As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Bones.
Sarah is a launch conversion copywriter and strategist based in Essex, UK. She helps women launching online courses, programs, memberships or digital products to sell their offer through high-converting copy on sales pages, in emails, and in Facebook/Instagram ads: https://www.sarahbones.co.uk. She has built a successful service-based business in only a few years and is passionate about championing other women in business.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve always loved writing and when I was a kid, I pictured myself writing bestselling novels as an adult and being a famous author (a dream I know a lot of people have). I wrote stories all the time and even wrote a novel when I was 16 — although it was never published to my dismay! I went on to study Literature at University, completing a BA and then a MA in the subject. The plan was to follow this with a PhD but, by the time I’d finished my Master’s, I’d had enough of studying and wanted to get out into the world of work.
I found myself working for the next 10 years at the University I’d studied at in various administrative and management roles, and writing was put on the backburner amidst the busyness of advancing in my career and raising two young children.
Not long after being appointed to a stressful and high-profile role at the University, I had a mental health breakdown in 2018. That was a huge turning point in my life. I found myself unemployed for a while and during that time I rediscovered my love of writing, but not fiction this time — I started a blog and wrote about various aspects of my life. In the process I learnt a lot about digital marketing as I tried to gain a readership for my blog, and invested in some training in this area to help me.
Off the back of the blog, I decided to have a go at pitching editors for journalism commissions and, to my surprise, had success with this quite quickly, writing articles on various topics for different publications. I had realized that self-employment was much better for my mental health than employment, and I vowed to start a proper business as a freelance writer.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
After writing journalistic articles for a while, I started to hear more and more about content writing and copywriting as common additional income streams for journalists. I was discovering how hard it is to make a decent living as a freelance journalist, and so I decided to add copywriting and content writing to my repertoire in 2019.
I undertook some training, created a separate website for that side of things and started out on freelancing site People Per Hour, bidding for content writing and copywriting jobs. At the beginning I bid for anything and everything, having decided to keep an open mind about what I wrote knowing that would only enhance my skillset.
I wrote SEO blog posts, website content, emails, white papers, ghost-written articles, e-books and social media posts — I wrote a lot and quickly became one of the top freelance writers on the platform. The fees stung though, and I still wasn’t earning a good income, so I quickly decided to branch out on my own and spend a lot of time marketing myself to small business owners as a freelance content writer and copywriter.
One big “Aha Moment” was realizing that copywriting was often better paid than content writing, so I gradually moved into copywriting only. I worked as a generalist copywriter at first, helping small business owners connect with their target audiences online and ultimately sell their products and services through high-converting online copy. I was still using People Per Hour to top up my income when times were lean, and got some jobs helping people with various aspects of launching online courses.
This led to the next “Aha Moment” — realizing how much I liked helping people who were launching an online course, membership, program or digital product; so that’s what I do now — helping people (usually women) sell their offer through great launch copywriting in their sales pages, emails and social media ads. My income has increased a lot since deciding to specialize and I’ve found it so much easier to market myself.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
My experiences were more cringeworthy than funny in the early days. I’ve always felt that the best way to learn is just to get stuck in, rather than waiting until you’ve finished a course to feel ready to make the leap. I made a lot of mistakes at first and some clients weren’t happy with the content I’d written for them for various reasons. It was usually down to me not gathering all the information I needed about the business and what they were offering to do the job properly. I went in blind in some cases, writing a blog post for a business I didn’t understand, or writing an email sequence for an audience I’d not researched properly. I think this happened because I didn’t want to bother the business owner too much with incessant questions!
That was a big lesson — make sure you have all the information you need before starting a project and don’t worry about bugging your client. I realized over time that asking the right questions is a skill and most clients will actually feel reassured by you asking lots of questions; ultimately this will have the best outcome as it will limit the number of revisions needed down the line and help you hit the nail on the head.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Initially I just wanted to be able to say I had a successful business from which I earned a decent income. I didn’t think about it in terms of actually helping people in the process — doctors and care workers helped people, not copywriters!
But over time I gradually realized the power of good copy and I developed some great working relationships with clients who stuck with me for a while, and I noticed that I was really helping them get their message across and live the life they wanted to as a business owner — one of flexibility and being in the driving seat.
I feel that a lot now in my specialism working with female business owners. I’m passionate about championing other women in business and I’m part of some communities for female freelance writers which I’ve found invaluable. By writing online launch copy for women selling online courses, memberships and programs I really feel like I’m helping them achieve their ambitions and live their dream lives, which is a nice feeling.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
Throughout my website and online content, I’ve tried to make it clear that I’m all about championing female-run businesses and that investing in effective copy to sell their offers will help businesswomen diversify their income streams (which is usually why they move from one-to-one services to more passive forms of income) and reach their goals.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Yes — keep learning! I’m constantly investing in training so I can be the best launch copywriter I can be (although I also do this alongside learning on the job) and I try to remind myself that I’m still only a few years into it when I get feedback which isn’t as positive as I’d hoped (which thankfully doesn’t happen very much!).
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When I first started out bidding for jobs on People Per Hour, I was churning out a lot of content for very little income. There are plenty of freelancers on these kinds of sites who will write for 2p a word and many businesses who will only offer that much, so I found it very hard to get a foothold. It was also very demoralizing knowing that quality writing is worth so much more than that but gets devalued all the time by these low rates. At this point I did think: “How on Earth can I make a living doing this?”
However, when I began to specialize, I realized that business owners and entrepreneurs will pay more for an expert, so as I gradually carved out my niche, I found I could charge higher rates — and I stopped charging per word! Charging per word doesn’t allow for the increased skill or expertise you gain over time which allows you to write quicker and better, and which should be rewarded financially.
I learnt to package up my services and charge a flat project rate for tasks like writing a specific number of blog posts or emails per month for a set fee. Through this I began to feel more in control of the process, and joining a membership community of fellow copywriters was also invaluable in giving me the confidence to charge higher rates based on my specialty.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Things are going really well right now. I recently redesigned my website to move away from general copywriting into marketing myself as a specialist launch copywriter. I’m now finding it so much easier to market my services as I know exactly who my ideal audience is and what I can do for them.
I also feel so much more confident about charging what my specialist skills are worth. One of the keys to my current success has been aiming my marketing at the right kinds of clients: businesswomen who value good copywriting and know how integral it is to the success of an online offer, and who are willing to pay for it (particularly if they are themselves launching an online course or program which has a high price point).
I’m also discerning about the types of clients I take on; for example, I was recently approached by a high-profile figure in the world of Multi-Level Marketing to write a sales page for a coaching program, but I declined as this industry doesn’t align with my personal values. In the early days I took pretty much any job I was offered, but now I’m able to be a bit more selective which is nice.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Have robust systems and processes in place. This is something I’m constantly working on, and It’s taken a lot of trial and error to get systems and processes in place that work for me. At first the process of onboarding new clients was very manual with lots of emails and paperwork going backwards and forwards, but then I decided to test a few CRM systems which streamline the whole process. I’ve now settled on one which automates the whole thing from first contact with a new lead to receiving payment and getting all the information I need to do the job. It’s freed up a lot of my time which I can spent on income-generating activities, and I hope made me appear more professional. I was reluctant to do this at first because it does cost, but my advice would be to bite the bullet and invest in a CRM system straight away to save you time and stress.
- Become a specialist (and do it soon). At first, I enjoyed being a generalist copywriter, writing about anything and everything, and it certainly helped me develop new skills; however, I realized quite quickly that specializing would allow me to command higher rates and market my services more easily, so I rebranded after only a couple of years. I decided to dedicate myself to launch copywriting completely, and put my efforts into it wholeheartedly. At first the thought of not doing general website copy or blog posts was daunting — I worried I was giving up a huge part of the copywriting market — but now I’m confident in my decision, particularly as more and more entrepreneurs are turning to the online course market. I think the need for specific launch copywriting will only increase. So, my advice would be to specialize as soon as you can, even from the outset. A specialist will always command higher rates than a generalist; if you dedicate yourself completely to it and invest in yourself and developing your skills you can become the go-to person in your area of expertise. That’s what I’m aiming for.
- Add the personal touch to client interactions. I have a great relationship with my regular clients and I think part of the reason for this is because I’ve always nurtured those relationships and often gone the extra mile for them. I send my clients a holiday card at Christmas and have done a few bits here and there for them that they didn’t expect me to.-I also help clients with the strategy side of launching an online offer, so I’ve become more than a copywriter to them — in some cases they see me as their right-hand woman and come to me for advice, which is lovely (and yes, I do charge for that generally — always charge for your time!)-Another thing I try to do is promote my clients’ businesses on social media, particularly when I’m sharing a review they’ve done for me or using the work I’ve completed for them as an example of how I can help other businesses. My advice would be to try and add the personal touch to your interactions with clients wherever possible, because that makes you memorable.
- Always work on cross-selling or up-selling additional services — I would never offer my clients an additional service they don’t really need just to make money as that’s not my style, but I have become adept at spotting the gaps in their marketing copy and offering to fill them — and 9 times out of 10 they say yes. As an example, I was recently asked to write a sales page for a client launching an online membership, but realized quite quickly she didn’t have a sales funnel in place or anything else like email sequences, a lead magnet to encourage more mailing list sign-ups, or optimized thank you or checkout pages. So, in this case, I offered her a package price for all of this included, with some other bits and bobs.Early in my freelancing career I would have been scared of doing this and worried about coming across as too pushy; but now I know the value of having these elements in place (in certain cases — not every launch needs all these aspects) and I’m able to confidently communicate that to my clients. Ultimately, it’s up to them whether they go for it or not, and I’m happy as long as I’ve explained things clearly to them and let them make their own decision.The lesson here is to try and identify all the opportunities for up-selling or cross-selling more services. Make sure you’re clear on why you’re suggesting that and what the client will get out of it — it’s all about communicating the value.
- Be prepared to learn new skills and pivot continuously — The world of digital marketing is constantly changing and with any service-based business you need to be able to adapt to your clients’ needs. I’m always learning in my business and undertaking training courses to keep my skills up to date; for example, I make sure I know how to use all the online platforms entrepreneurs use for hosting online courses, such as Kajabi, Kartra, Thinkific and Teachable. I do this so I can understand how things work on the back-end and offer strategy and system support as an additional service. There are new platforms coming out all the time which aim to automate the whole process of launching an offer, so I keep my ear to the ground so I can keep up with the changes.
My advice to all service-based businesses is to keep an eye on what your clients need at every stage of their journey with you and position yourself as the solution, and keep your skills and knowledge up to date.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m grateful to a few people. First, my husband who has always supported my entrepreneurial efforts (and there have been many of them over the years!) and done more than his fair share of looking after our two young children while I built my business.
Secondly, I joined an amazing membership for copywriters: Confident Copywriting run by Belinda Weaver. It’s really helped boost my confidence and given me some clarity around the logistics and finer details of running a copywriting business.
It really helps when you’re in business to have a community to bounce ideas off of and share experiences with, so I’m also grateful to all the amazing writers in the many Facebook groups I’m a member of who provide advice and support.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
As I’m all about championing other women in business, and I know that childcare is a real sticking point for a lot of women, I would normalize co-working spaces with in-built childcare at discounted rates so that women could work and focus on their businesses without having to shell out their entire income on expensive nurseries or holiday clubs, or traipse across town to collect their children after work!
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