Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Constantin Coutun and I am the manager of 411Writers, so to speak (see our backstory below for more details). We didn’t start as a regular company nor we consider ourselves to be one. However, we operate just like a regular content company and we have one’s goals - providing content writing services that make a difference.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have started working in the Content Writing Department at 411 Locals as a blog writer in 2013. 411 Locals is an Internet Advertising Agency specializing in local search engine optimization (SEO), web design, and online marketing solutions. After a few years of being a Team Leader, I’ve made it to a Fulfillment Manager of the 2 teams, being responsible for over 40 writers and 13 editors.
Our most iconic service is the Guru Content Quality Plan. For some people, words are just words, written black on white, and meant to complement the rest of the design on a website.
However, that’s what our services tend to prove wrong. Usually, there are 2 types of people looking for website content: SEOs who need well-optimized text for the search engines and webmasters who simply need to tell a story. At 411Writers, we combine those needs and provide our customers with unique website content that is written for both, search engines and human readers.
On July 24, 2018, we received our very first order. It was a 300-word request with a 24-hour delivery deadline. Today, we produce over 2.5 million words every month with an average of $50 000 revenue.
After 7 years in the company, I’ve felt like the potential of the writing team was being limited to the businesses 411 Locals is working with. This is how the idea of 411Writers was born - I wanted to help my department’s potential and give both writers and editors a field where they can express their creativity.
After a few days of researching content writing companies, I was convinced that we can do better. It just seemed like the right thing to do, the perfect move - we’re already a cohesive team, we have the manpower and knowledge, we have the experience, so why not expand our business?
As for me, long are the days that I have written something that gets published. I was not the most creative writer, I was rather an efficient one but I can hardly say that writing, in particular, is my thing. Truth is, I have always been attracted to engineering and creating things that have meaning for others. I believe my engineering background combined with the content writing experience gave me a unique view on how we can streamline and bootstrap our idea into a business.
Currently, thanks to the amazing people I work with, the project runs almost on its own. However, we never stop expanding our reach and adding more features to our offering. The ultimate goal is to become the go-to company for all things related to content creation - and we’re just at the beginning of a long and tedious road.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
As a fully-operating content department, we knew that the base of our services should be focused on high-quality writing. The question was how to pitch that skill we have into a service that people would pay for. So far, we haven’t worked with customers directly, we were just a small part of the spinning wheel, so to speak.
How much should we charge, do we charge by the word or per hour, what kind of services should we list on our website, how do we handle orders..? These were a few of the many questions that were asked and answered to some extent in the very first meeting regarding 411Writers as a project within the company.
The people presented were only 4: I as an idea curator, the content writing’s Team Leader (my successor), one of our best writers, and one of the company’s best designers.
We listed down the most common industries we’re currently working on (26) and started brainstorming on how to properly list our services. We decided to separate blogs from other website pages (Home, Landing, About, Service Pages, etc) but it seemed like we were missing something. Why limit ourselves with just website content when we can write all sorts of product descriptions, press releases, emails, social media posts, and advertising copies? Also, our work process so far has always included a revision by a Quality Assurance editor. We decided not only to point that out as a selling point but also to offer proofreading as a separate service.
So, we figured out the services we want to offer, now we had to figure out the price and how to charge our customers. After a quick competitor’s research, we decided not to go overboard and aim somewhere in the middle. That left us with exactly $0,04663 per word ($13.99 for a 300-word blog article) and $0,01219097222 per word for proofreading.
The best part of initiating a business within an existing company is that most of the work has already been done. We only had to rewrite our policies and adjust some of the legal terms.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Our original design combined geometric and robust typography with a black and green palette and we intentionally decided to break every design rule by highlighting the most important buttons and call to actions in orange.
Our designer created a few social media graphics for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. The accounts were already created, and we started posting launch teasers. Sadly, most of our followers were just coworkers and friends but it was still something considering the fact we weren’t allowed to use any budget on ads. That was part of the deal with this project.
As content creators, we decided to rely on our content entirely. Publishing 2 to 3 blog posts per week, sharing them on social media, and following niche-related channels was the foundation of our marketing strategy. That and all the SEO efforts we did including detailed competition research, keyword research and targeting, on-site and off-site optimization, and of course, writing our content.
As a Content Manager working for an Internet advertising company, I had more than a basic understanding of SEO. Over time, I and the team involved in the 411Writers project became experts, more or less.
So, even though we didn’t have a huge budget, we’ve had all the necessary resources in-house, including the advice of our coworkers. We wanted to prove that we can make it without any investments. The only budget spent on our marketing strategy is the domain and hosting. That and the efforts of 4 people, spending no more than just a few hours per day at work.
It took us 3 months to get our first customer. A single page worth $13.99. For the next 12 months, we’ve had similar orders, with no more than 5 orders for a whole month. However, some of the customers started coming back more regularly, we finally started showing on Google’s first pages, and soon we had a couple of customers, placing bulk orders every week.
Everything went well for the next few months until both our big clients just disappeared. Before these clients, we had only 1 writer taking care of the occasional orders. When we started getting the bulk orders, we had to involve the whole department. Some of the writers liked the new orders, they found them refreshing and some didn’t. However, all of this was gone and the lesson we learned is that we cannot depend on just 2 people.
We changed our working routine, for the sake of our clients’ satisfaction and we still lost them. However, I’ve always known that this won’t last long, and I’ve been planning to launch a new service all along...
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
When our 2 top customers stopped placing orders, we launched a new service, targeting new customers, and namely app developers. We’ve learned how to write App Store-optimized descriptions and started cold emailing developers from all over. For over a few months, we tried reaching out to developers and app companies. At first, nobody responded but after a few weeks, we’ve already gotten ourselves a few customers.
There was almost no competition for this type of service and we easily managed to get on the first page for ASO-related keywords. We focused on Play Store apps because the listings there must include an email address. All we had to do is filter by categories and start scraping email addresses. If you know me, you would guess correctly that I started with the auto industry. I finally found a connection between my actual job and the two other things I like - apps and automobiles. I was even happier when one of the developers sent me a custom OBD2 Adapter for testing and reviewing both his app and device.
However, this didn’t last long, most of the developers got their app description and never contacted us again. They simply didn’t need more content from us. This made me think, I called up a meeting to brainstorm on how to keep customers and should we change our business strategy.
This is how the idea of our Guru content was born. We decided that we should target SEOs and digital marketers mainly from now on. People that maintain a blog section or have hundreds of clients that would eventually need content. What makes our Guru plan different from our regular plans is the keywords research we conduct. We’re not only looking for beneficial keywords but we also check the top competitors ranking for similar keywords and narrow them down.
As soon as we launched our Guru plan, more and more customers started messaging us. What made most of these customers come back is the detailed report and all the free advice we gave during initial contact. In a way, I could say that a more expensive service and caring customer service is what keeps our current clients returning.
Also, we decided to redesign the entire website (it’s still work in progress though) and we simplified our order form. It may be too early to say but the simplified form may just work better in converting users to customers.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The redesign was something like a fresh start to us. We’re still mainly depending on our organic rankings, so we now have an inner team of people responsible for the uploading of blogs. We’re also improving our graphic design skills and trying to incorporate more visually pleasing content into our work.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
As generic as it may sound, trusting your gut and being consistent are the most important parts of starting a business. I understand that I’m in a very unique situation, being backed up with a reliable job and a company that allows me to use its resources but that’s also a product of hard work.
Sharing ideas with the right people is the first step to success. I wouldn’t believe that what I and my team did was possible but we got our approval, we got our clients, and this is the best project our team has ever worked on.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
That being said, everything else is pretty much the same, we’re part of 411 Locals (our mother company), we’re not spending budget on goods or ads, and we’re mainly depending on regular customers.
Being in a very specific but highly competitive niche is hard to maintain, especially without investing in ads. On a monthly average, we have roughly 1700 website visits, with around 44% exit rate. The average time on page is a little below 3 minutes (most of our blogs take about 3-4 minutes to read), and honestly, there is so much that could be improved.
One of my favorite tools I’ve used is Ahrefs Keyword Explorer. The content plan for 411Writers would have never been possible without this tool. It’s not just the keywords explorer though. Ahrefs constantly tracks our website and gives me updates on keyword and link movements. It’s also great for coming up with new topics.
Speaking of topics, one of the biggest challenges for our writers is finding suitable graphics that are free to use. This is when we started using Canva and Stories by Freepik. Canva is just the easiest way to design blog pictures and relevant graphics without being an actual designer. Using Canva’s ready templates and just changing an element or two was what we did for a year straight until we found Stories by Freepik. Downloading transparent illustrations that are drawn in the same style helps with consistency and the overall look of our blog section.
Here’s a list of all the tools and websites we’ve used to make 411Writers real:
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Perseverance is the only key to success. Keep working hard and stay realistic about your metrics.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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