Tips For Founders

9 Mistakes I’ve Made Whilst Growing Scribly to 5 Figure MRR

Table of contents:

The launch of Scribly 2.0 is both a huge moment for celebration, as well as an opportunity for reflection. In this post I’ll be running through the key things I’ve learnt since launching my first business just under a year ago.

Around 9 months ago I first launched my copywriting agency, 

The months since then have been a series of trial-and-error ups-and-downs that have led the business to where it is today: $18K/M revenue with zero marketing spend.

Today I’ve launched a big new update to in the form of a brand new website as well as updated pricing and service packages. It’s been a long process of refining exactly what I want Scribly to be, and how I want the brand to make people feel.

This is a huuuge milestone for me, as it marks the moment both I (as an entrepreneur) and Scribly (as a business) reach a new level of maturity.

The launch of Scribly 2.0 is both a huge moment for celebration, as well as an opportunity for reflection. In this post I’ll be running through the key things I’ve learnt since launching my first business just under a year ago.

Scribly 2.0

1. Be strategic in where you focus your energy

It’s such an easy trap to fall into.

You have ambitious growth plans and a thousand things on your to-do list to make it happen. Any given day might see you trying to juggle a content strategy, prospect new customers, launch referral initiatives, all while trying to serve your existing customers.

If this sounds like you: stop.

I spent far too long in the initial stages of Scribly trying to do too much. In trying to achieve growth each month, I found myself experimenting with lots of different growth tactics, but failing as I was doing none of them well.

This approach wasn’t just stressing me out and leading to needlessly long days, but was also demoralising. There were days when I felt so demotivated by how few results I was seeing for the effort that I was putting in, that I felt like giving up. 

It wasn’t until I took stock of just how much I was trying to do that I realised I was setting myself up to fail (and I was wasting marketing spend).

Since then, I’ve learnt to be much more strategic in where I focus my energy. Rather than trying to do everything at once, I now just focus on one thing at a time and commit to doing it well.

I plan everything in a Kanban board in Notion, and force myself to stick to the planned initiatives, and nothing more.

That’s meant making some difficult decisions like stopping our content strategy entirely and pausing on any paid marketing until I first nailed other more high-priority activities like prospecting and referrals (which have by far been more effective tactics).

If you need more guidance on how to effectively prioritise, plan and manage growth experiments, check out this growth handbook by Hubspot, which has a helpful blueprint you can  follow.

2. Build your business so that others can take over

If you’re a solo founder like me, I honestly cannot stress just how important it is to build your  business in a way that makes it easy for others to come on board.

One of the single biggest failures I have made since launching Scribly is having an operational setup that made it almost impossible for anyone else to get involved. 

Initially, that wasn’t an issue as I was running everything myself. But as soon as Scribly began to scale, it caused huge issues. 

Largely the issues boiled down to lack of documentation about how things worked. Absolutely everything was in my head. That meant that if I wanted to bring anyone in to edit posts, or handle clients, they had nothing to refer to that would help them get to grips with how things work.

Another key mistake I made was not standardising things. Pricing was calculated on a fairly ad-hoc basis, which made it impossible for someone to help with managing new leads that were coming through. I had inadvertently created a set up where I was unable to take a day off. Which is definitely not ideal.

Scribly is now supported by other editors, a growth lead, and a customer support assistant. Since bringing those fabulous guys into the team, I’ve had to go back to basics and document every aspect of who our clients are and how things are done.

Again, I’ve used Notion to do this, which is an incredible powerful tool for creating an interactive business wiki. I also make a point of adding to the wiki as and when anything changes.

Scribly version 1

3. Learn to delegate

Following on from the above point, another key mistake I’ve made along the road with Scribly is having issues trusting other people to take on elements of my role.

Delegating core tasks (particularly relating to editing content and client management) is something I’ve found really, really difficult. Ultimately, no-one that comes on board to Scribly can do a good job unless I make it possible for them to do so, so this is something that I’ve been working on a lot. 

Stepping back from tasks isn’t easy when you want everything to be perfect, but being a micro-manager is a really ugly leadership trait. So if you want your business to thrive, you’ve got to fully trust your team to deliver. 

If you’ve hired the right people, they will do a great job (even if their approach might not be quite the one you would have taken).

Until you can successfully delegate, you will always be the blocker for your business. Growth will only extend to the limits of your time, and, as much as you might wish it otherwise, your time is not infinite.

So for the good of both your mental health, and your business, learn to delegate in the early stages of your business growth. 

4. Don’t get hung up on the numbers 

Last December I did a really ridiculous thing. 

I looked at the very basic figures I had on how Scribly had grown between September-Christmas and used that to set monthly growth targets.

15% MoM growth was the figure I settled on. Which is ok when your revenue is $5K, but definitely not when you get much higher than that.

And do you know what happened?

As soon as I set myself this arbitrary figure (that I’d pretty much plucked out of thin air without much thought), I started to feel like I was failing. Each month, I’d look at the target I’d set myself vs where I actually was (always much lower), and rather than celebrating the growth I had achieved, I felt like I was screwing up.  

It was totally the wrong approach, especially for such a young business.

So whilst I do think targets are good for giving you something to strive for, remember to frame them properly.

Whatever growth you achieve is worth celebrating. Analyse what it was that led you to growth - no matter how small - and find ways of doing more of.

Everything you do in the early stages will have an unpredictable impact on your business, so don’t get caught up in the numbers. Instead, focus on learning about the factors that affect your growth - this will be the key to your future success.

5. Be selective about your customers

When I started Scribly, I took on every lead that came through my inbox’s doors. The value of the project didn’t matter, nor did the likelihood of the customer using us more than once. I said yes to everything. 

I also cut costs left, right and center to cater for businesses (mostly startups) who didn’t have the budget for our normal pricing. 

That meant that I was often losing money, often on projects and clients that were really challenging. 

At the time, I equated more clients with more success. 

But the thing is, as I was adding more clients, my profit margin was actually decreasing. Considerably. And my stress levels were going in the other direction.

It just wasn’t worth it. 

It wasn’t until the month where I hit $15K that I had the confidence to start turning clients away. The first time I did it, I was almost holding my breath in fear. It was so counterintuitive to everything I’d been doing up until then. 

But actually, taking this approach has been so liberating. 

I recently took the strategic decision to only accept clients who are looking for a higher-end content provider, and are in a position to afford the rates that great content requires. 

This means that now, rather than chasing more clients, I actually only want a handful of higher value clients. 

Getting to this point has been a long process of learning to trust my judgement, and learning more about the business. So my advice here is to think critically about the strategic direction you want to take your business in, and then to make (sometimes difficult) decisions to help you get there.

Scribly version 2

6. Have the courage to be premium

One of the updates I’ve just made to Scribly has been to increase our prices. 

One of the really frustrating things about running a service-based business is that the value of your work is often undermined. 

This is particularly the case when it comes to content. 

There are dozens of content mills online offering dirt cheap copy. You can go online right now and get yourself a 1000 word blog post for $5. Or unlimited content for a few hundred bucks. 

The result of that is not only chronic exploitation of freelance writers, but also a deep undervaluing of copywriting and content production as a service. Of course, you get what you pay for - the internet is filled with articles that are poorly written and researched.

In trying to compete with these prices, I found myself offering low-cost subscriptions that were losing me money. Quality was lower, and my job satisfaction was lower. It was a lose-lose. Especially as clients on these subscriptions were often the most demanding and most difficult to work with.

I’ve now made the decision to raise the Blogging Unlimited package by 35% to $2700/m and the Everything Unlimited package by almost 43% up to $5000/m.

These price rises have been the result of much introspection about the value of what Scribly offers. Ultimately, I’ve come to realise that if I don’t place a value on the (exceptional) work that we produce, then no-one else will. 

7. Don’t rush into paid marketing, organic growth is easier than you think

So far, I’ve spent about $400 in total on marketing Scribly. That’s been on content marketing. 

I’ve yet to spend a single cent on any paid advertising, and am fairly certain that this will continue to be the case for a long time to come.

The thing is, I’ve realised that for a service-based business like Scribly, value comes from word-of-mouth. Most of our growth has been from free referrals from existing customers, who’ve been so happy with their experience that they’ve shared us with other businesses in their network.

The point I’m trying to make here is that, whilst paid marketing can be tempting, you should also be careful not to fall into the trap of ‘buying growth’. As soon as you pull the plug on your spend, you might find that your customers all but disappear.

Exploring organic growth initiatives, be they via social media, content, or simply word-of-mouth, can be a great way of securing long term market share. This is potentially easier for a service-based business like Scribly than for an app or other tech product, but definitely something worth bearing in mind no matter what kind of business you’re growing.

8. Remote teams are powerful, but also lonely

Scribly is 100% remote. 

I sit in our headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark. The rest of the team is spread across the UK, the US, Mexico, Sweden, Australia, South Korea and Singapore. 

Working in this remote setup has so many benefits: the team is extremely diverse, we can deliver work pretty much around the clock, and costs are lower. 

That said, it can be a lonely business, too.

For the first 8 months, I was running Scribly entirely from my office at home. I could spend entire weeks without really interacting with another person (other than my sweet-ass dog, Phoebe). It was lonely. 

Last month I finally got the courage to invest in a proper office space. I now have my own room in a co-working space, and have finally managed to separate my work and home life (kind of…).

This is so, so important for your mental wellbeing when you’re working as a solo-founder, or as part of a remote startup. Having people to interact with on a daily basis and establishing a dedicated work space has been such a healthy move for me, and one that I wish I’d taken much sooner. 

Investing money back into the business for an office space might seem frivolous, but I can’t overstate how important it is. For one, there’s nothing like an office to make you feel like a proper business! And secondly, you’ll get so much from having people around you as you grow your own little success story.

9. Being burnt out sucks, but it also provides new perspectives

12 months ago I was in the midst of a breakdown. 

Not the “man, I’m overworked and feeling stressed” kind. The kind where each morning my goal was to just get through the day.

At the time I was working as a freelance marketer and copywriter. It was the first time I’d ever been self employed, so not only I was juggling dozens of demanding clients, I was also battling the inner turmoil that is wondering whether you’ll earn enough each month to pay the bills. 

It was tough. 

After struggling in this state for some months, I decided to pull the plug on everything and just figure out my next move. 

After a bit of rest, I had the headspace to think critically about what I wanted. I definitely wanted to continue working with words, and I still wanted the freedom of being self-employed. I just didn’t want the 15 hour days of difficult clients. 

So I decided to flip the switch on my role and project manage content production for businesses. And so, an embryonic version of Scribly was born.

This was without doubt one of the most difficult periods of my life. And yet, what came of it has been nothing short of extraordinary. 

If you ever find yourself in a period of burnout, allow yourself time to stop. My personal experience is that this is exactly what you need to not just survive this difficult period, but to thrive from it.

And there you have it...

9 failures. 9 very important lessons. 

I hope this post helps you in some way on your own journey, whatever that might be!

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