It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in the span of a year.
We started off last year with this site — except it made no money.
Yes, we had tested a few ideas that brought in trickles of revenue, but we didn’t have a business model that could support either Devesh or me full-time.
On top of that, we had started a SaaS business, Wordable, that was only making around $400/month in recurring revenue.
Needless to say, the year started off somewhat challenging.
Devesh was supporting himself from his other agency Growth Rock, and I was taking consulting projects to get by.
This image pretty much sums up the beginning of last year for me:
But in the span of a year, our business changed drastically.
I share this personal information because oftentimes Devesh and I would get messages that said “congrats on all of your success.” That phrase became a running joke between us because everyone thought we were “successful” but we were barely keeping the lights on in this business.
That being said, I truly believe the reward is in the journey, not the end goal, and it’s been rewarding and humbling realizing how much we don’t know over the past year – and how much we’ve learned along the way.
I wanted to share some of our learnings and accomplishments with you, because as our business has grown, we haven’t been able to spend as much time sharing them with you. Hopefully this will change in the coming year.
But more than anything, I want to thank all of you for your support. Seriously.
We wouldn’t be where we are today without you. You stuck with us through all of our pivots, tests and mistakes, and still continued to support us, and share our articles with your friends and colleagues. And without this blog and community, none of this would’ve been possible.
Reflecting on 2017: Year in review and learnings
In January of last year, we started working on our Customers From Content course. It took us four months to build out all of the material for it. We filmed the entire thing and then scrapped it and did it over again, because we weren’t happy with the quality the first time around. Then we were super proud of our end product and thought we’d be the next online course millionaires (semi-kidding here) only to launch our course and have it flop.
If you’re interested in learning why it didn’t do as well as we had hoped, we wrote this full post on our learnings here. But in short we positioned our course to companies instead of individuals who wanted to learn content marketing, and the latter are the people who wanted the course from us! Big mistake, but we learned from it.
In May of last year, Devesh called me after the course launch and told me he was throwing in the towel on Grow and Convert. We had been working at this business for 18 months and didn’t have a business model that worked. After about ~2 weeks of not talking, he called me and pitched me the idea of doing a content marketing service because after reflecting on our failed course launch, that’s what people wanted.
In June of last year, we launched our content marketing agency with a single landing page (that very page we just linked to, albeit an earlier version) and landed our first 2 clients in 2 weeks. Then once we landed those clients, we had to figure out our operations as we went… At that time, it was only us, we had no writing team, no employees, etc.
June-August, we worked with those two clients, and achieved some pretty amazing results. Here’s a case study about how we drove over 10,000 visitors in 3 weeks for one of them. Here’s a case study about how we created a mega project for another and got them in Small Business Trends.
In September, we brought on another 2 clients and this is where we pretty much had to shut down and focus exclusively on running content marketing for these four companies. Hence why we haven’t written many posts towards the latter half of 2017.
We also randomly received an email from someone interested in buying Wordable, so that started the process of us figuring out how to sell it.
On top of that, I wrote a guest post for GrowthLab entitled How we turned a failed product business into a $34k/month service business and our leads exploded (Note: When I wrote that we had 5 clients committed, but one fell through shortly thereafter). After that, we had more leads than we could handle, so we decided to pause taking on new clients and focus on improving our operations and delivering results for the clients we had.
In November, after two months of contracts and legal stuff, we sold Wordable. For many of you that have asked why we sold it, the simple answer is that we were spread too thin and couldn’t dedicate the time and focus that it needed to become what we thought it could. We sold it to another marketer that we’ve enjoyed working with and respect, and that can give it the love that it needs to grow.
In December, Devesh had his first baby, so we spent the last part of 2017 getting our operations in line so we could continue delivering results for our clients without him (just incase he was out for a month or two).
Here are some of the learnings we had in streamlining our agency operations:
First off, hiring is the biggest challenge that any company will have. It took us months to assemble a solid team, but we’ve been fortunate enough to surround ourselves with great people. Shoutout to Nathan Collier, Dave Peralta, Sandy Cao, Jera Brown, Olivia Seitz, Cody Slingerland, and Alyse Phillips for all their hard work.
If you’re interested in learning more about the hiring process we used to build our team, read our writers hiring guide and a variation of that guide that I published on the Drift blog to hire other marketing employees.
Bottleneck #1: Sourcing story ideas for our clients, at scale.
We had a ton of content ideas but had to do lots of manual outreach to source stories. The process is super effective but it’s challenging when you’re trying to do it across multiple clients.
I decided to test an idea codenamed “Exposure” to see if we could flip the sourcing stories model on it’s head. If you remember, a few emails ago, we asked some of you to submit your case studies for us to review so we could write a story about you, get your story out there, get you a link from a reputable site and help you gain more brand recognition.
Since doing that, we shared stories such as:
- How Sarah Jones Grew SEO Traffic from 8k-30k by Binge Watching Rand Fishkin Videos
- How Mode Analytics built a microsite that drives 500+ leads per month
- How Sebastian Agren gets a 49% response rate from leads sourced from a conference he never attended
- How Pagecloud did $1M in Sales Before Launching Their SaaS Product.
We have tons more coming in the near future.
If you’d like us to write a story about you or your company, submit your pitch here.
Bottleneck #2: Editing
Devesh and I were editing all of the articles from our writers, managing clients, trying to promote articles, etc. – essentially running around like chickens with our heads cut off. Then one of our writers, Nathan Collier, flew out to San Jose to meet with us, stepped up and took over editing and managing our writing team.
We added processes around using a worksheet to help our team outline the most important parts to a story – since doing that, we’ve been able to scale our content production while improving the quality across the board. We’ll hopefully share this template in another post and how we’ve used it to scale.
Bottleneck #3: Content promotion
This is our current bottleneck, and to be honest, it’s a bear to solve.
We promise all of our clients 1,000 pageviews per post, averaged across all posts, in the first month after publishing. I know that’s kind of confusing, so to give a little more clarity, if we publish 3 posts per month, that’s at least 3000 visitors.
But this is the bare minimum, as the case studies linked to above show, we’ve generated a lot more traffic than that.
How have we been driving traffic to their articles?
By using our own community content promotion process.
But as we’ve added clients, it’s become harder and harder to promote at scale.
So we’ve been beta testing some paid promotion.
Our strategy has been to drive traffic using community content promotion that way we know we’re driving quality traffic, then use a FB pixel to collect audience information, segment off the traffic that we’re driving to our articles, create a 1% lookalike audience based off of that traffic, and then advertise to that lookalike to drive more volume with less manual efforts. The results have shown promising so far.
So that’s the next big challenge going into early 2018, to solve this issue.
So what’s next for 2018?
Well hopefully we’ll get our head out of water so we can start sharing all of the learnings that we’ve had running content marketing for multiple companies. I can assure you that the agency has put all of the strategies we’ve written about to the test and that the strategies all still work. The only difference is, when you’re using these strategies across multiple clients at the same time, you have to tweak the approach a bit.
For example, right now we average about 12 posts a month that we publish for all of our clients. Say we have one “content promoter”. They are supposed to single handedly drive 12,000 visitors (12 * 1000 each) every month by posting in various communities and groups?
And then what if we want to double our client base? Then what? Yes people can solve some of these problems, but there are trickier challenges than that. In general though, this is all a lot easier if you’re doing it for just one company.
Overall, we’ve been able to show increases in site traffic, leads, and customers across multiple clients from our approach, and I look forward to sharing more of the details with you this year.
Since we wrote that GrowthLab article outlining the details of our course, we’ve had a number of you reach out asking us if we could purchase the course from us that teaches content marketing. The answer is yes, we’ve been thinking about it a lot, and we’ll be releasing our course again sometime in Q1 of this year. If this is something that you’re interested in, let us know in the comments– because I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous about course launches after the last one :).
Other Cool Projects
We’re working on some secret projects behind the scenes that we hope to release this year. We always have to try to stay ahead of the curve to stay competitive and will be sharing the details of those projects with you shortly.
Again, appreciate all of you who’ve taken the time to read this, and look forward to continued growth in 2018.
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