Tips For Founders

Building a scalable productized service Pt. II: The steps that took Scribly from $15 to 30K MRR

Table of contents:

A run down of the important steps and learnings that took Scribly from $15 to 30K MRR.

In July last year, I wrote a post on some of the important steps I took to grow Scribly from a side project into my full-time business. The 7 months since then have been a busy and intense process of making lots of gradual iterations and improvement to the overall business model and our operations. 

Trust me when I say all the feelings of Imposter Syndrome that I felt at the beginning of my founder journey haven’t ever really left me. I spent so much of my time assuming that, if only I were more experienced, I’d probably do things in a much better / smarter / more efficient way. 

However in Feb, I achieved a monumental milestone of reaching $30K MRR (something I’d hoped to do by the end of 2020!). After reaching this revenue milestone, I figured... I must be doing something right. Even if my methods are a bit wonky and rooted in trial-and-error, there’s probably some value in sharing what I’ve done and why to help other founders in the process of building their own productized biz.

And so, with that in mind, I decided to do a follow on post to the one I wrote in July last year outlining the important steps that have taken Scribly from $15-30K MRR.  

A big thank you to everyone in the Productized Service group who reached out with specific questions. I’ve done my best to cover all the topics you mentioned below. 

Here's what I did over the last 6 months that impacted Scribly's growth...

I made big changes to the business model

Scribly has been through so many iterations and pivots since it was first launched, and especially since I wrote my first post

Last time I wrote, Scribly was just transitioning from an Unlimited Copywriting Service to a Content Marketing As A Service business. 

The original Scribly homepage

When I first launched the business, I thought that the unlimited angle was my hook, but it’s actually not what people wanted. It was only when I paused to reflect on my current clients that I realized that almost every sale was a fixed custom package, and 99% of the time it was for a blog content only. 

Realizing this was a lightbulb moment at the end of a very busy, unfulfilling week filled with lots of sales calls but few converted customers. That night, I decided to officially shift from a focus on unlimited copywriting to done-for-you content marketing packages. 

Effectively we shifted the core value prop to a growth service rather than a writing service.

The new Scribly website

The results of this shift were huge. I did a soft launch with old clients and managed to sell four packages after emailing six people. We generated $5,000 in new sales in month one, and that figure has steadily grown since. 

We've also seen huge improvements in our churn rate, as we are now able to sell recurring subscription packages much more easily (by the way, we use as our sales platform and it’s brilliant!)

Churn rate has reduced from 15% to 2% since the change, which has a huge impact on our MRR (monthly recurring revenue). It’s so much easier now to establish long-lasting partnerships with businesses, as we can plan so much further into the future with our content plans.

Since then, I’ve continuously refined the pricing and messaging to fit our ideal target buyer. 

In the early days, I made a lot of business decisions based on my assumptions about what people would perceive as good value. However, in the months since then, I’ve continuously experimented with different pricing to see how they resonate with new clients. 

I found an an untapped market by focusing on quality above all else

One of the questions I was asked was how I found an untapped market. 

Scribly is perhaps a little different from a number of other productized services as we have intentionally not niched down to a specific vertical or industry.

The thing that’s allowed us to really stand out from a number of our competitors is simply insisting on exceptional quality (which in turn has translated to a high volume of referrals, which I’ll explore in more detail later on).

That said, over time I've learnt so much about our ideal customers and their pain points, which has massively impacted our core messaging.

During sales calls, I realized that so many businesses feel a bit bamboozled by how to ‘do’ content marketing properly, or they simply can’t find the quality of writers needed to execute their strategy well. 

Scribly evolved to fix these core pain points, by combining exceptional strategists and writers into an affordable, scalable monthly service. We want to support businesses with limited resources and budget to invest wisely in content as a growth tool. 

At the same time, we’re focused on building a sustainable, well-paying stream of work for writers, who are often on the receiving end of exploitative rates and ad-hoc work.

As someone who’s worked both writer and client side — it’s so rewarding now to be building a business that genuinely adds value across the board. 

I focused on hiring and growing the team

None of the growth that Scribly has seen over the last year would have been possible without growing the core team. At the time of my last post it was me running everything pretty much single-handedly, but now we have a full-time Head of Content, a Head of Growth, and a Content Strategist who are all absolutely critical parts of the team.

The importance of investing in the right hires

Last August, I hired our first full-time employee, Lauren, who is our amazing Head of Content. Lauren had been one of the first writers I started working with in the early Scribly days, and, when she finished her Masters and was looking for a full-time role, I knew it was a golden opportunity to work with someone who was both exceptionally talented, and who knew the business inside out.

This was a game-changing hire, as it enabled me to step away from the day-to-day running of Scribly to focus on other growth activities. 

Taking on the responsibility of another full-time salary was something that caused me a huge amount of anxiety at the beginning. But as time has passed, I’ve seen just how much Lauren has enabled the business to grow. Not only because she ensures that everything we ship is incredible (word of mouth referrals are still our biggest source of growth), but she also gives me the headspace to figure out how to scale the business in other ways. 

People often tell me that they can’t find the right hires for service businesses. And it’s true, it is tricky. 

But I knew that if I was going to hire someone that would add value and not challenges, I needed to find someone experienced and pay them well. 

Hiring the right people is an investment (often a big one), but it pays off in bounds. I attribute a large part of Scribly’s growth in getting Lauren on board.

Building out the editorial team

Another huge focus this year has been to build out a more scalable editorial team. We’ve now hired 4 editors and Lauren’s role as Head of Content has shifted from editing pretty much everything herself, to coordinating a much bigger team. 

This gives us so much more scope to scale and is something I’m super excited about! This month alone we’ve delivered over 180,000 words, so we need as many fresh editorial eyes on board as possible to make sure that quality remains consistently high. 

Finding quality editors has been a really tricky task. It’s one of the areas that I’ve had the hardest time finding suitable people for as most people equate editing with proofreading. But in the Scribly context, this role is much more about ensuring that each and every piece reads impeccably, so it may involve adding and rewriting, as well as finessing.

I wish I had some really sage advice on how I’ve found great editors, but the truth is, it’s been totally trial and error. Some have applied directly to Scribly, others I’ve had to hire manually through job listings. 

Again, it’s only when I significantly upped the budget I was able to allocate to the editorial positions that I was able to find exceptional talents. Now I feel totally confident in our ability as a team to handle a growing workload of increasingly complex topics.

I documented everything & created scalable processes 

Over the past 6 months, I’ve been focused on ensuring that each and every one of our processes is properly documented so that I can continue to grow the team as needed. 

This has allowed me to outsource so many time intensive tasks that I used to do myself, again, turning the business into something that’s much more scalable.

I use as our company wiki, and I literally document everything there.

Which brings me to my next piece of advice: Build your business with scalability in mind from day 1!

You might not need to onboard new people into your processes right now, but one day you will, and it will be so much easier if you plan ahead for this right from the very beginning.

If you’re about to launch a new operational process, write it down and create clear SOPs (standard operating procedures). 

You should be doing the same tasks in the same way, every time. From billing, to onboarding, to project management, to client communication: create one way of doing things and roll this out consistently. I didn’t do this for the longest time and it just made me a blocker. 

It can be hard to justify the time to create these processes and accompanying documentation, but I can’t stress how important it will be in the long term.

Once you’ve created these standard practices, you’ll find it so much easier to sell and scale your services.

I continued to focus on referrals & PR as key acquisition channels 

I still haven’t spent any money on advertising other than getting blog content produced for the Knowledge Hub.

The majority of new leads come from either word-of-mouth referrals, but the cool thing now is that we’re being referred by people who aren’t even clients! 

Scribly being promoted on the Demand Curve Slack channel

A large part of this has been the growth of both the  business brand, but also my personal brand too. I put a lot of time and focus into trying to add genuine value to the founder network, by participating in podcasts, interviews, FB groups...anything I feel would add value to for others in similar situations.

This interview I did in the Makerpad blog unexpectedly generated tons of new leads. I think the reason for this is that it’s an opportunity to get a sense of the person behind the business. 

Founders genuinely want to connect and support other founders, so I’ve always found these types of interviews to be so great for expanding my network, which in turn often leads to new clients.

Some of you asked how I got my very first clients. I run through the process of getting Scribly off the ground in this StarterStory interview.

I started exploring LinkedIn as a new acquisition channel

As a B2B business, it made sense to start tinkering with LinkedIn to see if I would have any success connecting with our ideal customer.

I have to admit that I'm a total n00b when it comes to LinkedIn, and I wasn't really sure where to begin. So I enlisted the help of 100poundsocial, who helped me to create distinct messaging for different segments. They are now running a targeted outreach campaign with relevant new connections, which has had mixed results.

The first month was quite slow, but by focusing the segments and messaging some more I've started generating really interesting conversations with relevant leads.

I now also have a lot more connections on LinkedIn, so my weekly LinkedIn updates and posts are getting much more engagement, which is also a huge help in getting in front of the right eyes.

I built retention into the client experience

Some of you asked about client retention. I think this comes down to three key points:

  1. Insisting on quality, so that clients want to stick with us indefinitely (case in point)

  1. Building retention into the business model, by creating content plans that span several months into the future.

    Content is one of those things that you can’t just see results from immediately, it takes a consistent strategic approach over several months. We provide the best value when we work long term with customers, which is why we try to plan ahead for more than just the next four weeks.

  2. Becoming more results driven with monthly reporting.

    As we’re now offering a growth vs. content writing service, we’ve also just started incorporating monthly SEO tracking into our packages. We add client keywords to our SEO monitoring tool (SERanking), so that we can track performance of target keywords over time. This is a brand new service we’re offering to a select few clients now, but I’m really excited about rolling it out across the board from March onwards.  

I took time to plan for the quarter 

I have a habit of being a bit scattergun. I tend to start many things, but not necessarily finish any of them. 

This year, I wanted to do things differently. So I began 2020 by dedicating an entire week to creating high level goals for the whole year, as well as specific objectives for the first quarter. 

This has helped so much in ensuring that I’m focusing only on the things that actually take me closer to my Q1 goals. There’s always a thousand different things that I could be doing, and this week of planning has massively helped me to prioritize. 

I put a lot of this year’s growth down to this planning process, I genuinely don’t think it would have happened had I not done this.

This quarter, for example, my quarterly theme was ‘Plan for Liftoff’: everything I prioritized were operational improvement that would enable Scribly to scale. 

This made it so much easier to park other things like marketing etc, as I knew they weren’t aligned with the core goals and objectives that I’d planned.

I tooled up to automated processes

In a nutshell, Scribly is powered in large part by 5 NoCode tools: Airtable (project management), Webflow (the website), Google Suite (content plans + client deliverables), SPP (client portal) and Zapier (to hook tools up together).

Until very recently, interactions with customers were fairly manual, but a few months ago I added SPP to the mix, which has had a huge impact in making Scribly more scalable. Effectively: SPP is an end-to-end customer portal: customers can login and purchase new products online, submit requests for content, chat with their account manager and also get their final content ready to publish.

There are still parts of our workflow that could be more streamlined, for example - we still manually assign writers but this is something that could be automated as it's almost always the same writers working on specific clients. Similarly, moving information over from SPP to Airtable to brief writers is something we could look to optimize, too.

Getting to this point has been a bit of trial and error, and I made iterations as we added more complexity. For example, the precursor to Airtable was Trello - but that is pretty useless at handling multiple clients.

Best of all? Most of the tools here are FREE. With the exception of SPP ($49/m), Zapier ($70/m) and the Google business accounts costs (around $15/m).

I learnt the importance of taking care of my mental health as a founder

Without a doubt, one of the biggest lessons I’ve had since my last post is that it’s so important to take care of your mental health as a founder (especially a solo founder).

Last year around August I got so burnt out that I literally couldn’t function. I had gotten into some really bad habits (checking emails all evening, working at weekends etc), and at some point it inevitably caught up with me. 

I had to take an entire week of zero work before I could even think about sitting at my desk again. I shouldn’t have ever let it get so bad, and now I’m so much more disciplined about taking care of myself. There’s always more you could be doing, but the truth is, it can wait. 

I think so many founders are guilty of kind of always working, but there’s only so long you can sustain this for. So I would definitely encourage everyone who’s building their own biz to be extra mindful of this, and establish the right habits to make sure you’re fresh and well-balanced. 

For me, that means having a daily to-do list (and not sneakily adding in extra tasks), and not checking emails in the evening to give my brain a chance to rest. I’m not great at sticking to the latter, but I’m getting better. 

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