This very month, back in 2011, I was plowing the seed of an idea, hiring five writers, and coding my own website.
I decided to launch the idea, and came up with a business name in five minutes: Express Writers.
As we move into our 6th business anniversary (and my 7th in the industry), I thought it would be awesome to get on video and sharing the story behind Express Writers – on camera!
So, for the first (ever) video story that I’m finally doing, I’m sharing the story of how I started out in freelance writing at 19 then stumbled into creating Express Writers out of $75, a hope and a dream.
That was what I started with – and nothing more.
We’ve been bootstrapped all the way, learned some hard lessons, went through some crazy times, and came out stronger from every hard-knocks lesson learned. Today, we’ve served over 5,000 clients, and have grown by leaps and bounds: 200-300% year after year. This year, we were able to break all previous year’s records for client satisfaction rates and monthly income.
But the story behind Express Writers’ creation isn’t complete without the real, raw, personal side of my life that I chose to change for the better (a personal, forced lifestyle that I chose to leave – and if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be here writing this blog today.)
Here it is.
The real, raw, true story of how Express Writers came to be.
What made us, what shaped us, and what we’re doing today in the industry.
The Entrepreneurial Story: How Julia McCoy Founded Express Writers From $75, Grew a Company Mindset, and Life Lessons in Business (Video Transcript)
I run a writing agency, and 7 years ago I started with nothing but $75, a hope, and a dream.
Today, we have the best client satisfaction rates that we’ve ever had, and we just surpassed our biggest month in sales.
So, how have I been able to do it in such a competitive industry? Here’s my story.
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Everything started in my business back when I was 19. I was in the middle of nursing school, and I was failing miserably. One day I woke up, and I asked myself: what do I love to do, and how can I make money doing it?
I knew what the answer was in my heart: it was writing. That went back all the way before I was 12. I was always writing, and by age 12 I had a 200-page medieval fiction on a floppy disk. Along with that, I had early entrepreneurial roots. I figured out how to make money using the internet at 13: I was earning cash doing surveys. And by 16 – I don’t know where this idea came from, it was just in my head one day – I decided to go around the neighborhood and ask people if they needed help using their computer. I posted ads in the grocery store, and within a few days, I had several clients and I was making $40/hour at 16.
So at 19, when I found myself in the middle of college trying to get a degree that I didn’t even want, I decided I would just try to figure out online writing and make a career out of it. And the next three months, I taught myself how to write, and I wrote hundreds of articles for very cheap clients: but that was how I honed my early writing skills. I also started learning a lot of SEO and content marketing back then.
Before I knew it, I had more work than what I could handle. My next logical thought was, why not start a business? And Express Writers was born.
I had one goal when I started my company back then: it was to find a group of writers who had passion in online writing, and who I could teach the elements of SEO and content marketing to, and we could learn and progress as a whole. I noticed a phenomenon back then: a lot of so-called writers didn’t know the standards of how to write for SEO, or the reader. So I started my business with that one goal, and clients began to trust me and to look to me for SEO and content marketing advice. And that’s when I started blogging regularly on my site, expresswriters.com.
But the story is not complete without sharing a personal story. I grew up in a religiously suppressed environment. My dad was the pastor of a church, and at 21, I found myself locked up in my room by my parents and given a letter for my birthday that said I was a disgrace to my family. We were not allowed to lead normal lives, and my business was looked down on. So when I got that letter, even though that environment was the only thing I knew, I knew that it wasn’t normal and I had to get out.
So six months later, my sister and I made the decision to leave in the middle of the night. And we did. It was very hard, but I had the opportunity to go follow what I loved to do, and go follow my dreams and chase my passions once I got out of that environment.
I did that, and completely bootstrapped, without any outside funding, we grew 200% in the next few years. The first year was $50,000, and in the next few years we hit $300,000, and last year we just surpassed $650,000.
As an entrepreneur, you often hear that failure precedes success. And that’s not just a quote or a fun saying, that’s the truth. Early last year, I found out that two trusted managers in my staff were embezzling. I had to fire them, and rebuild the team, and that took 5 months of hard work.
I learned that with a supportive environment, ongoing accountability for your staff, and most importantly, the right people, there is no limits to what you can do as a business. That experience taught me what it means to create a great company culture, and serve our clients with the best customer service.
The CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, said:
“The secret to successful hiring is this: find the people that want to change the world.”
And for me, that was finding people that shared my goal, a gigantic goal, of creating the best copywriting agency on the planet, and giving our clients the best content that they’ve ever gotten.
But in the five months of rebuilding, it was the hardest thing to find the right people. One of my biggest lessons was that it’s not about the roles in your company, it’s about the environment and how your staff support each other.
So when we were rebuilding our company culture that year, and with a goal to give our clients the best customer service we possibly could, I decided to let our commissioned sales rep go. And it was scary, because she was getting us sales, but she was chasing the sale instead of the relationship with our customers.
So I replaced the commissioned sales rep with an expert to do the consulting and the selling at Express Writers. I was honored to find an industry content marketing expert to join the team. After she was working here for a week, I went to one of our clients, and I was very straight up. I asked: Could you rate the difference in experience between the commissioned sales rep and our expert? And he said that the difference was 100x better. I knew we were on the right track.
So last year, even though we went through a lot, and it took 5 months to find the right people, when we found them there’s no limit now to what we can do as a company, because we’re able to learn and progress together. Our team is large but small enough to be able to do that, which gives our clients the best service.
So we’re seeing the highest writer retention rates, we’re able to provide full time jobs for the writers we have, and we’re seeing the highest client satisfaction rates that we’ve ever had as well.
So, 3 lessons in business.
Everything changes when you find the right team. That’s #1. When you find the right people to work right next to you in the daily grind, work becomes delightful because you support each other. I’m so honored today to lead in my staff full-time a group of women that all share the same goal, to serve our clients best and to evolve and progress with the industry.
I encourage communication in my team. Even though we’re remote, we’re so close-knit. We have daily Skype threads that address the different topics we all talk about.
The second lesson in business is: in the trenches of failure, success is often born. Failure is really hard to go through, but I believe that it’s one of the greatest ways to learn the lessons that will teach you growth.
And the last lesson is, success is a progression. It’s not something you hit and plateau at, it’s a continual progression, something you work very hard at every day.
So this summer, a big goal of mine is to launch a course. I’m launching a content strategist certification course. I’m going to certify in content strategy, and I’m putting together everything I’ve learned in the last 7 years of finding the right keywords for your niche, what tools to use, how to use them to get your best content opportunities, how to find trending topics, how to put together an editorial calendar – which is what we get paid to do daily for our clients. So all of that is going into a course, and it will be out this summer. If you want to sign up to get notified, the link will be in the description of this video.
What did you think?
Go easy on me in the comments. 😉
I’d love to hear your feedback – I’m an introvert, so, video isn’t easy for me. You just might inspire me to do it more!
And don’t forget…
Update: September of 2017, my course officially launched! Learn about my certification course here: contentstrategycourse.com <—- I’m so excited about this!