Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! I’m Daniel Tay, co-founder, and managing director at With Content, a content marketing agency based on the sunny island of Singapore. We help B2B tech companies develop content marketing strategies to attract, engage, and convert potential customers sustainably.
Our clients come to us from all over Asia for our experience and expertise in crafting long-form, SEO-optimised content - blog articles, infographics, reports, and so on - for the regional tech industry. Over the past four years, we’ve worked with 160+ clients, ranging from pre-launch startups to government organizations, small businesses to multinational corporations.
Revenue-wise, we currently make US$30,000 per month and recently crossed the million-dollar mark in total revenue to date.
We also run a weekly newsletter, Deeper, that provides an in-depth analysis of the biggest happenings and trends in Southeast Asian tech, and their impact on society (i.e., me and you). Several of our subscribers have told us how much they look forward to reading it every Friday, so we’re converting Deeper into a full-fledged publication. Stay tuned!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Fun fact: I majored in political science when I was in university. However, in my second year I was jaded and disillusioned with the subject I was studying and decided I wanted nothing to do with it in my career.
The one thing I did enjoy about the process was writing essays (I know, right?). I discovered I had a knack for words, and started taking on freelance work while studying. Long story short, I found that the tech industry was rife with opportunities for a budding content marketing professional, and taught myself the ropes by taking on projects with multiple up-and-coming startups.
Eventually, I found myself writing about those very startups as a journalist, and then editor, at Tech in Asia, which was - and still is - one of the leading tech publications in Southeast Asia. I learned a ton about the tech industry during this period and went on to lead content marketing at a few startups, honing and sharpening my skills along the way.
Over the years, it became apparent to me that content marketing was still a relatively new - and widely misunderstood - concept that few in our part of the world had a deep knowledge of. Most company blogs were either dumping grounds for press releases or housed low-quality, me-too articles.
So I decided to start my agency to raise the bar for content marketing in Singapore and Southeast Asia.
Inspired by the many startups I had worked with and written about, I had always wanted to start my own business, and the situation at the company I was working for didn’t look great, so I took the opportunity to leap.
At that point, I was fortunate to already have several requests from companies looking to ramp up on content marketing, so With Content was profitable from the get-go. Demand picked up very quickly from there as word spread, and we hired our first full-time content strategist within the first six months.
Today, we’re a fully distributed team of seven (with a small circle of dedicated freelancers) spread out across Southeast Asia.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Initially, I hypothesized that tech companies needed the equivalent of an experienced full-time content marketer at a reasonable price point. So we offered end-to-end content marketing services to our first few clients - from audit to analysis - at a fixed monthly rate.
We also focused on serving startups as I was closely connected to many of them, and was passionate about helping them become successful.
However, the reality was that startups simply did not have enough budget to afford the full package - even at a rate far cheaper than hiring a junior marketer. Several of the services were already covered by senior marketers they had in their team.
Through these early conversations, we sharpened our focus and narrowed our services offered to the following:
- Content strategy planning (including competitor analysis, keyword research, and topic ideation)
- Editorial content production (blog articles, pillar articles, and case studies)
- Visual content production (infographics, ebooks, whitepapers, and reports)
We also changed our pricing system to be credits-based, which was a huge game-changer. Clients could now purchase credits from us, which could then be used for any of our content marketing services - bringing both flexibility and transparency into the picture.
Clients immediately saw the value of our new services, and some have continued to work with us even four years later. I’m extremely grateful to those early clients who put their faith in us and to have had the opportunity to repay it over and over in the years after.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I launched With Content in 2018 with three clients on retainer. Over the years, I had already developed a healthy stream of freelance work via my personal website on the side, which was ranking well for freelance-related keywords locally. So it was simply a matter of doubling down and getting the word out.
In our third month, we were commissioned to work on a big project with a well-known venture capitalist in the region. This included overhauling their entire website and crafting a coffee table book - amongst other things - within two months. I found myself in a position where we had to quickly increase our capacity and had to interview over 50 content writers and designers in two weeks.
Despite the time crunch, I made sure to personally review the portfolios of every single writer and designer we wanted to work with and do a trial assignment with them, before increasing their workload. While that made it a very stressful two months, the upside was that we now had a solid team of freelancers with who we would continue working for many months - and years! - to come. Two of them ended up becoming full-time content strategists with us.
It was also around that time that we launched our new website. Naturally, we took a page from our playbook and went all-out on content marketing to get our website on the radar.
How we did that was to develop case studies of local companies who had found success with content marketing, which were few and far between. With interest in content as a core marketing strategy growing steadily, we believed these case studies would be popular amongst small and big companies alike.
And we were spot-on. Several of these articles went on to become our most-viewed pages of all time, such as our coverage of Klook, The Woke Salaryman, and Tech in Asia:
- How Klook’s Travel Blog Ranked for 80,000+ Keywords In A Crowded Niche
- How The Woke Salaryman Became an “Undeniable” Player in Personal Finance Content
- How Tech in Asia Reached $1M in Annual Recurring Revenue from Paid Content
More importantly, together with the other content marketing guides and pillar pages (more on those soon) we were publishing, they set a solid foundation of organic traffic that has lasted us till now - even after we took our foot off the pedal:
Today, our biggest source of clients continues to come from inbound channels.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Content marketing is a very niche space to be in. We found that relevant content-related keywords tend to have a very low search volume locally. So we had to get creative and expand our marketing efforts to the broader tech and blogging audience.
Transparency has also been a huge pull factor. Many of our clients have commented that they were surprised to see our rates clearly outlined on our website, which is rare amongst marketing agencies.
We did this in three ways. First, we created a series of pillar pages (again, taking a leaf from our playbook) with comprehensive overviews of industries in Singapore that were on the rise thanks to technology.
Next, we created yet another series of pillar pages focusing this time on the top blogs in Singapore, categorized by theme.
Finally, we launched our weekly newsletter, Deeper, to continually engage our audience and also demonstrate our expertise in tech writing.
These efforts helped us to widen the top of our marketing funnel, and increase the traffic to our website consistently over the years.
We also tried doing social media marketing last year. Apart from LinkedIn, we weren’t able to gain much traction on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, likely due to our focus on B2B.
Trust has been the most important factor in retaining our clients. Each of them is assigned a dedicated content strategist who will walk with them every step of the way - from keeping their content calendar updated to ensure that every deliverable that is submitted to them adheres closely to their standards.
Transparency has also been a huge pull factor. Many of our clients have commented that they were surprised to see our rates clearly outlined on our website, which is rare amongst marketing agencies. Several of our clients even decided to work with us based mainly on this factor!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Being a service business, we’ve managed to remain comfortably profitable (without any external investment) to date.
We did have a bit of a scare at the start of 2020. When the pandemic hit, half of our clients dropped off, and we had our worst-performing quarter ever. But we’re very, very thankful that business picked up even more towards the end of the year, and now we’re in a far better position than before.
Our monthly revenue for this year so far ranges from US$20,000 to US$40,000, and we’re on track to increasing our annual revenue by at least 35%, if not more. This gives us a decent profit margin to share with our team (yes, we offer profit sharing to all our team members!), which we’re grateful to be able to do during a period where so many people are unable to find gainful employment.
The next product we’re working on is an upgrade to our Deeper newsletter. We plan to launch a full-fledged publication by the end of 2021, to connect even more deeply with our audience. Being an ex-journalist, I’m extremely excited about this!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
From the beginning, I set out to start what I’ve termed “a calm content marketing agency”. This is an idea I borrowed from the founders of Basecamp, which posits that chaos should not be the natural state at work.
Growth for the sake of growth isn’t a good goal to have. And slow growth might be better growth in the long run.
Agency professionals will be the first to tell you that their working lives are far from calm. I wanted With Content to be the exception, as I believe that work should not consume your entire life. As such, many of our policies and processes have been designed, and grown over the years, with this key consideration in mind.
This is, for instance, reflected in our company benefits, which include working from anywhere, unlimited leave, and a work-life-learning allowance to help our employees do their best work wherever, whenever.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from this is that it’s okay to stay in the left lane. In Singapore, 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, motorists use the right lane to overtake others - or just go fast.
But any Singaporean driver can testify to the fact that the right lane tends to always be the most crowded.
When I was a tech journalist, I wrote constantly about startups raising amounts of funding that boggle the mind (and this amount has only increased with time). And even as I started With Content, I became friends with other agency owners who earned seven figures per year.
This weighed on me, especially when entering our second year of business. I felt the pressure to aspire to those same standards, even though it went against why I started the company in the first place.
It took a lot of reflection and discipline to keep my eyes focused on the prize. Growth for the sake of growth isn’t a good goal to have. And slow growth might be better growth in the long run.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Ahrefs has been invaluable to us, both internally and for our clients. From competitor analysis to pain point keyword research, it can do it all. We’ve tried all of the most popular keyword research tools in the market, and this one just stuck.
We’ve also really enjoyed using Twist as our main team communication tool. It has helped us immensely with controlling our consumption of work chats thanks to several key features it has, helping us to stay calm daily.
Finally, we use Airtable to keep track of our entire production schedule, monitor our finances, analyze our sales numbers - the list goes on. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that our company wouldn’t be able to run without it!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’m a voracious reader, so many books have influenced me over the years.
One of them is Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing in Business. It gave me the courage to stick to my guns and remain small in a time when all the companies around were all about scaling fast and going big. As another author puts it: prioritizing “a rich life over riches”.
Being a Christian, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work was instrumental in forming my core beliefs, values, and purpose when it comes to work and business.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Just do it.
With so much data and info accessible to us today, we tend to overthink a lot of our decisions, much less a huge one like starting a business.
I believe that you can learn something from everything that you do, regardless of whether it fails or succeeds. And those learnings are what helps you to grow as a person.
Also: growth should always have a purpose. Why do you want to earn a thousand dollars more this month? What would it go towards?
If you don’t have a purpose for it, then is that growth worth chasing? Always ask yourself this with every milestone you shoot for, and your life will be a lot better for it.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re always looking for talented writers and designers, particularly those with experience in creating for the technology and business industries.
In particular, we’re looking for an eagle-eyed Associate Editor to join our team right now!
If you’re interested, send me your portfolio at [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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