When I first embarked on creating the best book writing software, I knew little about software development.
To mitigate my lack of experience, I had a technical co-founder, Dhaval who specialized in data, engineering, and artificial intelligence.
The problem was this began as a side project when Dhaval was working full-time at Lifelock and I was running a 30+ person agency. Dhaval couldn’t devote as much time as needed to ensure every piece was coded right. And I was no help unless I left my agency and spent the next six months learning how to code.
Without time, we did what many first-time founders mistakenly do, we hired an agency to create the book writing software. However, we weren’t first-time founders (this was my third company) so we approached it by asking the agency to build the bare minimum.
We didn’t care if the agency didn’t build enough to get people to pay for the product. What we wanted – something tangible that could acquire users.
From there, if we got enough users, we could jump ship from our current jobs and work full-time on our book writing software, Squibler. And that’s exactly what happened.
Designing a Book Writing Software
With little idea of how a book writing software should be designed, the team, including myself almost made mistakes that would’ve cost us tens of thousands of dollars down the line. What saved us was our lack of ego. We avoided implementing anything we weren’t a hundred percent sure should be there.
The initial designs for the software were a copy of Scrivener’s primary features. However, the designs were lackluster. It looked like a desktop product that was thrown up online as Scrivener is a desktop app. Rather than continue with that version for development, we brought on a UX/UI consultant and another team member who specialized in product design.
After they got through the initial designs of the book writing software with everyone’s feedback, it didn’t look comparable to the first version. It was a hundred times better and gave us the momentum to do the hard work over the coming months. We were now headed in the right direction.
Creating a Writing Software MVP
Working with an agency to develop software is painful. They do almost everything wrong the first time around. Your specs need to be detailed with every design; otherwise, they’ll improvise or simply won’t do the work.
After struggling back and forth with the agency, we finally had something working. A place to store projects and create them.
We also had a book writing editor for when you create a project. If you wanted to – you could even export your writing into a PDF, Doc, or Kindle format. We added a few features to the book writing editor such as the ability to drag and drop scenes or chapters. For those chapters, you could create a summary and add notes.
My favorite part was it allowed you to read your entire book in one sitting without previewing it. This way you could read your book as you typed it out.
Just to get to this point in software development, it cost us a significant amount of money – a little over $20,000. The good news: it was a fixed cost so we wouldn’t need to spend that money again. The better news: It placed us in a position to begin marketing the book writing software. This required an entirely different learning curve.
Marketing a Book Writing Software
As I led the marketing efforts for Squibler, I made a ton of mistakes early on. The first ten strategies I implemented didn’t move the needle. I tried everything from cold email, LinkedIn automation, and Quora writing. Rather than keep trying tactics I thought would work, I studied what successful companies in the writing industry did to generate traffic and customers. These companies include Now Novel, Self-Publishing School, and Reedsy.
It turns out that the common theme was they all focused on content marketing and SEO. The good news is I knew how to produce good content. The bad news is SEO was my weakest marketing skill; moreover, it’d take time to see results. I wouldn’t let this deter me.
So over the next several months, I created a content marketing team and studied SEO non-stop. Every day, I spent hours in Ahrefs studying sites and keywords until I became an expert in everything from content optimization to backlinking. When I felt confident enough, I began hiring writers to write original blog posts on our website. As of writing this, we have sixty-eight posts published with another twenty in the queue.
Over time, we began seeing an increase in organic keyword rankings and traffic.
After a couple of months of producing content, then seeing these results, I knew we were headed in the right direction. The momentum was back.
Scaling a Content Creation Team
When it comes to content marketing, it costs a significant amount of money to produce well-written blog posts. This meant what was working would also lighten our pockets for a while.
I’m convinced that spending money on content marketing and software, then waiting months – often years – for a return is the reason more people don’t enter the writing software market. For example, in the last three months, we’ve spent over $5,000 on content, then waited two months for our content to start ranking.
The good news is content marketing to a certain extent is a fixed cost. You do need to spend money on constantly acquiring backlinks to help distribute your content. But that’s about it.
When I realized that content marketing would cost a significant amount of money, I knew the process had to be dialed-in. I went ahead and learned everything there was about creating an optimized blog post, then put several pages of writing guidelines together for our writing staff.
Here are some of the topics the writing guidelines covered:
- Internal linking
- External linking
- Grammar usage and tonality
- Paragraph length
- Categorization of posts
- Optimization of images
- Keyword optimization in the URL structure, title, headlines, and paragraphs
- Promotion of Squibler
To keep track of all their writing and optimizations, I put together a process flow in Airtable. I highly recommend using this software to optimize your process flows as well.
Because the book writing software is a freemium product, it put us in an awkward stage of not having much revenue to invest back into the company.
To deal with this hurdle, I used the new marketing skills I’m learning to scale my book writing software, Squibler to consult companies on their content marketing efforts. This way, I’m forced to get better faster with the particular marketing skills I need the most. Moreover, I have money to invest back into the company whether that be in marketing, development, or experimental efforts.
Beta Testing Your Own Software
Not only am I consulting on content marketing for companies to fund Squibler, but I’m also ghostwriting a book for a CEO of a company that’s at 40 million annual revenue rate.
By ghostwriting a book, I can plug it into Squibler and dogfood my own book writing software as a beta tester. This way I’m not only relying on the users’ feedback, which can be minimal in the early days when you don’t have many of them.
And by beta testing my own product, I get to understand fast where the glitches are and if they’re worth fixing with new investment in development.
Hiring Remote Freelancers
As of writing, we have over ten freelancers working on Squibler. No one in the company works in the same city (at least from what I know). It’s crazy to think that even my co-founder doesn’t live in the same city as me, but that’s okay. We figured out how to make it work by being proactive and empathetic with communication whether using Zoom, Slack, Upwork, or Facebook Messenger.
By hiring remote freelancers, we can work with most skillful workers while keeping our fixed costs low. This is critical for an early-stage software company that has yet to get to a sustainable revenue point where we can hire full-time.
Much of what you do when building a software company is a fixed cost. For marketing and ranking keywords, it takes the patience to wait for Google to recognize your optimized content in order to rank it to how it best sees fit.
With software development, it takes the patience to optimize it through acquisition. This means getting enough data points from visitors to ensure every step of the funnel is streamlined.
In the meantime, the best strategy is to find more steps like these ones that will produce long-term results. Sure, they may not create a huge uplift in the short-run. And that’s okay. We’re building Squibler with a strong foundation to last for as long as it can, which gives the work we’re doing more momentum and purpose.