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Three Months In: What I've Learned Building A Productized Service

Three months ago, I left my job to go full-time on Draft.dev, a specialized technical content writing service. Initially, I wrote everything myself, but now I've got a team of writers, an editor, and a social media manager helping me out (all part-time).

We are on track to nearly double revenue next month. 📈

Draft revenue

And we're getting over 2,000 pageviews per month to our site. 👀

Draft pageviews

This journey has been fun, nerve-racking, and exciting. I always knew I wanted to start my own business, but it took me years of trying things that didn't work to finally take the plunge and go full-time.

In this post, I want to outline how it's felt at each step. Along the way, I'll pass along a few tips in case you are considering going full-time on your own business in 2021.

Month 0: The Fear

By far, the scariest week so far was my last week at my day job.

Despite the fact that I had six months of runway in the bank and around $8k in revenue lined up, I didn't sleep more than four hours per night.

So, one of the first things I did was to assemble a team of mentors and join a mastermind group. I send my mentors a monthly email of my progress and often get great insight, critical questions, and helpful introductions from them.
My mastermind group has 2 other entrepreneurs in it. We're all in the first year of starting our businesses, so it functions less as a group of trusted advisors and more of an accountability/support group.

I don't have a co-founder or any full-time employees, so these two groups of allies have really helped. At least half the battle of entrepreneurship has been overcoming the mental hurdle of not having a boss or a consistent paycheck. As I surrounded myself with others who have faced and overcome these mental barriers, I realized it was possible for me to do the same.

Month 1: Acting Like a Business Owner

As September started and I got less scared of not having a "real job," I started to embrace my role as a business owner instead of being just a freelancer.

  • I stopped saying "yes" to bad clients and let some churn out.
  • I brought on more writers and a social media manager.
  • I wrote detailed "standard operating procedures" for my team.
  • I committed to spending half of my time on sales/marketing.

Many forums online are full of entrepreneurs asking how they can free up time to do sales/marketing when they have to do so much work for their clients. In my opinion, if you can't hire people to do the work, you're not running a business; you've just created a low-paying job for yourself.

I'm a diligent time-tracker, so while I rarely work more than 35 or 40 hours per week, I intentionally block my time such that I spend 50%-60% on sales and marketing. The rest of my time is spent writing, planning content for clients, editing, and answering questions from my team.

Month 2: First Paycheck

I knew that in order to keep my motivation high, I wanted to start taking a paycheck. I know plenty of entrepreneurs who go years without paying themselves, but with a family to help provide for, I don't have the stomach for zero income at this point.

Two things gave me the confidence to start taking a consistent paycheck:

  • I got my books in order.
  • I moved all my clients to up-front payments.

Cashflow is a common challenge for service business owners. After a couple experiences with nonresponsive clients who owed me a significant amount of money, I decided to make all clients sign 3+ month commitments and use automatic recurring billing to charge them up-front for each month. Surprisingly, nobody has pushed back on this.

Because the writers I work with are all contractors, I pay them at the end of the month, so I end up always having positive cashflow. This allows the business to fund its own growth and for me to draw a paycheck consistently.

Month 3: Hiring an Editor

I like writing and business development, but I hate detailed work like editing. As I lined up four new clients in November, I decided it was time to hire someone to help me with the editing work.

One thing that I'm realizing from successful entrepreneurs is that the hard part is making a little bit of progress every day. The more I can spend time doing things that give me energy, the longer I'll be able to keep this up.

Another thing I did this month was an analysis to see where I got my clients and leads from. Here's what I found:

  • Personal introduction: 11
  • LinkedIn: 7
  • Slack: 4
  • Twitter: 2
  • Email Newsletter: 2

Part of the reason I can charge so much is that most of my leads have been recommended to me by someone they trust. This trust transfers incredibly well and makes the sales and buying process much easier.

I also spend time each week intentionally building my network: meeting new people, staying in touch with old connections, and attending events. This long-term investment has paid dividends in my new business.

I hope this helps some of you who are just starting out. If I can answer any specific questions, feel free to put them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

  1. 2

    Congrats @karlhughes. The initial stream of clients via referrals will begin to slow down, so don't waste time and start creating systems that will allow you go over and beyond the referral system.

    1. 2

      Thanks!

      That is definitely on my mind. I'm currently experimenting with cold LinkedIn outreach and Inmail, plus I am doing a lot of SEO content creation.

      I also need to start asking my existing clients for referrals and mine more of my existing LinkedIn network.

      Finally, I have a good lead magnet, so maybe I'll try paid ads this year? I'm a little nervous because I've never done them before.

      1. 1

        Great practical insights in this article, thanks for sharing this mini case-study.

        I think an interesting pricing nugget that needs more attention is "Part of the reason I can charge so much is that most of my leads have been recommended to me by someone they trust. This trust transfers incredibly well and makes the sales and buying process much easier.".

        As I dig deeper in Jobs To Be Done (JTBD), Customer Journey Mapping (CJM), and more generally behavioural economics, understand how core/foundation to success understanding these are, and you don't really need to overcomplicate it much more than that with everyone's own spin on the solid foundation.

        1. 2

          Thanks, Tim!

          Every client wants us to do a good job, but even more, they want to cover their asses. If they find a random service on the internet and it ends up being a waste of money, that's on them.

          When it's recommended though, they can at least pass the buck.

          It also affects expansion revenue. Almost all of my clients start with the small plan "Starter" because they see it as a test. After they've de-risked us, we have a great upsell rate of closing a longer commitment or higher volume.

          1. 1

            Good stuff, you've nailed the fundamentals.

            I'm working on a platform called Vouched [Linkedin disruptor maybe :) ] called Vouched motivated by how important personal recommendations + trust drives a lot of decisions with who to reach out to/work with.

            Looking forward to sharing with the community soon.

    2. 1

      Interesting, I've not seen a slow down in referrals for my software dev agency business after 5 years. Perhaps it's dependant on your business type?

  2. 1

    Congrats for taking the leap!

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