rhyming resource began humbly enough. Schwartz, a former salesperson for the Long Beach office of now-defunct tax-handbook publisher RIA, was a full-time mother of three daughters when a friend, knowing Schwartz’s wordsmithing talents, asked her to write a poem for a bat mitzvah ceremony.
“It really started by accident,” Schwartz noted. “I was just dabbling for fun.”
That dabbling included the half-dozen moms who approached her at the bat mitzvah, wondering if she could lend her pen to their forthcoming celebrations. Before she knew it, Poems By Carolyn “just blossomed,” and Schwartz had herself a bona fide business, writing rhymes and other messages for parties of all sorts.
She continued dabbling until 2004, when she officially launched Pine Creative Inc. (dba Poems By Carolyn) and started expanding. Still doing all the writing herself, Schwartz found herself collaborating with an increasing number of event planners who were happy to recommend her to their clients.
“They see me as a value-added service,” Schwartz noted.
Those clients went way beyond proud mothers. While she still writes all sorts of personal passages – for the young American popping the question at the foot of the Eifel Tower, and the Scotsman who wanted to eulogize his recently departed “mum” – Schwartz has also made a name among commercial clients.
She’s hesitant to reveal her commercial client list – some might not want to know they’d hired a suburban mother to write their corporate correspondence – but Schwartz did mention a well-known New York City-based pharmacy chain and a national skin-care company among those who’ve availed themselves of the power of her pen.
And she’s extremely proud of the major-league collection of regional event planners who send customers her way, including NYC’s Pat Glenn Productions, Eventful Productions of Roslyn Heights and Oceanside’s Dazzling Parties, the host of that first-ever celebration featuring an original Schwartz poem, way back in 1999.
Together, these and other event-planners have introduced Poems By Carolyn to “lots of wonderful and amazing clients,” according to the company namesake, though Schwartz has not relied only on passive word-of-mouth advertising.
The CEO is knee-deep in targeted web advertising, buying space on NYC-based party-planning hub Mitzvah Market and on the website of Michigan-based Mitzvah List, which provides similar one-stop planning for Midwest clients.
Including all those bar and bat mitzvahs, the Sweet 16s, bunches of weddings and Holy Communions and her increasing portfolio of commercial clients, Schwartz has kept plenty busy; lately she’s been “writing morning, noon and night” to keep up, she said.
Still, the entrepreneur – who recently hired part-time help in the form of a friend who formerly wrote corporate content for Mercedes-Benz USA – is thinking growth.
Although she’s shifting her focus to corporate communication and website content, she’s still penning the personal stuff, including a recent speech for an 80th birthday party, parody songs for family events, a 25th anniversary poem for a California vineyard owner, even “toasts for high-society women who need to say something at a party.”
She’s playing it by ear for now, though more hiring seems to be in the cards, likely in the coming year.
One of the secrets of her success, Schwartz noted, is her personable nature: That Scotsman was “genuinely moved” by what she wrote for his dearly departed mother, and the California winemaker actually invited her to come stay at the vineyard the next time she’s out in San Francisco.
These personal connections lead to a healthy percentage of repeat customers. They also infuse everything Schwartz writes – and they’ve helped her overcome her No. 1 business hurdle, which is people feeling like they’re cheating by having someone else write their heartfelt messages.
“I tell people all the time: ‘Don’t feel guilty,’” she said. “These are their emotions. Their feelings. It’s their work. I’m just putting it together for them, poetically.
“I’m not the most incredible writer on the planet, but I do have a keen way of relating to people,” Schwartz added. “When I hear their voice explaining the details to me, I totally get them.
“I’m actually writing their words.”