1. Hello! Who are you and what is your business?
Hello! My name’s Dani and I’m the founder of the productized content marketing service, Scribly.io.
I’m Italian by heritage, British by birth and now living in Copenhagen.
I’ve always had this deep desire to do my own thing, but literally zero confidence in myself to actually be able to do it. However, for the longest time I was also pretty depressed about my working life. I kept flitting between jobs and always just coming back to the same feeling like there had to be more than offices and commutes.
There was no one big lightbulb moment where I decided to start out on my own, but rather just a series of really unfulfilling days that culminated in me walking into work one day and quitting for good.
At that point, I really didn’t have a Plan B. But I’d been working in content and communications for a long time and knew that, by hook or by crook, I’d find work.
And that’s kind of how the story begins: me deciding to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. I wanted my life to be about working to live, and not the other way round.
That was in April 2018, and at that point my plan was literally just to freelance as a copywriter.
However after a few months I was ready for a new challenge, and decided to explore how I could scale content as a service outside of ‘just me’. And that’s when the first version of Scribly was born.
My clients back then were telling me that they wished they could have the ease, quality and reliability of working with me, but at scale – so that’s the service I set out to create.
And so, in August 2018 I launched the first version of Scribly with a few of my clients. At that point it was just me and another amazingly talented copywriter friend of mine, Lauren Bennett. Fast forward to today and I now have over 50 writers, a full-time editor, 20 clients and average $18K MRR.
(UPDATE: $30k MRR as of Feb 2020)
The model has evolved enormously since those early days. What started initially as an Unlimited Content business has evolved into a more flexible set of content marketing packages, and specific copywriting products.
We have also just recently launched a brand new website including a full rebrand, which I’m really proud of. Stepping into Scribly’s second year feeling like a ‘proper’ business 🙂
2. How do you attract and retain your customers?
Word-of-mouth and referrals has been the biggest source of growth from day one, and for the first few months things grew really organically through that alone.
I started by transitioning my freelance clients onto the Scirbly model, and they then referred us to their friends and so on. Initially I incentivised referrals by offering credit towards a future subscription, but then I found that most clients just really loved the model and did it voluntarily.
That’s why customer experience has always been a really core value for Scribly. I’ve said no to new business if I knew we couldn’t cope with the demand and offer that promise of “exceptional” content. I have also placed huge value on building strong personal relationships with each customer. Every single business we work with is doing something they are really excited about, and it’s been important to me that Scribly not only contributes to, but also celebrates, those successes.
Because of this, we’ve been consistently able to retain customers month-on-month. Our NPS score is 100, and we’ve had some super lovely reviews.
Since hitting $12K/m, growth has been much more gradual. That’s both a result of not actively doing any marketing outside of content marketing on the blog, interviews, and the next phase of Scribly will be focusing on ramping up considerably in this area.
I’m now trying to experiment in different ways of driving traffic to the site, as content marketing is quite a crowded space. I’ve begun exploring producing tools around topics that are broadly related to content marketing, such as our new Random Headline Generator, for example. We’ll see how these pan out!
I’m also getting a thorough keyword audit done to spot core opportunity areas that we can start producing interesting and useful content around which I’m super excited to get started with.
3. What were your challenges and obstacles of growing your business?
The core issue is that I really didn’t set Scribly up to be able to cope with scale. There were too few processes in place, and everything was all stored in my head making it almost impossible for me to bring others into the team.
I’ve been aware for months that this is a big issue, and so I recently took an entire week off from running Scribly to focus on all the things that the businesses needed to become a scalable productized service.
I write about the whole process in more detail here, but some of the key changes I’ve made are:
Changing the business model
For the first 12 months, I’ve positioned Scribly as an Unlimited Copywriting Service. But 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.
Last week I decided to officially shift 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.
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.
Documenting my way out of being a blocker
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.
Though I knew how things worked, no-one else had any way of accessing that information. 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.
4. What has been helpful to help you to grow your business?
Currently Scribly is powered almost entirely by a combination of Airtable, Quickflow, Zapier and Slack.
Those 4 tools are the bedrock of how we manage projects and clients, and finding this mighty combo has been a real process of trial and error.
I soon plan to simplify things even further my switching to a backend tool to help bring everything into one place. I’ve bought a license for ManyRequests which I’m super excited to try out, and I’m also going to look into SPP.
I’ve learnt that productised services can be operationally challenging when you have everything split across different tools – I’m looking to unify everything including briefs, assignments, contact details, past projects and payments into one place so that anybody can step into a ‘customer success’ role and nail it.
I would advise anyone to have a mindset of keeping everything in as few platforms as possible from the very get-go, this will massively streamline your processes.
Otherwise I think a key piece of advice I’d give here is to engage in as many relevant communities as you can. Both IndieHackers and the Productized Startups facebook group have been amazingly helpful places to ask questions in a safe and supportive space.
I would say that it also helps to reach out to people who’ve been there and seek advice and guidance along the way. I’ve found that so many people have been willing to jump on a call and offer tips on how to approach specific challenges. A word of caution here: there is such a thing as being overwhelmed with advice (too many cooks spoil the broth and all that..) so have the confidence not to do everything as others before have.
In terms of key roles: hiring an amazing editor has literally transformed my experience of running Scribly. It’s allowed me to step out of the day-to-day and focus on my high level growth/strategic tasks.
5. What is your advice for those that are starting productized services?
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.
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.
Have the courage to charge a little more to ensure you can deliver epic work without having to be involved in checking every piece that goes out the door. This will be crucial if you’re to grow a business that can grow outside of the limits of your time.
6. What are your plans for the future?
I feel really excited about the future of Scribly when I look to the next 12 months. At a minimum, I’d like us to be consistently generating $30K MRR, as this would allow me to bring a full time member onto the team to run the project and client management side of the business. I currently work with someone on a freelance basis for this, but it’s a role I’d like to bring in house.
Now that I’m more able to step out of the day-to-day running of things, I think that goal is achievable through a combination of things, such as paid marketing, rolling out a proper content marketing strategy, testing outbound sales and exploring more personal exposure opportunities.
I’ve been looking into doing some talks at conferences for example, which isn’t just something I’d like to test for Scirbly’s sake, but a personal achievement I’d like to conquer this year.
But business aside: If you ask me what my biggest priority is, it’s to achieve a set up with Scribly that allows me to be totally free. I’d like to be able to work from wherever, whenever, for the rest of my life, and I think Scribly is the first of many projects that I’ll explore to make sure that stays my reality.
Next year I’d quite like to take an extended trip around Europe in a camper van and to manage Scribly on the road – I think if I have a smooth-enough operational process that that can be possible without any stresses, I’ll feel like I’ve nailed it!
There’s definitely a tendency to assume that you need to be building a billion dollar business when you’re ‘entrepreneuring’. And that’s totally cool if that’s your jam. But it’s also totally cool if you just want to run a business that allows you to live life fully, without the constraints of a normal office-based 9-5.
I am ambitious for Scribly, I’d love us one day to be bringing in 1000000x what we are now – that would be awesome. But only if it’s not at the expense of all else.
I have worked my absolute butt off single handedly building this ship over the last 12 months, and now I want to try and reclaim more balance. I want to start new projects (I’m currently developing a physical women’s health product that I’m super excited about, for example), I want to explore new hobbies, and I want to hit the road with my man and my dog and not worry about whether I can afford to switch my laptop off for a day.
I’m getting there, and that feels bloody magic ✨
7. Where can we learn more about you?
If you have any questions about any of the above or would just like to connect (I really love to connect with new people!) then you can reach me on:
Indie Hackers: @DaniMancini