Interview with Ronald Lye, Director at Wordplay.sg
Ronald is the Director of Wordplay Singapore, a Persuasive Marketing Service/Training provider that started out as a copywriting agency. He helps entrepreneurs and business owners increase their return on investment from their marketing.
How did you get into doing your copywriting agency? What made you get into it?
After graduating from university, I started working for about two years as a corporate employee. Needless to say, I hated my job and everything about it. At the time I felt pretty apprehensive about whether I could find a way out of this.
I spoke to a friend who was also in a similar predicament – Adeline, and decided to take the plunge into quitting my corporate job and starting my own copywriting agency – WordPlay. At that point of time, I didn’t really have a plan. I just knew I wanted to get away from the 9-5 life.
Fast forward many years later, running my own business has become more than just an escapist’s dream, but much more.
What would you say was your greatest difficulty getting into Wordplay? Did you have to make any sacrifices before succeeding?
I think one of my initial difficulties that really stumped me was that I was stuck with an ‘employee’s mindset’. Not that it’s a bad thing, but I had to subsequently un-learn the way I did things and re-learn new skills. All I knew at the time was how to write, but I knew nothing about business. I knew nothing about sales, revenue models, lead generation etc. I was clueless.
Unfortunately, as a business owner or freelancer of sorts at the time, you are your own HR, Business, Marketing and Admin person.
At my lowest point, I had about only $108 left in my bank account. I was living each day not knowing when I would run out of funds. I had only slices of bread for each of my meals. I was barely surviving and really started to think about whether it was the right decision to leave my job.
It was only at that point when I realised that I had to do something different or else I’d slowly bleed till zero. I decided to get off my high-horse and seek help from other more experienced entrepreneurs, listened to their advice, learned from them, and took action to apply their teachings to my business.
Slowly but surely, I turned things around. Those early days are a constant reminder of an important lesson: Never be too complacent, and keep on improving. When you’re just starting out, it will not only be challenging and scary to do your own thing. Admitting that you can’t do it all on your own can sometimes be a hurdle too.
How are you marketing your business/getting clients currently?
I’m using mainly Facebook ads to consistently drive leads, these ads lead prospects to landing pages that convert the traffic into appointments. I also invested in Search Engine Optimization as well, and I’m ranked number 1 or 2 for the main copywriting agency related keywords in Singapore.
One thing I learned from running own client generation campaigns and helping other business owners with theirs, is to let the experts do their thing if you have the budget to. There was once I tried doing my own Facebook ads. Took me forever to set it up, and results were bad. I’m totally not a techy person and wanted to save a bit of money. Bad mistake.
Lesson: Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Stick to your area of expertise, and hire others, be it vendors or employees, to fill in the other gaps.
However, if you’re just starting out and don’t have a budget to invest in expert help, here are some ways to move:
First is to tap into your warm market first; Go ask around your network of friends, families or acquaintances on whether they have business to recommend you. Make your first pool of cash from them, and re-invest a portion of it back into marketing to get new business.
Second is to get yourself a coach/mentor. Offer to work or learn from somebody who has been there done that, and who has gone down the path you want to go. It’s important to remember that pay/salary isn’t important at this stage. It’s all about learning and extracting the most info while adding value to your coach/mentor. This was how I started out and after I was able to drop my training wheels, things went swimmingly.
What would you say has been the greatest lesson so far since you started the business?
Marketing. Get it right. You can have the best product in the world. But without the right marketing, it’ll still lose out to inferior products with better marketing.
I’ve seen it so many times. Many of my clients, before engaging me, were playing catch up to their competitors, even though they have great products. That’s because their marketing was not great.
If you don’t have a lot of cash, try finding “free ways” to market your business. For example, if you have a Facebook personal profile with a good number of friends who fall under your target audience, start posting business-related posts. You might lose some people who think you’re selling. The key here is to add value, not ‘sell’ yourself.
Show them your values, your results, your methodologies etc. This will build your personal and company brand, slowly but surely. After you’ve nurtured your audience for around say two months, with regular posts, you’ll start to see a stream of “free customers” coming to you asking about your services.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that changed the way you run your business?
Passion can only take you so far. Profitability and proficiency are more important to a business.
Here’s what I mean: You see, Wordplay didn’t start as what it is today: a strategic copywriting agency. I started Wordplay as a creative writing agency. I did this because I felt this was what I knew, it was what I had learned in school, and my passion.
Unfortunately, creative-writing doesn’t sell well. The service was seen as a commodity and there were tons of other creative writers out there that were charging dirt-cheap rates. It was a brutal pricing game and I got burned pretty quickly.
I realised quickly that I needed a way to differentiate myself from them. What I did was to venture into persuasive copywriting/marketing (sales pitch in text) as my positioning strategy because of two reasons:
- Smaller businesses were willing pay good money for it, since good persuasive copy can generate a large return-on-investment for them. (Smaller businesses are way easier to work with too.)
- It was a less crowded space versus creative writing and it was a space I could stand out in with the right messaging.
What I then did next was to study the art and practice fervently until I got good at it. It was no easy feat because it felt extremely unnatural and foreign to me. Not at all what I was used to, I could write magazine articles but not sales pages.
After roughing it out for close to a year, I started getting tangible results for clients and I knew at that point that this was something that I was not only passionate about, but could turn a profit with.
So to sum it up, the best advice i was given is: Don’t just follow your passion, follow the profit. Next, get proficient at whatever your golden egg skill is. Once you see the result that you get for your clients (as well as the money), I guarantee you’ll find your coveted passion. If it still doesn’t work, learn to love what you do.
It’s a pipe-dream idea that you instantly live a richer life once you find your passion. Who’s going to pay your bills?
As the adage goes: “I’d much prefer to cry sitting in a Ferrari.”
If you had to offer a piece of advice to someone that had zero experience or connections getting into the business, what would you say?
In business, it’s all about three letters: ROI. Or to put it in context, spending money to make more money. Don’t make the mistake many new entrepreneurs make: biting off more than they can chew to save in the short-term.
Don’t scrimp and save. Instead, invest your money in the right resources that’ll grow your business further and faster. For example, when I started putting close to 5-figure sums into marketing campaigns, these efforts started to pay off handsomely in the first month!
Be ballsy. Take some risks (calculated ones). Go big, or go home. Don’t be content being small. Aim high, and take the steps needed to get there. Investors evaluate companies that invest in staff or assets that appreciate, not ones that are overly tight and cautious with cash.
Similarly, you need to be thinking of the big picture.
What have you started trying this year that has been working well for your business?
Earlier this year, I added lifetime coaching in business, marketing and copywriting to my services in our copywriting agency. Basically, I become your coach who helps you scale up your business fast, and create the right foundation to sustain and thrive in the long term.
I created this offer because, over the years, there were many business owners who wanted to engage my services but could not afford my rates at the copywriting agency.
Hence, I created a coaching offer, because I realised that many of them needed help, beyond just marketing. They needed direction. Someone to point them in the right way, a mentor to guide them all the way to success.
So I became a coach. It’s a lower-end offer which is a lot more affordable. As of June 2017, I have 14 students on board my coaching program, and I’m expecting great things from all of them!
My copywriting services are now handled by my capable team in our copywriting agency and I get to focus on helping owners make the right business decisions to grow their companies.
Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your business moving forward.
Online marketing has so much variety these days. I have lots of friends telling me about this new method or tool. Most of them fail to see any returns after investing in those fancy stuff though.
End of the day, business is all about fundamentals. They’ll never change. Technology and trends will for sure. At a rapid rate, no less.
However, it’s important to stay true to your fundamentals, and fit the right technology into your over-arching strategies. Rather than let the latest gadget dictate your plans. Those scenarios rarely end well.
Don’t get me wrong… tech, when you leverage in it the right way (e.g. integrating it into your overall marketing/business strategy), can be very effective. But if you’re just blindly following the trend without thinking “how can this actually benefit my business”, then you’re most likely wasting your money for a cheap thrill.
What is one book you would recommend that every new business owner or freelancer be reading?
If I do have to recommend one, I would go for John Carlton’s “Kickass Copywriting”. It’s the book I turn to for inspiration when I first started doing persuasive marketing. However, I would recommend you take massive action to learn from simple experiments.
So instead of books, let me recommend you my tactic. Let’s say you’re running a tuition centre. Go check out what your competitors are doing online. Their landing pages, websites, Facebook ads etc.
Analyze it this way: What are they doing right? Can you innovate and improve on those things, to make it even better? Also, what are they doing wrong? How can you ensure you avoid making the same mistakes? Obviously if you’re running a different kind of business (e.g. copywriting agency), look at different competitors.
What are 3-4 tools (digital or offline) that you feel everyone should know about?
An email auto-responder tool
Check out aweber/getresponse/mailchimp. It’ll help you auto-send emails to your prospects to nurture them before a sale.
Landing page creators
Check out instapage or clickfunnels. You can create functional and converting landing pages for marketing campaigns very quickly.
Check out Xero. It helps you to sort out your numbers such as profits/loss, expenses etc.
How can people connect with you?
Facebook (feel free to send a friend request): https://www.facebook.com/ronald.lye
Company website: www.wordplay.sg
This interview is part of our Expert Interview series where we endeavor to interview entrepreneurs or successful freelancers with interesting and useful stories/lessons on starting and running a business.