Alwi Suleiman is the founder of contentmarketing.com. He specializes in content marketing for small businesses and has helped many small businesses become relevant to their audiences since 2009.
Tools / Books / Resources mentioned:Tools: Google Analytics, SEMRush
01:00 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Differentiation is key especially in competitive industries.
Alwi introduces his company ContentMarketKing.Com and how it differentiates from other content agencies by making sure that his clients are relevant for their audiences.
06:05 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Getting the first customer is key. Try unique ways to snag that initial one.
Alwi explains how he got his first customers in a unique way when he started his business. Alwi searched through job boards for available jobs and applied for a few. When the first company rejected him, he proposed to them that he could work as a freelancer. And the company accepted the proposal as they were growing very fast.
11:14 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Keep chasing your dreams. They will come true.
Alwi goes over his very unique background. Born in Mombasa, Kenya, Alwi worked as a cement mixer when he was 15, got that job full time at 21, bought a second hand car, bought a mud house and rented for extra cash. After a brief stopover in Dubai, Alwi ended up in Netherlands, went to college, and got a job to get started again.
16:10 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Extend your reach by networking.
Alwi talks about how he runs a global company by networking with other freelancers across the globe. He also gives a glimpse of some tools he uses. Google Analytics and SEMRush. But more importantly Alwi teaches his clients how to be smart about the content and its objective.
21:22 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Pricing is an art. Keep iterating to find the right price for your business.
Alwi explains how he prices his services. He starts by comparing to competition. Based on the additional value he is delivering, Alwi prices his services 10 to 15% higher and makes sure that exceptional value is delivered.
24:52 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Start your business by doing adequate research.Alwi gives 3 pieces of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. 1. Do your research. 2. Make sure that your vision and mission are aligned to your operations. 3. Learn operations like bookkeeping.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Agile Entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and building your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance, and possibilities. Today we have a guest who has traveled across the continent currently based in Netherlands, Alwi Suleiman. Alwi is the founder and CEO of content market king. Content market king is a company that focuses on content and content marketing and helps small businesses. So Alwi has been running this company for the last 10 years. Hey, Alwi welcome.
Alwi: Hi everybody. I'm really happy to be here. Really honored.
Ramesh: Hey, Alwi in your own words? Can you explain what your business is about?
Ramesh: My business is about helping small businesses become relevant to their target audience. The thing that I have noticed for the past years is a lot of content is being created by these businesses that is not being seen by the target audience. So it becomes a problem, because it's a safe that do not exist. And some of them have some really good products and services. But if a target audience doesn't see you, well, you become basically irrelevant to them. And what we do is make sure that this companies as they create a proper content that resonates with their target audience. And the second part of it is that content becomes visible so it can help their clients and customers and that they can show that they have value, that the customer thinks you know what it's worth paying this company for what they're doing.
Ramesh: Oh, excellent. So Alwi how did you get into the content marketing? So what inspiration, motivation or experience or what did you have that made you think that I should start a content marketing company?
Ramesh: Well, it all started with me coming to the Netherlands put myself through college and the Netherlands. And back then, actually when you were in college, there was no such thing as a digital marketing degree. It was just marketing. But when I started working, I worked for [02:57 inaudible] importer here in the Netherlands and they were getting smashed by really big companies. So as the marketer, then I researched how we could you know, create a level playing field. And I discovered that online was quite cheap back then and it went through a straight through to our target audience. So I started teaching myself, search engine optimization and a Google analytics. And actually I became a digital marketer for a while. So that's what makes me also quite strong because I have a SEO background and an analytical background. So I know what works in content and what doesn't work. So then I realized that everything I do has to do with content, whether it's search engine optimization or whether it's paid advertisement, all of it has to do with the copy, if the copy isn't good. It will be seen, and it will be ignored. So I started delving deeper into content marketing and I realized that I was quite good at it. So much so that when working with other companies and later on I set a seeing that I exceeded the expectations time and time again, like for example getting 16,000 subscribers for [04:36 inaudible] within a seven to eight months without paid ads purely on content marketing, purely on the content itself. So I realized, you know, what if I can do this, why do this just for my boss, you know, I want to do, I want to use my superpowers for good. You know, I want to do it for more companies, but I can only do that if I stop working for my boss and start working for myself. And one would ask why small businesses? Well basically, it's because I love small businesses because most of the business, I work with family owned and people are close knit together. So you feel like you're working for human beings, you know, you're connecting with human beings, unlike with the large corporations where everybody is a basically like a piece of the puzzle. I don't know, like a robot working effect more or less, that kind of feeling I get when I enter a really huge company. So I really loved that. I really loved the human aspect of small businesses.
Ramesh: So, that's interesting. So you worked for somebody and then you really realized your strengths and you said, okay, I want to go ahead and start my own. So when you switched them, so how did you get your first customers?
Ramesh: Basically my first customers I got them through, you know, networking. But the very, very, very first customer was actually through a job listing. And what I did is I looked at the jobs and I researched the company and realized that you know, this company's a good fit. You know so I basically applied for the job and I did, when I applied, I actually kept an option open, you know, for you know for a freelancer. And funny enough, you know with my first client, I got rejected for the job. So I sent back an email and I said, hey, because they said, you know, we really like your resume and everything, but you know, we had another candidate who lives close by here in Great Britain and you are in the Netherlands and so on. So I said, okay, you know, I sent back an email and said, hey, listen you know, you guys have got really good potential and we are a really good fit and I think we could work together. So, you know in case you have some extra hours, or you need a helping hand, you can also find me ready to work for you as a freelancer. And low and behold, after a few weeks or so, the guys call me and they say, you know, we really need your help because things are getting overwhelming here. And that's how I got my first client.
Ramesh: Alwi, I really found that very, very interesting is when they started exchanging emails with you. So what attracted me is that you had a very unique way of getting your first customer. So you basically use the job listings and then when you are rejected for the job, then you said, hey, let me do freelancer. I think that's a very unique way. And then that could help out many other people as well, right. If they're starting on their business, especially as a side hustle or something you know, go through the job listings and then apply and say, hey, I can be a freelancer. That's very good.
Ramesh: Yeah. Yeah. And I think if you're starting a business, you should put yourself out there. You shouldn't be scared. You shouldn't be shy, and you should think out of the box. And what you really need to do is, you know, say, hey I’ve got nothing to lose here. If it works out, you know, then that's a customer. That's not only money coming in, but that's me building my reputation, you know, so just do it, you know, don't be afraid and don't worry about rejection. You know, rejection is a good thing. Because then you learn from it. If you are totally rejected, even say, you know, we don't want a freelancer you know, just learn from that. Simply ask them, you know, what do you think could have improved my application or what could have improved my you know, proposal for being a freelancer working for you. So, you know, you just have to be yourself and have to be brave and just do it. And if it's gone, if you miss out on one chance. There are a million other chances.
Ramesh: Excellent. Excellent advice. So Alwi so now you got your first customer. How long did it take for you to build a customer pipeline and then feel comfortable about your business?
Alwi: Well, basically I believe that you shouldn't, you should never feel, how would I put it? I mean, yeah, you can feel comfortable, but you should never have complacency and think, you know, now I’ve done it. Now I’ve made it. You've never made it. You've seen those YouTube videos, right? Where the guy is running a hundred meters and he thinks he wins, and he starts celebrating and he gets overtaken by the second place guy. So you should, you should never feel like, you know, I’ve reached where I wanted to reach. You should always work harder to build your business. And that doesn't mean that you should neglect your family and you know go crazy, but always remember what got you there and what got you there was hard work. So for me, basically I feel like I do have stability, but if I stop running, you know, it's like a treadmill. If I stop running, I might fall down, so I'm always on my toes.
Ramesh: Okay. So let's talk a little bit about Alwi you as a person and your journey. Right? So I think based on your story that I know you started somewhere else and you landed in Netherlands. Can you talk about your journey?
Ramesh: Well, it's kind of a crazy one. Because I was born in Mombasa and by the age of 15, I got my first job as a cement mixer. Now that was as men was cement mixing. So it's not like with the cement mixer machine and at 15 I was doing that just to survive so I can put food on the table for my siblings and my mom, you know it wasn't to by j Jordan's or new the PlayStation. So, but it was a satisfactory feeling. I really felt satisfied when I'm learning that money and you know, we live there like in a very macho world in Kenya, so then you really start feeling like a man. So it was a good feeling. And by the age of 21 actually I had, I had gotten a job, a full-time job with zero off days, so working all the way from Monday to Sunday. So the money was good, and I was able to, you know, to buy a second hand car. I remember it was a Toyota and a four-bedroom mud house, you know, and I rented that out for extra cash. So that was my first encounter with the being an entrepreneur, you know. And a few years later, four, five years later, I left and the first I went to Dubai. Because we have some relatives there. But I didn't like the culture, you know it's not progressive for me. Then I came here in the Netherlands, so as I said, put myself through college and once I finished, I started working. But again, it was okay, but you know, again, I started feeling like I wanted to do more. You know, I didn't want my talents to be wasted on a just making another guy reach basically my boss you know? And I am not talking about me becoming rich, but being able to help several companies, you know, come in front of the target audience and be relevant to them. Relevance is very important. That's why copy, and content is very, very, very important.
Ramesh: Very good. So Alwi now you're focusing on content. So can you talk a little bit about your business operations? How many customers you work at you know same time? And then do you have more employees? Just a little bit, talk about your operations.
Alwi: So basically I work with other freelancers. We help each other out basically graphic designers and some copywriters and some SEO and they're spread out from different parts of the world, you know, but I am the face of the company and I'm the one who gets the clients and the account. And I usually, I have one client who's semi permanent, so it's long time, you know, so I know I have like two or three years with them, but then we have smaller clients who are there for like six months, four, depending on the project, depending on what they want, you know? And it's quite good really, because when you get to work with people from different parts of the world, like the Peruvian who does graphic design, you know, he is excellent, and you get to work with somebody from Peru. I mean, that's just, you know amazing. It's amazing. And I want to keep it like this. I want to work with freelances for the long haul you know. Because at least here in the Netherlands and in Europe, in fact, what's happening, a lot of companies doing the 50-50. So they have a marketing team of maybe 12 people, and six freelancers who they work with. So actually this market, freelance market is growing in Europe. So I think we're headed in the right direction with that.
Ramesh: Excellent Alwi. So now a little bit digging more into running the company what kinds of tools do you use in your operations? Can you talk a little bit? If I'm an entrepreneur, I want to know how you run your business, what tools help you?
Alwi: There are a lot of tools that help. Because we are a content marketing company. We want to show people, we want to show our customers that what we are doing is working, you know, and this is where I'm in conflict with many digital marketing agencies. They just show, you know, they just show the clients I call them vanity metrics, because they show them something out of Google analytics and they're like, look your posts had 20 shares and 10 likes and your website has 200 visitors, you know? Okay, what can I do with that? There's basically nothing you can do with that except, put a smile in your face and be happy about it, I guess. So what we do, we work with the tools like SEMrush and mentioned and several others, you know, depending on what we are doing for the client, whether it's social media or whether it's blogging, it all depends.
But basically the tools that we work with actually show whether or not the content is working. And if your content is about lead generation that you are not going to look at shares. But the problem is that many digital marketing agencies, do not really sit down and talk about what really works. And what happens is that they show them reports and demand money for bigger campaigns which lead to more vanity metrics. Now I'm really passionate about it. That's why I keep going on about it, because I really think people should be, should be honest and sincere to their clients. And like me, you know I'm ready to lose a lot of money, but be sincere. Because otherwise I can't sleep at night, You know? And I think the industry is sometimes, at least here where I'm at in the Netherlands, the industry can be a bit corrupt where, especially with small businesses and that's not fair, especially with small business. Because sometimes you have people in there who do not know much you know about content marketing. I've worked with companies who had maybe three owners and no employees or maybe a total of 10 employees, you know. So basically I use tools to make sure that I can, you know, I can show them, hey, this is working and this is not working. And basically the other thing I use, maybe this is not a tool, but it is part of what I do is, you know I teach them fishing Ramesh.
Ramesh: Oh, okay. So basically you're not just doing the work for them, but you are training them. You're teaching them to do the work for themselves going forward.
Alwi: Exactly. I teach them to fish, you know the saying, right. If you give a man fish, he'll eat for one day, and if you teach them how to fish, they will eat for a lifetime, right? So I teach them content marketing and that is part of the package because, you know one might say, okay but that will make you redundant. You know, I don't mind the risk. What is important for me is that they understand what I'm talking about you know. I want to be able to talk with them at the highest level possible when it comes to content marketing. And I think that's only fair.
Ramesh: No, I understand that. So Alwi let me talk a little bit about the pricing aspect of it. So many entrepreneurs struggle with how to price the products. So where did you start about the pricing and how did you evolve in a sense you priced your products low and you realize that you're delivering more value and as a result you increase the prices. Can you talk a little bit about the pricing of your services?
Alwi: The pricing of my services is based on how the clients see the value , look in the mirror and be sincere and truthful. What value are you giving the customers or the clients? And based on that of course you're going do research and see what people are charging for your services. But most importantly, do not ever make yourself a cheap prices of cheap so that you can get clients, and then later on, at least that's my feeling.
Ramesh: Let me ask you, so how do you know whether you're pricing is cheap, I mean, do you compare with respect to competition? How do you know whether your pricing is cheaper? Or Expensive?
Alwi: Okay. So you look at the industry, right? And let's say its 80 euros or $80 per hour, right? That is average right? And then you look at the people who are offering that services, right? Most of them let's say are, have experience around four to five years. A lot of younger people have come into content marketing now, so they're basically around their four to five years. Right? Even if you search in LinkedIn content marketers who are in house, you will see they have a experience around that time. Then you look at yourself. If I look at myself over 10 years of content marketing and digital marketing as a whole, you know and the results that I have given the clients, that's where, I must be above average. So then you look at the bigger guys who are in the industry, who have been in the industry for like 10 years, how much they are charging. And you basically want to be, you basically want to be just maybe I don't know, 15%, 10% below them, you know? And that's why you put yourself. So that's my personal way of looking at things.
Ramesh: Okay. So actually that gives us I think, a lot of insight into how you do it. So last two questions Alwi. So one is, how do you market your services? How do you keep building your customer pipeline?
Alwi: Well, the interesting thing again is that I use content marketing itself. You know, I do not use a paid advertisement or anything of that. I just, I just look at where my target audience is. I look at, how my target audience speaks, and I create content for them that is worthy to them, that gives them value. You know, if I was, if basically I think this would be a good example. Basically if I was a plumber, I would give them information they need so that they do not need a plumber. You know then of cause that, you know, it's about time. Do they have time to fix the plumbing themselves? Do they have the confidence to fix the plumbing themselves? If not, they will hire me. So basically everything I know, everything I know about content marketing, I want to teach my target audience and because of that, because I'm completely sincere. It reflects back on my brand. And that's how I get, you know they say, you know what, this guy has something of value that is worth paying for, you know?
Ramesh: Yup. So I, I think that's a very good long-term strategy. I agree with that one. The last question Alwi anything that I have not covered so far that you want to share from your experience, from your background for people either who want to start businesses or people who are already started it. But they want to scale their business
Alwi: For people who want to start their businesses. Well, here's the thing. If you want to start a business, if you want to start your business, there are three things that that you have to do. If you are a one person starting as a freelance or just the two of you, number one is know what you're getting into, you know,. Research, research, and for heaven's sake, research your target market. You know, it's very important. Make sure there is demand for what you're offering. Don't just take your hobby and turn it into a business because it's something you like. I mean, if you are not worried about revenue, that's fine, but if you want to do it for a living, make sure that you do that. You research. And for those who are in the business already, I say, you know, every morning when you wake up, look in the mirror and just say, you know, just say this words you know, I'm doing this, you know, to bring value to my customers or to bring value to my clients and if what you are going to do that day in the office, it does not match with what you just said, then you need to go back to your vision and your mission and see how to get back on track. That's very important. Because a lot of us when we start out, you know, we really want to do something and then because we realize we need money and money's tight, we start forgetting that and start doing everything that everybody else does. You know, just for the sake of revenue. And the third one is, I think is not talked about a lot, but I think it's a really good strategy to learn bookkeeping and know and teach yourself about tax, you know. It's going to save you a lot of money and a lot of headache, you know. Because bookkeeping is quite simple, you know and of course you can hire a bookkeeper. But you need to know what's going on with the books you know. I've had a lot of acquaintances and even friends, who are running businesses and they have bookkeepers and sometimes you know they're late or something happens, you know just a mistake, a small mistake for a small mistake for your taxes, you could be almost destroyed here in the Netherlands. So I think it's good to know the basics of taxing and bookkeeping.
Ramesh: Hey, Alwi I'm glad you pointed out the bookkeeping aspect of it. It's very, very important to manage the cash flow and make sure you know, you're optimizing your taxes. Excellent. Alwi this has been a fantastic podcast. Thank you very much. You have a very interesting and fascinating journey. Good luck with your business.
Alwi: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me. It was a quite an honor and I hope that for those who are listening, that they, you know found something that could help them in their journey. And all I want to say, you know, if you want to start your business, you know, come on, just get out of the couch and you know don't watch that football match that's going to take 180 minutes. You know, it's not really going to help you know, with your life material wise or even less life satisfactory wise. So what you can do is work hard, walk your face off so that you know, you will be able to afford the front row seats for that game instead of your couch. It's hard work. It's sometimes it's lonely working nights away from your family, but it's really worth it. So get on it right now.
Ramesh: Thanks Alwi. Thank you very much. With those parting thoughts, we'll end the podcast. Thank you.
29:02Alwi: Okay, thank you, Ramesh.