Harshala Chavan: How She Built Merrative, a Publishing Marketplace

Harshala Chavan: How She Built Merrative, a Publishing Marketplace

Harshala Chavan is a chemical engineering graduate turned writer and indie maker in the no-code and publishing space.

She started her first blog during college, grew it to 10,000 organic visits per month, and ran a WhatsApp community of around 500 chemical engineers across India.

After graduating, Harshala went independent via freelancing and indie-maker journey, starting with writing content, growing her clients as a small agency, and finally jumping into making her first product – Merrative.com.

In this interview, she shares her background, what motivated her to start her own content marketing company, and how she stays on top of the latest trends and developments in the content marketing industry.

Let’s dive in!

Can you tell us about your background?

I am Harshala Chavan, a writer and indie maker in the no-code and publishing space.

I am a chemical engineering graduate of the 2017 batch. But during college, I consumed a lot of content on Quora and got exposed to “digital marketing.”

I took some courses and made my first blog: https://chem-graduate.blogspot.com/.

I grew it to 10,000 organic visits per month by sharing resources and jobs in chemical engineering.

I also ran a WhatsApp community of around 500 chemical engineers across India for knowledge sharing and assignment help.

Once I graduated, I stopped updating the site – but I learned so much about blogging, SEO, and community building.

Eventually, in 2019, I jumped into going independent via freelancing and an indie-maker journey. I started writing content, grew my clients as a small agency, and finally jumped into making my first product – merrative.com

Today, I run Merrative.com – a publishing talent marketplace that helps brands create publications and content libraries. It’s a community-led marketplace model – where the supply is our 3800+ community of readers, writers, journalists, and scholars.

We have handpicked selected talent from this community to assign our publishing projects – and focus on content as currency formats like thought leadership, webinars/podcasts, long-form blogs, whitepapers, and reports.

What motivated you to start your own content marketing company, Merrative?

One day, I went to a book club and met people who had read the same book as I had – Zero to One by Peter Theil.

We had such a great discussion – and I realized we had similar interests across hobbies and professions. That day, I wondered if I could connect with people based on their consumed content!

So I started Merrative as an Instagram page community – we were actively conducting book, article, and research paper discussions. I grew the community to 1500 members and still ran my small content agency on the side to pay the bills.

Post achieving this number, I wanted to work on my revenue model. For this, I studied my community user base, their needs, and the monetization opportunities I could tap into. After much experimentation, I adopted a community-led marketplace model – the one used by Dribbble.

Today I am actively working on growing Merrative. I am also working on a new project – Redqueen.blog, where I help in process automation using no-code and Generative AI tools.

How do you stay on top of the latest trends and developments in the content marketing industry?

I do not like following people who cover trends. I am at that stage where I need to focus on the fundamentals.

So I follow people and agencies, subscribe to their newsletters, listen to podcasts covering content marketing concepts, and publish thought leadership.

I also write my case studies to hone my skills – I write content funnel case studies and examples via Media First Brand. I also provide free strategy calls to qualified leads on Merrative, which helps me hone my skills.

I prefer consuming content in my niche: no-code, process automation, indie-making, data science, and Applied AI.

So most of my content is around these topics. I don’t prefer dwelling too much on content marketing. For upskilling, I like taking up paid courses.

Can you walk us through your content creation process?

I run 3 publications at the moment – Epilogue (content marketing), AppliedAI.tools (applied AI engineering), and RedQueen.blog (no code process automation).

The ideas for blog posts come from 3 places:

1/ I am actively involved in studying these concepts.

So whatever problem I face, I search for keywords and write a blog post. For example, I wanted to adopt async workflows – so I wrote a guide on it as I implemented it.

2/ I lurk in communities that cover these 3 niches:

People always ask questions. So I will write about the ones that have good search value.

For example, I saw someone asking in a content marketing community why freelancers don’t build their portfolio websites. So I wrote a blog post on 10 no-code website builders for a freelance portfolio.

3/ I sometimes like a Twitter thread or LinkedIn post:

I save the topic the post covers for a detailed blog post.

Once I get an idea – I save it in a content calendar Google Sheet. Then, I pick a topic and use ChatGPT to find allied keywords and the Google keyword planner tool using a hub and spoke model. Finally, I ask ChatGPT to outline a post that acts as fodder for what people might be searching for.

Then, I refine the chatGPT generated outline based on Google search results, People Also Ask sections, Answer the Public, Reddit, Quora questions, and Google Keyword Planner tool.

Then I start writing the blog post based on my personal experience. I also post questions on HelpaB2BWriter, HARO, and Terkel to get good quotes.

Then, I let the article rest for 2-3 days and returned to edit it – for which I prepared an editing checklist document.

Once done, I take it to publish and use another publishing checklist with best practices per the CMS I use.

Then comes the content distribution – for which I have prepared a Google sheet of all relevant communities and websites where I can post about the published blog.

I hired a VA – to whom I give the post content, and they share it across the curated network.

What are your biggest challenges as a content marketer?

My biggest challenge is imposter syndrome – there is always too much new stuff to learn in the marketing space, and sometimes I feel I am not doing enough or lagging.

It also stems from the fact that I started independently maybe too early – so I don’t have hands-on experience in a big corporate or an agency. So I had to do a lot of self-learning, which continues to date.

To overcome this, I have subscribed to select newsletters and follow people who do not swing to hype cycles for likes and shares – but focus on fundamentals.

Restricting my content consumption has helped me reduce information overload. I won’t feel overwhelmed – if I never read it, lol 😀

word image 1411 2 Harshala Chavan: How She Built Merrative, a Publishing Marketplace

How do you measure the success of your content marketing campaigns?

I measure it in 3 ways:

  • People commented that they found my helpful content when I distributed it
  • The search results ranking
  • Conversions from the content it intended for (like, if I had a CTA for signing up for a newsletter, I would measure new subscribers’ growth).

How do you use social media to promote your content and engage with your audience?

I only focus on below channels:

  • Twitter for creating content (thanks to its word limit) and LinkedIn for expanding on the tweet
  • Select founder and content marketing Slack channels where I actively participate in AMAs, ask or answer questions and engage.
  • When a newsletter asks for a reply with questions – I do reply and engage with them
  • I do participate in surveys and let the survey organizer know my honest thoughts
  • I jump on to feature opportunities (like this one for Marketer Interview, haha!)
  • When a potential customer doesn’t convert or falls off, I always ask for a guest posting opportunity.

Can you share some examples of successful content marketing campaigns you’ve worked on?

Sharing our ‘Jobs with Merrative’ campaign that combines social media marketing, content distribution, and community-building concepts:

What: I share freelance writing and editing opportunities on a Twitter thread. I was clocking on 40-80 opportunities per week. I continued this for 3-4 months, not skipping a week.

For each thread – I linked my Media First Brand newsletter, our latest blog post, and a Google Group form link to get notified about the newest thread.

When I launched a new thread, I shared a Google Group newsletter post with the Twitter thread link and 5 upskilling resources for writers. I also included an affiliate link via Sparkloop or SwapStack to monetize the newsletter.

Why: I wanted to attract a freelance writing and editing community for Merrative’s supply side.

This exercise also helped me with lead generation using social media, and I used the irrelevant leads I found to share them with others who might find them helpful instead of skipping them.


  • Increased my personal Twitter following from 500 to 1000
  • Took the group from 0 to 500+ members
  • Our ‘Jobs’ page on the Merrative website started receiving organic visits within a few days.
  • Automated the newsletter using Web scraping methods, Make, Google Group, Airtable, and Twitter APIs.
  • The average revenue per newsletter from affiliate marketing is $10-$50 per newsletter.
word image 1411 3 Harshala Chavan: How She Built Merrative, a Publishing Marketplace

What tools and software do you use to help you manage and execute your content marketing strategy?

I use the below tools frequently:

  • No-code process automation like Zapier, Airtable, HubSpot CMS, Stripe, etc
  • ChatGPT for basic research, word tuning, and content repurposing
  • Yoast SEO – free version
  • Google Keyword Planner
  • Dall-E for generating blog post images
  • I use in-built scheduling options with LinkedIn and Twitter for social media post scheduling.
  • Google Analytics, Search Console, Page Speed Insights, and Trends
  • Answer the Public
  • LowFruits
  • SimilarWeb

What advice would you give aspiring content marketers?

Always upskill and publish what you learn on the channel you are most comfortable with (like a newsletter, blog, social media, YouTube – it can be any channel).

As a marketer, we must keep up and promote ourselves. The best way to create content for the same is to learn cool things, do incredible things, and share these cool things with others!

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