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!