No Code. Many Competitors. Here's How I Still Make $10k/Mo.

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

I'm Marc Bromhall, and my background is in advertising tech (AdTech) and marketing tech (MarTech). Because these industry categories are relatively new, most of my work experience has been in the startup world.

I'm the co-founder of Contentellect. We help small- and medium-size businesses (SMBs) scale their content. We do this by writing top quality blogs for our customers. Our customers realize the value of content marketing, but in most cases lack the internal resources or the time to execute it. We're currently averaging $10K/MRR.

The content we write helps our clients in three ways:

  • Improves their organic traffic via search engines
  • Enables them to conduct thought-leadership
  • Gives their sales and marketing teams relevant content they can use at the top and middle of the marketing funnel

What motivated you to get started with Contentellect?

My co-founder and I both had backgrounds which covered different facets of content marketing. My AdTech/MarTech background taught me what great content looked like when it came to paid content distribution. My co-founder has a background in building content websites which are predicated on SEO. He therefore knew what made great content from an organic traffic perspective. By bringing these experiences together we were able to come up with a compelling and comprehensive service offering in the content space.

home

At the time we were both members of a few different affiliate marketing Facebook groups, which were captive audiences for services like ours. Initially we pitched our writing in these groups and saw immediate interest. I was doing freelance AdTech consulting at the time, so as demand for our services increased I was able to wind down the consulting fairly easily.

What went into building the initial product?

Fortunately our MVP required very little investment and technology expertise. We built a Wordpress site using Thrive Themes and then integrated WooCommerce. It took us around three weeks to get to a refined product which we could take to market. During this time we were still selling our content services and simply sending the customers invoices over PayPal.

We started out with just a few freelance writers who we brought over from my co-founder's other business. As they were freelance there was no monthly financial commitment. Our initial costs were therefore commensurate with our sales.

In the beginning we offered both a content writing and a guest posting service. The guest posting service involved publishing content on third party websites for our customers, thus helping them with off-page SEO. This service eventually proved too onerous in relation to the margins so we sunset it at the beginning of 2019.

In this initial phase of building the business, our most valuable tools were Google Suite and Facebook, where we participated in groups and also ran small, highly targeted advertising campaigns.

What's your tech stack?

As my co-founder and I are not coders, we chose to use tools which are predisposed to the layman. We currently use WordPress, WooCommerce and PayPal for all transactions on and off the site.

Never stop refining your product and value proposition.

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We have a developer who has built some bespoke features for WooCommerce using PHP. We're currently updating our website using Laravel which will include integrating Stripe alongside PayPal and improving the overall UI and UX.

How have you attracted users and grown Contentellect?

We launched in May 2018 with three customers and an MRR of $2,000. These customers were acquired via affiliate marketing Facebook groups, as well as email and LinkedIn outreach. We sustained this level of revenue and customers through August 2018. Then in September 2018 we were able to double our revenue to $4,000 by doubling our customer base. In October 2018 we pushed to $8,000 in MRR. Interestingly our customer count remained the same but we were able to replace churned customers with new, higher value customers.

Month Revenue
Aug '18 2000
Sept '18 4000
Oct '18 8000

At this stage our primary channels of customer acquisition were Facebook Groups, Facebook advertising, email outreach by way of Hunter.io, and LinkedIn outreach. We also started using the freelance marketplace, Legiit, as an additional revenue channel.

Our key learnings from the early days of customer acquisition were the following:

  • Have as many "irons in the fire" as possible
  • Listen to the market, and adapt and iterate our offering accordingly
  • It's a volume game. Customer conversion rates regardless of channel are always going to be small. Therefore, once you've identified who your target customers are and where they exist online, go after them in large volumes.
  • Be methodical and resolute. Sales outreach can be an arduous and rather repetitive process. Work out a formula for success and keep hammering away each and every day with clearly defined micro and macro goals.

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

We charge $0.10 a word for content, so a 1,000-word article will cost $100. Then we have two different plans, a Pay-As-You-Go plan where a customer can buy content ad hoc and a Monthly Blog Articles plan where a customer gets a set number of blog articles delivered to them every month. This is offered from a basic service where we only write the content all the way through to a fully managed blog service which includes content strategy, ideation, content calendar creation and publishing the blog articles via the customers content management software.

sample blog post

So far we've only been using PayPal payments but we'll be integrating Stripe when we launch our new website at the end of May 2020. We're expecting the introduction of Stripe to improve user trust and thus their propensity to buy content from us. We are averaging on $10,000 MRR with little monthly deviation. Our best month to date was in May 2019 when we hit $16,000!

It took us about four months to ramp up to this number from $8,000 monthly, but then only two months to revert back to $8,000. This was due to not being diversified enough across a larger customer base. We were exposed to a few number of anchor customers. When they increased their commitment with us in May it proved fortuitous, but failing to grow our customer base in the interim meant that when these anchor customers reverted back to their normal order sizes, our revenue was impacted accordingly.

What are your goals for the future?

Launch our new website at the end May 2020 with an updated service offering which will include a slicker, smoother UI and UX, along with Stripe payments. Moreover, all our customers will be able to transact on our website. Currently, our customers on a Monthly Blog Articles package cannot purchase this plan on our website and are invoiced directly from PayPal.

Covid-19 will of course hinder our ability to take our new service offering to market in the months that follow. We want to make sure we time our outreach efforts correctly post Covid-19, to ensure maximum levels of interest. If this means a delay of several months, then so be it. So far, as our brand gains in strength we are seeing increased levels of inbound sales which is reassuring.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?

One big challenge has been dealing with customer churn. It can take three to four months of conversations to land a new customer, but they can leave in less than a month.

Fortunately we only have three full time salaries to pay, with the rest of our workforce being on freelance contracts. This lowers the risk of going into the red in any given month due to customer churn.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

With the benefit of hindsight, if I had to start the business again, I would be more brutal on myself when it came to defining our service offering, value proposition and target customer cohorts. I think it's very important to narrow these parameters down as much as possible.

When you think you've reached an end point, keep refining further until you have an excellently defined service offering, with a clear value proposition that speaks exactly to the needs of your target customers. I would also have started doing large scale sales outreach earlier on.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Yes, many things! The tools I've found the most useful have been everything in Google Suite for business operations, Trello for task management, and Balsamiq for building wireframes and Whereby for conference calls.

I don't like using too many tools as I'm of the opinion that one can very quickly reach a saturation point, where the time it takes to use all the tools in aggregate outweighs the productivity gains that derive from the individual tools.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

Never stop refining your product and value proposition. Industries, markets, and society all evolve. Your product will have to evolve, too, to keep up with changing demand patterns.

Work out a formula for success and keep hammering away each and every day with clearly defined micro and macro goals.

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Focus more on the functional elements of your business and less on aesthetics. I see some founders getting tied up with decisions around a company logo or brand colors. These things are immaterial in the early stages of starting a business, and will most likely change at some point in your businesses lifecycle anyway. Rather pay heed to your target market and spend your time finding the fastest way you can get an MVP over to them.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can find out more on Contentellect at our website.

Please feel free to ask any questions or make any comments below.

Marc , Founder of Contentellect

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  1. 2

    The problem with freelance content writers is that nothing ranks on google these days without EAT (Expertize, authority and trustworthiness).

    It's impossible for a freelancer to write truly expert content with their limited study budget. You just cant cover these subjects competently in a few hours.

    Not to talk about the fact that you need to put out EAT content consistently for months/years if you're going to rank for head terms. Especially for YMYL (your money or your life) terms.

    You also have the problem of managing customer expectations. Only 5% of new sites rank on the Google serps in the first year. You're going to have customer churn unless you get results quickly. And that's generally not possible.

    Maybe I'm wrong though.

    1. 1

      That's a good point you raise regarding EAT. It's impossible for our writers to be subject matter experts as we write across such a broad spectrum of industries. We do however hire writers who are smart and have a certain level of business acumen to be able to adeptly research the industries our customers operate in. The writers then turn this research into cogent and credible pieces of writing.

      This coupled with understanding the basic tenets of on-page SEO means that in many cases we are able to help our customers move up the SERP's for low to medium difficulty keywords (KD). Sometimes this content can rank on the first page of Google in under 6 months.

      From an SEO standpoint, we focus on the lower hanging fruit at a component level (many blog articles) where we are confident we can make an impact. The aggregate effect on the customers website is that the Domain Authority (DA) ranking will improve which in turn better positions the entire site in the search engines.

      *Bear in mind our value proposition is not just centred around SEO but also thought leadership and sales enablement content.

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  2. 2

    Thanks for the insights. What are the margins like? I would imagine a lot of the revenue goes to paying out to freelancers.

  3. 2

    This was really good, thank you! I run a content-based operation as well and I’m wondering how to scale. It looks like by working with freelancers your cofounder and yourself don’t have to do all the “doing”. Given we work closely with brands on a long term basis, it can be tricky to onboard freelancers who aren’t in it for the long haul. Have you ever faced this challenge and how did you overcome it? Thanks!

    1. 1

      Good question! We solve this by having an intermediary - a team of account/project managers who are the link between our customers and our writers. They are excellent at understanding our customers wants/needs and building strong relationships with them. On the other side they are proficient at issuing comprehensive briefs to our writing team to ensure they are best placed to deliver great content. They also proof read and edit all content before the final version is shared with the customer.

    2. 1

      Thanks! Yes, as you can imagine freelancers come and go. That's part of the game really. As long as you have a robust recruitment process, dealing with writer churn shouldn't be an issue.

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        Thank you!

  4. 1

    To be honest, I'm just tired of such projects now. Could it be professional burnout? I'm not sure. While I just sit at home and play here - https://tragamonedasx.com/ They say that online games are an excellent therapy for depression and chronic fatigue. I will have to test this in practice. I prefer card games because of the logic.

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