Some of my readers that have been following my blog for long time might have been expecting that around this time of the year I would post the “Best Articles of the Year” compilation (like I did in 2011 and 2012). Unfortunately, I will not. Instead, I am writing this official announcement for the closing of NGS Marketing.
I will start with the reasons and I will try to be as thorough as possible:
1. The business
My business has been growing well over the last two years. After I left OptiLocal, the first few months were difficult, but afterwards everything “skyrocketed”, I hired a few people to help me with the workload (full- or part-time), and in October I had 2 full-time and 3 part-time employees. Thus, one of the reasons is definitely not the lack of business or the lack of opportunities. However, there were two major problems that occurred, which I didn’t manage to predict:
- I had to start managing people (“human resources”, “management”), rather than do what I like (“SEO”)
- The majority of the work that was coming my way was of the kind that takes time, but the turnover is low (profit per actual working hour is very low)
My plan when I started my business was, like with many others in the industry, to offer lower rates in the beginning, and then gradually start increasing them when the leads volume increases. However, due to a possible reason I outline below, prospects of the kind that would be ready to spend considerable budgets on online marketing never started coming by. And while I haven’t had the opportunity to make a market research and discover why this has been so, I am positive it has something to do with me being located at the other side of the world. In fact, on average I have been missing 15 phone calls from potential clients per week, and have very rarely been able to schedule calls in proper times with clients that “just need to be closed”. This all due to the fact that the time difference between me and my “main market” (note: not by design) was 12 to 16 hours (depending on the time zone and the season - there is no daylight saving in Malaysia). This marked major problem #1.
My plan certainly included hiring people to help me with different tasks, but I had encountered problems with this aspect, too. SEO, in general, is not popular in Malaysia. In fact, online marketing as a whole is not popular, and is mostly associated with “spam”, “cheating Google”, “tricking Google” (most frequently used phrases when I mention I do SEO). After all, I live east of India, and west of The Philippines.
Thus, I had major problem finding people that would have any experience or knowledge related to SEO. I spent a few hundred dollars and as many hours in the search for suitable candidates, but in the end the options were scarce at best. It is not to be forgotten that besides the talent-finding problem, there were also lingual and cultural barriers. I live in Johor Bahru, the second largest city in Malaysia, but it has (un)fortunate geographical closeness with Singapore, and the majority of talent moves there, or in Kuala Lumpur, as a second option. Therefore, I didn’t have the chance to find someone who could take over the “executive” position for one of my two main “branches” of responsibilities - managing the business, or doing SEO. This marked major problem #2.
2. Personal satisfaction
While I planned that at some point in the future I had to hire people to help me with the workload, I didn’t want to become “manager”. I wanted to do as much hands-on work as possible and leave the management to someone else. Above, I already mentioned that the lack of talent (not just in SEO, but in almost every niche) restricted me from being able to hire a person that could take over this responsibility. Thus, gradually I started doing less hands-on work, and more distribution of tasks. And here came major problem #3 - dissatisfaction. I was trying to handle both management and as much hands-on work as possible on my own, which in times led to poor results.
I started realizing that my business was unsustainable. Everything depended largely on myself and if I was missing even for one day, the operations of my business would drastically slow down, or completely stop. This was largely my fault, because I like to be aware of everything and I like to distribute tasks based on my everyday observations on each member of my team. I do not like to rely on others, and it is hard for a person to earn my complete trust. I underestimated this flow in my character, and the results were devastating. In late September I got very sick and was unable to do any work for more than a week. At that time, everything related to my business was “frozen”. When I returned to work, I had about 40 overdue tasks ranging from undelivered reports to not-even-started work, more than 500 emails, and employees that were unable to help me, because I was generally handling all this by myself. Problem #4 - unsustainability of my business model.
4. Crime, economic, political and social problems in Malaysia
On the surface of it, living in Malaysia is great - equatorial climate, good food, ethnocutural diversity, relatively good development (overall wealth of the nation), average cost of living. You could hardly ask for more than this, could you? However, when you dive below the surface, you could discover the following deep problems:
- Crime - Malaysia currently ranks 9th in the “Crime Index by Country 2013” research by Numbeo (note - the index is based on people’s perception, not on official statistics). Johor Bahru (the city I live in) ranks 4th in the same research in the “by City” research. According to locals, crime rates have been increasing significantly in the past few years, which is partly, or fully, a consequence of the other problems I enlist below. My sister-in-law’s bag was snatched from her in front of my mother-in-law’s house when she was already within the auto-gate, i.e. she was inside the fenced yard. That was the day before my wedding, and while the whole family was gathered in my mother-in-law’s house. Snatch thieves are everywhere and as almost none of them is ever detected, they become bolder and more violent. Cases of babies/toddlers kidnapping appear in media weekly. Large problem #5.
- Economy and politics - Malaysia’s economy is in a downturn. Reasons are many, but the main one appears to be poor management of country’s abundant resources by the government. The ruling coalition (UMNO) has been in power for the past 55 years (ever since Malaysia’s Independence) and they have never lost a parliamentary election (Malaysia is a parliamentary non-hereditary monarchy). However, in order not to lose the ones in 2013, they allegedly imported large number of foreigners (mainly from Bangladesh), and there were rumors of them falsifying the results in some districts in order to gain more places in the current parliament. Let’s consider this problem #6.
- Society - Malaysia is a multi-cultural country, with the majority of the population being Malay, predominantly Muslim, hence the official religion in the country is Islam. About 25% of the population is of Chinese ethnicity, spread unevenly, and Chinese are usually the de facto majority in the main cities. About 10% are Indian, and the rest are different local ethnic groups from Northern Borneo. As the “M” in the ruling party’s name means “Malays”, it could be predicted that they would mostly be defending the rights of the Malay majority. A famous term used to describe this racial bias (which is generally not supported by the constitution of the country, but is evident in many controversial laws and government practices) is “Affirmative action“. This affirmative action constitutes of (but not limited to) the following (entirely based on my personal observations):
a) The enormous majority of government workers and police officers is of Malay origin, or is Muslim, so-called “Bumiputera” (because according to the Malaysian Constitution one is a Bumiputera “if one of the parents is Muslim Malay/Orang Asli as stated in Article 160 (2) Federal Constitution of Malaysia; thus the child is considered as a Bumiputra”; thus, many Indian Muslims also manage to obtain Bumiputera status), leading to any kind of problems you could imagine it could lead to.
b) Bumiputera are given privileges when it comes to buying properties - special discounted rates, lots are reserved for them for particular period of time (these lots are usually the best ones in a condominium or in a housing area).
c) Bumiputera are given privileges when it comes to applying for public university admission. I am not entirely sure how the system works, but I have heard stories of Chinese or Indian not being admitted to public universities with 30+% higher overall scores than their (mainly) Malay counterparts that have been provided admission. Again, this leads to all sorts of problems you could think of, the most scary of which is the fact that very frequently nurses in hospitals might have been admitted with a 50% score in their high school diploma. Additionally, the majority of the scholarships are Bumiputera-only.
d) In order to apply for particular government project (think anything from infrastructural development to website development), a company needs to be Bumiputera-owner.
Read more about Bumiputera here, and take this as #7.
5. Why Not Bulgaria?
Some that know I am from Bulgaria might ask this, and the answer is relatively simple - because there, the situation is worse. Bulgarian socioeconomic problems are much deeper than the ones in Malaysia, and while in Malaysia it is mostly about racial issues (Hi, 21st century!), in Bulgaria it is about unresolved mentality-related problems left mostly from the 45-year Communist spell-into-oblivion. And these problems run from the prime minister (Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic) down to the executive mail-boy. In this sense, I would say the chances of Malaysia getting up and going back to the right way are higher than those of Bulgaria. Yes, Bulgaria is part of the European Union, but in many key economic areas it is tightly knotted in the cold and unloving hug of Mother Russia.
What I Chose and Why I Chose It
About three months ago, I made up my mind. We had discussed a number of times moving away with my wife, but at that point (immediately after my severe health issues) I was sure the move should be done as soon as possible. We needed to determine a proper action plan. Obviously, the best would have been if I have found a job that would have fit my exact desires and to do what I am (hopefully) good at - local SEO. We decided that our main targets would be Canada, Australia, and New Zealand - because of the high living standard, low language barrier, and the fact that SEO in general is not that popular in other areas of the world. You might have already noticed the notable omission of the US and the UK. We just believed these two were not exactly what we were looking for.
At that time, I was hoping that I would be able to find some job, related to SEO (not necessarily local). The opportunities were probably better to try as an in-house SEO for some major company, rather than look for a marketing agency employment. The bigger the company, the higher the chances they would be willing to go through the hassle of hiring a foreigner. Thus, without even having the vaguest hope that I would be finding a job related to *local* search, I dropped a fast email to Darren Shaw explaining him that I am looking for opportunities, as he was one of my longest “local search” buddies, and I knew he has contacts with a lot of people that are frequently on the look for a lot of things. We set up a call to discuss about it and he offered me to join Whitespark and move to Canada. Such an offer was a no-brainer for me as this was practically what I had been secretly hoping for:
- Job, very similar to/same as the one I have been working and loving
- Living in a peaceful, ordered, safe, and unfathomable country full of picturesque sights (eh!)
- Working together with someone I know and trust, and I know is reliable
In fact, I could hardly think of a place I would like to work at more than at Whitespark.
So here we are in the beginning of January and my first day as a Whitesparker! (I will have to consult with Darren if “Whitesparker” is the correct expression). You could read more about the move in the official announcement.
As Whitespark offer very similar services to the ones I have been offering, I recommend to all the people that have been considering working with me to go on and contact Whitespark. The following contact options are available:
US Phone: (855) 406-6050
Canada Phone: (877) 336-3505
Ngsmarketing.com will stay online for the time being and everyone would be able to access my Citation Building Guide through it, as well as all the articles. However, from now on I will be posting on the Whitespark Blog, so I encourage all the subscribers to NGSMarketing’s blog to jump over.