Pushing Past Imposter Syndrome to Turn My Passion Into a Business

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

Hi! My name's Dani, founder of Scribly.io, an unlimited copywriting service that helps startups, small businesses, and agencies scale.

I'm a first-time entrepreneur with a fairly eclectic background. I studied French and Russian at university (Oui, Я немного говорю по русски!) and began my career in policy design for the UK government. After two years of trying to fit in and failing terribly, I decided to jump ship and retrain as a UX designer.

Of all the scary career decisions I've made, this was by far the hardest. I was, on paper, on course for a prestigious career at an elite graduate program. But I felt so boxed in, like I couldn't breathe. Over the course of the next four-ish years, I found myself flitting from job to job, never really feeling settled. I'd made this big jump, and yet I always seemed to come back to the same feeling of restlessness.

That's when I started to find myself gravitating towards the thing I really love to do: writing. I began picking up odd freelance copywriting jobs here and there that I would do in my spare time. As time went by, I found myself rushing home from my "real" job so that I could get on with the fun stuff: my copy gigs. One Saturday night, as I found myself working happily into the early hours on a freelance project, I realised that I wanted to make this my permanent thing.

And so I did.

With just a few hundred dollars worth of projects lined up, I quit my job in April 2018 and took a giant leap into the unknown. I was terrified, but also fired up. I had zero experience of anything to do with being self-employed, I had literally never sent a manual invoice the day that I quit my job. I don't even think I had a business bank account by that point. So I surrounded myself with people who did know things, and got to work.

After a few months of freelancing, I decided to launch a productized copywriting service: Scribly.io. We deliver subscription-based copywriting to help businesses scale, at roughly 50% of the cost of hiring in-house.

I like to think of Scribly as an agency redefined for the 21st century. We're fully remote, deliver 24 hours a day, seven days a week (thanks to having writers in almost every timezone), and cut out all the expense of having physical overheads. This allows us to provide amazing rates without compromising on quality.

All of our writers are native English speakers, and we do everything from blog posts to ad, social media, and landing page copy. So whether you want to get your content machine off the ground or launch a new service, we pitch in and help you nail it.

Last month Scribly.io topped $14K in monthly revenue. That was a really big moment for me, and a bit of a turning point. What started out as a “let's try it and see how it goes” project has now become my full-time job with ambitious growth plans 🙌.

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What motivated you to get started with Scribly.io?

I've worked both as a freelance copywriter and someone who hires them, and felt increasingly frustrated at A) How exploitative the market is for freelance writers (they basically have to sell their souls to work for free), and B) How hard it is to find great writers on an on-demand basis.

Find something you love, and then just take a leap of faith. I guarantee you will learn more about yourself personally and professionally along the way than you will in a decade of working for someone else.

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There have been a couple of productized copywriting service launches, but many of them are priced at a point that troubles me. A wise person once said, "if it seems too good to be true, it is". It's really not possible, no matter how hard you try, to offer high quality, unlimited copywriting for less than $300/mo, while also paying your writers a rate they deserve. One or the other suffers—quality, or integrity—neither of which feels like a nice compromise.

After getting caught in analysis paralysis about how to create something different in that space, in the end, I just set myself a three-day limit to hack together a website and launch something, anything, and then iterate from there. And so, three days later, I launched Scribly.io.

I floated the idea and shared the website with my freelance clients at the time—a lot of whom were startups—and got tons of interest. Based on this early validation, a service that could plug that gap seemed in demand. That's when I decided to give it a go for reals.

What went into building the initial product?

I'm a solo-founder, so building, running, and growing Scribly.io has been all on me.

There's obviously only so much that any one human can do, so from the moment I started developing Scribly.io, I was determined to have a “fuck it, ship it” mindset. I wanted to test everything really quickly so that I could iterate along the way, and only do what I could afford with the cash flow I had available.

How long it took to get Scribly.io off the ground

As I mentioned before, I gave myself three days to get the initial website up and running so that I could validate the idea. This was enough to confirm that the idea was worth pursuing.

Funding Scribly.io

Because it's a service, funding Scribly.io has perhaps been simpler than for a digital product. I have a weekly payment policy with my writers and receive payments from clients monthly. So the biggest financial consideration is making sure that I have enough cash flow to pay for all my writers before getting paid for the work itself.

I have only ever re-invested money earned back into the company. I started with the money I'd built up as a freelancer, and now I just work with the cash flow built up through the subscription model.

This means that I'm limited in terms of how quickly I can grow the number of writers I have, but it works for me. As I mentioned before, it's really important to me that all of Scribly's writers are paid fairly and on-time, so it's also become a matter of company integrity to scale growth in this way.

Managing time scarcity as a solo-founder

I have a really bad habit of starting one task, and then getting distracted by another. So in order to keep myself focused as I developed things from this point onwards, I began using Trello to create a backlog of ideas for the website and growth tactics.

My boyfriend is a product manager and when I started to feel overwhelmed by the volume of tasks at hand, he helped me to prioritize. This was another pivotal moment for me, as it made me realize that bringing other people into Scribly.io is essential to its success. Having an objective second opinion to help me make the right decisions—both for myself and the business—has been game-changing.

Now each month I set a theme, and focus my time only on activities that support that theme. So, for example, this month the theme was “word of mouth,” so I have organized my backlog around the tasks that help me to explore this. That's allowed me to focus growth experiments on referrals and content marketing.

I think a big lesson for me has been to accept that there's only so much I can do. I'm not the most patient person in the world, and learning to be ok with a slower pace than I might like has been a challenge for sure.

My tool kit

Effectively, my role now is to operationally manage the production of dozens of articles a day, so I needed to create a simple but effective suite of tools to help me do this. I've really tried to resist the urge to "over-tool". I've stuck to the simplest, cheapest (/free) tools that I can find and only integrated them if it's been absolutely necessary.

My current tool kit looks like this:

  • Webflow — The website is built on Webflow. I purchased a template, which allowed me to get a pretty slick site up and running in a matter of hours. Now that I'm trying to develop the site, I'm finding Webflow a bit cumbersome and limiting, but it was perfect to get me started quickly and cheaply!
  • Trello — My whole business pretty much runs on Trello. Clients each get their own Trello board which they can update with as many content tasks as they like. Using the built-in Slack integration, I then get notified on Slack as soon as a new card is added, and assign the task to the most suitable writer for the job. I love that I have one single ecosystem where I can manage both writers and clients really seamlessly. And best of all, it's free!
  • Slack — Scribly.io writers are in a bunch of different time zones, and I really, really hate email. So I have created a Scribly.io slack where I'm not only able to notify them about new projects, but also where they can connect with one another. It can be a pretty lonely business being a freelance writer, and I'd like to nurture a company where all writers feel like they belong to an extended team, no matter where in the world they are.
  • Slite — I came across Slite on IH and I'm so glad I did! It's basically google docs designed for collaborative teams, and has a bunch of really great templates to use for things like weekly check-ins, and planning growth experiments, and it integrates seamlessly with Slack. I have a check-in each week with my boyfriend (who's become an unofficial advisor) to plan and prioritize for the week ahead, and Slite has totally transformed how we do it! Loooove this tool.
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How have you attracted users and grownScribly.io?

I would say that Scribly.io fits into two distinct phases:

  1. The Word of Mouth Phase
  2. The Digital Growth Phase

The Word of Mouth Phase

I was lucky in that I was already working as a freelancer and had a really healthy client base. These were the first people that I reached out to. I contacted each of my existing clients with an early-bird offer. In hindsight, I could have done it so much better. I didn't have a landing page or anything to track visits or clicks. I simply sent a personal email with a discounted early-bird price of $999 for the first month.

Within the first two months, I'd converted seven of my freelance clients over to the Scribly.io model, which was a good start. The issue was (and still is), that each client wanted something bespoke, so what I'd hoped would be a simple billing model actually ended up just being more like custom retainers for each business converted.

All of the clients who converted during this phase knew me and my work. I already had a great relationship with them, and so the challenge was just to convince them that nothing would change in terms of quality when I handed over writing responsibility to other writers. I simply ran a trial task for free to prove this to clients, and then the rest was smooth sailing from there.

Say no to new business if you have any doubt that it will negatively impact the experience of your current clients.

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Since then, growth has been entirely driven by manual outreach and word of mouth. Happy customers have put us in touch with other people they know, and things have snowballed from there. I have now set up a rewards-based referral scheme, which offers existing clients $50 credit for every referral that becomes a paid project, but actually, in the early months, most clients were just happy to do this for free.

Because of this, great client experience and customer retention is a core focus of the business. I would rather say no to new business if I have any doubt that it will negatively impact the experience of my current clients.

The Digital Growth Phase

Since those early days, I'm now focused on a proper growth plan that consists of the following:

  1. Content Marketing/SEO: I feel very strongly that, as a content company, I need to have a shit hot content section of the site. Organic traffic is definitely where I want to focus my marketing investment, so I'm in the process of building out the blog section of the Scribly site into a Knowledge Hub, offering copywriting and content marketing lessons. I've just started publishing twice weekly, and have now decided to use LinkedIn and Twitter as my distribution channels for the time being. I'm in the process of getting a full SEO analysis done to get my opportunity areas nailed. Right now we rank third for "unlimited copywriting," but it's not a high volume search. As with all things SEO, it's a slow process and I only started a few weeks ago. Traffic to the blog is picking up steadily, it grew by 11.9% last month. Hopefully I'll start to see some meaningful gains over the coming months.
  2. Intro offer popup: I added a widget that offers new visitors $100 off their first project (I used Magnify). This has been really successful so far. I went from getting one new direct lead a week to six in the first day.
  3. Partnerships, Referrals, and Targeted landing pages: I wanted to run some special intro offers for various customer segments, so I created targeted landing pages for each segment and then adjusted the copy to be hyper-specific to that niche. For example, I have a startup landing page, an agency landing page, and a more generic referrals landing page for contacts of my existing clients. My biggest failure here is relying on Webflow for my landing pages, which makes it impossible to A/B test. I'll be moving to a tool like Unbounce soon to improve on this process.
  4. Engaging in IH: By far my biggest spike in traffic came when one of my discussions was featured in the IH newsletter. Traffic to the site shot up on that day and it generated one paid project and two new writers.
  5. Gated content: I just launched some gated content on the site. Now on every page of the Knowledge Hub, there is a CTA to access a free content marketing calendar. It's a pretty tedious process to integrate gated content into Webflow, so the solution isn't as sharp as I'd like it to be. To avoid spending loads of time finding a technical solution, I simply set up a Zapier integration so that emails collected in that particular form go into a specific segment in Mailchimp, and then I configured an automated drip campaign in Mailchimp to trigger as soon as an email address is submitted. I did this mostly to test the process of having gated content as a lead-gen mechanism. I probably spent about two days in total creating everything for this and learned LOADS, but it's only generated two leads so far, which is a bit of a fail. Will now be working with the same content on specific SEO optimised landing pages to drive more traffic and see how it then converts.
  6. Posting in Slack channels: I'm a member of a number of slack channels for marketers/founders. I've posted intermittent offers in these channels, which has drummed up some interest but not really led anywhere. I'll be stopping this kind of activity and focusing on more tailored outreach in the future.
  7. Black Friday FAIL!: Yikes, what a fail. At the eleventh hour, I decided that I should probably run a Black Friday offer, and then spent a frantic few hours into the wee hours of the night getting some visuals ready. It was off-brand, ill-thought-out, and just generally a total flop. I posted it on LinkedIn and sent it to my entire email list. It was a big lesson about hastily rushing into things that haven’t been planned/thought through. I got zero leads, and probably actually hurt the brand a little.

Future tasks

Next on my list is to run some paid marketing experiments. I haven't had a chance to create a structured plan or strategy of how to tackle this, but my thinking is that Linkedin and Search ads will be my first point of call.

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

The idea is fairly simple. Depending on a client's needs, we can either work on demand, or you can sign up to one of the subscription packages which are as follows:

  • $2,000 for unlimited content marketing
  • $3,500 for unlimited copywriting of any kind (ads, e-books, landing pages, etc.)

As we only work on one project in a client's backlog at a time, typically they will get around 15 completed projects per month. We also have custom packages for clients with bespoke needs (this applies mostly to agencies with extremely high volume needs).

The multi-currency challenge

One of the biggest issues I face is that I pay and get paid in multiple currencies.

  • I pay writers in either USD or British pounds
  • I get paid in either USD, Euros, British pounds, or Danish Kroner

It's a total nightmare as every step of the way I lose money to crappy conversion rates from either my bank or the payment provider (I use a combination of Transferwise borderless accounts, Paypal and, as of this month, Stripe). This is likely to be a continuous challenge for me, and makes it really difficult to predict exactly how much I'll earn each month.

The current financial picture

Right now the business turns over $14k/mo. My target has been 15% month-over-month growth. I don't have any overhead and my biggest ongoing monthly expense is for the amazing writing team I work with.

Month Revenue
Apr ‘18 4679
May ‘18 5421
Jun ‘18 6253
Jul ‘18 7003
Aug ‘18 10818
Sep ‘18 9848
Oct ‘18 11986
Nov ‘18 13153
Dec ‘18 14679
Jan ‘19 16072

What are your goals for the future?

As far as the product goes, this year I’d like to begin building Scribly out to move beyond just being a service-based company, and also include digital tools that customers can license out. For example, some types of copywriting follow formulaic patterns (especially for things like landing pages), and I'm fairly confident that this can be somewhat productized through machine learning. It's an ambitious project to do alongside the day-to-day running of Scribly as it stands today, but I think it'd be a lot of fun to explore!

As far as revenue is concerned, my month-over-month growth target is 15%, which means a projected December 2019 revenue of over $65K. That's a crazy target and almost 100% likely to not happen, but shoot for the moon and all that!

Of course, everything I have planned out is totally limited by my time. That's why this year I'd like to bring someone on board full-time to help run Scribly. Right now I'm doing everything: operational tasks, marketing, editing articles, client-management, new business, etc.— it's a lot. So over the next few months, as cash flow grows, I'd like to bring someone on as Scribly member number two.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

I think the single biggest challenge that I've faced since starting Scribly is imposter syndrome. I'm so proud of my progress so far, and yet, when people ask me what I do, I'll often answer under-confidently or self-deprecatingly, almost like I feel people won't believe me. I'm working really hard on that now!

There is no “type” when it comes to being a hacker.

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From a business perspective, I've also struggled a lot with knowing how and where to focus when I've often felt overwhelmed at the sheer amount of things to be done. It actually led to me having a total burn out over the summer of last year, and from that point onwards, I've been really mindful to take things slow.

I tend to want to go at a million miles an hour, and part of this process has been to learn to just appreciate the ride.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Focusing on customer experience has built retention into the product. I think one of the things that has really seen me through so far is having such a strong commitment to customer experience. I've had the tough task of saying no to new business as I really just didn't feel that we could do it justice, either because of we didn't have a writer with the right expertise, or simply because we were at max capacity.

I think in the long run, though, this has really helped with customer retention. Our customer retention is currently at 86%, which is amazing, and I hope to get that as close to the golden 100 as possible. Retention one of my key metrics, not for vanity, but because integrity is one of the core values I am building this business around, so I want that always to guide the decisions I make about how things grow.

It has also definitely helped that I have experience as both a freelance writer and someone hiring one. It's made me super aware of the challenges, frustrations, and moments of magic on both sides of the Scribly coin, and has helped me to create amazing relationships with clients and writers alike. For example, I used my own experiences as the basis on which I designed the onboarding for both new writers and clients. I thought about all of the key questions I would have had in their position, and then designed an onboarding process based around that.

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

My opening gambit about my background was intentionally long. I wanted to give the full view of the jungle-gym style career path I've taken. I didn't always move forward. In fact, at many points, I felt that I was taking giant leaps back.

I wanted to highlight this because I really think it's important to stress that there is no “type” when it comes to being a hacker. I always felt like I would never be able to run my own business. I couldn't even think of myself as an entrepreneur—my background was all wrong, I didn't read the right books or have the right hobbies. And yet, here I am, less than a year later having transformed my crappy $20/h freelance gigs into a productized copywriting service that I now sell for $2,000+/mo.

I'm not saying this to toot my own horn, but to hopefully encourage more people to just give it a go. It took my boyfriend telling me for years that I could do it before I had the courage to try.

So lemme say it loud and clear:

you

can

do

it.

Seriously. You can.

Find something you love, and then just take a leap of faith. It might go wrong, sure. But chances are it won't. Hopefully, your passion project will become your full-time job, but if it doesn't, then I guarantee you will learn more about yourself personally and professionally along the way than you will in a decade of working for someone else.

And remember to lean on amazing communities like IH. This was the biggest source of inspiration for me and continues to be a lifeline as I move through this journey.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you want to see Scribly in the wild, head here for a special IH offer that'll get you $$$ off your first project so you can give it a whirl risk-free. You can also head to our Knowledge Hub for tips and tricks to get your own content machine off the ground, in-house.

If anyone has any questions for me please don't hesitate to ask in the comments. I'll try to answer anything and everything. Thanks for having me on Indie Hackers!

Daniella Mancini , Founder of Scribly.io

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