I’ve been on earth for 32 years.
Here are the 22 lessons around business, marketing, and career that are on my mind this year.
1 – Everybody is biased.
Life as you know it is unique to you. How you perceive ‘life’ is based on your perception, bias and mostly the story you tell yourself. Don’t expect people to think and act the same as you. This is a huge lesson in marketing and business as well.
2 – Write to think.
Writing (like writing a blog) is putting down thoughts. When stuck with a marketing strategy or business problem – write. You’ll find that things usually become clearer once you write them down.
When creating marketing strategies, things become clearer when you write down goals, tasks, and projections. When learning something, you absorb better, if you write down notes.
3 – If you’re in business, get it in a black and white.
I had a major setback this year to learn this.
Two individuals excitedly get together to embark on a business. A few years later, things change and they part. You partner up with someone to become the face of your company. Few years later, they decided not to do it anymore for some reason. You get into a whole lot of mess.
If it’s a business, get a contract signed. Protect yourself.
4 – Focus.
A big part of getting anything done is focus. I’ve started lots of projects and yet did not manage to follow all the way through.
But what if you want to do many things? A really smart way I’ve learned recently is to create synergies between your projects. For example, you own a gym and at the same time, you have an E-commerce store selling vitamins and protein powder. One business fuels the other.
5 – You can’t do everything yourself.
Most entrepreneurs start something as a result of knowing how to do something. For example, an accountant starts an accounting firm because he knows how to do accounting for business. But along the way, if your goal is to build a business, you have to remove yourself from the business.
This is actually hard to do in real life. Most entrepreneurs I know (myself included) love being in the business. That’s why we started the business in the first place. It’s our passion!
But realize this. Great businesses don’t do everything themselves.
Case in example: Apple.
- Sony builds their cameras.
- Samsung builds their OLED screens.
- TSMC creates their processors.
To create a sustainable business, you need to become a master delegator and build an assembly line. Read the 48 laws of power.
6 – Don’t fear AI.
At the time of writing this, ChatGPT is hot. People whose careers depend on writing, teaching, and content are obviously against the technology.
But with new technology, comes new opportunities. Sure it might change how things are, but we shouldn’t be afraid of change. The world is changing fast, and the rate of change is increasing.
And no, ChatGPT did not write this blog. Every single word came from me.
7 – Define what success means to you.
Does success mean having lots of money in the bank? Or does it mean being able to bring value to people around you?
Money is important. But pick your north star of what drives you. I choose to work on providing value, and money be the by-product of that.
8 – Build a community.
In the future, all businesses, movements, or causes, will have a community behind them. The ironic thing is if you have a great product, you can’t stop a community from forming even if you tried. But if your product sucks, you won’t be able to form a community no matter how hard you try.
Join my community of marketers and entrepreneurs helping each other grow on Facebook.
9 – Never burn bridges.
In business, there will be disagreements and deals that go sour. But no matter what you do, do your best to never to burn bridges. The world is small. You’ll find yourself circling back to the very people you burned bridges with faster than you think.
10 – The money is ‘not in the list’.
You probably heard this from marketing gurus trying to sell you courses. Unfortunately, the money is not the list of emails or contacts you have. I have worked with businesses with huge audience lists. (They probably bought some of their list somewhere too). But the list don’t convert.
11 – Technology changes, people don’t.
Your potential customers makes decisions based on their pain, fears, hopes, and dreams.
Social media platforms change. New post formats, new trends, death of X or Y platform, etc. But humans have never changed. In marketing, master human behavior and desires, compared to learning technical tactics. When you understand human behaviour, you’ll be ‘platform proof’.
12 – ‘Sale funnel 101’: Build a transactional relationship.
Many marketers swear by building a sales funnel. But the reason why sales funnels work, is not because of the technology. It’s because sales funnels help businesses build a ‘transactional’ relationship with their customers.
Sales funnels work this way:
Introduce a prospect (usually through ads) to your product by selling a low-ticket core offer. A core offer is usually in the range of $10 – $50. Why? It’s a price point where people don’t spend 10 minutes considering their purchase decision. So conversion is higher. Once a prospect turns into a customer through buying your core offer, introduce them to more problem-solving offers, effectively ‘upselling’ them. That’s where you make your real money.
13 – The solution is not ‘more content’.
During a panelist session in a recent marketing conference I ran, I asked the panelists what they thought marketing will look like in 2023. Three of them agreed on ‘content’.
But creating more content is not the answer. Today, all of us carry a high-quality content production machine in our pockets – the smartphone. This also creates a problem. Because the barrier to creating content has reduced so much, there is now an unprecedented level of competition for content creators in the market.
The content you can find on YouTube or TikTok is absolutely amazing. And it’s, free.
I’m not against creating content. In fact, I think all businesses should create some kind of content. But never rely on constant content production to sustain your business. Don’t forget that content production takes up energy, time, and resources in your business. It’s a different game right now.
Content should supplement your business. But it shouldn’t be the thing you compete on.
14 – ‘Profitability at all costs’ over ‘Growth at all costs’
You probably know a startup, who was so focused on growth – getting more customers, getting more users, but is not profitable.
What’s a business for? Well, it solves a problem in exchange for profit, right?
If you’ve been holding back on profiting in your business, for the sake of ‘growth’, realize this: You’re most probably procrastinating, and finding an excuse to avoid the possibility of failure. After all, if you never launch your business or ask people for money, you will never fail.
I learned this reading the Minimalistic Entrepreneur (one of my best reads this year) by Sahil Lavingia, the founder of Gumroad. If you need help getting started, take up Freelance Profit, a program that will help you get clients – fast.
15 – Build stuff in public.
I tested the concept of building in public with Underdog Marketing Conference, where I revealed my revenue for the conference.
It was scary to share things in public, but doing it actually benefitted me. First, because now people see my progress – it kept me accountable. I had to deliver on my promises. Second, it took our audience on a journey with us. We formed more meaningful relationships with our audience and they also vouched for us to succeed.
16 – Mobile-first.
You’ve probably heard the advice of building websites with mobile users in mind. There are more mobile users compared to desktop users on the internet today. You’re probably reading this on a mobile phone as well.
But I implore you to think and observe deeper as a marketer.
Do you tend to spend more than RM200 on a mobile phone? Or do you switch to a desktop, where you have more control? I don’t know about you, but I usually jump on a desktop computer to make purchases bigger than RM200.
So, if you’re advertising a product that’s over RM200+, hoping to get people to buy straightaway – know that your prospects probably won’t convert immediately. Here’s where the concept of sales funnels come in again. See point #12.
17 – It’s not the algorithms. It’s your offer.
Nobody actually knows how the FB algorithm or TikTok algorithm works. I’m sure the engineers at Facebook have signed some iron-clad NDAs to never reveal how their algorithms work. So, everyone is making their best guess. If you come across a marketer or agency who claims they know how the algorithms work, they’re lying.
Rather than focusing on beating algorithms, which change really fast – focus on creating an offer that your audience wants. Advertising platform algorithms actually work in favor of advertisers. The more success you find on their platforms, the more you’ll spend.
18 – Give them what they want, then give them what they need.
Everyone needs to exercise. But if you market that as a gym business, you’ll go out of business soon.
If you understand human behavior, in the fitness context – people want shortcuts and certainty. That’s why they respond better to ads that claim to help them lose X amount of weight in X amount of days.
I’m not asking you to lie to your customers. But know the importance of first giving (or selling) people what they want, and then giving them what they actually need.
19 – New is better than better.
People are attracted to what’s new in the market, not what’s better.
When launching a new product, don’t focus on how your product is better than your competitors, but rather on what category your product is a first in.
Shavers are not exactly new products. But then came along Dollar Shave Club, who marketed and sold their shavers as a membership plan – a first in its category. Eventually, they got bought over by Unilever for $1 billion. Things would be very different if they were to go to market how their shavers are better than Gillette.
20 – Zig-zagging. (Do the opposite)
If you want to be disruptive, do the opposite of what your competitors are doing. Every market has a standard way of doing things. A disruptive idea challenges the norm of doing things.
The bedding industry used to sell mattresses outright. You try a mattress in a store, and then decide to buy it if you like it. I’m not sure which company started it, but mattress company, Sonno in Malaysia – started offering 100 free night trials for their mattresses. That became successful, and today they even have a physical store in KL.
Today, every new mattress company entering the market is offering 100-night free trials. Zig-zagging is an effective strategy to finding disruptive ideas or marketing strategies.
21 – The thing people say they want, is usually different from what they REALLY want.
When doing customer research, you’ll often find that the thing people say they want is very different from what they really want. For example, some people think they want to send their kids to music classes. But all they really want is an hour of free time from the kids. It’s weird, but it’s true.
I would use the ‘magic wand’ script to uncover what they really want.
If you had a magic wand, and have X work exactly like what you wanted, what would that look like?
As you do customer research, probe deeper into your prospects to find out the exact pain, fear, hopes and dreams.
22 – Knowledge is useless without application.
If you read till this point, you either skimped through the points or took your time to read everything. First, I want to thank you for reading my notes. You may also disagree with some of them, and that’s OK.
Just remember that knowledge is useless without application. Most of us don’t need to read another book, another article or to take another course. We need to apply what we know and take more action.
Bonus point #23 – Stress is caused by inaction.
This one came into my mind as I’m concluding this post.
Stress is not caused by burnout. Stress happens because of inaction. When you have problems/tasks that you have control over on, but choose to procrastinate, that’s when stress builds up.
I found that if I worked on a problem, even if it’s not entirely solved; maybe I initiate a difficult conversation or send a dreaded email – the stress becomes less.
You’re stressed because you’re doing nothing. Not because you have too much to do.
Happy new year.