What challenges did you face while starting it and how did you overcome it?
There were many challenges along the way, but most of them center along how to find clients and be profitable. For a long time, Yago had revenue, but it was barely enough to get by. Why? Looking back, just building a directory of language schools within Singapore was casting the net too small. There is a positive cashflow, but there are only that many people signing up for a language course in a year. Correspondingly, my total potential client base only had a certain combined advertising budget; and they also wouldn’t spend 100% with Yago.
The problem naturally solved itself as people started to approach me for SEO, AdWords campaigns and other digital marketing services. I realised that the skills I had learned to market Yago were applicable much more widely.
What are the most important qualities you look for in your team members and the people? How do you describe the best and the worst relationship with team members?
Different team members have different roles and so it is good if each has different skills. E.g., you can have someone who is good with design and perhaps not a great writer, another team member who is very creative, and someone else who is very good with numbers and process. Each have a role to play and if each handles the tasks they are best at, the team delivers great results.
But regardless, I look for people who have a hunger to learn, and who can be very open and transparent. I really don’t need to be the smartest person on the team, challenge me if you think you can do it better. But I also don’t hire for intelligence or skill level alone. If team members are hungry to learn and open, they can pick up any skills they are still missing.
My worst experience has been a staff member who suddenly disappeared after intensively working with her and training her for a month. She was obviously very talented, wrote great copy and learned fast. But one day to the next, she just turned completely uncontactable.
I don’t know what happened, whether we asked too much of her or didn’t challenge her enough. We might have been able to work something out had she spoken up.
Is it better to be perfect and late, or good and on time? If you have to choose one, which one will choose and why?
Good and on time. I don’t believe anything can ever be perfect, as the world is changing and we are always learning. But “good” can become “better”. It tends to become “better” from experience. And we can only gain experience from delivering something.
Clients count on us sticking to deadlines so that they can deliver what they promised to their clients or superiors. So deliver something “good”, but never stop looking for ways to make it even “better”. Don’t let the illusion of “perfect” hold you back.
What was one memorable lesson you’ve learnt through personal experience during the course of your career? What happened?
When I was a training specialist, I once greatly upset a client by sending an e-mail where I addressed them by the name of another company. I had used an old e-mail as a template and forgotten to update the company name.
My director was furious.
My manager said something to the effect of “shit happens, how are you going to prevent this from happening again?”. With her encouragement, I came up with a step-by-step process for organising group trainings that helped streamline the process and make this kind of error much less likely in the future.
The immediate lesson I learned, as an employee doing the work, was to have a structure for everything and never rush into doing things. Rushing makes you make mistakes which you then need to spend time on to fix.
Now that I have staff myself, how my manager acted at the time is a great inspiration. Don’t heap blame if something goes wrong, but make maximum use of the opportunity for learning.
If you are given time to do anything you want without work obligations, what will you do? How do you spend it? Where will you go?
I’d like to experience Tristan da Cunha. It’s the world’s most remote inhabited island with 266 inhabitants, at 2,400 km from South Africa and 3,360 km from South America. Ships pass it only 8-9 times a year. At some point in my life, I’d love to spend a month there to experience what life is like without all the distractions.
What is your favourite quote and explain it in depth why?
“if you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.
It’s very applicable to my situation right now. For years, I’ve been virtually a solopreneur; I would occasionally get help, but basically try to handle everything myself as much as possible.
But Crystal Marketing is a partnership between 3 partners. I contribute the digital marketing and copywriting experience, Cheok is a designer, and great at building trusted relationships with clients and business strategy; Alex is driven, hungry, challenges us and gets things done fast.
When I was still doing things alone, I just had to make the decision and stick to it. Can’t be any faster. Now, in this partnership, there are others to be convinced. Often, deciding may take a couple of days longer, but it will result in a better decision, and we have the execution power and commitment of three people behind it.
What is one advice you wish you had received when you first started out your career and what advice would you like to give for young entrepreneurs?
I have received lots of advice during my career, good and bad. Sometimes, I wasn’t ready to listen to the good advice, and I realised years later, that it was actually good advice. It’s very hard to separate the good from the bad if you’re still learning.
So, building on that, I would advise young entrepreneurs to find a few people that they trust who are willing to give them feedback and advice. The litmus test is “if this person tells you to do something, are you prepared to follow their advice?”. Find advisors / coaches / friends around them whose achievements you respect and if they advise you to do something scary, you are compelled to try it just because of your trust and respect for them.
What are the changes you’d like to make to the industry through Yago and Crystal Marketing?
Too many agencies are “brief takers” – if the client says they want to run banner ads, they’ll provide a quote for exactly that.
The problem is that what the client request, may not be what is needed. Or it may only be part of what is needed to meet the objectives. For example, if the landing page (where people end up after clicking the ad) is confusing, the marketing campaign may fail because of that.
So, we will always take a step back and see whether what the client requests is truly what is needed to achieve success. Instead of a “brief taker”, we like to see ourselves as a “doctor”. Our clients know their businesses well; we have a lot of experience with different marketing approaches and platforms; together we work out what is the best fit.