The Story Engine: 7 Secrets to SKYROCKET Business Growth With Content Marketing

I recently finished reading The Story Engine, Kyle Gray’s new book on content marketing. If you haven’t heard the term before, content marketing is a type of marketing that utilizes the creation of content (written articles, Youtube videos, social media posts, etc.) to generate interest in a brand.

The difference between content marketing and traditional advertising, however, is that while content marketing often stimulates interest in a company’s products or services, the content itself doesn’t explicitly promote the brand.

One example would be a personal trainer releasing videos on how to exercise with proper form or how you could make consistently exercising a habit. In fact, this is the primary way popular Youtube fitness instructor Elliott Hulse built up his brand to over 2,000,000 Youtube subscribers and nearly 400,000,000 views between his two channels.

Yet, growing a brand isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us, and that’s why I was so excited to read Kyle’s new book. Kyle had been extremely successful building up tech startup WP Curve’s blog and growing the company’s revenue with his content marketing strategy.

Although I can’t give everything from the book away, in this post I wanted to share a few key insights I had from reading The Story Engine.

#1 Content Marketing is For Those In It For the Long Game

Like Kyle says in the book, content marketing won’t give you the immediate returns a Google or Facebook ad campaign hypothetically could. In fact, Kyle says it usually takes a great article 6-12 months to generate enough traffic just to offset the cost of creating it.

This is something that turns a lot of marketers and business owners off. Having to wait several months or years for content to have a positive ROI isn’t something most people are willing to do. Yet, the biggest benefit of content is that it becomes more valuable over time.

#2 Documentation is Important

When Kyle took over the content marketing operations at WP Curve he struggled. He had such a difficult time in his first few months at WP Curve that he almost quit. Part of the problem was that he lacked experience with Slack, Trello, and other communication tools remote teams often use to communicate. He was also inexperienced working remotely himself.

More than anything else, however, he cites his difficulties with lacking the proper documentation and processes for himself and his team of writers. The writers and other freelancers you hire will only be able to perform as well as the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) you’ve created for them.

If your processes aren’t well refined, you’re unlikely to get a polished result. Yet, there is one positive spin Kyle puts on this. He writes, ‘“…Every interactions with freelancers or team members will create an opportunity to improve your processes. Remember, “fix the process, not the person.”’

#3 Content Marketing Casts a Broad Net

As a content marketer, you’re not an archer shooting an arrow and aiming for a small bullseye. You’re more like a fisherman with a large net trying to catch all the fish he can. Many of the people that consume your content won’t be your ideal customers. Most of them won’t ever purchase anything from you.

That doesn’t mean they’re not valuable, however. People that consume your content are likely to become what Kyle calls “brand ambassadors”. Although brand ambassadors may not purchase from you directly, if they’re engaged with your content there’s a good chance they’ll refer ideal customers to you when the opportunity arises.

Though hard to track, these recommendations are incredibly valuable.

#4 Content as Recruiting

Kyle suggests that one possible way to approach your content marketing efforts is to write content that would inspire someone to want to join your team. Apart from making a future talented teammate more likely to want to join your organization, writing in this way may also improve the quality of your content. Gregory Ciotti from Help Scout is a big advocate of the content as recruiting frame saying that,

“With the ‘content as recruiting’ concept well understood, you’ll keep higher standards for your publishing, you’ll have an easier time encouraging your teammates to write, and you’ll be more deliberate with transparency…”

#5 Content Marketing Is Best For Certain Types of Businesses

While The Story Engine discusses many of the benefits of content marketing, it’s also transparent in that some businesses are more well suited to content marketing than others.

Content is best for businesses with digital products, recurring revenue streams (such as web hosting or other SAAS products), high-ticket items, and businesses that benefit from educating their consumers.

Content marketing options are more limited for local businesses, however, because their “net” for capturing attention is confined to the local audience. The big exception to this, however, is tourism.

Businesses working in local tourism can easily market to a wide audience by writing content to help potential tourists plan activities during their trip. This is extremely effective, because it sells something a consumer wants at precisely the moment they’re ready to purchase it.

Marina Bay

(A high-ticket tourist destination like the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore would be the perfect candidate for content marketing.)

#6 Why Most Blogs Fail

In The Story Engine Kyle offers several reasons blogs commonly fail. I’ve listed his six reasons with a short summary of each (in my words) below.

I. Shiny Object Syndrome — Inexperienced content creators too often shift the tools they use or the topics they cover. This continually changing content makes it virtually impossible to build any traction or trust with an audience.

II. No Differentiation — Content marketing is competitive and “me-too” content simply won’t receive attention in most industries.

III. Isolation — The blog focuses too much on self-promotion.

IV. Keywords over Value — The marketer writes for search engines in an attempt to rank for keywords, rather than writing content that’ll help an audience solve a problem that’s relevant to them.

V. Burnout — People burn out on creating content because they don’t have context and a larger vision to feel certain they’re invested time and energy will have a positive ROI.

VI. Can’t Scale — A single founder creates content an audience loves, but later hires are unable to reproduce the voice of the founder.

#7 Why Retargeting Isn’t All You Need

Retargeting is a type of marketing that displays advertisements or offers to people that have seen your content before. These “warm leads” often do get high conversion rates. The problem is that you’ll quickly deplete your retargeting opportunities if you’re not receiving fresh traffic each month. As Kyle writes, “…Retargeting only appeals to the traffic you currently have.”

Creating new content will lead to new traffic. This steam of new traffic today will be the potential retargeting list of tomorrow. As a bonus, having a block filled with valuable content and being seen as an authority in your field will further increase the conversation rates of your retargeting efforts too!

Conclusion

Beyond all this, The Story Engine will also teach you more about how to manage writers, how to hire a content manager, getting ideas for content, and how to train your team so that you’re able to gradually remove yourself from the content creation process.

In short, reading The Story Engine will be an excellent use of your time. You’ll greatly deepen your knowledge of content marketing, developer new marketing strategies for your business, and become more profitable in the long-run.

Grab Kyle’s book on Amazon now!

StoryEngineBook

Top 5 Tips for Living in Saigon, Vietnam

Saigon is one of South East Asia’s most popular hubs for startups and digital nomads. There’s so many good things to be said about living in Saigon (check out this kickass post by Arielle Gold for more on that), yet the hustle and bustle of living in Saigon can also be a huge adjustment.

While Saigon has an awesome vibe, rock bottom cost of living, and an incredible food/coffee scene, the city is also loud, polluted, and chaotic. That’s why many expats and nomads have a love hate relationship with the city.

Having lived in Saigon for two years, I’d agree that the city’s pollution and lack of nature will drive you crazy after a while. Living here permanently would certainly kill the charm after a while. However, Saigon still remains a destination every digital nomad or remote worker should try living in for at least a month.

Below I’ve listed my top five tips for living in Saigon. Follow these pieces of advice and you’ll have a much easier transition to living in the world of pho and endless motorbikes. Taking action on these tips will also help you maximize your time in the city and ensure you get everything you can out of this city.

#1 Do Not Live in Pham Ngu Lao (The Backpacker Area)

Pham Ngu Lao is the city’s tourist trap (as are Bui Vien and De Tham). If you’re looking to meet other travelers, hit up the bars, or get international food Pham Ngu Lao is a great place to visit. It can even be a solid place to stay for a night or two. There’s a seemingly endless amount of hotels and hostels in this part of town.

Living in Pham Ngu Lao isn’t likely to be an enjoyable experience, however. For one, you’re going to be paying inflated prices. Everything from food, to drinks, to sunglasses are more expensive in this zone of the city.

Locals are also more likely to try to scam you or steal your things in this area. The locals tend to be less friendly around Pham Ngu Lao too. With new drunk backpackers shooting into town each night, and locals seeing the worst of foreigners, could you blame them?

There’s more reasons you wouldn’t want to live on Pham Ngu Lao, Bui Vien, or De Tham Street as well. The bars often play loud music late into the night. Trying to sleep with loud music outside isn’t so intolerable if it’s just one or two nights. Can you imagine having that annoyance every day, however?

The never ending stream of motorbike guys offering you weed, men selling sunglasses, and girls offering massages gets old fast too. In short, don’t live in the backpacker area of the city. Anything over a week and you’ll probably start to go a little crazy. Where should you live then?

There’s a few options. District 1 is the central district of the city, and is a solid place to live in (as long as you get outside the Bui Vien/Pham Ngu Lao area). Living in District 1 will have you close to most of the city’s best bars, restaurants, and entertainment options. Accommodation in D1 is pricier than most other parts of the city, however.

District 3 and the Binh Thanh district are also central options with slightly lower price points. These districts also have comfortable western style accommodation while the surrounding areas still have an authentic local feel to them.

The other two popular options are District 2 and District 7. These districts are where a lot of the wealthier Vietnamese and foreigners live. D2 and D7 also offer some of the most luxurious apartments, pools, and villas the city has to offer. They are a bit isolated, however, which may be something to consider.

If you’re looking to get English teaching jobs or other local work, you may have a slightly longer commute to deal with living in D2 or D7. Depending on which part of these districts you live in, you may also find your cost of living creep up a bit in these areas.

Overall, there’s a lot of great places to live in Ho Chi Minh City. For most people, however, Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao aren’t the best choice.

pham ngu lao fruit shakes

(Smoothies in Pham Ngu Lao)

#2 Try the Local Foods

The point of traveling isn’t just to take cool pictures for your Facebook or Instagram profile. Far more important is getting to experience the local culture and try new things. A big part of that is food.

While Saigon has a great selection of international cuisine (I’m a big fan of the Indian food), the city also has countless dishes you’ve probably never even seen before as a Westerner. While you can indulge in comfort foods every once in a while, don’t be afraid of the local food.

Everyone will try Pho and Bahn Mi, but there’s so many other great local dishes to discover. Bun Cha, Bun Bo, Bun Rieu, Com Tam, Bahn Trang, the list goes on and on. I’ve been living here for two years now and I’m still discovering new foods on at least a monthly basis.

You don’t have to eat the entire dish of a new food if you don’t like it. With most food options costing just $1-3, however, almost everything is worth a try. The one thing to be careful of, however, is that dog is a food here. That may be the only thing you couldn’t forgive yourself for trying.

local vietnamese rice and noodles

(Curry rice and beef noodles)

#3 Make Local Friends (Or Date Locals)

There’s so many things to learn from interacting with the local people. You’ll learn new ways of thinking, which you can learn from even if the Vietnamese way of thinking about certain topics isn’t ideal (nor is the Western way on other subjects).

Beyond that, you’ll also get a more authentic cultural experience from dating locals or making Vietnamese friends. Where is the locals favorite place to hang out in any city? HINT: It’s often not the place that the tourists hang out. In fact, you or the other foreigners living in the city may not even be aware many of the locals’ favorite spots even exist.

I had a girlfriend in Vietnam for example ask me to go to ice cream with her. While I’d taken her to Baskin Robbins in the past, for this date she took me to a famous local spot in District 5. At that ice cream shop you multiple flavors of ice cream frozen into the inside part of a coconut at 1/3 the price of a smaller serving at Baskin Robbins.

Talk about cool! Yet, you’ll never have these experiences without befriending the locals. Saving money, making new friends, and having fun cultural experiences. Talk about win/win/win.

best coconut ice cream saigon

(Excellent coconut ice cream in District 5)

#4 Manage Your Cost of Living Carefully

Saigon is an interesting city in that it can be as cheap or as expensive as you’d like. I’ve seen shared accommodation for under $1/day. I’ve also seen luxury villas with private pools for a few grand per month. Of course, most of the city’s accommodation is somewhere in between.

Most foreigners live in apartments that range from $200-$800/month. I think the real sweet spot, however, is around $250 to $450. For that price you’ll get a comfortable serviced apartment in the center of the city that includes cleaning and often laundry as well.

Saigon also has hundreds if not thousands of dining options for you regardless of your budget. You could easily hack it here and subsist for $5/day even eating out every meal. I’ve done it in the past, but wouldn’t recommend you do the same long-term as it can get old having such limited options.

I’d estimate I spend around $300-$400/month on food these days. You could certainly spend more or less depending on your needs. That would likely be comfortable for most people, however. Just note that expensive wines, cocktails, coffee and western food can quickly drive up your monthly expenditures.

Overall, there’s two important things to remember about your monthly expenses in Saigon. The first, is that doing some of the frugal activities you’d do at home may not be worth it financially. For example, taking 30 minutes to walk somewhere may save you some decent money in a western country like the USA.

Yet, the same thing in Saigon would probably only save you a $2 taxi ride or $0.70 motorbike fare (using Grab or Uber). Eating out is also expensive in the West, but in Vietnam is often almost the same price as if you’d prepared the food yourself.

While walking or cooking your own food may have legitimate health benefits, it’s not worth doing those activities for the minuscule cost savings they may offer. Outsourcing your rudimentary and repetitive tasks is almost always an intelligent decision in Vietnam considering the low wages locals are willing to do those tasks for.

The other recommendation I’d make to you is be careful about how much you raise your standard of living. An apartment for $1,000 or even $700/month with a kickass pool and view may seem like a deal you just can’t pass up on.

If you’re making $2,000/month or less, however, (which is most English teachers and many new remote workers), those few hundred dollars in potential savings each month by renting a cheaper apartment are HUGE for you.

You could save money to pay off student loans, invest in your future, or simply work fewer hours to have more time to develop new skills or build a long-term sustainable business. In short, enjoying more purchasing power due to Saigon’s low cost of living doesn’t mean you have to indulge in every luxury the city has to offer.

In fact, spending your money wisely and making sure you get excellent value from all your purchases will inevitably leave you more successful and happier long-term.

cheapest private accomodation near center of saigon

(Example of rock bottom prices in private “accomodation”. A little depressing to say the least, but only 1,600,000VND/month or $70.50/month, and fairly near the center of the city.)

#5 Understand the Good Comes With the Bad

There’s a lot of things that can get frustrating while living in Saigon for months or years at a time. The “me-first” attitude of the locals, smoking, pollution, language barrier, etc, can get old fast. Some of these things are more in your control than others. You could easily close the language gap a bit by learning at least the basics of Vietnamese.

The city’s pollution, smoking habits of its residents, and lack of nature isn’t really escapable without leaving Saigon altogether though. Leaving the city for border runs, or just taking an occasional weekend getaway can do wonders in refreshing your appreciation for the city.

The lack of nature for example is a lot more tolerable after spending a weekend lounging on the beach in Mui Ne or Nha Trang. When this isn’t possible, however, it’s important to just remember that the perfect city doesn’t exist.

You’ll never find a place that checks every box: Low cost of living, excellent nature, dating opportunities, friendly locals, language, safety, visas, great food, weather, cleanliness, etc. Yet, when a city’s flaws get to you, the best thing to do is appreciate all the good things the city does have.

It’s kind of like life really. If you don’t appreciate what you have, you’ll never be happy. Although Saigon is far from a perfect city, the food, low cost of living, networking opportunities, and vibe make it a place like no other. That’s why I’ve lived here the past two years, and that’s why you’ll be proud to call this city your home too, even if for just a month.

Cam’s $350 apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Hey guys, after living there for more than a year, I’m finally bringing you a tour video of my apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I wanted to move to a new place before publishing this video. Now that I’m settled into my new apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I thought it was finally time to post this video.

The blog post below and video above should give you a good idea of what a mid-range apartment in the center of Ho Chi Minh City offers.

Price

The apartment in the video above costs $350/month. I made a special deal with the owner that those $350/month would include electricity if I didn’t use air conditioning. Obviously, however, most apartments in Ho Chi Minh City are going to require you to pay for electricity and some charge for water as well. Fortunately, for me, $350/month included everything.

Location:

Located in District 1, the apartment has a great location. Although some expats choose to live in Binh Thanh, District 2, and District 7, many of the foreigners living here would argue that apartments in District 1 have the best location in the city. This apartment in particular is situated between the large Diamond Plaza shopping mall, and the Saigon Zoo.

The nearby area also has countless restaurants where locals eat Pho, Koreans enjoy Kim Chi, and foreigners stab ribs. Of course, the different ethnicities aren’t afraid to enjoy the food from each others’ countries either!

Apart from this, the apartment is located in the quiet 18BIS Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Alley. This alley has many foreigners living in it. It may not have as many expats as the nearby 18A or 18B alleys, but it’s a more peaceful place to live. For that reason, prices tend to be a bit higher in the 18BIS alley.

Pho

Utilities & Amenities

As noted before, air conditioning, electricity, and warm water are all offered by the apartment. Although my amazing fan didn’t leave me wanting for air conditioning much, those that “can’t live” without air conditioning would be fine here. Just budget a little extra for electricity.

Free laundry and cleaning are also included with your rent. At any time I was able to put my clothes in a basket outside my room. I’d then usually wait about 36-48 hours before they were washed, dried, and returned to my room. I’d have to hang them up in the closet myself afterwards, but hey, you can’t complain about this service considering it’s free 😉

We’d also have a lady clean the room about twice the week. She’d come in and wash the floor, dust the table, clean the mirror, change the sheets, make the bed, etc. Although you don’t realize it until you leave, having someone to do these tasks for you makes your life a lot easier! More importantly, it saves you time you can invest in more profitable or enjoyable endeavors.

Although the common area had a kitchen, it wasn’t something I ever used. My apartment had a fridge, however, and that was something I did enjoy using from time to time. The apartment also offered free parking. This is a nice perk if you’re renting in the $150-$350 range. Some of the cheapest apartments for foreigners won’t offer you parking.

The one disappointment I had with the apartment was its unreliable wifi. Although it would sometimes be fine for listening to youtube videos or other educational material; the wifi would often go down or work at unusable speeds for hours at a time. That was a big letdown.

Apartment Rules

My apartment in the 18 BIS Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Alley didn’t have any unusual rules. We had a key and were free to come and go as we pleased. You had to pay a one month deposit, and pay your rent and other monthly bills in a timely fashion. You were expected to keep noise at a reasonable level at night. Prostitution and drugs were banned. You get the deal.

Conclusion

Just $350/month can get you a solid apartment in the center of Ho Chi Minh City. Although my apartment was a bit small and had unreliable wifi, it had a number of other perks that made it a great value.

Excellent location, cleaning, laundry, free water, free electricity (excluding air conditioning), free parking, and even a handy guy on-site to call if the water wasn’t working or you had any other problems. In short, Ho Chi Minh City offers great value for the money in its apartments.

It may not be as nice as Chiang Mai (which we’ll cover in the next week or so), but the apartment scene here still offers great prices compared to virtually anywhere in the Western world.

Da Lat, Vietnam – Travel Tips & Things to See

In today’s video we’re going to take a tour through the charming mountain city of Da Lat. Located 300km from Saigon, getting to Da Lat is a bit of a journey. It’ll likely take you around 7-8 hours by bus depending on the time you leave (leaving Saigon during rush hour will add some time to your commute).

Flying is quicker, though more expensive. Going by motorbike is also an option and one that’ll offer you amazing countryside and mountain views along the way. I think buses are the best deal for most people.

They’re cheap at just 210,000 Vietnamese Dong each way ($9.25). The buses are also air conditioned and offer fully reclinable chairs that effectively double as beds.

Night buses are really popular as they allow you to sleep, save on a hotel for the night, and start the day early when you arrive the next morning. Regardless of how you get to Da Lat, however, the journey will be well worth it.

There’s lots to see in Da Lat: Ho Xuan Huong Lake, pagodas, waterfalls, the nightmarket, ect. Though small, this city could definitely keep you busy for a few days.

ho xuan huong lake

Da Lat is also considered the most romantic city in Vietnam. Many couples go there on their honeymoons, and you’d make any Vietnamese girl light up if you asked her to take a trip to Da Lat with you.

I’d recommend budgeting around 400,000 Vietnamese Dong ($17.60)/night. That’ll get you a very solid room in Da Lat. Some smaller budget rooms are even available for just 200,000 though ($8.80). Luxury resorts will run you from around $50-$150.

Unfortunately, something I didn’t realize before my most recent trip to Da Lat was that hotel prices become very inflated during public holidays. Most places will raise their prices 50%, 100%, or even more! Even with this being the case, the availability of rooms can still be limited during peak weekends.

For that reason, you should book early if you plan to travel to Da Lat during a Vietnamese holiday. Better yet, avoid the crowds and inflated prices by traveling at a different time.

Overall, a trip to Da Lat is a great break from the big city life of Saigon. Although I’d imagine living in Da Lat could get boring, the city does has some interesting tourist attractions and is certainly worth a visit.

Watch the video above to get a better idea of all Da Lat has to offer!

big dome in da lat