Sarah Spence, founder and strategic director of Content Copywriting, shares how she’s grown her business rapidly from solopreneur to agency in less than two years.
You may not believe this; but I never set out to create a business. All I wanted was to have a job that could be flexible around my new family, while using my skills to pay the bills. Instead, what I’ve ended up with is a company that’s achieved 100%+ YOY growth, is landing and achieving great things for big-brand clients and has a wonderful culture.
So, how did I do it? While there’s been no secret sauce – I’ve scaled from 1 to 15 in two years thanks to laser-focus on relationships, strategy and execution at scale.
All by myself
When I started out as a freelancer, it was a fairly common story. I was working as a Senior Marketing Manager in a challenger brand bank, it was exciting and rewarding work. But when I had my first baby, I knew the idea of going back into that kind of environment while juggling parenthood just wasn’t going to cut it.
So, I started freelancing as a copywriter – writing had always been one of my specialist skills, and I brought the added value of understanding what it’s like to be a CMO or marketing manager. I built strong relationships, and I started to realise writing was only a small part of my value.
Clients were coming to me and asking for content – for example, 10 blogs on a certain topic. But the missing puzzle piece was the strategy. They knew they needed content marketing to be in their overall marketing mix but didn’t have the resources to be truly. Which topics were going to resonate with their audience, and also help them be found on Google?
I lost a lot of sleep at this time (and not just because I had a toddler) – I could deliver the written content my clients were asking for, but something around the value exchange didn’t feel right. Knowing I was writing content for content’s sake wasn’t sitting well with me.
Content, but make it strategic
In 2019, I started focusing on content strategy as a key part of my offering – the relationships I was building and the strategic advice I could offer to clients around content was where the magic was happening. But at this point in the business, it was still just me, and sometimes subcontractors to help with overflow work.
When COVID-19 hit, the business took a back seat for a while, and I returned to working solo. By the time 2021 came around, I noticed that the approach of creating strategy around content marketing and then producing quality content at scale and speed, was gaining interest. Big brands were asking me for help, and many of the big-name clients who came on board – such as Westpac, Spotlight Retail Group and WWF – loved this strategic approach.
Often, they’d tried to create content internally or had hired a team of writers in the past but had missed the mark without a content strategy. So, they knew having a strategic approach and knitting it into the overall marketing strategy was key.
Not enough hours in the day
As enquiries and referrals grew rapidly, I found there weren’t enough hours in the day for me to be creating client strategies, writing and editing content, and managing client relationships. At first, I outsourced some of the writing to subcontractors, then the editing. Then I realised I also needed help with managing clients, and using external resources just wasn’t going to cut it. For clients to want to work with us, we needed to build an internal culture that reflected our value, and gave clients confidence.
I hired my first employee, and then another. Then another. And I realised the work I’d done previously using subcontractors had really helped stress-test the entire process.
The right tech for the job
As the team has grown, so has the tech we need to use to keep things working. Our team is fully remote, and scattered across the country, so we’re highly reliant on tools like Asana, Slack, EverHour and Google Drive to be able to collaborate and communicate effectively. And Google search still underpins all of our strategy, so Semrush is another tool we use daily.
Technology is key to helping us build robust strategies for our clients – there’s no “throw it at the wall and hope it sticks” – everything we write and create is done with a purpose, and informed by research. We know what our clients’ ideal customers are searching for, and the content that’s going to help them (while also working well for SEO).
Rapid growth without the burnout
Scaling rapidly in a short space of time hasn’t come without its challenges. So, how did I do this without burning out?
Every time I felt it was getting too much for me, I’d look at my workload and figure out if I could hire someone to take any parts of what I was doing. Therefore, building the team has been about avoiding burnout – although I’ve been close to it many times!
Knowing our work is genuinely helping our clients has also helped keep me on-track: we’re specialists, and provide a full specialist service from strategy, to execution, and evaluation.
And most importantly, I love being able to build a business where people are truly valued and supported. The team culture is so important to me as a founder – we want our team to love working with us.
We’ve introduced a number of initiatives designed to help our people feel happy, connected and healthy. For example – quarterly self-care days where the whole business has the day off (all we ask is that they use that day for at least one aspect of their self-care – however that looks for them), and a day off on your birthday. Plus, we pay for our team to travel to our quarterly coworking days and provide them with the hardware they need to set-up their home office.
We’re continuing to grow and signing-on big name clients – Afterpay is the latest brand to join our client list.
And we’re also starting to take the time to reflect on what we’ve achieved for ourselves and accomplished for our clients, through things like entering awards. One of our campaigns won Best Content Marketing Campaign in NSW at the AMI awards. It’s great to be able to share big wins with the team, and to know they’re just as excited as I am about what’s next in this business story.
I can’t wait to see what the next two years bring.