Sophie Knowles is the founder of PDF Pro, a SaaS platform for editing PDF files in the cloud. A software engineer by background, Sophie is dedicated to helping others be more productive. In her spare time, Sophie enjoys playing with her cat and discovering cake shops in London.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
While I call myself a software engineer today, I’ve had a variety of roles in the past. I was young when the internet began making its way into homes and offices around the world. I was inspired by the potential of the internet and wanted to learn everything I could about this new digital world. However, it wasn’t until university that I really began exploring my passion. I taught myself web development at home in between lectures and part-time jobs. I decided that I wanted to be able to create something that would make a difference in the world and learning to code seemed like a good fit (I’ve always been good at maths).
Eventually, I landed a job as a developer with a major corporation and enjoyed the 9-5 life until the inspiration for PDF Pro struck.
What inspired you to start your business?
I got the idea for PDF Pro when I was trying to extract text from a PDF file for work. The software I was using didn’t allow me to copy the text from the file properly, or convert it to Word. After spending some time searching for paid and unpaid products, I realized that the solution to my problem simply didn’t exist yet. As a web developer, I found it unbelievable that users were still struggling to edit and convert PDF files almost 25 years after the technology was invented. With a background in development and a keen desire to start my own business, I decided to fill the gap in the market myself.
Where is your business based?
My business is primarily based in London, but as a one-woman company, I can really work from anywhere. So far I’ve spent some time developing PDF Pro from Singapore, Switzerland, and the States.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
The first step I took in creating PDF Pro was to do a good deal of market research. My personal discovery gave me the idea for the business, but I needed to ensure that others saw a need as well. After speaking with friends, family, and a few focus groups I developed the first of many features for PDF Pro, the PDF Creator. From there I continued testing and researching and have since added over 20 additional features.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about PDF editors. It’s very much an “in the moment” thing that people need when they need it. For that reason, SEO has been the most effective way of raising awareness for my business.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
Working a full-time job while building a business has by far been my greatest challenge. Being a side-hustle entrepreneur required a lot of late nights and almost no social life. Many times it didn’t feel worth the effort and I almost threw in the towel a few times. However, I knew that a reliable source of income was worth far more than a night out and I persevered until my business was cash-positive and I could quit my 9-5.
How do you stay focused?
It’s often difficult, especially when working on more than one project at a time, but I think staying focused really depends on staying organized. I keep my days very structured and plan out each working day at the beginning of the week. I have everything planned to the hour so I never get off task or spend too long on any one thing.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
PDF Pro offers the most features at the lowest price possible. We also have a great free plan that works really well for more causal PDF users. A majority of my competitors only offer extremely limited features for free and plans at a significantly higher cost.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
Leveraging SEO has by far been my best marketing strategy. Just after launching PDF Pro we had very little traffic simply because no one could find us. I knew that as a SaaS company the key to gaining traction would be by generating traffic via search engines. However, given the intense competition in this industry (and a number of very well-established competitors), this is no easy task!
I was spending far too much time optimizing pages, tracking changes, etc. so, I eventually began working with an agency. With the help of CanIRank, PDF Pro’s organic traffic grew from almost nothing to over 150,000 visitors a month and is still growing thanks to organic search traffic. We now also use a few paid channels, but organic SEO is still the most effective.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
Don’t start a business unless you really believe in an idea! Try to use the skills and knowledge you have from your current job or interests to form your idea.
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
I’m always jotting down things when I’m out and about, so I really love Evernote. I can easily access my notes from any device, making it easy to turn my random thoughts into actions.
I really enjoy reading the Guardian’s technology blog. It keeps me up to date on the latest developments in the world of tech. They also regularly profile interesting women in technology which I find inspiring.
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
I’m obsessed with Funnel.io. I needed a better way to keep an eye on all of my paid marketing channels and Funnel was a perfect choice. Rather than spending many hours each week compiling reports from various sources, now I can spend just a few minutes making sure everything is running smoothly.
Who is your business role model? Why?
I can’t say that I have just one business role model. I look up to so many different people for many reasons. I’m inspired by powerful women in technology that blazed the trail for so many of us to follow. One of which is Marissa Mayer, Google’s first female engineer. I’m also inspired by some more well-known figures such as Steve Jobs for his innovation and persistence, and Richard Branson for his entrepreneurial spirit, among others.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
I don’t want to give too much away but PDF Pro is planning an awesome new promotion aimed at lowering the cost for some of our core customers. I’m also working on adding additional features so users can do even more with PDF Pro.
How can our readers connect with you?
Readers are more than welcome to explore my website: https://www.pdfpro.co/
I share plenty of PDF-related tips and tricks on my blog