Follow our journey, where we share everything we're doing to grow our content marketing agency, Contentellect, to $1m+ in revenue.
Successes, failures, tips and tricks - this case study is a no holds barred look into our company.
- Contentellect was started as a content writing service by myself and my co-founder, Marc Bromhall, in February 2018.
- Marc ran the company and I was involved as a passive investor and advisor.
- We went through a number of iterations on our proposition (see screenshots below), first targeting affiliate marketers and later settling on a monthly blog management service, primarily for SaaS companies.
- By mid 2019, we hit $10k in monthly revenue, then $15k, and by mid 2020 we reached $20k. Around 60% of this was monthly recurring revenue (MRR). Marc wrote a great post on this journey here, so I won't cover this part of our story.
- Things then stalled.
- Marc was looking to do other things, and I was looking for a new challenge. Covid had shagged my travel business, Mountain IQ, and although I was starting to scale a VA service called Tasket, I saw an opportunity to give Marc what he wanted and give myself a new challenge.
- Marc and I agreed a buy-out and in July 2021, I took over the reins at Contentellect.
- Grow revenue from $250k to $1m+ over the next 18 months (August 2021-December 2022).
Why Share This Information
- I have a condition called Shiny-Object-Syndrome (SOS). Basically, I get excited about a project for a few months until another (shiny) project passes my desk and I lose interest. Sharing this case study in pubic is my attempt to try stay accountable and cure my SOS.
- I've also just parted with a hefty stack of cash (by my standards at least) to buy Marc out, so without trying to be crude, I can't afford to f*ck this up. My wife will have my nuts if I do.
What I'm Not Sharing
- Profit and margin numbers
- Email templates, databases and intellectual property
Historic Revenue Numbers
- 2019: $116,724
- 2020: $186,642
- 2021 (through Aug): $279,931*
* Note: I've merged Tasket into Contentellect (more on this below) and therefore the monthly revenue numbers for 2021 include Tasket sales.
Most Recent Month (August 2021)
Every month I will update these numbers.
- Last Month Revenue: $58,842 (our biggest month ever, thanks to a $16,900 bulk content order)
- Current MRR: $27,500
What We're Doing
- To 4x growth in under 1.5 years is not going to be easy. Here's a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of what we're doing.
July, August and September 2021
- Merged Tasket into Contentellect. Added $10k MRR, more than doubled freelancer team to 80 people and FTE to 8 people. Details
- Expanded proposition and product range to include 7 more services, including a very popular bulk content service and Haro outreach service. Details
- Sold $40k of bulk content and Haro campaigns, including our largest one off sale to date of $16,900. Details
- Built detailed company documentation in Slite, moved the entire team onto Slack and created 15 training and onboarding videos for the team. Details
- Restarted cold email demand response marketing and secured a few new customers and warm leads. Details
- Rebuilt the Contentellect site to be fully SEO optimised and launched a content marketing campaign. After doing near zero content marketing (the irony!), we're now going to eat our own dog food. Details
Tasket merge and integration
- I mentioned I started a VA service, called Tasket, in 2020. There were lots of synergies in team, systems and clients between Tasket and Contentellect. I therefore decided to merge these businesses. This has added around $10k MRR to Contentellect and more than doubled our team from 3 FTEs and 35 freelancers, to 8 FTEs and 80 freelancers. The bigger team means we can expand faster and deliver at scale. You can read about the Tasket merge here.
Proposition and product range expansion
- Up until July 2021, Contentellect focused exclusively on content writing services. This is a great service with lots of headroom, but to grow quickly I felt we needed a broader proposition.
- I therefore repositioned Contentellect as a content marketing agency that focuses on Content Writing and Link Building. Both services are perfectly complimentary, so the cross sell opportunity is huge, and importantly, they are both relatively easy to productise.
- I also expanded our product range into other productised services. So far I've added two complimentary writing services - eBook writing (something we've done in the past but never pushed) and product description writing services. I've also added a white-hat link building service called Haro Outreach (this is a seriously great service and is proving to be very popular), a VA Service and Social Media Marketing (both legacy products from Tasket that we might build out in the future).
- Finally, we have helped a number of agencies on a white label basis but we have never actively sold white label services. I decided this is potentially a huge opportunity for recurring business, albeit at a lower margin. We have the scale to support agencies with super high quality content, so we launched our white label content service. We already have two big agency clients and since formally launching the white label service, we have one very promising conversation in the works (potentially $6k MRR).
- The broader product range means we can sell more stuff to the same clients, and future-proof the company from emerging technologies, like AI writing software.
$40k in Bulk Content / Haro
- Bulk content was a service I had successfully launched at Tasket. The demand for large bulk content packages is amazing. I knew I needed to bring this service into Contentellect immediately. I had my developer create a new checkout that provided customers with discounted pricing based on their order size, and we launched in late July 2021.
- In the first two months we've sold $30k in bulk campaigns, including a $16,900 sale.
- In August we also moved Haro service across from Tasket and this has proved very popular, selling $10k in its first month. Haro is the type of link building service I wish I knew about when I was building links at scale. We've managed to secure our clients links on The Washington Post, Forbes, USA Today, Shopify and Zendesk, to name a few. See our Haro case study here.
Team and system integration
- Contentellect is a people-heavy business. Our success as we grow hinges on our ability to recruit and train an amazing team and develop streamlined systems to maintain quality productised services at scale.
- To this end I spent a good part of July/August 2021 building detailed company documentation for recruitment, training and operations. This information was very fragmented so we now have a central knowledge-base hosted on Slite. We've formalised our vision and values, built a detailed strategic plan that the whole organisation knows about, and implemented a compensation policy that shares the financial success with the entire company.
- I then built detailed onboarding and training materials for new recruits and existing staff. This has been sorely missed in the past so it feels good that everyone now gets an accelerated training experience when they join the team.
- We implemented Slack for communication, which has been an absolute game changer. The team and all our freelancers work much more cohesively now. If you have more than 5 people in your team I highly recommend implementing Slack and getting off email and tools like Skype.
- Finally our Head of Ops, Megan and our Head of Business Development, Kayla, rebuilt our SOPs and operational tools. We already had fairly detailed SOPs in the company but they hadn't been updated in a while and with our new products and larger team it was important these documents reflected our processes today.
- All of the work above was painstakingly boring, but I know it will be critical to our success and I feel much better that it is now done.
Demand response marketing at scale
- Contentellect has grown, almost exclusively, through demand response marketing (specifically, cold email marketing to SaaS companies).
- I plan to ramp this up and expand the target audience to eCommerce brands for our new product description writing service, digital agencies for our new white label content service, and strategic targets like content site investors and affiliate marketers for our bulk content service.
- In the past we've used Gmass for email marketing. I've switched this to Mailshake as I find deliverability is better and it's easier to track follow-ups and automated actions.
- Marc built a huge database of SaaS prospects in 2019 and 2020 by manually scraping sites like Capterra and sourcing emails using Hunter.io. We're hitting this database again, along with a new database of agencies and eCommerce websites that I secured from BuiltWith.
- Cold email prospecting is a numbers game. Our conversion rate is around 0.1% - for every 1000 emails we send we secure 1 new client. I'm hoping to increase this conversion rate with more compelling email copy. So far, so good. We secured two new clients and have a number of warm leads.
SEO & Content Marketing - eating our own dog food
- Marc and I did some light touch content marketing for Contentellect, but to be honest we've relied almost exclusively on cold emailing for sales and growth.
- That is about to change.
- Key to our growth will be our SEO and content marketing plan. We need to go from nowhere on the internet to everywhere (where our audience is).
- Our organic traffic metrics are dismal for a company that is three years old! We do less than 500 organic monthly visitors and our Domain Rating is 17 (with just 69 Referring Domains).
Here's what we got up to on the SEO and content marketing front in Q3.
- Revamped our site architecture to target high-intent "service" keywords. Our homepage used to target Content Writing Services, but it never ranked. As we're now a multi-service agency, I set-up highly optimised service pages targeting the following keywords: Content Writing Services (here), Link Building Services (here), Haro Link Building (here), eBook Writing Services (here), Product Description Writing Services (here), Virtual Assistant Services (here) and Social Media Marketing (here). Our homepage is now targeting Content Marketing Agency. The homepage, service pages and case study pages (like the one you're reading), have been carefully interlinked to carry link juice around the site.
- Created a detailed content plan for our blog. Over the next 3 months (Q4) we will produce around 60 high-quality blog articles that reinforce and interlink with our service pages. Part of this process will include updating the 29 existing posts on our site that aren't very good.
- Created business citations across 20+ sites like Good Firms and Clutch, and setup a review profile on G2, which we plan to use as our central repository for customer reviews. We secured 3 reviews so far and will scale this to 20+ by the end of Q4.
- Updated our marketplace listing on Legiit. This platform has generated nearly $20k in direct sales and many $10,000s in referral sales when customers discover us on Legiit and then start working directly with us. We've never optimised for it though, so we updated our listings and have already seen a good uptick in business. We also listed on Fiverr.
Plans for Q4
- Publish 60+ blog articles
- Run HARO campaign to build our Domain Authority
- Run Link Building campaign to surgically target specific pages we want to rank for
- Recruit 3 more account managers, taking full time team to 11
- Maintain cold emailing programme
- Grow MRR to $30k and breach $60k in monthly revenue for the first time
- Build and launch a social media marketing plan for Contentellect, targeting LinkedIn, Facebook and Youtube
- Launch secret micro SaaS tool we've been working on