I’ve been thinking about babies a lot recently.
Not because Jan and I just celebrated our first wedding anniversary a couple of months ago, but due to the fact that my Facebook and Instagram feeds have been flooded with baby pictures of late.
That’s what happens when you hit the big three-o. Suddenly, all your peers are hopping over to the next stage in life, with a whole new set of goals, priorities, and responsibilities in life… but I digress.
It got me thinking: starting a business (in our case, a content marketing agency) is an awful lot like raising a newborn baby in the world.
The first year of the baby/company’s life tends to be filled with equal parts delight as well as the constant thought of “what have I gotten myself into?”
Then year two comes round, and I begin to feel a bit more comfortable and confident. I’ve made it this far, nothing catastrophic has happened – this year is going to be smooth sailing, I think.
As any parent knows well, that confidence is laughably misplaced. In fact, many admit that they have no idea what they’re doing even twenty-odd years into their children’s lives.
Yet somehow, it all works out (usually).
And I’m grateful to say that, despite the challenges we faced in 2019, With Content has come out the other end far stronger for it. In fact, we came within S$100 of hitting our stretch goal of S$300,000 in annual revenue for 2019. That means we reached close to S$500,000 in overall revenue over two years.
Yet, even getting this close to our goal was a remarkable achievement in my books. All glory to God for providing all we need, when we need it most!
Similar to last year’s annual review, I will be sharing some of the lessons we learned building a calm content marketing agency in 2019 amidst not-so-calm periods of time.
Never take shortcuts for the sake of growth
We kicked off 2019 with a bang. In the first half of the year, we broke our monthly revenue record twice over, and as such were dealing with more work than we could handle at that point in time.
So we made the decision to expand our in-house production team. In the span of 4 months, we hired 3 exceedingly talented content strategists, who immediately had to hit the ground running as our managing editor, Katrina, went on maternity leave soon after.
Now, we had sufficient capacity to meet the production needs of our clients. Happy ending, right?
Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that. These months also turned out to be our busiest period to date, and our team was swept away in the vortex of articles, ebook, and infographic assignments that flooded our collective inbox.
Who says that all growth is good?
Putting on a brave face, I marshalled all my energy and focus into ensuring that we were able to meet our clients’ content needs and keep producing at the highest levels for them.
Unfortunately, this meant that I wasn’t able to spend as much time coaching our new team members as I would have liked to. And the results were telling: even though we successfully kept our content production engine going and our clients happy, the entire With Content team was well and truly burnt out at the end of the day.
And even though the crisis was over, standards began to slip and we started to get sloppy.
I quickly realised that this was because we had to skip a lot of steps in our internal processes to get assignments to our clients on time and in shape, and slowly but surely, these shortcuts were becoming the new “standard” for the team.
Thankfully, we managed to regroup, organise, and document all our processes in full in the last quarter of 2019. We also had a debrief to reflect on and share learnings from this crunch period – these were implemented in our newly minted processes.
I’m also grateful that none of our team members decided to punch out and call it a day afterwards (I wouldn’t have blamed them!). We came back even stronger in the Q4 2019, hitting yet another record in monthly revenue in October, and ultimately, coming within an arm’s reach of our annual revenue goal.
You can’t make everyone happy all the time
Our primary goal at With Content is to produce content that our clients and their potential customers will love. And by and large, we were able to meet this goal in 2019 – with some exceptions.
These will always be moments that are completely outside of your control. You might be able to check all the right boxes, but the client will still be unhappy with your work, period.
This is especially so when it comes to content marketing, which is relatively fresh concept in the world of marketing. Everyone has their own opinion on what content marketing should look like, and what I’ve realised is that no one is completely wrong – they’re all just fixated on one part of the bigger puzzle.
In such cases, I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to expose our clients to bigger opportunities and possibilities in content marketing. Most of them are happy to learn and improve their tactics and strategies accordingly.
And yet, there was a handful who insisted on their own ways. And therein lies the typical agency dilemma – do you let your client have his/her way, even though it clearly isn’t right or optimal? Or do you walk away from the project, and leave that sum of money on the table?
It’s a tough call to make – especially when you’re the agency owner!
In 2019, we bit the bullet twice and cancelled a couple of engagements due to this very problem.
Did it suck to give up two relatively lucrative projects? Yes, definitely.
Did it improve team morale? Very much so. By walking away from projects that did not align with our values and beliefs, we were able to double down and focus on the right clients, helping them to achieve results that everyone would be happy with.
And that’s exactly why I started With Content in the first place.
It’s okay to stay in the left lane
In Singapore, that is (the opposite applies for most countries in the West)!
Here, we have what is known as the Keep-Left Rule, which states that motorists should keep to the left at all times except when they intend to overtake or turn right. As such, the right lane is known as the passing lane, or the lane which motorists use to overtake others (or just go really fast).
In reality, most drivers opt to stay in the right lane, unless they are turning left or approaching a speed camera. Indeed, it has become a norm to always be in the fast lane, something that no one would think twice about. Neither in traffic, nor in life.
Woah. Just got all philosophical there!
The lure of the “fast lane” in business has been a constant temptation for me, particularly in 2019 as we began to really grow quickly. I browse websites such as Indie Hackers and Tech in Asia almost daily, which feature numerous success stories beyond my wildest dreams.
I mean, growing and selling a bootstrapped company running at US$55,000 (~S$74,000) in revenue per month within the span of 2 years? That’s pretty cool.
But there’s always another side to the coin. Million-dollar marketing agencies tend to have expenses that run far too close to their income than I would be comfortable with. Yes, having the big $1M (with a capital m) looks great on paper, but what if none of it is the team’s to keep at the end of the day?
Personally, I’d much rather have more profits to share with the team (which we do via our profit-sharing scheme, once a year). And keep our calm while at it (hat tip to Matt Haig):
Sure, there will be moments where I gaze wistfully as gas-guzzling sports cars whizz by us. But for now, I’m happy with keeping our fuel-efficient Honda cruising in the left lane, and enjoying the light breeze and scenic views as we go along.
Here are some of the milestones we hit in 2019 that we’re proudest of:
- Grew our team to 6 members
- Delighted 59 clients, an increase of 69% from the year before
- Worked alongside new clients who are giants in their respective industries, such as UOB, Unit4, and PropertyGuru
- Had our first ever company retreat in Taipei in January
- Published 2 blog posts (okay, not so proud of the quantity, but the quality makes me smile): an interview with the head of content at one of Singapore’s top finance blogs, and an experiment we ran with Fiverr’s top content creation services
- Welcomed Katrina into the leadership team as our Managing Editor, overseeing the content team
- Despite minimal marketing, made it into a couple of lists: top content marketing agencies in Singapore and tools to grow your business in 2020
- As well as an interview on building a S$300,000/year content marketing agency
- Also, a HUGE shoutout to our longest-standing clients: Travelstop, Tech in Asia, and Piktochart. Thank you for putting your faith in us with every new assignment you send our way!
Towards 2020 (and beyond)
Looking ahead to 2020, here’s what we hope to achieve:
- Get serious about marketing! We aim to produce at least 4 case studies similar to this one, as well as 4 huge, educational guides to content marketing in Singapore/Asia. We also have a report on the state of content marketing in Singapore that’s coming up very soon – stay tuned 😉
- Offer content distribution as a service. In other words, helping our clients to pitch and secure article placements on the top publications in their industries. We did a trial run for this in the last quarter of 2019, successfully landing a byline placement for our client in one of the most prestigious business publications in Singapore. The partner we’re working with has also replicated this success with numerous publications across Southeast Asia, so we believe we have a system that works. If you’re interested in becoming recognized as a thought leader in your space, drop us a message here!
- Keeping our team happy! As a business owner, I don’t believe that I’m the big boss – not by far! In fact, I have three big bosses above me: God, my team, and my clients. And while we’ve focused heavily on keeping our clients happy, we know that a happy team naturally equates to happy clients. So this is a big goal for me personally in 2020: to develop a team who can play to their strengths and enjoy the work that they do at With Content day in, day out.
Come along for the ride
We’re on a mission to raise the bar of content marketing in Singapore and Asia. And we’ve saved a seat for your business.
If you’re interested to take your content marketing efforts to the next level – or even dip your toes in the water – drop us a message here and we’ll get back to you in 48 hours.
Let’s do this, together.
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