I’ve had the chance to take another look back at the last decade thanks to an exercise put out by Marie Forleo.
What have you done you are most proud of in the last decade?
Apart from bringing my children from tweens into adulthood and proudly watching them come into their own, my personal breakthrough has been coming into my own and owning my personal brand. I’ve transitioned from someone who used to hide from the camera and refused to have my photo taken let alone make a video. I’ve become comfortable with who I am and am owning my authentic self. (Anyone who can’t accept my complete obsession with Alice Cooper just isn’t for me.)
Another achievement I’ve made over the last decade is being able to embrace the Cloud and change my business model to fully utilise the benefits of being Cloud based. As a result of this technology, I am able to work from any location worldwide with an Internet connection and draw on the talents of a global team on a project basis. It’s meant higher quality production for my clients and has completely relieved me of stress. It’s a totally different lifestyle and I’m loving it!
What obstacles have you overcome?
I’ve gone from being a complete technophobe to really embracing everything technology has to offer. It’s revolutionised the way I run my business and has allowed me to build on to my business by offering training solutions to small business owners to take them through the journey I have been on but in a fraction of the time and investment.
What results have you created in your life since 2010?
The experiences have been so varied. I’ve gone from a solopreneur to running an agency of 10 staff to moving with technology to change my business model to a much leaner animal. As a result, I have a business I can operate from anywhere.
I have a personal brand that establishes trust with my target audience and I’m able to impact the lives of other business owners who are today where I used to be – tech unsavvy and frustrated at not being able to market my business. I can take them from that state of paralysis to having full empowerment over their branding and marketing. That’s such a freeing feeling!
What have you learned over the last 10 years?
I think the biggest thing I have learned is that perfectionism is a dream killer. Good enough is good enough and it’s never going to be perfect. Waiting for that state means nothing gets done. 80% of something is better than 100% of nothing.
I also learned how to run a business and more importantly, how not to run one. Having built my business with no “schooled” knowledge of how to do so meant I made loads of mistakes, but I learned from them. I learned how to eventually create good recruitment ads to attract the right people. I learned how to let the business brand values drive the interview process and I learned that attitude can’t be trained. I am immensely grateful for the staff I have had over the years and am secure in the knowledge that you need to hire right to save yourself a world of stress and damage to your business and your brand.
Giving instructions in the right way is crucial so you minimise the need to repeat yourself and have others waste their time. Having a structured way to do this makes it easy and permanent. In fact, being able to systemise and automate everything that can be is crucial to running a lean business and freeing your time.
I also came to terms with my health and the need to be responsible for how I treat my body. It’s come late, but now I’m really enjoying being in the gym, getting a daily workout in and watching and feeling how my body is getting stronger. I’ve set myself up not to fail. My “office” today is a high-end gym which allows members to work at work stations and to be able to change into gym-supplied gym attire to go and do a workout any time of the day. When I want to relax, I can go lie by the outdoor pool on the 38th level overlooking downtown Singapore. Yes, I’m starting to put me first!
I also hired a personal trainer who has the expertise to train me right and holds me accountable to working out until now it’s a habit.
I’ve also learned to look after myself better by not putting so much pressure on myself. I realised that I was the only one doing it to me. I was creating my own hell. I realise now the importance of taking breaks, having time to myself, taking holidays and just living in the moment. I’ve seen the difference that has on my ability to be creative. It’s so under-estimated. The below images are from a cruise I took to LA and Mexico last month.
What do you want to remember as you move into the next decade?
I think it is important to stay lean in business and physically! That will be my main focus in the next decade. And as I move forward, I will embrace new changes in technology to make business even easier and I will continue onwards with my fitness goals. It’s also important to keep learning and to have a mentor to learn from, to give you a perspective when you have blind spots and who believes in you and your potential. Mine is Joel Bauer.
And have a community of like-minded people around you.
What limiting beliefs have you kicked to the dust?
Anything that doesn’t serve me and serve my purpose has to go. Limiting beliefs like I’m not good enough, I’m too old, I’m not experienced enough, I’m too fat, no one will take me seriously – I had to work through all of those insecurities.
These limiting beliefs stopped me moving forward with my goals of starting my online coaching business and as a result there are people out there that I should have been serving but haven’t done. I realised that I have an OBLIGATION to get my message out there and pass on my life’s work and let others benefit from what I know.
As we are about to usher in not just a new year but a new decade, I’m taking this period of contemplation to look back at the last 10 years – a decade in review both as my time as a copywriter, working with my clients, building and changing my business and bringing the kids on board!
There have been many changes over the last 10 years in my mindset, my business, the way I run things and the types of projects I’ve taken on. Let’s take a look at the major milestones:
Back in 2010, I was still running the copywriting company I set up in 2003. The business had grown from just me at that point to around five staff – copywriters, editors and admin staff. But I was outsourcing to local design companies design jobs my clients requested, as I had no design capabilities inhouse. This was before the Cloud and the ability to outsource online (more on that later). The majority of our projects were print newsletters at this point and this was our bread and butter.
This year was a major change in the business as I brought design staff inhouse at this point. This led to a rebranding of the company as we positioned ourselves as a full marketing agency. We started to bring in larger jobs, especially from government agencies, and things looked exciting. At this point, we were in a small but bright office in Maxwell House, but as we brought on the design staff and eventually a sales executive, we eventually ran out of room to put in new desks. So it was time to move.
2012 – 2014
We didn’t move far, just down the road to a large office in a commercial building. It wasn’t grand, but for the size, the rent was cheap and we were in the main business district. We brought on another design staff in this office and another sales executive. This was our home for three years, until my sales executive one morning asked: “Has anyone been eating my snack bar?” We all looked at him puzzled, as you would. And so began the hunt for whatever had chewed its way into the bar he’d left on his desk overnight!
We found clues. The carpet under the front door had been knawed away to leave a slight gap between the floor and the bottom of the door. Then someone voiced what we’d been dreading: “It must be a rat!” Urgh. A further hunt revealed a rat had in fact set up home behind our sofa. Luckily this all happened just as our three-year lease was up so, in less than three days, we were out of there and moved into what I’d consider to be the best office we ever had.
During the prior three years, we’d taken on some interesting projects and one memorable one was a transcription job we took on for an existing client. We’d never done this before, it wasn’t a core service, but when this existing client asked if we would, we said yes. I hadn’t realised the amount of time it would take or the extent of the work and the variety of different accents to be listened to on the recordings. So we all pitched in – all eight of us at this point. Everyone had a recording each and set to work. I had mine to transcribe too, but I was also the quality control for the transcripts that would go to the client, so I had to listen to all recording against what my staff had transcribed. And I have to say I fell about laughing at some of the interpretations of what was being said! Still, it got done. This project also made me realise at this time the power of a blog . We only wrote one short blog on this project experience and suddenly I started getting enquiries for transcription services. At first, I couldn’t understand it as we didn’t list such as service on our site. Then I realised it was the blog! So we set about doing more! Well, you would, wouldn’t you!
2014 – 2016
We moved into a shophouse, the type of beautiful old terrace-style house in Singapore that a lot of design agencies favoured as their offices. In this shophouse, we grew the business to the biggest it would become staff-wise. We stayed three years and in the last year there, we added a web developer to the team. At this point, we were an agency of 10 staff and it was an extremely stressful time for me. My overheads were extremely high, mostly staff costs, and it was a struggle to be honest to keep cashflow flowing to be able to pay staff. Many months I would go unpaid, and on some occasions, I was late paying my staff. I knew there had to be a better way. This was the darkest time running the business for me and I started to question if it was worth it.
We had some great projects though, while we were there, including the production of two coffee-table books to celebrate Singapore’s 50th anniversary. The first book was particularly memorable as we ended up staying in the office until the wee hours of the morning proofreading the final galley proofs before the book went to print the next morning. That is not my favourite memory, but it did serve to highlight the need for more robust systems to be put in place to ensure such rushes didn’t happen again. And that triggered our journey to becoming an ISO 9001 company for a short while.
By 2016, I’d started to explore the idea of building an online business. I’d seen various mentors online running their own coaching and training businesses online and I liked the idea of doing the same. I just didn’t know at this point enough about the technologies involved, so I started to explore.
I also came across one mentor who had successfully built her business online and only had one fulltime staff and the rest were outsourced as needed from around the world. When I learned about her business model, I realised quickly that this was the business of the future and the answer to reducing my excessive overheads. Again, the lease on our office was coming up for renewal and I started to look for alternatives that would be cheaper and smaller and facilitate a work-from-home model.
In this period, I got to add on more hospitality work to my copywriting portfolio and there would be more to come!
2017 – 2018
We moved into a serviced office space with a rented office of five desks, cutting non-staff expenses by over 50% and my staff were told they could hot desk at the office or work from home. Through the next year, through natural attrition, I made the office completely virtual. As staff left, I didn’t replace them with fulltime staff but instead found most talent online that could work on projects on demand, as needed. At this time, I rebranded the company again and we shifted the focus back to copywriting and content writing. While design is still an option for my clients, it is not something we advertise.
We took on a large client in this period on a blog writing retainer, which kept us busy but stable.
From the beginning of 2019 onwards, 90% of the enquiries we were getting were businesses wanting to publish regular blogs. This was a major shift from a few years earlier when I could not persuade a business to publish blogs despite trying to educate them on the power of a blog in increasing web pages on their site and setting the business up as a trusted thought leader for their industry. But finally they had to bend to the wishes of Google and we profited from that. So the last year in the decade saw my fortunes reverse. I was getting the projects I wanted to work on (more hospitality work), my costs were manageable and I had a great online team that worked effectively and produced great work. I was loving the Cloud!
2019 was a great year for another monumental reason – my son joined me on staff as a copywriter – and guess what! He’s good! He’s in university now studying Communications but he has a part-time role with me running a couple of my accounts. Proud mum!
My daughter has also supported me with design and been a lifesaver on occasion. Oh, and I got to meet my VA of two years for the first time in 2019, which was awesome!
My daughter may be joining the business to add on her branding, design and multimedia skills. She’s doing an internship now with another company spending most of her time copywriting, so that fares well for me! If she’s interested when her studies are up, I’d be proud to have her join me fulltime too. She’s been highly critical of the company she’s interning for and seems to have a god entrepreneurial head on her shoulders. She’s seen firsthand the dangers of hiring the wrong staff so that in itself has been an invaluable lesson for her.
My copywriting business will still run as it is now, online supplying Done For You services for our clients. To be fair, with the systems in place and the great talent support I have, it runs itself. So in the new decade, I will be focussing on building my learning portal business, teaching copywriting and marketing to small business owners and giving them a choice of DIY or Done For You services.
I’m so looking forward to what the next decade has to offer!
I love that teacup you see in the picture there, and I’ll tell you why as this blog progresses.
But I need to set the stage first.
Keep It Simple Stupid
In 2018 and 2019, I have been focusing on simplifying my business, the way I work and my life.
I’ve been intent on getting rid of the clutter – things, people, surroundings, and setting up environments where I can be in flow.
I started at the beginning of 2018 with my business. I used to operate an agency with around 10 full-time staff in a physical office – a great place in Singapore in what we call here a shophouse. Typically that’s a three-story house that was built to operate as living accommodation in the upper stories and a shopfront on the ground level. Most have been converted to offices and you’d typically rent either the whole house or one or two of the floors. My office occupied the top two floors. It was a great place to work, great location but, from a business perspective, it was expensive for the amount of actual floor space you could use.
The Cloud made so much more possible
By this time, the Cloud was pretty well ensconced and I began to question the need for an office and staff onsite. The business world was changing. Cloud technology now made meetings possible on the Cloud, so we could hold the same briefing across the world if we had to. We didn’t need to be face to face.
Coupled with that, we now had access to a global pool of creatives around the world we could hire for their time or for a fixed sum per project, depending on the agreement. With most of my fixed overheads being staff costs, this option was becoming more attractive.
So I started to make the moves.
Transitioning for simplicity
First, I moved office to a quirky shared office space where we still had our own office but only five desks I wanted operating as hot desks. This encouraged staff to work from home or to use the open spaces in the suites to sit and do their work. With natural staff attrition, I replaced the full-time staff who left with freelancers from around the world who could do the same work for me remotely, without the fixed overheads. I just needed to work their costs into the project costs to ensure I was covered. By mid-2018, all my writers and designers were based in Europe, the UK or Australia, and my admin saviour operated out of Bali.
I researched a bunch of productivity and project management software that would work to keep an online team together and finally opted for Monday to communicate tasks to the team anywhere in the world (or on their fixed platform if it had to be that way) and Simpleology for my own personal reminders. The Dreamcatcher in the latter is a powerful element that allows me to capture thoughts on the fly and forget about them instantly, so my mind is always worry free! At the end of each day, I simply have to sort through everything I’d entered throughout the day and schedule, do, delegate or trash each item as I set the list of things to do for the next day. I’ve gone from forgetting everything to not having to remember a thing!
A year later I gave up the office space and took a purely virtual package which would get the phones answered for me but everything else existed in the Cloud. I was now operating my business location free from a laptop.
People who give you energy
As I started to free my business to operate the way modern technology was enabling it to, I realised how the people around you either provide energy to you or suck it out of you. For too many years I had put up with the latter. But as I started to seek out people who resonated with my frequency, magic happened. I automatically began to feel less stress, I found a love for what I do once again and began to free up the time to start MarketSmart – a passion project I’d kept on the back burner for two years. In my regular business, I was starting to attract big projects that were interesting to do and people who were a pleasure to work with. I learnt that what you accept signals to people how to treat you, so I changed my signals. With no staff to “feed”, I could pick and choose the projects I took on and that was a freeing feeling.
The little things don’t matter, but yet they do
In the larger scheme of things, there’s no point sweating the small stuff, or worrying about things you can’t change. But in other ways, it’s the little things that can make all the difference. Here’s where that teacup comes in.
I was biding some time yesterday in a shopping centre between two meetings when I chanced upon a display of stationery and notebooks. These are like magnets to me.
There’s nothing as pleasing as a blank page to be written on!
I was immediately drawn in and as I started to browse I knew I wasn’t leaving empty-handed. Among the stationery was a range of teacups, saucers and milk jugs in bone china with gold leaf designs. I fell in love. The teacup you see is part of a set and will now be a permanent fixture on my work desk and will be topped up with contents of the teapot and milk jug as needed. How English!
But my point is, I want to surround myself with those little things that make the difference to my mood. It makes ALL the difference to the creative process. And it keeps me at my desk so I can get the work done I need to.
Writing letters or emails is a challenge. If you aren’t aware of that then you may be doing it all wrong. Crafting a letter or email is (or should be) challenging. Why?
You are not there to convey the body language and facial expressions that are so crucial in communication.
When your audience only has the written word to rely on, all sorts of terrible things can happen if you aren’t communicating sensitively and with the reader’s perspective in mind.
Let me give you an example that has sparked this blog topic.
My 19-year-old daughter is at poly. That means she’s an adult. She has the maturity and brains to make her own decisions. At least that’s how I’ve brought her up. The poly seems to think differently.
The fact that they feel they have to report her absences to me just makes me laugh, quite frankly. Well, it would if the tone it is written in didn’t make my blood boil.
She’s coming into her third year at poly now and in the two years that have passed, she’s been absent twice without an MC. Twice. That’s two. Not twenty. Not a daily habitual occurrence, but two in the WHOLE two years.
OK, so they feel the need to inform me. I get it. They are covering their asses. Just in case I wasn’t aware she’d been “skiving”.
So it’s not so much the receiving of the obligatory letter telling me to get my daughter in order that makes me mad so much as it’s the wording of the letter. It just doesn’t match the events that happened at all! What I’ve been receiving these two times (that’s two mind you, not twenty) is a fairly offensive letter about how my daughter won’t be able to take her exams because she shows habitual absences in her attendance. I think the key word here is habitual. If the concern is habitual truances (Enid Blyton, thank you – a word dredged up from a dark, distant past) why on earth am I being sent these two letters (that’s two, mind you, in two years) about her single day absences? There’s a pretty standard definition for habitual in most dictionaries, I would say. I don’t think twice in two years covers it. Poly, you are supposed to be instilling skills in my daughter to set her up for a career. How on earth would this be helping her when she’s been treated like a naughty schoolgirl instead of the incredibly articulate and intelligent young lady she is turning out to be?
My point is, you can’t send template letters out when they don’t fit the situation. Perhaps this poly should have one template for the single absence that is a much softer in tone. Then one for those who have had a few days absence that is a little more urgent. Then the letter I got should be sent to the habitual offenders.
So, when you “templatise” your correspondence, create a few different versions so you don’t alienate all of your readers.
Your words are important and how you use them leaves a lasting impression on your reader and a permanent perception of your brand. Choose your words with care.
Copy Warrior standing up for communication that gets it right.
Two things culminated today that made me look at my own behaviour and consider whether I’d set people’s expectations up to believe one thing when I knew I meant another.
And I guess I’ve done it loads of times in my life. I was a people pleaser. I found it easier under pressure to agree to what was ultimately wanted of me rather than stick to what I wanted. Over time I’ve learnt that that just does not work. You stress yourself and you end up letting others down.
So for me, no means no. It’s easier that way. Believe me – suffer the confrontations at the beginning rather than deal with the fallout at the end.
I’ve had two separate events today that illustrate what it’s like to be on the receiving end of someone promising and not delivering.
The first – my son took in an old JC friend of his as a lodger in my house. Trusting his judgement, we put the girl up. This evening she grossly violated the terms of her tenancy, letting my son down more than she let me down. But the truth was, her actions could have led to serious harm and possibly death. I wouldn’t suffer that shit with my own children so I certainly don’t have to with her. She had to go.
The second – I was approached today by a young man who claimed he would do ANYTHING (the capitals were his not mine) to learn copywriting from me, working as an intern or whatever. His email was vague as to what his plans were, but looking at his Facebook page he was working but had designs on setting up his own business. He subscribed to my group and, answering the qualifying questions, said as much.
Since I wasn’t really clear on his expectations, rather than make an offer that didn’t suit, I invited this young man for a non-obligatory meeting to find out more. I wanted to explore whether he wanted to pay for lessons, be mentored, swap working on my projects for learning experiences, or be fully employed. I didn’t know, so a meeting seemed the best way to find out. We could have worked out something that suited.
So it was a complete surprise when he turned down the offer of a meeting, claiming a sudden change in circumstances – within a few hours of swearing undivided allegiance – which I had had the good grace not to hold him to – hence the offer of a meeting!
The lesson learnt here is, be clear on what you want. If you ask someone for help, and they have the good grace to accept and offer help, have the decency to see it through.
This guy has missed out on what could have been the offer of a lifetime – a deal set to benefit him immensely. But the offer’s off the table now because he “changed his mind”.
The girl that rented my spare room, also gone.
If you take people’s good help, have the grace to respect them.
Master copywriter and content marketer Ange Dove, AKA Your Business Transformation Fairy Godmother, founded Proof Perfect in 2003 to improve business communication and marketing, one business at a time.
Ange and her Proof Perfect team focus on providing compelling copy backed by powerful visuals to make clients’ content stand out both online and offline.
She is adept at planning strategies for her clients and using the best of today’s technologies to automate their marketing so they can Get Ready, Get Seen, Get Business.
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