Even though I’d been a freelance writer for almost 10 years, I only recently committed to doing it full time.
And with my decision came the inevitable “I’ll-do-anything” mentality. I accepted every job that came my way, from $50 personal essays to $50/hour content marketing tasks.
After a year of this, I decided to move into full-time copywriting. It was the work I enjoyed most and I knew I could charge more than my smaller clients were willing to pay me.
So I stepped away from the “freelancer” label to become a business owner.
To do this, I needed an actual business — one with a proper name, website, packages, clear rates and a marketing plan. I wanted to start yesterday, so I dedicated the entire month of April to creating all the pieces of my business.
Here’s how I built my business in 30 days on the cheap — and have already made almost $7,000 with it. Plus, a seemingly small decision now has me completely booked for my first two months in business.
Why I Fired All My Clients to Specialize in Only One Thing
You wouldn’t pay good money to eat diner pizza, but you would wait in line for two hours and pay double for the best pizza in town.
Customers go out of their way and pay higher prices for “The Best.” And “The Best” is usually created by people who specialize.
Turns out, there’s one project I love most: About pages.
A company’s About page is the most important page on its website. But businesses ignore it because it’s hard to write and even harder to get right. Even though it’s the most popular page, it often has the highest exit rate, meaning people take one look and leave your site completely.
I wanted to turn the boring page into a sticky one to help companies convert more visitors, while also building obsession with their brand.
While many copywriters offer About pages for around $500 a pop, I couldn’t find a single copywriter who specializes in it.
I now charge triple most copywriters’ rates by offering brand strategy, customer research, one round of revisions and a professional editor as part of my flat-rate package.
How to Start a Business in 30 Days for Under $1K
I gave myself 30 days to create all the pieces I’d need to launch my business, from the name to the logo, website design and copy.
I paused all incoming client requests and gave existing clients one month’s notice I wouldn’t be able to provide certain services until after May 1.
I’ve managed website launches since 2009, so I already knew the varying pieces that go into a launch. With extra time in April, I tackled my to-do list and started building.
Step 1: Name the Business
Time: 5 minutes
I wanted a fun and quirky name with a nod to weird internet culture.
One night, as I was falling asleep, the name just popped into my head. The next morning I did a quick Google search to see if it was available. It was, and Oh Hai! Copy was born.
Step 2: Set Up a Squarespace Account
Time: 1 hour
Because I bootstrapped my launch, I didn’t have the budget to hire a designer or developer. I wanted a clean design I could easily customize.
Choosing Squarespace was a no-brainer. Their platform is easy to use, with gorgeous templates and quick customer support.
The Squarespace Personal plan is $16/month, but you can save $4/month if you pay $144 upfront for the year.
Step 3: Purchase a Domain
Time: 10 minutes
I had to pay separately for the domain I wanted (OhHaiCopy.com), but I could do it all through Squarespace — without having to mess around with other domain platforms.
Step 4: Set Up a Company Email Address
Time: 10 minutes
I’ve spent too long combining my personal email with work.
So since I was now a company, I needed a separate email to keep things neat and separate. When you register your domain through Squarespace, you can save $10 off your first year with Google Apps.
Step 5: Design a Logo
Time: 5 hours
Before I could customize Squarespace to feel more like a brand and less like a template, I needed a logo.
I turned to 99Designs for help. The process was easy and I received 40 designs in four days.
I went through a fair amount of back and forth, but by the end I had a quirky logo of a llama with a yellow speech bubble that read, “Oh hai!”
With a final design to guide me, I could now make decisions on the fonts and colors on my site.
Step 6: Write All Web Copy
Time: 20 hours
Cost: Free (except for my time)
I spent about a week playing with Squarespace colors, fonts and layouts.
Because I’m a visual writer, I prefer to see my words how they’ll appear as I write. I formatted my website in tandem with writing my web copy.
This was the most fun part! Coming up with the perfect words to sell what I do was enjoyable, but also the longest part of the process. Not only was I trying to sell my services, but I was also displaying them.
I did a bunch of customer research during this time, as well. I followed the same brand exercises I use with my clients while writing my web copy.
If you’re not a copywriter and need to hire someone to do this for you, costs vary. A decent copywriter will charge at least $1,000 for a full site.
Step 7: Create an Opt-in Offer
Time: 5 hours
The services I created aren’t cheap. And it’s rare for someone to stumble across a small business website, then immediately shell out over $1,000.
I needed to warm them up. To do so, I needed to get them on my email list.
The hands-down best way to get people to sign up is to create a free offer. It could be a coupon, ebook, free consult, whatever.
I created a short ebook featuring my favorite About pages — the ones I go to for inspiration. I collated them into a PDF, used Canva (free image editing software) to knit the screenshots together and designed a pretty cover.
I uploaded the PDF to my site, created a simple page explaining the offer, then set up a MailChimp email account to automatically send the guide when new people signed up.
Step 8: Write Email Autoresponders
Time: 20 hours
So what do I do with all those emails after people sign up?
I hit them with a secret copywriting weapon: the autoresponder.
An autoresponder is simply a series of emails new subscribers get on a regular basis. It’s not a newsletter you have to send and create each month. You create autoresponders all at once, then automatically send them to every subscriber at regular intervals.
Autoresponders “warm up” your leads. You can give them advice, answer questions, provide case studies or resources.
I chose to provide new subscribers a TON of great content about personal storytelling. I wrote eight emails containing everything from writing exercises to About page teardowns.
The ninth email is a sales pitch for my About page package (and includes a discount code for those who read the whole thing). The final email is another tip, plus a reminder to use their code before it expires.
After writing these sequences for a ton of other businesses, I knew these emails would result in the majority of my sales, so it was important I get them right.
I use MailChimp, which is $10/month to access its automation services. The price increases as your email list grows.
Step 9: Polish Website Design
Time: 2 hours
The problem with Squarespace is even with customization, your website will look a little “Squarespacey.”
I didn’t have the budget to get the whole thing professionally designed, but I decided to hire a designer at her day rate to polish it up.
Once I finalized my copy, photos, forms and testimonials, my designer went in and added a splash of color, better text hierarchy and adjusted my photos.
She spent around eight hours on the whole thing, and I spent around two to hire and manage the process.
Step 10: Work With an Editor
Time: 1 hour
I can’t afford not to have the best copy ever on my website.
The good news is, I’m great friends with one of the most talented editors on earth (she’s the editor I’ve partnered with on my About page package).
It only made sense to have her take a final pass through my site. She made sure the commas were in the right places and my story was clear and compelling.
Step 11: Create a Pop-up
Time: 2 hours
Once I finalized my free ebook and set up the automation emails, I needed an effective way to capture new visitors after they arrived.
I used WisePops to create a pop-up with a catchy headline offering a free download of my About page guide. I customized the targeting options so the pop-up would only appear to visitors after they’ve scrolled through 50% of the page.
Step 12: Fix Website Bugs
Time: 15 minutes
Even though Squarespace is easy to use, some of my designer’s customization required altering some code. I went onto Fiverr and spent $25 on a Squarespace developer who could help.
Step 13: Announce Website
Time: 2 hours
After all the blood, sweat and tears, I was finally ready to announce my site!
I started off simply announcing it on Facebook, just in case there were any bugs or typos (I knew my friends would let me know). Once I was ready, I posted it all over social media, sent an email to my blog subscribers and wrote a post about the business launch.
Finally, I sent a personal email to old contacts and clients, which I organized into a handy spreadsheet. Here’s a template if you want to make your own.
How It’s Going So Far
My business went live on May 3, 2016. By May 15, I’d signed on three new clients, bringing in a total of $6,900 in new business.
And because I emailed my personal network (which includes journalists), my business has already been featured on The Freelancer and The Huffington Post.
I haven’t spent any money on advertising. From my personal and social media networks alone, I’m now booked up for the next two months.
Your Turn: Will you start your own online business? Would you ever do it this quickly?
Marian Schembari is a writer, blogger and founder of Oh Hai! Copy based in Düsseldorf, Germany by way of San Francisco. She writes about travel and creativity, and spends way too much time on the Internet.