It doesn’t matter what career path you go down or which walk of life you choose to enter, there are likely to be harsh realities involved and, in most cases, you’ll have to find out about them yourself and learn the hard way.
As with most things life, whether it is running a business or working for someone else, all kinds of jobs and career decisions come with advantages and disadvantages. In that respect, it doesn’t matter if one has a regular 9-to-5 job or their own online business, the fact that the bad has to be taken with the good still remains the same.
Previously, I blogged about the Pros and Cons of running an online business but this time I’m going to talk specifically about a few truths pertaining specifically to running a content production business.
Back in early 2012, we both wanted to travel the world whenever and wherever we wanted and this was something that we were prepared to work as hard as necessary in order to make it happen.
Enter: Freelance writing.
For the first few months, as Florence was working a full-time job and I was eager to get things off the ground, I spent my time looking for new clients and smashing out content for them as quickly as I possibly could. When I say “quickly”, I also made sure that the finished pieces were of top quality and of value to the client as my ultimate aim was to get them coming back for more. As with any business, the initial few months were crucial as I was on a constant learning curve and what I learned back then formed the basis for how our business functions today.
After a few months of writing content myself, I realised that if we scaled up a business model like freelance writing, then it would be a pretty stable and sustainable dot com business that we could run from anywhere in the world.
After putting in the hard work and time that’s required to make this transition and get to where we are today, there are some hurdles that we had to jump over and some realisations that we had to quickly come to terms with.
Are you thinking of scaling your freelance writing into a full-blown content creation business? Perhaps you’re looking for an online venture to either supplement or replace your income?
If so, running a content business can be a lucrative path to venture down, and based on our experiences, the following are a few realities that you need to be aware of when it comes to running a content business:
You Don’t Have To Be a Good Writer
This might seem counter-intuitive but the fact is that you really don’t need to be a good writer in order to manage a content business.
How’s that you might be thinking?
The answer is that you’ll be outsourcing all the writing to freelance writers who are much better than you so why do you need to be an expert?
This is what we’ve been doing now for over two years and it’s worked out well for us. We’ve a fantastic team of writers who look after all our content production.
While I personally don’t consider myself a great writer, I do know the signs to look out for in others and the fact that I can quickly sort the great writers from the not-so-great ones allows me to only add valued members to our team.
We’ve also become quite efficient at the management side of things, so we play to our strengths and let others take care of our weaknesses. It’s a win-win.
You’ll Be Asked for Free Content
This comes with the territory, but for some reason potential clients expect you to provide them with free content as a “trial” to see that the skill set of the writers is up to their expectations.
While I fully understand the necessity to make sure that the quality of the content meets requirements – I don’t see why some companies expect a freebie. And although we did get caught out with this a number of times early on when trying to secure clients, we quickly learned that most things that are worth getting are not given for free.
In many cases, we provided clients with a trial article only to never hear from them again which is a pretty common trick for some unethical clients to try and pull.
You wouldn’t go into a restaurant and ask to sample the menu before placing your order, and that same principle should be applied to your time and effort in securing new clients.
One of our regular clients recently told us that they knew a company that would contact writers and promise them tons of work if they wrote a free article for them. Now, imagine if you’ve an order of say 10 articles for your client and you get 10 writers to provide you with a free sample?
Easy to see how this fairs out – and it happens day in day out.
You’re Expected to be a Mentalist
At least once a week, we get content orders that have just the bare bones when it comes to instructions for the writers and when this happens, we’re magically expected to fill in the massive gaps.
The attitude of the clients is that because we’re the guys who look after their content strategy, that we’re expected to know absolutely everything without been briefed.
The end result is a barrage of emails over and back so that we can provide our writers with as many details as possible to make the process as streamlined as we can for them.
This is par for the course because the service we’re providing takes these problems from the client – however we do need more than just the ‘bare bones’ to go on.
You’ll Live By Deadlines
Regardless of what you’ve got going on elsewhere in your life – your deadlines don’t care about it.
They just need to be met.
We can pride ourselves that we’ve not missed a client deadline in two years now, and this comes down to making sure that things run as smoothly as possible.
However, this comes at a price.
For example, last year while backpacking around South America for seven months, we’d hop off an overnight bus and straight away go seek out a Wifi connection so that we could get our emails cleared and deadlines met.
We’ve been able to secure some long-term contracts and relationships with many clients because they know that if we say we’ll deliver by a certain day then we not let them down.
Companies pay for that service and peace of mind.
The Internet will always be a Constant Distraction
This applies to most online business or any work that relies on the net.
How many times do you find yourself working and then suddenly you’re an hour into watching totally unrelated YouTube videos!?
“Guilty as charged your honour.”
Yes, I know about those browser add-ons that can easily prevent this problem from happening but procrastinating is something I found out I’m quite good at.
Stay Focused is one such program that can lock up certain websites that are eating into your productivity.
Maybe some day I’ll get one of those apps………maybe!
You Need to Keep the Finger on the Pulse
By this I mean that you’ve got to keep current with ever changing SEO and content related trends in the industry.
Again, it’s part of the business because certain clients will expect you to know the latest changes in any major Google algorithm update. Personally, this can be pretty monotonous but slacking on this detail could lead to a disgruntled client.
You’ll be Dealing with Projects and Content that you Know Nothing About
This relates to the writers mostly who are actually producing the content. We’ve literally had content orders about washing machines, biotechnology research and other topics that would make you go insane.
Thankfully, our writers know how to research the nitty gritty and get the articles churned out without too much heartache.
However, I definitely know they don’t enjoy writing X amount of articles a certain topic that means nothing to them. Who would though!?
You’ll Need to Constantly be Adding to/Removing Writers from the Team
While we consider ourselves pretty good when it comes to managing our team of writers, we do find ourselves constantly trying to find new writers.
Due to the nature of the business, writers come and go pretty frequently.
It’s a tough challenge finding quality writers. Initially, we used to always find them on the likes of Elance or Odesk, but these days we get referrals from other writers and source writers through other means.
In order to operate a content agency business, you need to have a solid team of writers under your belt as without them, you can’t fulfil your orders or meet deadlines – it’s as simple as that.
In Order to Gain Traction – you may have to take Low Paying Clients
We’ve taken on clients at the start at a break even price point – just so we could gain the trust and build up the relationship with clients.
After a while, once they know that you’re a solid partnership for their needs, you can always increase your rates.
This may not always work out favourably, but if you’ve provided them with a service that they value and can’t do without, then an agreement will be made.
Thankfully we don’t have to take on any new low paying clients as we’ve got a nice batch of regular clients who value having us on board.
At the end of the day, we’ve got to make enough per article so that the writer gets something decent and that we also make a worthwhile profit.
It’s not a Passive Income Model
As all business owners with agree, building a business (even a small one) takes a lot of time and effort. And while we can totally relate to this, it feels pretty good knowing that we’ve chased our dream of being able to travel full time and make a pretty good income while doing so.
Having said this, while we have a lifestyle business to some degree, it’s not as passive as we would like.
Yes, we’ve a pretty large pool of writers that look after the content creation side of things and an editor that does some proofing work which means that the main bulk of our work is engaging with clients and managing the business making sure that the quality of work is consistently great.
And although having that structure in place frees up a lot of our time in comparison to the earlier days, we’d still like things to run more passively and this is something we intend on working towards.
A good friend of ours tried to replace himself with a virtual assistant and it caused massive problems for him with the end result he lost over 50% of his recurring business.
We’re not saying that replacing ourselves can’t be achieved; it’s just that it’s not as easy to find someone who a) you can trust and b) knows how this industry works.
So there you have it – that completes my 10 facts about running an online content business! And while some of the above points are fairly obvious, others are points that we wish we had known about when creating our own business.
For those of you looking to get into this line of work, I hope you can use some of this information and incorporate it into your own business venture in a bid to help you on your journey.
Great informative article Carlo! I’ve done a little bit of freelance writing, but little did I know you can create a whole business around this with a team of writers. Intuitively it makes sense. I can tell you put an incredible amount of effort behind this. Thanks for sharing.
Yeah, it was our ticket to a location independent lifestyle. As I said, it does take a lot of effort, but it’s worth the freedom it affords. Plus, we’re trying to slowly build another business – albeit a more passive stream of income 😉
Hope you’re keeping well.
Great article as ever Carlo. It seems you guys has set up a really good business with this and the best way it can be improved as you mention is if it became a more passive income, free-ing up your time to travel more. I hope our paths cross again soon. Safe travels.
Yeah, it’s something we’re working on the past few months Jonny. It’s not easy, but building something sustainable is always to going to take time and effort. We don’t mind though, because we’re willing to invest in having our freedom intact. That’s the key motivator.
Yes, I’m sure our paths will definitely cross again soon. We’re heading back to Europe at the end of the year – home for a few months and then it’s looking like Eastern Europe for a base next year. Keep well buddy.
Great piece Carlo!
I can image how hard is to rely on the internet in some locations…
Yeah, finding WiFi can be difficult depending where we go. We had a lot of problems while in Bolivia last year for instance, but we make it work (somehow).
Hope ye guys are keeping well? Heading back to Thailand soon?
Great info! I have one client who has too many articles for me to handle, so we have an agreement that I outsource to other writers and he only communicates through me. It takes more work than most would think! But it’s definitely more passive than actually writing articles, so I appreciate it for that.
Yes, I totally agree Victoria. At the end of the day, once the content still meets the desired level of quality, then most clients won’t care who writes it. They just want consistency and reliability.
We do feel a little slack sometimes, as we don’t actively hunt for our own clients – they come to us (which is great), but we feel we’d be able to expand even more if we did more outreach.
Thanks for stopping by – always good to hear from someone else in the same line of work. 🙂
Great read! Im just getting into freelance writing so this tickled my fancy. Good on ya’s for smashing it and chasing your dreams! Keep up the hard work. I know those at home may think we all just swan about in the sun, but the reality is that most success online requires big hours. Thanks for sharing!
Hey Mel. Yeah, you’re right. Some of our friends think that we just travel around the world and do no work at all! Ha! I can guarantee that we put in more hours some weeks than they do. You’re right though – that’s the perception that a lot of people have about an online type of lifestyle.
Yes, it’s difficult, but I couldn’t see myself doing things any other way.
As the saying goes – I’d rather work 80 hours a week for myself building my own dreams than work 40 hours for someone else building theirs!
Hope you’re keeping well.
Classic stuff Carlo! You just described my life for the last 2 years!!
Also, let’s not forget – you once sat me down for a few days in Phuket and schooled me on the ins and outs of doing this for real. I just applied exactly the steps you prescribed and boom – content business up and running and making money. I owe you for that one mate!
I remember that those days vividly mate. Good times as well looking back.
You’re on the road to creating a solid passive income stream for yourself which is our next step – one that we’re currently putting a lot of time and effort into.
Hope China is treating you well – as I’m sure it is 🙂
Thanks for posting, Carlo. My online revenue model is a little different from yours, it is not outsourced and definitely not passive, but I really resonated with the picture of the online entrepreneur chained to the laptop. Sad, but true. Better than being chained to a boss and a desk, though 🙂
Hey Bill. Yep, way better being your own boss!
Thanks for the comment mate.
Thought you might like to know that clicking on the ’10 cold hard facts’ image, or the ‘read more’ link on the blog home page sends me to the Indian visa story. Not much use to me as I’m currently in South Africa!
But don’t worry though, I got the cold hard facts by clicking on the Indian visa (what else!). Just thought you’d like to know…
Keep up the good work, you are an inspiration to us all.
Hey Brian. We’ve just double checked on our end and all the links point to the correct URL destination – can you check again?
Weird as it’s all working fine as far as we can see. Maybe it was a possible host server issue.
Thanks for the kind words mate – means a lot.
I do freelance blogging but haven’t turned it into a business by outsourcing it successfully yet but can still relate to most of these points!