Using the power of simplicity, creativity and a lot of persistence can grow your business.
I am always on the lookout for companies and people who simplify the lives of customers through their product or service.
After meeting Glenn Murray from Divine Write on Twitter, having a rather long chat I asked him to share his story to show how you can turn your expertise into a product
Could you briefly tell us about your background?
I’m a copywriter who used to be a technical writer.
Back in 1994, in the last semester of my arts degree, a friend of mine got a job as a techwriter. I asked what that was, she told me, and I said, “I could do that.” So I wrote to a few software companies, asking if they needed a cheap techwriter. One did – Solution 6 (now part of MYOB). They gave me a job at $10/hr. (I could have earned more working in the Woolworths deli. I know, because that was my previous job!)
After 9 months with Sol6, I moved on to ASCO Security & Communications (now part of Landis & Staefa). Then on to Citect (now part of Schneider Electric), then to Honeywell, then back to Citect.
Then I opened my big mouth once too often, asked to see my redundancy options, and they showed me. The next day my security card wouldn’t let me in the front door. That was my cue…
For 6 weeks after being made redundant, I tried to get another job as a techwriter. But despite 9 years’ experience, a lot of skill, a few years as a manager and a lot of cold-calling, I couldn’t even land an interview. So I asked myself what else I could do.
I’d written a few technical brochures over the years, so I thought, “copywriting”! As I’d already been cold-calling, I thought I’d change tack and see who wanted a copywriter. Turns out a lot more people than wanted a techwriter.
So that day, I came up with the business name, Divine Write, set up the business and the rest is history.
What was the motivation to develop a product such as PropertyBlurbs?
Being a freelance copywriter is pretty hard work. It wasn’t long before I really missed the holiday pay, sick pay, super contributions, IT support and cushy conditions of a full-time job. Not enough to go back to one, but enough to start thinking about how I could earn money when I wasn’t actually writing copy.
That’s when I started thinking about ‘productising’. How could I make a product out of my copywriting service?
I’d had a lot of luck with article marketing for SEO (it still worked well back then), so I specced out a product called ArticlePR, that would automatically (and intelligently) submit free reprint articles to all the article directories. But it was a big build, and I could never get it off the ground. (Which was fortunate, because article marketing was soon after killed by spammers.)
Then I thought, “Hey, what if I could do article marketing, but with web copy instead of articles?” So I created FreeCopywriting.com. It was a site where copywriters could submit pre-written web copy and businesses could take it for free, and use it on their website in exchange for a link back to the copywriter’s site and mine.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get this one off the ground either. Just couldn’t get buy-in from copywriters. (They were all struggling with the lack of holiday pay, sick pay, super contributions, IT support and cushy conditions, themselves! The last thing they wanted to do was give away their time!)
So for a couple of years, I slogged on with my freelancing. But I’d by no means given up. I was earning a bit of pocket money by selling ebooks, but it certainly wasn’t enough to live off.
Then one day I got yet another email from a real estate agent, asking me how much I charge to write property descriptions. By this stage, after 9 years as a copywriter, my usual answer was always “too much” (or something along those lines), but this day, I got to thinking…
What if, instead of turning away all these real estate agents, I could offer them a cheap, turn-key property description service: $99 with a 24-hour turnaround time. I’d pull in the business with a great website and some good SEO, and leverage Divine Write, then I’d outsource the writing to other copywriters.
I mentioned this idea to one of my best clients at the time, who managed all the online marketing for Australia’s largest car dealer group. He said I should do it for car dealers first. They really need sales copy for the cars they sell, and they’re not very good at writing it.
But he thought I meant an automated solution. That’s certainly not what I had in mind, but again, it got me thinking. And by the end of the following day, I’d specced out how the basic logic of how such a solution would work.
We called it CarBlurbs.com, and we launched it a year later, then built and launched PropertyBlurbs.com not long after, using essentially the same engine.
I didn’t build these products alone, of course. Far from it! I planned the copy generation logic, wrote the copy, did the user interaction design and wrote a bit of code. My business partner, Ian Butler, designed the site, and played a big part in the interaction design. And my other business partner, Nandor, did all the database design and back-end coding. We outsourced the front-end development.
I like the simplicity of the product. What has been the feedback from customers?
Yeah, PropertyBlurbs.com is now very simple to use. We’re quite chuffed. But it wasn’t always so simple. Our customers wasted no time telling us that!
In the beginning, we asked a LOT more questions, and also showed the copy being ‘built’ in real time, as the user filled in the form.
But despite the fact that no real estate agent would be able to write a blurb of the same quality in the time it took to fill out the forms, they all saw it as a burden. So we went back to the drawing board.
Much faster and more elegant, and no-one cares that they can’t watch the copy build anymore. Here is the demo.
What advice would you give to other service companies looking to develop a product that taps into their expertise?
- Do it! There’s nothing more rewarding than creating something of your own.
- Be prepared to fail a few times, to wait a long time and to be very, very tired for a few years.
- Collaborate. You’ll never be able to do it all alone. You need a designer, a copywriter, a back-end developer and a salesperson. On your team, not just paid.
- Do your research first. It may seem like a great idea to you, but if your target market doesn’t like it, you’re barking up the wrong tree (e.g. FreeCopwriting.com).
- Heed the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) principle, but know that ‘minimum’ will be different for every business. (A paper prototype might work for some, but can you imagine a car dealer trying to understand CarBlurbs.com from just a few bits of paper?)
- Be prepared to change and admit when you’re wrong. Even if the product eventually works, it’ll probably be wrong in its first, second and third iterations.
- Know when to call it quits. Some things just aren’t going to work. And sometimes, even if they MAY have worked, you don’t have the time or money to make them work. You have to be prepared to walk away, otherwise you’ll send yourself broke, and possibly lose your family.
- But back yourself! It’s a delicate balance, but if you don’t have confidence in your ideas, they’ll never even get the chance to fail, much less succeed.
Hopefully those of you who offer a service have got inspiration to create a product from Glenn’s story.