It was a cold day in the middle of Pennsylvania winter, 2011.
I was driving home to tell my parents I’d failed college… again.
I was in tears the whole drive home. I was 19 years old, and I knew that I didn’t love the degree I was pursuing (R.N.). It wasn’t something I’d ever love or become great at.
My parents were devastated at the news, just as I thought, and my father wouldn’t talk to me the rest of the month. It was heartbreaking to know that he lost all faith in me, and I spent the rest of the day in tears.
But the next day, I got up early–at 4 a.m.–and applied myself with renewed zeal to the side hustle I’d started during my first semester of college.
My side hustle was building, unbeknownst to me, a freelance writing career. At the time, I had absolutely no idea it would be a career. It was simply an avenue I believed I could be good at. Something I truly enjoyed. I wasn’t sure it would last a year.
But there I was, getting up early, applying for writing jobs, writing every assignment myself to gain experience, and slowly but surely building a brand. My first brand idea was awful: Writer4U2Hire. I built a free website on Weebly and blogged regularly, and to my surprise, gained clients that directly inboxed me for work, then for repeat work, and then to ask if they could refer others to me. After that, I decided to get serious, and launched a real brand I could hang my hat on. I called it Express Writers.
That was 2011. The next year, I left that toxic environment I grew up in, and it was the best thing I could have done for the health of not just myself, but my business’ future and longevity.
When I had the freedom to pursue my dreams in a supportive environment (something easily taken for granted, if you’ve never experienced the opposite), things took off.
Far beyond my dreams or aspirations. None of my business success has come easily, but we persevered, and we’re here. And I’m incredibly grateful.
How It Started, and How It’s GoingAfter ten years of successful, slow and steady growth at Express Writers, CEO Julia McCoy is stepping down. Read her exit letter ✍️ ♥️ Click To Tweet
By the fall of 2012, I was working twelve hours a day to build Express Writers. That same fall, I met and married my partner, Josh McCoy. Somehow, I convinced him to stop building his brand-new SEO business and come join me to build Express Writers. He bought in on my vision, and became our CTO. Thankfully, he brought the tech, systems, and website savviness I was missing.
My approach to grow and build Express Writers was people-first, at all times. If I had happy clients, and the right writers, I somehow believed everything else would fall into place. This approach has truly been the catalyst to grow our business.
At the beginning, hiring writers and my first staff members (editors) was a rude awakening, quickly, to what it was like to be an employer. Most of the newbies I hired didn’t show up, even after clear directives and deadlines were given. I lost paying clients quickly. Then, I learned to stop hiring the first person who showed up, and start handing out tests and interviews until we found the right person. I learned how to build a more qualified HR process, and how to set up orientation so that it was thorough and informative.
Korilynn was one of my first full-time writers. A tried-and-tested freelancer, she could write 5,000 words a day, and I was shocked with how much work she took on and delivered while meeting all of our quality standards. Today, she’s our Content Manager, and we’ve never had a better one. Our clients and their projects are always near and dear to her heart. And our writers get matched to the right assignments with her at the helm. She’s tough, won’t sugarcoat anything, and works hard so our clients stay and projects move forward. I appreciate and respect her work ethic so much.
We’ve had a slow-and-steady growth curve. Instead of the sudden UP arrow, which scares me because I believe it can have more negative reverberations and a tendency to go down just as quickly, our growth curve has looked like this:
2015 and 2016, the plateau in the middle of growth, held scary times. Thankfully, I walked out learning my business wasn’t broken. Express Writers could be massively successful. What was really going on: We learned in mid-2016 that we were victims of a scam run by our own team. I learned a tough lesson, but it gave me the strength I needed to build an infinitely better team.
Our editorial and writing team is constantly growing, evolving and changing, and we’re implementing new processes this fall season to try to repair some new project delay issues we’ve run into. Express Writers, I’ve learned, is a living, breathing being, and it only thrives where there is growth and evolution. We’ve learned to quickly adapt, pivot, and change when things don’t work well, so projects don’t lag behind.
Running an agency this big, selling a 100% human-led service, i.e. high-level content writing, isn’t for the faint of heart. Even our brand logo has been through many evolutions. The final design, a paper plane in flight, truly resembles us and has been iconic to me ever since we launched it.
In October of 2020, one of our biggest visions finally came true with the launch of Express Writers 2.0, our internal workroom and external client Content Shop, an all-in-one system we built ourselves in WordPress. Fulfilling this was an immense struggle and hefty cost (over $200,000 in development, which we footed ourselves; we’ve never sought outside funding), and we see it as an ongoing project since we continue to evolve and grow based on our team and client feedback. Reaching this pivotal point was amazing. We finally saw something happen that we’d been building for over four years.
In early 2021, we tried the new GPT-3 AI tools on the market, and kept a few in our arsenal (HyperWrite is one of our favorites) so our writers could simplify and streamline their outline and phase 1. Unfortunately, even though my hero Joe Pulizzi himself predicted AI writing will outpace and even replace content writers in this decade, I don’t see it happening. Our clients expect too much detail, too much research, too much style, tone, and humanness in their content for a bot to ever keep up. I don’t see that changing. AI can certainly aid in the process, but never replace it.
Handing the Reins Over
After ten years in content, I’ve learned that nothing thrills me more than great content that touches and reaches a heart, soul, and life.
Whether that’s as simple as helping someone find the dog grooming tool they need… yes, an actual blog we’ve written at Express Writers… or as deep and profound as touching thousands of readers in 90 countries around the world with the raw survivor story of my life (my memoir).
This is what I will never let go of. I love creating content that has an impact. I love leading a team that has a collective goal of creating great content. But today, it’s time for me to pass the reins of Express Writers over with gratitude and heartfelt emotion over to the Oakleys, a dynamic husband-and-wife duo that, much like Josh and I, will continue running the ship here at Express Writers. And my belief is, in the short time we’ve gotten to know each other, that our buyers will do a better job than I’ve done of leading this ship onwards to the next big goals, while continuing to set sail for the right destinations–happy clients, happy team, and great content delivered day in, day out.
We had a great experience with Quiet Light Brokerage, with Chris Wozniak who acted as our broker and helped us filter through a ton of candidates for our business sale to finally accept the Oakleys’ offer. They were the ones who wanted Express Writers the most, and in my experience, when someone truly wants something, that’s a great indicator of how well that “something” will succeed in their care.
I’m thrilled Express Writers is going to another homegrown, heartfelt set of owners — not a big box brand or corporation. I’m confident you’ll experience great results in their hands. Because they care. And that’s always been the beating heart of Express Writers. We care. We give an actual crap about quality, and many times, we’ve suffered for it; having to do things ourselves, or wade through the pain of backlog until we find the right person for an urgently-needed role. But in the end, those high standards have brought us here. To $5M in sales. Over 5,000 clients reached and helped.
The Vision of Our New Owners
As I fully step away now and leave my duties and role as CEO and founder of Express Writers, and prepare to focus more on what I love doing in the years to come with gratitude at the opportunity, I’m confident you’re in good hands with our buyers, the new operational team here at Express Writers; Adam and Alicia Oakley.
This adventurous duo have a passion and commitment to leadership and management. They bring financial intelligence, business ethics and strong character to the table.
Adam Oakley comes to the task with more than 20 years of experience in executive roles in manufacturing, technology, and professional service businesses. His leadership and management skills, coupled with his transparency and diligence, have earned him a reputation as a trusted partner among clients. His experience in running marketing for a large manufacturing company and leveraging the new world of SEO in the 2000s brought exponential growth for the business. Since then, he has served on the leadership team of a global technology provider where he focused on business operations, scaling the worldwide group, and developing the client service model for a $30 million company.
Alicia brings to the table over 20 years of experience in the fields of education, real estate and entrepreneurship. She is an essential member to any team serious about taking their business to the next level. Alicia holds an Oregon real estate license and a Master’s degree in teaching. When she’s not working on their real estate investment portfolio, you can find her teaching the use of an appositive and proper use of the comma to their four children and spending time with clients at her executive life coaching consultancy. She is an avid reader, passionate about education, real estate, staying healthy, and traveling.
Adam and Alicia have been married for over 20 years. They have adventured around the world twice with their fabulous four kids, lived abroad, and currently split their time between Belize and Texas.
From the new owners: “Rarely have we been fortunate enough to see an organization as solidly rooted in delivering terrific quality and exceptional customer experience as Express Writers. As we lead the company into its next generation, we are committed to building on Julia’s success in Express Writers and finding new ways to give you more. What this means for you as an Express Writers client is that you will continue to receive the highest level of quality content produced by industry-leading experts that you’ve come to expect. It’s that simple. Our goal is to build on the continuous five-star performance that Express Writers has proven over the last decade.”
What’s Next for Me
As I mentioned, creating content that brings impact is one of my core purposes in life. You won’t see me leaving content marketing any time soon.
My first goal is to take some real time off with my family, especially during the upcoming holidays this year. Although I’ve taken vacations, I’ve never had a true “offline” day in, well, ten years since I started this business. Running Express Writers is too demanding for me to be able to go offline much. Our team is lean and small, but that means I’m usually doing a lot to fill gaps, even on weekends. So, first rule of order, I’m truly looking forward to real time off with the family. We have a second on the way due March 2022, and I’m excited at the chance to take time off when baby #2 makes his appearance and enjoy home and family.
Next, I’ll focus on a part-time schedule working through The Content Hacker™ with my students and 1:1 clients. The Content Hacker is my grassroots, organically-grown community of growth-focused content marketers, where I teach and ghostwrite for high-level clients (who sometimes come back full-circle to work with Express Writers, which I love seeing).
Finally, I’ll write many more books. And not just in the marketing genre, although I’ll certainly continue to write marketing and entrepreneurial guidebooks, since I’ve heard so many good things from you all regarding the four I do have out. It’s in my heart to reach the YA fiction audience, with a series I’ve been dreaming up for a while now. I just announced the launch of an upcoming fiction trilogy I’ve been writing on and off the past year, Earth Begins, a neo western apocalyptic fiction featuring a magical tree, two different realms on earth, gritty yet surprising characters, and a plot that will have you on the edge of your seat. Click to read more.
I’m thrilled to venture into more of what I love, and go back to my roots of writing for the sheer enjoyment of creating beautiful content that matters, enriches lives, and feeds the soul. Earth Begins is a pinnacle of all of those things, and I can’t wait to share it with you. Get on the waitlist here.
Till we meet again in content. Hasta la vista!
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