Over these past 12 months, I’ve been hacking my way towards building a sustainable business that is both profitable and enjoyable to run. Everything has been the steepest of learning curves. I’ve gone through frustrating setbacks, crippling self doubt and unexpected wins.
One of the key things that I’ve been struggling with throughout this journey is actually productizing copywriting as a service. Or at least, doing so in a way that is scalable.
And so, this week I did a thing.
I took an entire week off from running Scribly to focus on all the things that the businesses needed to become a scalable productized service.
It’s been an intense, tiring and challenging experience, but I can honestly say it’s the single best thing I’ve done since starting the business. This week has taught me SO much about the mistakes I’ve made since starting Scribly, and has given me a much better perspective of what it actually takes to productize a service that you can grow beyond you.
In this post I’ll be running through the key things I’ve worked on, so that you can learn from my mistakes and avoid these common pitfalls.
The Business Model: Are You Productising The Right Thing?
For the first 12 months, I’ve been marketing Scribly as an Unlimited Copywriting Service. And yet, it was only when I paused to reflect on my current clients that I realised that almost every sale was a custom package.
I thought the Unlimited angle was my productized hook, but it’s actually not what people wanted. I also thought people wanted general copywriting support, but the vast majority of sales were specifically for long-form content marketing.
And so, this week I took Scribly.io back to the drawing board somewhat to redefine the business model. We’ve shifted from a focus on Unlimited Copywriting 👉🏼 flexible content marketing packages.
This is not only what customers have told us they want, but it’s actually a huge leap towards actually productising Scribly for reals.
Until now, almost every sale was fairly inconsistent in terms of scope and pricing. Now I have very defined, clear offerings, each with set pricing, set deliverables, and set processes.
Scribly now has three very clear packages:
- The Micro: 3 pieces of blog content for $750
- The Mega: 10 pieces of blog content for $1900
- Unlimited: Unlimited blog content for $3500
If none of these packages fit, customers can simply customise their own. An important part of making this possible is to document a fixed internal process and pricing for custom orders.
Similarly, we now state up front what kinds of one-off products we deliver, and have implemented them into the ‘Get Started’ flow.
This means that anybody can now confidently step into a sales role at Scribly without needing me to be involved. And it’s a huge leap towards automating the sales and lead gen process (I’ll go into this in more detail later on)
Insight 1: Launching with something, but then be ready to transform your model and offer based on what your sales patterns and customers tell you. Don’t just productize something that sounds different or new - find ways of productising what your customers actually need. Sounds obvious but it took me a year to get there.
Insight 2: Be extremely consistent in each of your products from day one. Define clear products and pricing structures to make it easy to scale sales in a systematic way.
Pricing: Are You Charging Enough To Offer An Exceptional Service?
I think there’s a tendency within this space to equate productized with cheap.
A productized service doesn’t have to be insanely cheap: that is not your value prop.
What you are selling is a convenient, scalable, packaged version of a service that helps your customers in some way.
When I launched Scribly, I was massively underpricing our products. I honestly had no idea how to price things so I just took my own freelance rate, compared it to what others were offering online, and then tried to put myself at the lower end of that range.
My insecurity was telling me that it was only by being cheaper than the alternatives out there that I would be able to sell anything.
But, here’s the thing:
As a productized service, you are going to be wholly reliant on other freelancers. If you charge too low, won’t be able to work with the most talented and professional partners - and they are the key to being able to scale without compromising on quality.
To take the copywriting example: my initial pricing structure meant that I had to work with less experienced freelance copywriters in order to leave any profit margin.
That placed an enormous burden on the editing process (which until very recently has been done mostly by me). It was almost impossible to scale with the pricing structure I started with - I became the biggest blocker in the business.
I have now made a strategic decision to charge a lot more than many of my competitors. But my promise is that you’ll get best-in-class content for that investment.
Rather than work with cheaper freelancers, I now work with writers who’ve been published in leading publications like Bloomberg, the FT and the BBC, and I have editors who’ve led the global Got Talent (aka Britain’s/America’s Got Talent) brand.
Raising my prices and focusing on a higher end product has achieved two key things:
- Written content is almost perfect at the point it’s submitted to the editors. This reduces the burden on the editorial process significantly, and has allowed me to find team members who can take on a lot of my previous editing role.
- I can now confidently scale knowing that I can ensure super high quality work and still turn a profit.
Insight 1: I see a lot of people saying they can’t find other freelancers who do the same quality of work as they do. Figure out what you’d need to charge in order to partner with people of the same calibre as you. Price around that - if you sell your service short, you’ll really struggle to get off the ground in a sustainable way.
Processes: Have You Documented Your Ways Of Working?
It might seem like overkill when you’re running your productized service solo, but I cannot overstate just how important it is to create a business that you can easily bring others into.
I didn’t, and it took so much work to rectify.
Literally everything was in my head or inbox. This included:
- Client Overview: Who are our current clients? Who’s the main point of contact? What’s their tone of voice and style guidelines? What package are they on?
- Team Overview: Who are our writers and editors? What’s their capacity each week etc?
- Roles and responsibilities: Who’s job is it to do what, and how do you do it properly?
- Operations: What tools do we use for what? How should we use them properly?
Though I knew the answers to all of these things, it was literally impossible to bring anyone else on board and for them to be successful. And I really needed to bring someone on board - I was drowning. In fact, back in April, I tried to bring a virtual assistant to help with some admin tasks and it was a total fail, as I simply hadn’t documented anything for her to take over from me.
I’ve now documented absolutely every single process, from project management to sales. I’ve done this in Notion, but other helpful tools for this are Slite, Paper, or even just good old trusty Google Docs.
This has had an immediate effect. Within a week of doing this, I was able to bring a lead editor and project manager onto the team, and they are smashing it. They now have a single source of truth to do their jobs well, which means I can finally let go of the reins.
Insight: Documenting everything was an incredibly tedious and long-winded process as I had to document all the company knowledge I’d built over the course of a year. So, if I can give you one very important piece of advice: start documenting from day 1. It doesn’t have to be too detailed (I’m a big believer that you can definitely stifle productivity and creativity by over-processifying things). However, it’s essential that your team has a single company wiki that they can turn to in order to do their jobs well. Try to hire or grow without this, and you’ll fail.
Sales: Do You Have a CRM That Allows For Collaboration?
CRM has been the bane of my life since starting Scribly. I’ve just really struggled to find a way of integrating all the moving parts of Scribly together so that the CRM is an actual reflection of all the interactions we have had with someone.
When I tried to bring a customer support person in to help me manage the inbox, we ended up having all kinds of issues (emailing the same customer twice, emailing the wrong person etc).
This week I set about fixing that. Here’s an overview of my new process:
- CRM Tool: Hubspot (I pay for Sales Starter)
- Online form: Webflow’s build in form
- Integrations: Zapier
- Notifications about new leads: Slack
This is the flow:
Customer fills in the online form and selects a specific product:
Zapier then automatically creates a new deal in Hubspot with both the customer details and the package they are interested in:
I get a notification in Slack (sent by PhoebeBot, a virtual version of my dog) about the new lead in the #new-leads channel:
Whoever is working on sales (usually me) will then go into Hubspot, assign the deal to themselves, enrol the contact into the relevant sales sequence (which is automated using Hubspot Sequences), and then move to the card into the relevant stage in the pipeline.
This is a very, very simple setup, but operationally it’s totally sound (and totally scalable).
The biggest hurdle is changing the culture internally to make sure that Hubspot is up to date each day.
This is a big adjustment for me, as I’m used to just hoarding all this company info in my inbox. But now that Hubspot has been set up to actually allow for collaboration, I force myself each day to make sure that:
- Deals are in the right stage of the pipeline
- Deals have a value
- Deals are assigned to someone
- New leads have a deal created (for example - leads via the online chat, or word-of-mouth)
- Notes and follow on tasks are added to deals
When you’re a team of one, having a messy CRM isn’t the end of the world. But as soon as you want to scale you’re gonna be in big trouble unless you figure out a system that works for you.
I’ve now documented the Sales & CRM process fully in Notion, so that everyone knows exactly how to use it.
Insights: There is no fool-proof way of making a ninja-style CRM. The key thing is to find a process that works for your business’ workflow and then stick to it.
Automations and Integrations: Have You Taken Humans Out Of Your Process Where You Can?
Scaling a productized service is different to many other types of businesses. For one: service-based businesses are powered by humans, so typically more customers/sales means more resources.
Humans will always be central to a service-business (that’s one of the best parts!). But because of this, it’s super important to automate every part of your business that you possibly can, so that you can focus your resources on the tasks that have most value.
How and where you automate will depend very much on your business, but to give you some ideas, here’s what I’ve done:
- Automated deal and contact creation in Hubspot from Webflow
- Notifications of new leads in a dedicated channel
- Google Doc links - with the correct permissions - automatically added to Airtable for writers to work on (this happens when a task is added)
- Notifications for writers and editors when they are assigned a task
- Reminder notifications 24 hours before a task is due
There is still so much to do, but this base set of automations has had an enormous impact on my productivity and ability to scale.
I use a combination of Zapier and Quickflow for these integrations.
Toolstack: Have You Over Complicated By Over Tooling?
Selecting a toolstack is a delicate balance. And overtooling is very easily done. I had a bit of a habit at the beginning of starting Scribly of thinking that I just needed to find a tool for everything, which meant I went a bit overboard.
Last week I went back to the drawing board and cut down to the bare minimum, which means that Scribly’s toolstack now looks like this:
This is the minimum I think Scribly needs in order to run effectively as a remote business, and I’ve worked hard to reduce any tools that just added complexity.
Of course, right now we’re a tiny team and this list will grow as Scribly does (for example, I’m not currently doing anything on social media or email marketing)
Insight: the important thing to ask before adding anything into your toolstack should always be:
- Does this tool actually add value or is it just creating confusion?
- Does this tool fit into existing workflows? If not - can we figure out a process for it to do so?
- Does the cost justify the output?
If so - go for it! If not, maybe you don’t need it.
Scaling a productized service is not easy. So start as you mean to go on.
Now that I’m on the other side of last week, I honestly don’t know how I spent so long running Scribly how I was before. It was totally not designed for scale, and it’s no wonder that any increase in clients was inversely proportional to how much I was enjoying the business.
Now, I just feel like the biggest weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and if I was to build another company (productized or not) I’d implement these insights from day 1.
I hope this post helps you in your own process, and I’d be happy to chat on any of these points in more detail - feel free to drop me a message if you’d like to know more.