12 Lessons Material World Founders Have Learnt In The Last 3 Years

15 April marks Material World’s birthday and this year, we are THREE! Below, 12 lessons we have learnt over the years of starting and running this awesome content agency. 


The one thing I’ve learnt about running a business … 

The days are long but the years are short.
“Every day may look like the previous one — a lot of slogging – and it can get exhausting, fast. This is why it helps to take a step back every once in a while to re-examine The Big Picture and remind yourself why you’re doing this in the first place. At least once a month, the team meets up for a brainstorm meeting to figure out what’s working and what’s not, and whether any processes need to be adjusted.” Vanessa Tai

Humility goes a long way in business
“I used to think we’d need to grow a thick skin if we wished to survive in the harsh world of entrepreneurship. While true to a certain extent, that doesn’t mean we should allow our pride to get in the way. In fact, one of the most important yet overlooked traits of some of the world’s greatest leaders is humility. If we don’t exercise humility, we’re never going to listen, we’re never going to learn, and we’re most certainly never going to grow.” Tan Lili

You need to learn to identify who’ll be good pay masters
“You won’t go to your neighbourhood 7-Eleven, pick up an item, then tell the cashier that you’ll pay for it next week. Sadly, this attitude seems to be all-too-prevalent in the client-vendor relationship. Everything can seem to be going smoothly, right until the moment it’s time for the client to pay up, and then you suddenly don’t hear from them despite you chasing them for payment via emails or text messages. This is terribly infuriating, not to mention disrespectful, and it is never pleasant for us to send a Letter of Demand from our lawyer. The clients we have long-standing relationships also happen be the ones that pay up on time. Being a good paymaster is a sign to us that you, as our client, are appreciative and respectful the work that we do for you. This, in turn, keeps us motivated to continue to do good work for you.” Denise Li

Always be prepared to walk away from a deal
“One of the things I’ve developed over these 3 years is the guts to walk away from the negotiation table. The first time I told a client that I won’t be moving forward with our negotiations for a project, I almost peed in my pants; my voice was shaking! This isn’t to say that walking away from business is any easier now – I value every client I have won and, always hope to nurture the relationship beyond that of just a client-vendor one.” Deborah Tan 


The most important lesson I picked up from our clients … 

Having a clear agenda is very important
“This was a lesson I learnt rather indirectly by observing how the marketing team of a particular company we were working with, until recently, operated. When we first started working with them, they gave us very clear direction about how our articles should be written. They wanted the writing to be fun, friendly, and informative without coming across as too hard-sell. Over time, however, we were told to plug over 10 products or more in a single article; they had clearly done an about-turn where their marketing agenda was concerned. Perhaps they had their reasons for doing so, but we would have appreciated it if they could be more upfront with us so we could have managed our expectations accordingly too.” Denise Li

Clients pay us to solve a problem so we shouldn’t be afraid to take charge
“I was helping a client organise an event and had thought I was being a good organiser by checking in with her before I made any decision. At a feedback session later, she mentioned how she would actually have preferred that I took charge more and got the show going without constantly asking her if we should do this or buy that. I learnt then that, unlike the many red tapes I used to have to clear in my former life as an editor, clients are paying for a problem to be taken off their hands and our job is to solve it.” Deborah Tan 

We don’t know everything but we are constantly learning
“About two years ago, we included social media management as part of our services in the hope of offering a more comprehensive content marketing plan to our clients. It became clear we had so much to learn so we signed up for courses, attended workshops, and have been keeping ourselves updated on the newest developments of how social media works. Our clients are not just pay masters, they are also our teachers. Through working with them, we are constantly learning from them too.”  Tan Lili

It doesn’t cost you anything to be nice.
“Living and working in a frantic-paced work environment like Singapore often translates to people being tetchy and short-fused. Thankfully, we’ve been very fortunate to work with very nice clients, many of whom we’ve worked with since the first year of Material World. When you have good rapport with a client, it makes it so much easier to want to go the extra mile for them.” Vanessa Tai


The one thing I wish clients would know about what we do … 

We are more than just freelance writers …
“Yes, if you need help with the copy of your website, newsletter, advertorials … we are the perfect team for you. But Material World has done more than just copywriting for many of our clients. We have helped clients start content marketing campaigns from scratch, built their social media audience from nothing, and produced awesome events and campaign videos. Clients come to us to benefit from our expertise in targeting women and our insights in creating engaging content. Call me!” Deborah Tan 

… but we’re not magicians
“Briefs are the bedrock of every assignment. When we take a brief, we want to make sure we fully understand the objectives you’d like to achieve with the copy, the layout, the tone of writing you prefer, and the main points you wish to highlight. So if we try to clarify certain parts of the brief, it isn’t that we aren’t able to churn out excellent copy from what scant information on hand — we surprise even ourselves every now and then — it’s just that we want to ensure we can deliver the results you want for your company too.” Tan Lili

There is a difference between “flexible” and “bend over backwards”
“Texting me at 5pm today to ask if I’m free to meet at 10am the next day is not cool at all. When we’re not doing work for our clients, we are either out attending events, or prepping posts for the two websites that we also maintain. Just like any entrepreneurs with a thriving business to run, we plan our ‘flexible’ schedules in advance, and have to-do lists to check off. It’s not that we want to snub you but we do appreciate some (read: at least 48 hours) advance notice.” Denise Li

They can take advantage of our strong editorial background.
“Because all four of us come from a strong background in publishing, ideas are at the heart of what we do. Whether it’s for an editorial or corporate project, print or digital, we devote a lot of brain cells to coming up with fresh ideas that work for your brand and your customers. Because we are constantly writing, reading, and consuming new knowledge, our brains are also always churning with new ideas. When a client briefs us on a project, we are more than ready to lend our creative input as well.” Vanessa Tai