- Meredith Noble’s grant-writing education business was struggling to succeed by the end of 2020.
- With a marketing budget spread too thin, Noble decided to focus solely on SEO.
- A targeted approach helped the company reach $1 million in annual revenue within two years.
- This article is part of “Marketing for Small Business,” a series exploring the basics of marketing strategy for SBOs to earn new customers and grow their business.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Meredith Noble, the 33-year-old cofounder of Learn Grant Writing, about the marketing strategies that have helped grow her business. Insider has verified her business’ revenue with documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
In the early days of trying to grow my grant-writing education business, I tried every marketing idea I heard about: get on social media, create a Facebook challenge, produce a weekly newsletter, host a private community, and on and on.
I know this isn’t a unique experience for small-business owners — it can be easy to feel pressure to be everywhere, especially when you compare your business to larger companies with more resources.
Aside from the fact that trying to be on every distribution channel was exhausting, it also wasn’t working. My cofounder Alexandra Lustig and I were spreading ourselves too thin and no channels were optimized enough to get the return we needed. Plus, with such a shotgun approach, we weren’t giving any channel enough time to gain traction.
We were feeling defeated, and so was the business: In December 2020, we lost $20,000, had only six weeks of money left, and were basically on the brink of business death. I knew something had to change.
Around that time, we had participated in a Dan Martell accelerator. He encourages businesses to focus on a single product, a single target audience, and a single distribution channel until they hit $1 million in revenue.
We decided to give it a shot and spent about three weeks radically overhauling our marketing strategy to focus solely on SEO. We were shocked by the results.
In January 2021, we hit $7,000 in monthly recurring revenue, and within two years, we reached $1 million in annual revenue.
I chose a channel that felt exciting and expansive
At the start of this process, my cofounder and I went through a worksheet where we color-coded every marketing distribution channel: green was fully optimized, yellow was close, and red was nowhere near succeeding. For us, nothing was green, but SEO seemed like it could get there the fastest.
I had already started to explore SEO because I never felt drawn to social media and I didn’t have the money to pay for ads. But I was also just innately curious about it. I liked how technical it was. Plus, I appreciated that it still gave my business a wide umbrella to work within — SEO isn’t just Google, it’s also YouTube, it’s Amazon search, and it’s PR to build backlinks.
My advice for others who want to choose a single distribution channel is that it has to feel expansive, like something you want to do. Too often I hear people say things like, “I have to be on social media.” If that’s your attitude, it’s the wrong strategy for you.
I deeply understood my customers
The other foundational step we took at the beginning of this overhaul was a process I call “dreamy customer mapping,” which is different from a customer survey.
We reached out to dozens of customers and people in our target audience at different stages in their journey to hold recorded, one-on-one interviews, asking questions about their pain points, what drew them to our business, and how we could better earn their trust. (The Mom Test is a great resource to learn to ask better customer questions.)
This process helped verify that SEO could be a great channel for reaching our target audience — people who are curious about grant writing for more career flexibility and who search online to learn more about it.
We also reviewed the interview transcripts and pulled out the exact language our customers used about their pain points, frustrations, fears, hopes, and desires to inform the copy we’d use across the web. Multiple leads have told me they signed up because they felt like we were inside their brain when they read our content, and that’s because of these interviews.
I researched best practices and built a repeatable process
I dove deep on Google to educate myself on all the aspects of SEO and started writing standard operating procedures so that everything we did could become a repeatable process instead of haphazard.
For example, as I figured out how to optimize our YouTube channel, I wrote down every single step from idea to publishing in what has become a 10-page SOP.
This documentation made it so much easier when it came to hiring. We brought on a content writer to handle our blogs and were able to easily train them by handing off the SOP.
It also allowed me to identify aspects of the process that were contractive to me and figure out where to delegate.
For instance, I realized I enjoyed most of the process of making YouTube videos but hated the tech, so I hired someone to come to my house and film me. Removing the one part that sucked helped keep the joy in the channel and kept me motivated.
I simplified my funnel
Your marketing distribution channel is not synonymous with your funnel. I was focused on SEO as a way to get new customers into my orbit, but nurturing them is a different process. Our approach was to use SEO to drive people toward our lead magnets and then use our email marketing to nurture them into customers.
Still, writing an email newsletter each week took up too much of my time and energy. Instead of constantly coming up with fresh content, we decided to build six months’ worth of evergreen emails that people start getting the moment they sign up for our newsletter.
At the end of six months, we email them asking if they’d like to be removed. Most people say no, they love our emails — and we send them back to the beginning of the sequence again. It’s saved us so much content-creation time, and no one has ever complained about duplicate emails.
Now that we’ve reached $1 million a year and are aiming for $1 million a month, we’re back to the drawing board with this same strategy, trying to figure out the one other channel that we can get really good at to continue scaling our business.