Ian Chew is a 25-year-old digital nomad from Malaysia. He’s been a location independent content strategist since 2015.
He attributes a lot of his success to the way his relationships are built – through stories. He calls himself a story whisperer, and creating stories is undoubtedly what Ian does best.
Ian has interviewed over 700 people from all over the world and has heard thousands of stories. Now, it’s about time for you to hear his.
It all started from university experience…
How building relationships became Ian’s key to success
Ian had always been intrigued by social relationships, so he wanted to study sociology as a major. His dreams materialized in 2010, as Ian received a scholarship from the Malaysian government to study at Mount Allison University in Canada.
It was during his studies that Ian found a passion for telling stories. He was an active follower and a fan of a project called Humans of New York – a social media page posting images and thought snippets of various people the photographer met on the streets of New York City. Ian thought the project was brilliant, so he decided to do something similar in his small university town of Sackville – alas the name, Humans of Sackville.
Ian started out with taking a picture of one bearded man he met at a gallery and posted it on social media with a short story of the man’s life. People seemed to love the idea, and Ian was encouraged to continue photographing people he met and then writing and exhibiting their stories. Ian created a dedicated social media page for this and started posting similar photos on a regular basis.
Over the period of a few years, this gradually developed into a photojournalism project with hundreds of stories. The project helped Ian build his photography skills, and grow his reputation in Sackville. Moreover, as he was always meeting people while taking the photos, he built many relationships with the locals. These connections led Ian to a few paid gigs as a photographer in local events, and, to top it all off, they even helped his project get featured by several national media outlets.
The photography project also helped Ian land a place in the global youth entrepreneurship forum at his hometown of Kuala Lumpur in 2013. In there, Ian met his current boss’s wife, Sheena. She introduced Ian to her husband, Michael, whom she thought would be a good connection, as they were both working on creating stories.
It wasn’t until two years later, and not until he had already almost finished university that Ian remembered about Michael: “I read one of his content pieces about networking and I reached out to him to say how great it was. We reconnected and I told Michael that I’d love to help him out.” Michael agreed.
Ian volunteered to help out his future boss by researching topics for articles and suggesting ways to provide value through different ways of content development. He did a great job with the initial research and was quickly hired as a full-time founding operations manager for Michael’s new media company.
Deliver quality work by setting the right intention
One of Ian’s main duties to find people from various backgrounds for content – which is why LinkedIn became his best friend. It was a way for Ian to grow his professional connections and networks. Ian says that his forte lay in the art of cold-emailing: “I built my list of connections through cold-emailing or dropping them messages on LinkedIn, and looking back, it’s all about being intentional and providing value.”
Ian says that he learned this from a former White House speechwriter. After connecting with each other through a cold-email, he told Ian that a better way to craft an introductory email is to think about “how you can add value to that person”, and, if you do so, “when you write the email or message, it’s going to flow naturally.”
The strategy did not only help Ian in networking, it also helped create value in his writing. Whenever Ian writes a piece of content, his goal is to produce the kind of content that can help readers become a better version of themselves. Ian used this approach to co-author a series of articles about learning. He helped famed entrepreneur and writer Michael Simmons on articles like Elon Musk’s thinking process on Fortune, and the 5-hour productivity rule used by Warren Buffett, along with how people who love learning tend to be more successful on Inc. Many people found these interesting and beneficial, which led to the articles being shared over 300,000 times, with more than 5 million views.
What remote work has taught Ian about himself
For the last two years of working for the media company, Ian was mostly based in Canada and Malaysia. Back when he was in Canada, it was easy for him to connect with the team in New York. There was hardly any time difference, and if he was needed in New York, it was just a 2-hour plane ride away.
However, when he had to relocate his base to Kuala Lumpur, Ian realized that the time difference was not easy to work with anymore: “It’s harder when you’re 12 hours ahead because it creates friction in the relationship. You have to be aware of that part. You can do it for some time but only if you’re a night owl.”
When I asked Ian how he used to manage his work-life balance after becoming a remote worker, he laughingly answered: “I didn’t. I would work a lot, sometimes up to 12 hours a day. But everyone has gaps in their day and you need to use it for lunch, exercise, and hobbies, which are crucial in the long run.”
However, the experience really taught him a lot about his work habits: “It’s an exercise of self-discovery and self-discipline; I figured out my motivations, my best time of the day to work, and what my most conducive work environment is, and my biggest work distractions.”
Now, Ian has stepped away from being a full-time remote worker in order to reduce the strain imposed on him by the time difference. Instead, he is looking into growing his own marketing venture – one with a remote working culture. This year, he aims to be a full-time traveling entrepreneur for 2018.
How to become a good content writer
Anyone can be a content strategist, but it takes a few extra steps to become a great one. Ian has agreed to share his best tips for creating great stories. Here they are:
- Understand your audience deeply and really try to write in a way that would engage them the most, even though it might not be your usual writing style. Business books are the best examples for that!
- Have a writing schedule so you can block out a period of time to edit, and make sure you have the space to reflect on what you have written.
- Share your writing process with others. Give them a sneak peek of what’s going on in your mind – it will help position yourself as an expert and help you improve how you write as you understand the ‘how’ of your writing process.
- Produce content on a regular basis to create a habit of writing – don’t worry about the quality as that will come over time. Just focus on building up a momentum and the right mindset of constantly producing.
- If you’re not ready to publish a piece of content for the world to see, start by posting it on your social media network or emailing it to your closest friends. Don’t start big if you’re not ready for big yet.
- Choose clients you can learn something from, especially when it comes to free work.
Interested in Following Ian’s Footsteps?
Check out these online courses to learn more about how to become a successful content strategist, just like Ian:
To learn more about Ian’s work, check out his website.
P.S. Ian attributes a lot of his success from his matched connections online. Have you ever tried cold-emailing a person you admire? How do you find connections?
All photos of Ian are courtesy of Raymond Wec.