When one has finished building one’s house, one suddenly realizes that in the process one has learned something that one really needed to know in the worst way – before one began.
The last 12 months have been a focused rebuilding and retooling process for CopyPress. We are working hard to become THE content lifecycle company, and to provide a suite of platforms, and marketplace-based solutions to allow marketers to easily scale their content-based needs. But this is nowhere near where we started, and we still have a long journey ahead of us.
What we are today: we are a software company that utilizes our platforms to scale content products for marketers. We focus on the entire content lifecycle, from production to conversion.
As we enter our fourth year of CopyPress’ operation I think our story is a pretty interesting insight into how a startup evolves as it is faced with environmental changes and forced to transition. We started out building one thing, and we were smart enough to listen to where the market was going to get us where we are today.
I also think our story will give everyone a glimpse into what we have built in the last 12 months, and where we are going as a company and platform. We have an exciting journey ahead of us, and for me, our history can help us (and maybe even somebody else) stay away from repeating the mistakes of the past.
The Birth of CopyPress – 2009
In June of 2009, I met Tony Wang at a conference in Denver, Colorado; it was on that trip that CopyPress was born.
When we first put together our business plan for CopyPress it was during the peak of Demand Media’s “success.” Tony knew how to build a software platform to create and manage a massive copywriting workforce, and at Search & Social we knew how to monetize this type of content via service sales.
Unfortunately what we created early on is what is now known as a “content mill.” We basically misjudged what other companies were paying in the market in 2009 as the industry standard; we were wrong. Writers were being underpaid not because that’s what they were willing to work for, but more so because its what they were being forced to work for. The large content companies were flooding the market with work, and writers could get it, but had to take the lower pay. This had an effect on what people were willing to pay for content overall, and the writers suffered because of it.
The good thing that did come out of this time period was our early software and the management tools we developed that allowed us to manage hundreds to thousands of writers effortlessly. Anyone that has managed a very large writer base knows exactly how tough this is.
But our vision was limited. We just wanted to be able to create tons of content to help scale linkbuilding and offer content as a service for Search & Social.
Wins: Foundational software and contractor management systems
Losses: A business model with limited growth potential
Second Step Search & Beyond – 2010
In 2010 we began building our Second Step Search platform and it became the second software set, along with CopyPress, in a company of the same name. We really began to focus on how to use our insight in building workflow solutions for helping SEOs specifically.
Also in 2010 we began brainstorming on how to apply these solutions to mediums such as infographics and interactive media, but we still hadn’t perfected copy, so moving into new areas didn’t make sense for us.
This is the year BlueGlass was formed and CopyPress became secondary to the main brand, so while we continued to grow our writer base, software, and offerings, CopyPress largely became an internal workforce for BlueGlass production.
Wins: Client and writer growth, software stress tested and proven
Losses: Lack of focus
A Year of Transitions – 2011
This is the year of Panda, and thus the year we knew we needed to make serious changes to what we were doing. We brought in our current COO Stefan Winkler, who took a quality-over-quantity approach to our content that changed everything for us. We began to spend copious amounts of time on cultivating our community, creating style guides, and experimenting with different types of copy. We expanded our pay rates into rates that are beyond competitive. We are one of the only companies I know of with a public community-based Facebook page just to let our writers sound off on the negative and positive. We love our writers.
And with these changes, and the move of CopyPress into the SteelCast incubator, the company began to grow. We signed a few very large enterprise clients, and continued to hone our model. But growth was slow; we were focused on improving our platform, training, and community but marketing and sales were an afterthought.
To other entrepreneurs, one piece of advice I can offer is that you must diversify your revenue streams. All power in one customer is exceedingly dangerous.
Wins: Growth of our staff, focus, and growth of our community
Losses: Slow client growth
The World Comes in Focus – 2012
As we made our way into 2012 we began working on our next version of our copy software platform, but also slowly began to make key realizations.
- Customers wanted mixed media, not just copy. Images and video are a core piece of the online content mix we were missing.
- A few customers were having issues with the copy we were creating, and the sales pipeline took a very long time due to our need to create sample content to keep clients 100% happy.
- Customers wanted service to get their content found as well as created.
To combat #1 we decided to put one of our best project managers Josh Kunzler on creating the visual media platform we had been discussing for 2 years. Beyond creating some of SteelCast’s best software to date, he is also an accomplished multi-media designer, and understands the process and workflow. We also merged our multi-media designers from Hua Marketing into CopyPress to help us scale this offering.
Another piece of Hua we brought over to CopyPress was our Connection Seeker platform. Connection Seeker allowed us to address problem #3. The platform has been built to allow for purely organic outreach for content, in a manner that allows for extreme scalability and high conversion rates. It is a thing of beauty, in a time where content placement, and linkbuilding has become increasingly difficult. We can scale content placement for linkbuilding, PR, traffic, and social media purposes regardless of the vertical, with a database of thousands of publishers already willing to be linked with amazing content, and a database of over 2,000,000 domains with vital data to allow for customized outreach regardless of marketing goals.
We have adopted a platform and software-based approach to the entire content lifecycle. Content doesn’t just get created and die. Content is created for a purpose, and needs to be found to achieve this purpose. The content lifecycle as we see it begins with content creation, flows into connection creation for content placement and mentions. It then becomes time for social curation, and seeding of content, and the final stage is the optimization of the content for conversions. The data we collect allows for future iterations that increase in value.
The key item that makes us different from other content marketing companies is that we are building platforms, software, and marketplace solutions that allow for massive scalability, while at the same time can provide services to the marketer on a limited budget.
#2 was a tougher issue. How come everyone didn’t like every piece of content we were creating? It’s hard to look at something you have worked on for over 3 years and realize it might be broken.
The simple answer we discovered as we dissected the data was that we were trying to be all things to all people. We were acting like an agency, and that’s not what we are. Agencies have the ability to completely customize, because they deal with a finite amount of production. When you are dealing with thousands of units produced a week, customization becomes an issue.
Now it is important to note that customization and creativity are different. What we realized is we needed to hone down our offerings to a set amount of products, with specific style guides and strong samples. Clients would know exactly what they are going to receive every time they order. So while limiting our product offering, we could increase the quality of our creativity in each area.
To give an example of how this thought process works, lets look at news stories. All news copy is inherently the same in format. News writers use the inverted pyramid, a set style guide, and look to answer the basic questions of who, what, when, where how. This does not mean every news story is the same, but it does allow for editors to hire writers and know that they will fit the same structure as their other staffers. Press releases are another great example of this.
So we looked to apply this same structural unification strategy to all of our products. This means a clearer product for our contractors and customers. Our education and certification programs are being built to focus around these formats, and make us even more scalable.
We also looked for trusted partners that followed this same approach to the content creation cycle so we could leverage their platforms for our customers, and eventually tie them into our marketplace solutions. The first of these relationships is SimpleShow, which creates amazing videos that explain complex concepts in easy to understand scribbles. We have also teamed up with the PAR program to allow our customers to easily turn content into leads and sales.
Wins: A clarity about where we fit in the current and future content market, Connection Seeker, Addition of amazing multi-media offerings that scale.
Losses: People still don’t know who we are or what we offer.
At this point in our company life I look at us like an untested, well-built racecar; we are ready to be driven. Sure we have work to do to continue to improve our software, workflow, and help our contractors become even better. Some of the ways we are tackling those concepts for example is by building out a robust training and certification program.
So how does a company like CopyPress get the word out about itself? Well, we have to put our money where our mouth is. We are going to focus on turning CopyPressed (our newly renamed blog) into a major source of content and marketing information. We will be offering free webinars, newsletters, and a level of content at a scale very few industry publications can match. Furthermore, we will hit the entire content lifecycle at full speed, creating connections with other publications for guest posting, managing our email lists to provide increased value for our readers, and social seeding to gain maximum exposure for all of our hard work. Simply put, you will be seeing a lot more from us, so stay tuned.