It started with Upwork.
I know. Upwork. The platform where freelancers build entire websites for $3/hour and clients complain there’s no good talent.
But a few months ago I stumbled across Danny Margulies, who made over $100k his first year freelancing via Upwork and now runs a course on how he did it.
To be honest, I don’t love online courses. Most people are not equipped to teach, so there’s a lot of garbage out there, created by the seduction of “passive income.”
But Danny’s felt different. His blog blew me away and changed how I viewed my value as a freelancer.
I thought I knew how to pitch and charge premium rates.
I knew nothing.
I devoured Danny’s blog, signed up for his newsletter and, eventually, purchased his course.
Seriously, read Danny’s 7 Upwork Proposal Mistakes right now and see what I mean.
Two days later I was hired by my first Upwork client—who I charged $95/hour, almost double my old rate.
A few days after that, I was hired again. Same rate.
Then it happened again. And again. I upped my rates. After just two months I’d made an extra $3,000. The kicker? I worked fewer hours.
The even better news?
I liked the work more.
Clients paid me to write like myself about their products: leather-bound journals, digital business cards, jewelry and therapy.
Danny’s course kick-started an intense quarter where I learned the real value of my writing.
Turns Out, I’ve Been A Copywriter All Along
After almost a decade in marketing, I’d seen the same problem over and over again:
- Business X isn’t growing.
- Business X invests in Facebook ads or content strategy.
- That strategy doesn’t work.
- Because the Business X website is crap.
Too often, companies spend money on attracting website visitors, even though that website isn’t optimized to retain those customers.
Crappy websites mean those expensive visitors fall through the cracks. No social media strategy can save them.
As an add-on to my marketing services, I would rewrite these websites so their business (and benefits) made sense.
I loved it. More than any work I’ve ever done.
This shocked me. For whatever reason, copywriting felt less slimy than the clickbait articles I’d been paid to write.
Instead of helping massive media companies make money through ad clicks, I helped small businesses connect with their Perfect Customers.
>>Like the New Mexico-based artist with an emotional origin story.
>>The ex-banker who now helps people understand their insurance.
>>The successful teacher and her monthly YouTube series.
I then had three epiphanies:
- I’m really good at this
- I need to charge way more for this
- I need to create a proper business to sell this
So I brainstormed a new company, separate from Marian Librarian, 100% focused on writing irresistible web copy.
Why I Chose to Separate My Business From My Blog
Why create a company separate from the steady presence that is Marian Librarian?
Because over the years this site morphed into a personal journey. And I want to keep it that way, without the pressure to make myself look impressive. I don’t want to turn my baby blog into copywriting lessons. In fact, I don’t want to write about copywriting at all.
I’ve also outgrown the “freelancer” label and my blog journey feels separate from the adventure I’m about to have as a business owner. I now have an assistant and an editor and an accountant, and I run this Real Live Thing completely outside of my “personal brand.”
So I made the decision to create a new website from scratch in 30 days.
Here’s how I did it…
Introducing: Oh Hai! Copy
The name popped into my head two minutes after I decided to build a business.
For those not obsessed with LOLCATS, “Oh hai” is a reference to the internet’s first real meme—a throwback to early 2000s internet culture.
This name combines my love for the internet with my belief that businesses MUST sound like humans. Because HAI WE’RE ALL HUMAN.
(Except for this guy.)
The name is also a play on how most people’s About pages (including mine) say, “Oh hi, I’m so and so and this is my corner of the internet.”
For better or worse, this trend makes us all look the same.
My mission is to fix that.
First, I Gave Notice to My Smaller Clients
To build this business, I needed uninterrupted time to brainstorm, play and write. So I made a hard choice and gave a month’s notice to my small retainer clients. I had outgrown the work and couldn’t justify the 20-hours per week I billed while my new clients paid me double for the same time.
That gave me 30 days to build and launch this new business before the net dropped from under me.
Then, I Signed Up For Squarespace
I’m a long-time WordPress user, but I’m not a developer. Every problem I’ve had with my site has resulted in hours trolling outdated forums followed by incessant back-and-forth with my Developer Bestie to fix whatever broke.
After I watched yet another friend launch their business on Squarespace, I signed up for their free trial. If I couldn’t figure it out in two weeks, I’d go back to what I knew.
I LOVED Squarespace.
Squarespace’s drag and drop tools are intuitive. And when I deleted a block, their support team sent me a custom video that explained how to fix the problem. No more forums!
I spent a week exploring the platform and outlining how I wanted the site to feel. Did I want another blog? A store? Free downloadable products? These decisions were easier when I had a site to play with myself.
Next, I Defined My Services
No one wants to hire a “generalist.”
It’s copywriting 101: The more specific you can get, the broader your reach.
I thought long and hard about who I want to serve. Over the years, I’ve learned that I love customer-focused writing more than business-focused. I prefer clients who are eager to share their story, not sound like a corporate robot. But most of all, I love entrepreneurs who started their business because of an intense personal experience.
Which is why I structured my offerings around one signature product:
Yeah, that little page everyone clicks when they stumble across a new website.
THE most important page on your website.
Unfortunately, this page is also the most overlooked and the hardest to write. Most people slap up a super boring paragraph about what they do and never look at it again.
This page has the highest percentage of visitor exits because business owners don’t invest any time in making it sticky.
When an About page is done right, new visitors stick around FOREVER, signing up for everything you’ve ever created. I’ve seen this one little page kick-off enormous business growth, without investing in any more visitors or doomed marketing strategies.
The problem is, most businesses don’t know how to write these pages to be a) interesting, clear, well-written and b) optimized for conversions. A good About page is like a flytrap—one that keeps new visitors up past their bedtimes, obsessed with everything you’ve ever done.
I also LOVE writing them.
My superpower is to help identify the sticky pieces of your story that resonates with your perfect customer.
The more I thought about this, idea the more I realized I could offer About pages as my main service. I’ve written over 100 in my career, I have a templated system I can do in my sleep and the results are always insane (and who doesn’t like feeling like a bad ass at their job?).
How I Chose My New Business Logo
Once I decided on my services, I needed to finalize my website. And a website needs a logo, so I went to 99Designs.
I put together a quick brief and watched the designs roll in over the course of four days.
The first few were bad. Really bad.
But then I met this beautiful girl and fell in love…
Meet Beatriz, the Oh Hai! llama.
The llama made no sense and doesn’t give off a luxury feel, but I guess I’m not a luxury kind of woman. I came back to her again and again and if I’ve learned anything these past 10 years, it’s that I’m happier when I trust my gut.
So with a few tweaks, I chose the design and Beatriz was mine.
If you’re curious about 99Designs, use this link to get a FREE $99 upgrade.
Finally, I Hired a Squarespace Designer
Next up, a website polish.
Squarespace comes with gorgeous templates, but they all feel a little… Squarespacey. For a copywriting studio aimed at helping companies stand out, I needed mine to do the same.
I couldn’t afford a multi-thousand dollar design from scratch, but I could afford a young designer’s day rate.
I’d never worked with a designer by the day, so I was curious to see how it would work out.
I hired Melissa Burgess, who’s based in the UK. I was in San Francisco at the time, which meant an eight-hour time difference. I initially worried that might be difficult, but I woke up on our scheduled day and all the work was done! We did a quick Skype call to go over feedback, but within the hour everything was finished.
The final product….
I’m super happy with how it turned out. A copywriter’s website is text-heavy, and Melissa broke up my insane paragraphs with pretty graphics and bold headlines.
She said, “I can safely say I read your entire site! Wordy, but interesting. The dynamic of text-heavy sites can be tricky, so I decided to play on some juxtaposition of the text placement.”
I love what she did. She let the copy speak for itself without causing reader overwhelm.
(If you want to contact Melissa, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
How to Make the Time to Start a New Business
Making time to build this company was the hardest part.
I had a full client schedule, but knew if I didn’t take time to work ON my business, I’d never get it done. I could always revise my services, change my rates or get a new llama.
The good news…
…I spent April back home in San Francisco. What better time to hunker down and get shit done? I’d be out of my daily routine, away from my needy dog and surrounded by other brilliant entrepreneurs.
So I put a pause on new projects. This was incredibly scary. It’s hard to decline new clients when nothing is certain at the end of the month. But Boss Marian needed to focus on Oh Hai!, not one-off projects at low rates.
I could survive one month on a decreased income.
But how would I get everything done in that month?
New Business Start-up Checklist
- Nail down services and pricing
- Write all website copy
- Collect testimonials and client headshots
- Get new logo designed
- Create Squarespace website
- Manage Squarespace designer
- Create and design ebook (my email opt-in offer)
- Write 10 email autoresponders with tips, discount code and sales copy
- Write corresponding blog post for each autoresponder
- Update old clients on the new business and rates
- Create new client intake process
- Create sequences in MailChimp, WisePops and Acuity Scheduling
- Write THIS blog post introducing old readers to the new business
After years producing websites and marketing plans, I knew what needed to get done before launch.
THESE ARE TOO MANY THINGS TO DO IN 30 DAYS.
I did them anyway.
Some tasks, like my client intake process, will evolve. But done is better than perfect and my main goal was getting everything out there so I could go back to the work I love most, writing for other people.
How to Market a New Business
Writing about writing (just like blogging about blogging and marketing your marketing business) is not for me. I’d rather write about jewelry or housecleaning or literally anything else than give advice on how to copywrite.
So I decided on a Super Simple Marketing plan, where I would write everything once, automate it, then never touch it again.
- Free ebook to encourage new subscribers
- Autoresponder email series
- Back-published blog posts
- Guest posting
(Click the above image to download your free guide)
Guest posting on other sites has always been my go-to strategy because it’s fun and effective.
When you build a website from scratch, no one knows you. No links. No press. And while I have a great community here, we’ve already established I want to keep the two sites separate.
The problem is, I ran myself into the ground launching this site and didn’t have time to research a million new places to contribute.
And because I’m uninterested in writing about writing for writers, I had to think outside the box.
I decided to target websites aimed at creative industries. For example, a big interior design blog with a business column, a life coach who’s written about his own business, a photography magazine with a few posts on selling.
Those are my ideal customers. Not other copywriters circle-jerking about conversion rates.
I hired a VA to help identify those websites.
I worked with Angie Guerra, a Virtual Assistant based in Arizona. Last month she pulled together over 20 websites that accept guest posts and are NOT about writing, but still appeal to my target customer.
How to Finance a New Business
I bootstrapped the hell out of this business.
Virtual Assistant: $60
Business email: $60
Total cost = $1028
I could have spent more time to create the “perfect” website and strategy, but I’ve already done super well without any bells or whistles, so I didn’t feel pressured to turn this into a $20k six-month project. (Plus, it’s much easier to pivot when you haven’t bled your savings account on Phase I.)
Guys, I’m really, really tired
This month was HARD.
I took the month off from client work so I could “leisurely launch a business.” I learned that is not a real thing.
I stayed up way past my 9pm bedtime and spent a solid four weeks engrossed in this tiny little internet corner. My hands hurt from too much keyboard-time, my back aches from bad desk posture and I’m burnt out as hell.
Time for a nap.
>>While I rest, check out my new biz: Oh Hai! Copy
p.s. There are some affiliate links throughout this post, which means I get a small commission if you sign up. HOWEVER. These are actual services I use and love, so be cool.