Pivoting is not easy, but I need to do it urgently. It gives me not only sleepless nights but also increases my introverted juice level up through the roof. Last time I experienced this was in 2014. When it was established nine years ago, my company NSE was focusing on creating content for clients. We did nothing but content. From writing articles both in English and Bahasa Melayu, copywriting right up to ghostwriting and graphic design. Back then, social media was still at its infancy. In 2014, the content development market was getting crowded. Too many people consisting of freelancers, part-timers, agencies and even students are doing it. They offered better ‘value’. Read it as cheaper pricing. Knowing Asian, pricing is always the numero uno criteria when choosing stuff to buy. This habit never changed, until today.
I pivoted. I moved on. I left the industry altogether.
I decided to shift my focus from content development to social media management. The developing content model wasn’t making any sense anymore. It is rotting and becoming a commodity. Perhaps, everybody can do content now I thought. And NSE’s financials were badly affected by it despite having a good run the previous year.
After six years, the same thing happens again. This year, NSE is losing a substantial number of clients in a very short period of time. Money and the pandemic obviously are the main culprit. Thanks to COVID-19, the situation forces brands to decide. They need to decide whatever product or service they are paying now, is it a need or a nice-to-have. If they think that the stuff is not a need, they will either stop it completely or go for cheaper options. I am on the receiving end of that decision. NSE is facing three no-win scenarios. The existing clients want to stop the service, confirmed orders being cancelled and new proposals being halted.
This time, the downturn is the worst. Ever. And it is beyond words.
A few days ago, I was approached by one gentleman. A baby boomer. I was recommended by a few, he said during our coffee session. He told me that he just closed his book distribution business. Now, he is creating a social media agency. He already identified a graphic designer to be part of his team, a copywriter and a social media guy.
I am not sure at what stage he is in right now when he said ‘creating’ earlier, but the message bothers me. A lot. You see, despite the fact that he is about to start his journey, he managed to secure not one, not two but three paid clients to run their digital campaigns online. The best part is this, he doesn’t have a clue on how to do it. He admitted to me personally, almost whispering actually, that he knows here and there about Facebook, about content and graphic designs but doesn’t have a single clue on how to connect all these dots. I’m not sure what he told those clients or how he managed to convince those people with his broken English but they really gave him the business. Now, he is a player.
I know similar things are happening out there. There are many more like him. I strongly believe, this year, the digital marketing industry is now becoming a commodity. Today, you don’t need to have qualifications to run marketing for people. You don’t need to have the experience to run marketing for people. You don’t need to study what’s happening out there to run marketing for people. It will rot, soon. I am sure of it.
Today, I am facing challenges from all corners. I have a family to feed. I have team members to pay. I have software licenses to maintain. I have permanent freelancers to pay. I have clients to service (still). I have Marketing In Asia and Azleen.com to take care of too. The way I see things are happening right now, NSE’s income from social media management is no longer reliable. The graph is heading south rapidly. I need to move on really quick before it becomes a disaster. I just couldn’t believe my eyes that the social media industry has become a commodity. This is another pandemic I can’t afford right now.
NSE has so much value to offer and affordability is one of them. Yet, I don’t want to be in a situation where pricing is the only factor for clients to decide. That said, it is better that I leave. It is better that I do something else and that something else must not have such a low entry barrier allowing any random guy to go in and turn the whole situation upside-down.
For the past few weeks, I was so into my introverted world. I hardly talked to people and spent a crazy amount of time with my computer wandering around the internet looking for answers to this one simple question.
What should I do next?
The very reason that the gentleman approached me was that he is pretty much stuck and needs help on some stuff related to digital marketing fundamentals. He needs help on the strategy, on tactics, on integration, on conversions, on this and that. He needs to understand some of this stuff so that he and his team are able to run campaigns for clients he just secured. I can smell from afar that he is expecting me to share that valuable information for free. How amazing. This time I decided to stop coaching people for free. Stop doing stuff for free in the name of collaborations. Stop being too nice to people anymore. I studied marketing for years, I worked for multinational corporations for years, I have more than 23 years of credentials in this niche. I (still and used to) have a number of great brands as my clients. Taking advantage of my hard-earned credentials for free in the name of partnerships, collaboration or future benefits is no longer an option. I always believe in paying things forward but I want to be very selective this time.
Towards the end of the session, I told him this. I said to him that I definitely can help with that. The challenges he is facing are my forte which I am among the best in the game. And he has to pay for it. After quickly calculating the number of hours required, I put up a number. He said yes.
When driving home, I did some hard thinking about what happened. In the car, I whispered to myself that the search for the next adventure could be over. I also realised that I’ve been doing this sort of work all my life without knowing it all along. And I am very good at it. I am pivoting NSE to still partner businesses and corporations, but no longer on social media services. This time, we will play a consulting role, helping them on marketing strategy and tactics. I think this niche is much greener.