I have some exciting news to share: My content marketing company, Socialexis, has been acquired by Taylor Media, a digital media startup.
While I feel good about moving forward, this wasn’t an easy decision to make. Those of you who read this blog regularly know I wasn’t positioning myself to sell the business. Since launching Socialexis nearly five years ago, I’ve intentionally kept the company small, scaling just enough to get awesome systems in place and over-deliver for our clients without compromising my own work-life balance.
But the universe presents opportunities when we least expect them, and often those are the paths most worth taking. While some details typically remain under wraps in private deal like this one, I do want to share as much as I can about how this happened and what it means going forward, with the goal of teasing out some lessons for anyone else who’s building a business.
For the last few years, my company has focused on blog management, helping businesses and content-focused websites publish blog posts worth reading to grow their communities online. We’ve offered a full-service solution, from strategizing content direction to recruiting writers to editing, optimizing for search and publishing.
Here’s a one-minute video that explains how we work:
The site has grown significantly since we started managing its editorial side, publishing about 20 posts weekly. Now, Taylor Media is bringing our blog-management team and processes in-house, so we can continue to grow and scale this site and other media properties together. My job as Executive Editor will be to oversee all content creation, and to accomplish that I’ll be building a team of editors and writers at Taylor Media headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida, essentially running a small newsroom.
This type of sale is called an acqui-hire, when a company buys another business purely for its talent and systems, and isn’t interested in its clients or product line. Typically this kind of agreement is aimed at bringing software developers in-house, but I bet we’ll start to see it happen more frequently with content marketers and bloggers, as these skills are increasingly in demand. (Our acquisition applies only to the blog-management arm of Socialexis, not its other web properties.)
Despite the growing thirst for content marketing, and despite watching other similar small businesses like Scribewise get acquired, I never expected another company to want to buy Socialexis, nor did I expect myself to be interested in such an opportunity. I bootstrapped and built this company as a lifestyle business, intentionally staying small, with six-to-10 core team members at any given time, plus a larger circle of several dozen freelance writers who write regularly for our sites.
While I have scaled the business over the last few years, narrowing our offerings and putting systems and people in place to deliver great work, I didn’t do that with an acquisition in mind, like many startups envision from the beginning. Rather than building a business with the intention of selling it, I grew a company that would fit into my life, with a focus on providing clients incredible value.
But here’s what I learned from this experience: If you do amazing work, other people will want to work with you, and maybe even acquire what you’ve built, regardless of whether you follow the often-cited “rules” of growing a salable business.
From the day we started working together, I’ve been so impressed with Taylor Media, especially the founder, Kyle Taylor”¦ but more on that in a moment. I know we’ll do big things now that we’re joining forces!
Now we get to the question I know you’re wondering about: Why would I accept such an offer? If I wasn’t building a company with an acquisition as an end goal, why would I agree to sell what I’ve created? If I love working for myself and building my own business, why would I go in-house at a startup?
The truth is, I did agonize over it. This business has been my baby for the last five years, giving me freedom, autonomy, and the chance to do work I really enjoy. My identity is tightly woven around running my own business, and I truly believe in the power of building an alternative career. I knew accepting this role would require shifting that mindset.
But in the end, Taylor Media made an offer that jived with my professional and personal goals, and showed just how much they valued our work. This taught me another valuable lesson, one I’ll take with me as I recruit more talent to build our newsroom: you can always make it worth their while. Someone might say they’re not interested in a new position or opportunity, but if you create the right combination of opportunity for growth, flexibility and financial incentives, you can appeal to top talent.
Here’s why I agreed to sell the company and go in-house to build a content team for Taylor Media.
I’m psyched to be part of this startup from the early stages; I truly believe in the company, its mission and its founder. Taylor Media is already a profitable (and bootstrapped!) company, and in my mind, that early success is a sign of big things to come.
The founder shares my vision for what work should be like: enjoyable, challenging and rewarding. And I can’t wait to build my editorial dream team. We already have a running start, with several of the editors and writers I work with on a regular basis forming the backbone of the operation.
And yes, that means we’re hiring for positions based at our office in downtown St. Petersburg. If you think you might be a good fit, check out the job descriptions. On the editorial side, we’re looking for full-time editors and writers, as well as full- and part-time web and writing interns. You’d work directly with me.
The mark of a good career is whether you continue to learn, and I know I’ll learn a lot helping to grow this company. My team and I are good at creating and optimizing content, but I’m eager to learn more about the business and monetization side of running websites.
That’s exactly what Taylor Media’s founder, Kyle Taylor, is good at. Since we started working together, I’ve watched his revenue and pageviews increase exponentially, all while doing business in a smart, ethical and sustainable way — it’s impressive! As an example, Taylor Media pays its bloggers better than most other clients we’ve worked with, including generous bonuses for high-performing posts.
(Journo tip: If you write for any business sites, Kyle would be an amazing profile or source. He has managed to fly under the radar until now, in part because his business has really only taken off in the last year or two. But we’re about to start hearing more about him and the company, starting with this story in Entrepreneur.)
This career pivot isn’t the only big news I’m sharing on this blog for the first time: I’m also expecting a baby in September! With that major change ahead, and a little life I will want to spend time with, I think my brain will benefit from focusing on one or two professional projects, rather than juggling half a dozen clients. In other words, this offer came at the perfect time.
Joining this team is a chance for me to streamline, while still using my editorial skills, building something awesome and making good money. And that brings me to…
I think it would do us all some good to talk more openly about money, and it wouldn’t be honest to leave this out as part of the big picture. Financially, this was a deal I couldn’t resist — and quite frankly, it had to be to get me on board, since I’m giving up much of the business I’ve been building for the last few years.
Money isn’t everything, and I wouldn’t have sold the company if that was the only incentive. But money can provide freedom and flexibility to pursue the lifestyle you want — so long as there’s room in your work life to pursue those dreams.
Critics of self-employment sometimes say it “makes you unemployable,” that no one will want to hire you after a long stint working for yourself (that is, if you ever want to go back to working for someone else). I’m so proud to prove those people wrong. Over the last few years, I’ve learned many skills, grown my network and built something from the ground up — milestones I likely never would have accomplished in a more traditional job. And that work has led me to this place, to this next step.
The big lesson? No matter how you’re earning a paycheck, never stop investing in yourself.
This acquisition applies only to the blog-management arm of the company; it does not include my pet projects, so you’ll still be able to enjoy both The Write Life and this blog. My team for The Write Life has awesome systems in place, which means everything will continue to chug along. In fact, we have a plan to add more helpful information and resources to The Write Life in the coming months, so keep your eyes on that site if you’re a writer.
Between this opportunity and a new baby, I might blog less frequently at AlexisGrant.com going forward — I’m going to feel that out as I go along, and find a schedule that works both for me and my readers. But you can bet I’ll continue to share ideas and insights, even if I don’t show up in your inbox quite as often.
One of the things I’ll be practicing over the coming months as I learn to juggle a new job and a new baby is recognizing what’s “enough” for me. What’s enough work, what’s enough accomplishments, what’s enough money — and when it’s time to sit back a little and enjoy our family. Part of reconciling “enough” with my hustling mentality is acknowledging that I can’t do everything, knowing that’s OK, and feeling good about my priorities.
I’m excited about this new adventure, and I look forward to continuing to share lessons with you along the way.
Update: Here’s Taylor Media’s press release about the acquisition.