The 3 Types of Content You Should Be Creating For Your Brand


Picture this situation: You have a product or service that you want to promote. And you know that being active on social media like Instagram and Facebook is GREAT because you want to reach potential customers.

But when it comes to creating the content that you want to post -- it feels like you’re posting the SAME THINGS over and over again.

It feels like you’re just using synonyms at this point. “Amazing”, “excellent”, “high quality”. What to do at this point?

The normal things that people post on their brand’s social media, website or blog are usually things that actually revolve around their product or service. Makes sense right? When you have a product or service, you need to be talking about it to promote it and make money. If you don't talk about it, people won't know and won’t buy.

But, does that mean that you have to talk about your own product/service ALL the time? The answer is no.

A brand that only talks about its products or services is like a person who only talks about themselves. That kind of person doesn’t care about others, so it’s only logical that others don’t really care about them too.

If that’s how your brand has been operating, it’s time to look at what you post on social media and create content a DIFFERENT WAY.

Let me walk you through the THREE types of content you can create for your brand.


1) Promotional content

Promotional Content is content that is 100% about your product or service.


  • SALE! 50% off for all tops

  • The CNY 2019 line of skirts

  • Buy 1 free 1 for website purchases only

These are called Promotional Content because you'll be promoting your product/service and inviting people to BUY. There's no secrecy or hidden motives here. It's all transparent.

Note: Posting Promotional Content isn’t a bad thing. But that’s not all you can post...

2) Informative content

Informative Content is content that won't mention your product/service AT ALL. 0%. Nada. Zip.

You may be thinking: Nowwwww why would I do that? Doesn't make sense at all to talk about other things. I thought I have to be *focusing* on my brand?

You thought right.

In Informative Content, you're not going to talk about your product or service, but you'll be focusing on your BRAND.

What does your brand mean to you, in 3 words? (Humour me for a bit)

For me, the Narrativity brand is about passion, fun and learning. Regardless of what I sell, this is what *my* brand means to me.

Products come and go, but brands are forever. Think about it. This year's line of products won't be the same as next year's -- but your brand will hopefully last for years and years to come.

That's why Informative Content will focus on what makes your brand special for your customers. So instead of promoting your product/service in this content, you’re going to be promoting your brand.

What happens is that your customers don't only USE your product, they LIVE with your brand. They don't only buy one product and forget your brand, but they'll be returning for repeat purchases and become a lifelong fan. They’ll be telling their kids about your brand!

So how do you create Informative Content? You need to go one step further than the average brand, focus on what your potential customers care about in relation to your industry, and create content about THAT.

For example, you sell blouses so you're in the fashion industry. What do your potential customers care about in relation to fashion?

  • They care about looking fashionable without draining their bank accounts before the next payday.

  • They care about buying quality clothes that will last them more than 6 months.

  • They care about maintaining their clothes and being able to wear them regularly.

There’s so many aspects of fashion that they probably care about, which means you have plenty of material to create content with.

Your Informative Content can be something like this:

  • How to determine if the clothes you’re buying are high quality (seams, buttons, etc)

  • The lazy person's guide to doing laundry

When your potential customers see and read this kind of Informative Content (which they’re interested in, btw), they’ll see that there’s MORE to your brand than *just selling another product that other brands are also selling*.

You’re differentiating your brand from other brands.

And because you won’t promote anything in the Informative Content, they’ll see that you’re giving away the valuable information for FREE. People like free stuff, man.


3) Hybrid content

If the promotional post is 100% about your product/service, and the informative content is about your brand, the hybrid content will be a little more subtle…. It’s going to combine both.

You'll basically start out with an Informative Content, and include your product/service as a PART of your Informative Content.

For example, you want to write about your special sambal paste that you're selling.

Your Hybrid Content: A blog post about the 5 Ways Busy People Save Time Cooking:

  1. Always wash dishes right after cooking your last meal.

  2. Go for simple recipes unless you have time for complicated ones.

  3. Buy pre-cleaned ingredients like pre-cleaned chicken or fish.

  4. Use ready-made pastes (like this sambal paste that you’re selling… hint hint)

  5. Chop up some ingredients in advance like onions and store them in the fridge.

See how your product is mentioned naturally in the blog post? By doing this, you're giving valuable information to your potential customers AND making them see that your product will fit right into their lives.

Side note: these are all tips I’ve implemented in my own kitchen! Haha.

When you want to create Hybrid Content, keep in mind that your product/service is only a part of that content. It’s fine if it’s just a small part. That way, you’re not limiting yourself to the kind of Hybrid Content you can create AND still mention your product/service.


How will all this info translate into, you know, actually creating those content?

I have a 2-Week Content Calendar that you can follow for 2-weeks worth of posts for your brand’s social media!

What do you usually like to post on your brand’s social media?



4 Common Design Mistakes You're Making (and how to fix them in < 1 minute!)


You have….

  • A new blog post that you’ve spent hours on, and you want to promote it.

  • A sale that you have going on for your products that you want to spread the word about.

  • Just a quote post that you want to share on social media to get your brand some visibility.

And you’re designing the graphic yourself.

You know you've got good taste, but when you compare your design to the ones you see on the Internet or famous brands on the market, yours doesn't look as cool or sophisticated.

Good design is important. It attracts people to your offering (a product, service, blog), and it tells your potential customers what kind of a brand you have.

On the same note, BAD design affects your brand negatively. It doesn’t matter if your actual product is high quality — if your design is not on par, you risk turning away potential customers.

People take one look at the bad design and instantly decide in their minds that this brand is NOT for them. “Nope, that’s not my style.”

Fortunately, you can achieve good design simply by TWEAKING what you already have in front of you.

What I’m sharing in this post are the commonly diagnosed design mistakes that people make and how to fix them easily and quickly. Each mistake will take less than 1 minute to fix (not including snack breaks). 


Common Mistake #1: Not enough contrasting colours.


I LOVE monochromes. Monochromes are different shades of the same colour.

For monochrome design, you pick one colour (like the teal green above) and use its darker and lighter shades as the supporting colours.

But while monochromes are pleasing to the eye, they don't POP. They're essentially the same colour and since there are no other colours, your eyes have nowhere to jump to. The design doesn't grab you by the eyeballs.

And because the design is NOT attention-grabbing, it's so easy for your readers to skip it altogether or not process the text or information accordingly. This is bad. Very bad.

Let's fix this!

  • Start with your monochrome colour palette that you want to use for your design. In this case, I'm going with the teal green.

  • Based on the content of your design, which is the message that you’re trying to convey, choose the MAIN POINT that you want to highlight to the people reading. This MAIN POINT is the part of the design that has to ‘pop’.

  • For the MAIN POINT, you use a CONTRASTING COLOUR. Everything else is monochrome, but the MAIN POINT has to be in a CONTRASTING COLOUR in order for it to pop.

  • A contrasting colour is basically the opposite of the colour you’re using, based on the colour wheel. Here’s a few contrasting colour pairings for you to use:

    • Red - Green

    • Yellow - Purple

    • Blue - Orange

  • By the way, it doesn’t mean that you need to use those really bright, kindergarten-style primary colours in order to make your design pop. You can use SHADES of the colours. For example, I’m obsessed with dark green - light pink pairings! (Pink is a shade of red)

  • For the design above, I used a coral orange shade as the contrasting colour to highlight ‘Summer Fashion’.


Common Mistake #2: Too many contrasting colours!


It's also possible to overdo the colours. While it's important that your design 'pops', too many things 'popping' can lead to sensory overload for your potential customers.

Other than the sensory overload, too many contrasting colours in one design ruins the brand look. Your potential customers can’t get a sense of your brand personality because everything is mixed together like a bowl of nasi goreng. (No offense to nasi goreng)

Let's fix this! 

  • If there are multiple points you want to convey using the design, there’s no need to use contrasting colours on all of them. You’ll need to choose the MAIN POINTS (yes, again) and only keep the contrasting colours for that. Stick to monochrome colours for the rest.

  • The TITLE and SUBTITLE are usually the main points for any design. In the design above, ‘Raya Sale’ is the title, and ‘Up to 50% off’ is the subtitle. The dark pink for the subtitle ties in nicely with the pink border-shapes at the side.

  • It’s OK for other points to be less contrasting. The main goal is to catch the customer’s eye and they’ll read the rest.

  • When in doubt, WHITE is a great option. White usually contrasts with many colours (except for pastels) and are neutral, so they’re a safe bet.


Common Mistake #3: Too much space between each line of text.


The space between each line in a paragraph is called the "leading" or simply "line spacing".

Back when we're doing assignments and needed to achieve the minimum page requirement, increasing the line spacing is our go-to trick. Eh? (Don't tell me you didn’t do this. I won’t believe you)

But when there's too much space between them, each line isn't read together. So instead of reading it as "10 Travel Tips for Newly-Weds That No One Tell You", what the reader is saying in their head is "10 Travel Tips. For Newly-Weds. That No One Tells You."

The sentence doesn't flow smoothly and it reads as if there are three different titles in there. The design also doesn’t look as neat or put-together.

Let's fix this!

  • If the content of your design is made up of one sentence, the lines of text have to be grouped together.

  • Simply reduce the line spacing gradually until there's a healthy amount of space between each line, i.e. words in the top and bottom line aren't touching each other. While you don’t want the lines to be too far apart, you don’t want them to overlap either. Give ‘em some healthy breathing space like you would in any healthy relationship.


Common Mistake #4: Using too many fonts in one design.


I get it, there’s so many beautiful fonts out there. I wish I could use ‘em all too.

But your design is the LAST place where you should use all those fonts on. (Suddenly I’m reminded about how excited 11 year-old me was to test all those fonts on Microsoft Word)

Too many fonts in one design makes it look messy and childish. Imagine those fonts like different types of VOICES. Too many voices saying the same thing will be too distracting for the customer.


  • Like the contrasting colours in Common Mistake #1, pick two fonts that contrast each other. One font is considered your ‘base font’ and the other is the ‘contrast font’. More than two fonts will be too many.

  • There are 3 basic types of fonts that you can choose from:

    • Sans serif (like ‘My Best’ and ‘Tips & Tricks’ in the design above)

    • Serif (like your good old friend Times New Roman)

    • Script (like the ‘Photography’ in the design above)

  • So if your base font is sans serif, your contrast font can be either serif or script. (Or any other pairing you like)

  • Use the contrast font for the MAIN POINT in your design. The MAIN POINT doesn’t always have to be a phrase or a sentence. Sometimes you may just want to highlight a single word, like “Photography” in the design above.

  • If you feel like two fonts aren’t enough, explore different weights of the fonts. There are sometimes semi-bold, bold and black options of the fonts you’re using, which you can use as contrast. But because it’s still technically the same font, it won’t look messy.


Infusing good design into your brand.

The main thing that people seem to overlook about good design is CONSISTENCY.

It’s not always about pushing the boundaries or being creative. If you’re designing for fun or one-off projects, yes, go crazy!

But creating good design for your brand means making consistent choices in terms of colour, fonts and other aspects. This makes your brand MEMORABLE and RECOGNIZABLE.

Can you spot the consistent choices I make for my brand?

Can you spot the consistent choices I make for my brand?

I have a few more blog posts on design and branding that you can continue reading:

Tell me, what’s your biggest design pet peeve?



How to Structure Your Blog Post to Make It Flowy & Understandable


In some places around my website, I created mini surveys that would help me figure out what people ACTUALLY want to read about. So about a year ago, I received this response to one of my surveys:

What’s your biggest problem when it comes to writing blog posts?:  How to structure a blog post to make it flow and understandable for the audience.

What’s your biggest problem when it comes to writing blog posts?: How to structure a blog post to make it flow and understandable for the audience.

If you’re wondering why it took me that long to write about this topic, well, the answer’s gonna make me look bad. I just completely forgot about the responses to my surveys. It was like, “Oooh! Somebody took the survey!” and I never thought to actually write blog posts on what they were asking.

(Yes, you have my permission to look disgusted.)

Anyway, I thought, better 13 months late than never! Plus, it’s also a very popular question that I still get from my readers and newsletter subscribers from time to time. So, still helpful to discuss now.


How to structure a blog post to make it flow and understandable

It was an anonymous submission so I can’t ask the anon to clarify, but I think I understand what they’re asking.

If you’re already a blogger, or if you love writing, writing itself may already be easy for you. (Most of the time)

What’s hard is converting that writing into something that readers can understand and enjoy. Editing, refining, and sometimes re-writing what you wrote in order to make it ‘publishable’.

Case in point: I wrote the points for this blog post in about 2 days, but editing the blog post to make it understandable took more than a week. It wasn’t easy.


Is it hard to look like you ‘flow’?

Let me tell you a story. Of how I performed when asked to do a presentation in front of the CEO of my company, Heads of Department, and also two impressive and respected experts in my field — during the first 6 months of being hired there!

The summary: I screwed it up.

How I screwed it up: First of all, I lost my voice. Whenever I get nervous, my voice dies in my throat. I don’t mean a sore throat — I mean my voice disappears eventhough I’m speaking. So imagine how awkward it was when suddenly at the end of the sentence, no sound came out!

Secondly, I started to ramble. Eventhough I had slides ready, I completely messed up the flow of the presentation. Should’ve just followed the slides but noooo. My smartass brain thought it could do better. I could see my supervisor looking all eyebrow-raised but semi-amused at the same time.

Thirdly, I didn’t get to say what I came to say. The side effect of rambling is that I completely missed certain points. Because when your mouth is busy saying things, it’s hard to suddenly stop yourself and say “OK, that’s not exactly what I wanted to say.”

So. My presentation wasn’t structured, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t understandable, and I most certainly DIDN’T FLOW. In front of people I wanted to impress. It was a cringy moment even nearly 2 years later.


You want to impress your readers with your flow.

You may be thinking: How is your story relevant, Aina? Presenting is a whole different thing compared to writing.


Let me tell you something. When the reader is reading your blog post, they’re reading it out loud inside their head. Or rather, they’re hearing your voice inside their head.

Your readers are reading your blog post out loud in their heads.

So if your blog post is as messy and rambly and awkward as my presentation, the effect is the same.

I completely understand why ‘the flow’ is so important to writers/bloggers. When you have that flow, your blog posts are easy and enjoyable to read. Your blog posts become natural to read. And you’ll look effortless.

We want our writing to be cool but effortlessly cool. Not like we’re trying too hard to be James Bond. Ya get me?

But writing naturally and achieving that flow takes some strategies. Which are exactly what I’ll be discussing with you in this blog post.


First strategy: Paint the big picture by writing a general introduction.

Don’t be that friend who starts the story with the tiniest details and then you have to ask a million questions to get the full story. That friend is a horrible storyteller.

What you need to do is to make your writing UNCOMPLICATED to follow. That means starting from the big idea and then zooming into the small ideas.

That’s the structure that you want: BIG CONCEPT > SMALL CONCEPTS.

Quick example. Let's say you want to write about the benefits of argan oil for your face. Sure, you can dive straight away into the benefits. 1st benefit, 2nd benefit, 3rd benefit…

But then about halfway through, you feel like it gets harder and harder to explain the benefits. You have to deviate from your current track to explain about things in general. In short, your thoughts become messy and you don’t see how to finish writing your points. You feel like you’re swimming through seaweed.

How to fix this? Zoom out of the points you were focusing on and start again. Firstly, what the heck are face oils?

Face oils are oils that you put on your face to moisturize and hydrate your skin. They’re like the face creams you usually put on before bed, but are in oil form instead. (There, that’s a good general introduction.)

You may think, isn’t it cliche to talk about general things? Plus it’s so unnecessary because the general points are usually too basic. I don’t want to write a school essay.

I hear ya, but here’s the thing:

  1. Not everyone that reads your blog post knows everything (or even ANYTHING) about the topic you’re writing about. You can't assume that you are writing for people who have the same level of information that you do.

    So, rather than leave the beginners totally confused and abandoned, a general introduction will equip them with the right concept and terminology to properly understand the rest of your blog post.

    (If you had skipped the explanation of face oils, people who have never heard of face oils would think it’s crazy to put oil on their faces.)

    BTW, for readers who already know the general stuff, they'll just skim through that intro part. It won't be an issue.

  2. Even if you’ve explained the general idea in a different blog post before, it’s NOT REDUNDANT to write about it again. You can’t assume that your reader has read that particular post before.

    The readers who are currently reading right now may be totally new to your blog. So it doesn't hurt to re-explain stuff for their convenience.

    It doesn't mean that you have to explain it from A to Z. Just briefly explain AND link that part to the previous post. You can add, "I've talked about face oils and why they're actually good for your skin in *this post*."

Making your writing easy to follow may mean that you have to write a little bit more before diving into the points, but it's better than confusing them!

When your writing is easy to follow, no matter if your reader is a beginner or otherwise, it’ll just flow better.


Second strategy: Make it conversational by including your friend.

A blog post is NOT supposed to be a lecture. And you’re not a lecturer.

The best outcome of writing is when your reader feels that you’re speaking to them, and there’s a conversation flowing between you and them (for the whole blog post!).

If you want your reader to be your friend, write as if they're your friend.

When this happens, your writing will be conversational. The words that you use are more informal (and casual) and you phrase your sentences differently. It’s the difference between writing “There are several varieties of face oils in the market” and “You can check out a few different face oils in the market”.

(OK, maybe not a perfect example there, but you get what I mean)

But how to make it conversational when you’re writing on your own? You can’t always have your friend with you to help you write.

Well, you’re gonna have to work double-time and cover for your friend too. Basically, write AS IF you’re having a conversation with your friend.

If your writing still doesn’t feel conversational enough, no worries. It’s time to edit. (My writing rarely turns out conversational enough the first time — I usually need to edit in the conversation)

Here's how you edit in the conversation:

1) Take whatever you've written. Look at it in front of you.

2) Paragraph by paragraph — read it out loud. It has to be out loud. Not just in your head, OK? You have to hear what you’re writing for this strategy to work.

3) Read it in the best intonation possible, as if your friend is in front of you. Like you're telling your friend something.

4) Occassionally, switch roles and become your friend for a bit to ask questions. Like, suddenly, you'll be the friend who asks, "Wait, I thought it's bad to put oils on your face??" This will be a good opportunity for you to include the questions as well as the answers.

When you write as if you’re having a conversation with your reader, you’ll hit the natural flow of the conversation. What question will your friend ask first? How will your friend react to this or that? You’ll KNOW, because the conversation is happening inside your head! Now you just have to put them into words.


Third strategy: Relate to your readers by finding out WHO they are.

The way to REACH inside and GRAB your reader’s brain is to understand this: WHO is your reader?

Day after day, when you’re tapping away on your laptop, or scribbling away on your notebook, who do you imagine you’re writing to?

If you say you’re writing to Anyone or Everyone, that means you’re not PERSONALIZING your writing enough.

Structure is important, but knowing who you write to is even more CRUCIAL to making your blog post understandable.

When it’s not personalized, it means that it’s general. Like it’s not intended for anyone. Your reader is reading and he/she isn’t feeling special, because it’s not personalized to him/her. Your writing won’t flow the way it’s supposed to in his/her head.

At work, there’s usually a few talks every month that everyone is supposed to attend. And I’m REALLY bad at listening to talks. I either fall asleep (despite my good intentions) or play with my phone. The talks are usually too… General. And general = boring. So I don’t pay attention.

To get my attention, the speaker would have to speak as if they’re speaking to me PERSONALLY. They have to mention things that relate to ME. Not the person beside me.

Make your reader feel special by making the blog post ABOUT THEM.

That’s how it works in writing too. You need to personalize your writing based on who your readers are (or who you WANT to write to).

Here’s a few things you can find out about your readers:

1) Gender: male, female, others

2) Age: school children, teenagers, young adults, 30 year-old adults, mature (40+ and above)

3) Occupation: student, SAHM, executives, freelancers, business owners, office jobs, retail jobs

4) Level of interest in the topic: hobbyist, freelancer, business owner, professional

Those aren’t the only things, but they’re a solid place to start.

Let me give you an example. If you’re writing about budgeting money and your audience are teenagers — then tips like how to apply for loans and financing from banks won't be relevant to them (yet). Teenagers can’t apply for loans and financing.

So not only do you personalize the content, you also personalize your examples, writing style, and also language.

I have another tip. The thing about bloggers or writers is that they're usually sharing things that they themselves have experienced. So they share with people who are similar to them. So another way to understand your audience is to look at yourself.

Your own age, gender, occupation, etc all plays into how you write and personalize your writing.


Fourth strategy: Have mercy on your readers by embracing learning aids.

Learning aids are those things you can find in a school textbook. Diagrams, charts, etc… Learning aids make learning easier because you’re not just reading TEXT.

OK, so I’m writing about writing, but I’m telling you to use things other than words. Seems funny, right?

In my first year of university, reading law, I made this meme:


Why? Because everything was just ENDLESS text. Paragraphs upon paragraphs with no end in sight, and I was just supposed to digest everything by reading? No way jose.

I like reading, but reading to understand something is a whole lot different than reading fiction.

So would you, as someone who’s passionate about educating your readers, inflict on them the same kind of pain? There are things, ideas and concepts that MERE WORDS cannot explain.

There are points that you can more readable and understandable with learning aids like diagrams, etc. Takes more effort for you to prepare a blog post, yes, but your readers will understand what you’re writing. I’d say that’s worth it.

Here’s a short list of learning aids that you can use in your writings:

1) Photos. Ohhh boy. If you can insert photos into your blog, I would really recommend it. Especially if you're writing tutorials. Sometimes it’s better to SHOW the steps rather than tell.

2) Videos. Videos are a bit difficult to produce and let's face it, video-editing is something that most people just don’t have time for. Me included. BUT, make short videos. Even if it's without any voiceover or captions or fancy editing, it can still be useful.

3) GIFs. If you don't feel like videos are your thing or they’re just too hard to produce, use GIFs! GIF stands for Graphic Interchange Format and it's like a hybrid between a photo and video, that will play on loop. I've used this before my Ultimate Guide to Microblogging on Social Media using a free tool called LiceCap. I know, weird name. But it works great!

4) Diagrams. Examples are the Venn diagram, flowcharts, pyramids, etc. Sounds a bit nerdy to make diagrams about argan oil or the best way to pack electronics or cupcake frosting, but WHAT ELSE ARE YOU GOING TO BE NERDY ABOUT? Tip: You can use the SmartArt on Microsoft Word and screenshot from there, or use a graphic design tool like Canva.

5) Analogies. Analogies are when you compare Concept A and Concept B. Concept A is the one you’re trying to explain, Concept B is something that your reader is already familiar with. For example, an analogy that I've used before is to explain the concept of a website:

  • A website is like a house.

  • The pages on the website are like the rooms. A blog, which is a page, is a room inside that house.

  • The About Me page and the Contact Me page are also other rooms in the house.

  • The domain (or the link that you type) is the address of the house.

If there's something you'd want to 'nerd out' for, it's your blog!

I use all the above (except for videos, still working on that), but my personal favourite is using analogies. I find it easier to create diagrams and graphics when I have a visual idea of what I want to explain.


Bonus strategy: Accept that there is no such thing as a perfect, 100% flowy blog post.

Even after all your editing and getting to know your audience et cetera, you will never achieve the 100% flow. And here’s the thing: it’s NOT IMPORTANT and it’s NOT REQUIRED.

I'm not saying you shouldn't try to make your writing flow nicely. I'm just saying, it matters less than you think. What matters is actually conveying your message/points/lesson/tips to your readers.

So if you’ve gone through all the strategies and there’s still something not quite perfect, LET IT GO. There's no need to force it. Your time is better spent writing another blog post!

Let me know in the comment section: How much time do you usually spend on your blog post to make it ‘flow’?



Leveraging Your Skill To Create A Dream Business or Career


I only drink lattes. I both like the taste AND like the hipster feeling that accompanies coffee-drinking.

When I'm broke, it's my instant coffee mix (if you're wondering which one, it's the Nescafe Oh So Creamy White Coffee with milk), but when I'm feeling a little luxurious, I go to the café in my office building.

Anyway, since payday is only a few days away from today, I thought I'd swing by the café and grab a hot macadamia latte to accompany today's writing session.

As I was waiting for my order, I noticed how quick the barista was in making it. And it was good, just as it always has been.

It's not easy to make good lattes. It's not just a "pour water, pour milk" kind of thing. I've tried making my own from scratch and it's hard to CONSISTENTLY get right.

I've lost count of how many times I went to a café / restaurant / the local Starbucks and thought, "The coffee was good last week, but today it sucks. I'm disappointed."

It takes SKILL and EXPERIENCE to be able to do things perfectly -- consistently. Good equipment does help, but NOT all the way.

Back to the barista.

As I was gratefully sipping my latte, I thought about how awesome it is if the barista could use her coffee-making skill to build her own career or business.


    What if the barista could freelance and provide coffee-making services at events? (I've seen this at weddings)


    What if the barista could train the employees of new cafes and coffeehouses on making good coffee?

    What if the barista could train those employees on the tips and tricks to efficiently make good coffee when there's a loooong line of customers? (Without messing up all the different orders!)

    What if the barista could create an online educational course on making good coffee for caffeine-heads at home? (Basically, people who don't have the fancy equipment)

    What if the barista could teach a specific coffee-related skill, like how to make beautiful foam art?


    What if the barista could provide consultation to café owners on what kind of equipment works best and how to structure the processes (from taking the order to preparing the coffee to the presentation)?

It's so exciting to think about the paths that the barista could choose if she decides to leverage her skill.

Leveraging your skill means you get to maximize your money-making potential by utilizing your skill. In short, make money from something you’re good at AND you like doing.

With any new venture, it takes time to really bear fruit. Even if that barista is ready to quit her job tomorrow and start teaching employees of new cafes and coffeehouses, the clients won’t be lining up to hire her right away. That’s a given, right?

But if she leverages her skill AND brands herself AND starts to market herself as THE PROFESSIONAL BARISTA — who’s to say that her dream career or business is out of reach?

Here's a little challenge for you: Think about the people you meet in your life. People who work retail jobs, your relatives, your colleagues, that person you follow on Instagram.

Brainstorm 3 different ways that person can use that ONE skill that he/she has to build his/her own career or business.

I know it sounds like you're just daydreaming on behalf of that person. But it's a great exercise for you in adopting the mindset of CAN DO, WILL DO.

Even if you're doing this for someone else, it’s great to step outside the beaten path.



The Freelancer's Guide to DIY-ing A Basic Contract


I almost DIDN'T write this blog post. Why? Two reasons:

1. I was afraid of what my lawyer friends would say when they saw the title to this blog post. Would they say "leave the contract-writing to lawyers!"?

2. I wasn't sure if you'd be interested in this sort of topic. I've written about blogging, branding and marketing in general -- but not something business-y like this.

As with every blog post that I write, I struggle with doubts. Is this blog post relevant? Will people hate it and then hate me? Do I know enough to write about it?

But eventhough the doubts were overwhelming -- I can't help but think about the person I used to be. I used to be a freelancer, too. And while I don't claim that THIS blog post will solve all your freelancing troubles, I hope it will help.

Anyway, enough rambling by me. Let's get down to the topic at hand: DIY-ing your own contract as a freelancer.

Do I really need a contract, even if I'm a small-time freelancer?

When people hear the word 'contract', they usually think of an official document that only professionals or the big shots bring out for big big projects. Signed with an expensive pen and then placed in a briefcase. (Preferably dark brown leather, kay.)

Well, today I want to give you another perspective on contracts and why you need them even when you're just starting out in your freelancing business.

A contract is a form of communication between two parties. You and the client.

Picture this: You have a business where you provide services. A potential client contacts you and wants to meet up to discuss 'the project', aka what you're being paid for.

So you meet up with the client at a nice cafe, and you guys talk about the details of the project. What to do, when to do it, etc etc. Then both of you go your separate ways.

Is that it?

What if someone forgets something? What if the client forgets that she has to make the 2nd payment after you've done a certain task? What if you forget something important that the client mentioned?

After a (good) client meeting, the freelancer will always be on a high. Someone likes my work and wants to pay me. Oh yeah baby. (I noe how dat feel) The client will feel excited for the project to start too. And the details of the meeting will feel so VIVID.

But after a day or two, after you've come down from the high, the details will be less fresh.


That's where the contract comes in! It's a recorded version of whatever it is you and your client have discussed and agreed on. You basically turn your words during the meeting into written form, so that both you and the client can refer to it again and again.

So back to the question just now: Do you really need a contract if you're just starting out?

YES, yes you do. And I have two reasons for saying so:

  1. Having a contract for every client is considered the BEST practice. Even if you're a small-timer, why not adopt this practice from the beginning so that you could start your business right? You can adjust the length of your contract to suit the size of your business/project.
  2. When you do as the professionals do, you'll look like a professional too. If only professionals use contracts, then hop on the lorry! When you bring out your contract, your client will get the impression that you're serious about the project and they'll feel more confident in your abilities. A clear and fair contract will help you build trust with your client.

You may ALREADY have a contract in place...

When you're liaising with your client over WhatsApp or email, you'd definitely have mentioned a few things that your client NEEDS to know. For example, Payment must be made before 10 pm or The client must provide the correct details. These need-to-know things are the terms and conditions (T&C). So in effect, you already have a contract with your client.

If it's just a simple buy-and-sell kind of transaction, there aren't that many T&Cs. But if you're a freelancer, you usually provide services that are more tailored to your client's situations. That means that your services are more complicated than just buy-and-sell.

The more complicated your services, the more T&Cs you and your client need to agree on.

I'm not saying you're doing it wrong when you use WhatsApp or email to 'come to an agreement' with your client. I'm saying, if your services are complicated, it might be EASIER to have everything, all the T&Cs in one document.

That kind of contract will be the focus of this blog post.


Things go right, but they also always go wrong.

OK, I'm a pessimist. But when I offered freelance designing services, things went wrong MORE than they went right. And it sucked big time because I was so excited for the projects!

The cause? Failure in communication.

Sure, we had client meetings. Over the phone, in-person at a nice cafe. The initial discussions were so awesome -- I even convinced myself that I'd definitely be bestfriends with my clients down the line. (Such wishful thinking.)

But down the line — it became clear to me that my clients and I were expecting DIFFERENT things from the projects. 

  • One client expected me to do more than what we originally agreed on. 
  • One client disappeared near the end of the project and wanted to resume around 2 months later. Also, no compensation.
  • Another one disappeared also. 


And you know what? I take responsibility for things going wrong. 

As the freelancer, it was my responsibility to ponder things like... 

  • How do I make sure that the project runs smoothly?
  • How do I make sure my client and I are always on the same page?  How and what do I communicate?
  • How do I perform my service in the best way possible?
  • What do I need from my client?
  • How do I protect my own interests? 

It’s NOT the client’s job to think about all this. They don’t go into the project thinking: What do I need to do? 

So yeah, despite my initial resentment towards them (I’m only human), it was ultimately my fault because I didn’t have a contract in place. I should have known better, they literally teach me this in university. Sigh.


The contract prevents and cures

Kay, the contract — YOUR contract — is not a magic wand. When you and the client sign the contract, it doesn't literally bind both of you to the terms and conditions. No one will be struck by lightning if you breach a T&C.

BUT, like I've said before: Projects fail due to failure in communication. It’s pretty safe to assume that most people aren’t evil witches. They were just expecting different things.

What the contract does is that it PREVENTS miscommunications. Everything important is put on paper for both you and the client to read. Now it’s not gonna be a matter of Who said What.

The contract also CURES. During the project, you owe the client something (your work). The client owes you something (money or compensation). 

If any of you doesn’t fulfill what is owed, you have something to fall back on: the contract! I’m gonna talk a bit about how you can enforce your DIY contract at the end of this blog post.

You won’t only be at this ~small-time freelancer~ stage forever.  The more your business grows, the more you need to protect yourself.


Let's rewire how we think of contracts.

1. A contract is 90% business and only 10% legal.

The biggest misconception when it comes to contracts is that only lawyers know what to put in the contracts.  

For example:

Other people: Aina, draft a contract between our company and Company X. We want to start the project in 2 weeks kthxbye.
Me: Okay... But what is the project about? What kind of terms do you want? What are the people involved supposed to do? What’s the timeline? How is the payment being made?   

Since the contract is a recorded version of what was agreed between people in the project, the lawyer WOULDN’T know what to put in the contract. (Unless they were present during the discussions too!)

Even if you don't want to DIY your contract and want to hire a lawyer to create one for you, your lawyer will still be asking for your input. Your input is the MOST important part of the contract.

2. Forget the fancy legal words.

When I draft contracts at work, I use fancy legal words. But that's because I'm representing a corporation. The parties involved are companies, so the language that's expected to be used is more fancypants.

But if you're dealing with clients on a one-to-one basis, your contract should be in words that both of you understand easily. If you use fancypants language HERE, your client could feel like you're being shady.

Stick to the point. And use bullet points if you want to, it's fine.

3. A contract should be fair, it's not only for you.

Even if YOU prepare the contract and not the client, it doesn't mean that each T&C should be to your advantage only. I mean, you can make it like that, but your client wouldn't be too eager to sign on the dotted line, yaknow?

A lot of people think that having a contract means you get to cancel all the risks, but that's not how it works. There will always be risks to your business and your contract is supposed to eliminate those that can be REASONABLY eliminated.

For example, there's always a risk that you wouldn't get paid by the client. So how do you handle that?

  • Reasonable: Each client must put in 20% deposit from the total fee. And pay in instalments after every stage of the project.
  • Unreasonable: Each client must pay 100% in advance before the project starts.*

*Unless you're really in-demand, most clients won't agree to pay 100% upfront because then it will be a risk to them.

There's a lot of give and take here. You want to minimize risk, the client wants to minimize risk. So do expect to negotiate on some of the T&Cs because both of you need to agree on ALL the T&Cs.

4. Contract first, THEN project. 

I used to think that I can figure out the contract as we go along the project. NOPE! Wrong way of doing it. (What can I say, I'm an impatient lady.)

The contract is has to be agreed upon by you and the client BEFORE the project starts. That means all the hard-thinking parts must be done before you start doing any kind of work.

Yes, you can tweak the contract along the way if you need to -- but everything should already be in place already.


What to put in your freelancer contract: the Must-Haves.

A contract can be long or short. Again, it depends on your project. If it’s a complicated and long project, it makes sense to have a longer contract so that you and client can thoroughly know what to do. 

But regardless of how long or short the contract is, I’ve listed below the must-haves. These freelancer contract must-haves are important because they’re directly about your project, so do allocate some time to think them through. Even if you hire a lawyer, they'll be asking you the same things.

DISCLAIMER: The advice I’m giving in this blog post is general. Since I’m not your lawyer, I don’t know the specifics of your project. So please treat this post as a guideline rather than a specific advice for your specific situation.

Therefore, I need to mention this, please don’t hold me responsible for any issues in your contract or project. 

If you want to be sure, I recommend hiring a lawyer to develop a contract (or contract template) that’s tailored for your business. It’s a great investment especially if you do a lot of freelancing. Protect yourself! 

OK, now that the disclaimer is out of the way — let’s get cracking!  


1. Roles & responsibilities


This part covers the things you and your client are supposed to do for the project. All the things. 

Eventhough the roles and responsibilities are obvious and make you go, umm duh?, never assume you and your client have some sort of telepathy and you know exactly what each other are saying. (It rarely happens that way)

So yes — this is the first thing you should start with. Defining the things you and your client will do/are responsible for. 

What I like to do is to have two columns side-by-side. One is for your responsibilities and the other is for the client’s responsibilities. It helps to compare them like this because you can see if the client has to do something in response to you and vice versa. Like this:

Your responsibilities Client's responsibilities
Provide questionnaire to determine client's ideal kitchen before project starts Answer questionnaire and email to designer before project starts
Provide 3 kitchen design options to client for consideration Choose 1 design option and give feedback

For example, you have to provide 3 design options for the kitchen to the client. In response to that, the client has to choose 1 design out of the 3 options.

This helps the client be aware of his/her responsibilities throughout the duration of your service. You need their participation and cooperation, rather than just ‘get the payment and do the job’.  

Should you include every single task that you have to do for the project? In my opinion, yes. No task is too small to be included. The reasons are two-fold: 

  1. It gives the client an accurate picture of exactly what you’re doing. No more remarks like, “Well, I could have done this myself!”.
  2. It helps you provide an accurate Project Timeline, which is another point that we’ll be talking about after this. 

2. Scope and limitations


The next important thing to include in your contract is the scope and limitations of the project. Basically, what IS and IS NOT covered in your service to the client? 

In my experience, this is the part where freelancers and clients often fight over.  

Freelancer: Umm no, that’s not included in the package. 
Client: What do you mean not included? I’m paying you to do it! 

As much as there are clients who purposely ask for things they know aren’t included (they like to try their luck), it’s your job as the freelancer to set limitations.  

OK, let’s use the previous example. (In fact, we’ll just use the example for the rest of the blog post okay) 

You’re a freelance interior designer and you only design kitchens. You need to define the scope and limitations of your interior design service.

SCOPE - things that are included:  

  • One home kitchen (dry or wet) If both, the fee is different.
  • Includes designing, researching layouts, researching products and styling products. 

LIMITATIONS - things that aren’t included:

  • Does not include cleaning/ decluttering BEFORE and AFTER the project. 
  • Does not include DIY-ing existing furniture.

At this point, you may feel like you’re being too negative. Oh, I don’t do that. No, I don’t do this. It feels like you’re always saying NO to the client and isn’t that bad customer service?

Setting limitations is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s healthy for the project and your relationship with the client.

  1. Both of you know upfront what the client is paying you for. No unpleasant surprises down the line.
  2. You get to focus on what you’re really awesome at: your service! If you’re an interior designer, you can’t be sidetracked by cleaning. 

3. Project timeline


Ah, we’ve come to another part of the project where there is often so much misunderstanding. 

(BTW, I’m sorry if I sound jaded and negative. I’m just speaking out of experience at my work and business — the timeline is always a hot topic.) 

To a client, the project should start as quickly as possible and finish, like, yesterday.  

Sometimes, you can’t blame then. They’re just very very excited for the results. (Which is very encouraging!)

But on other times, their impatience comes from.... 

  1. Not knowing exactly what you do as the freelancer. 
  2. Not knowing how much time certain tasks take.  

So it’s also your job as the freelancer to inform them these things and set REALISTIC expectations. 

How long will the whole project take?

The first important thing to address is the project DURATION. 

Unless your arrangement with the client is on an ongoing basis, you need to have a definite duration for how long the project is going to take.

For example, for your interior design service, you’ve estimated that it would take 2 weeks at the very most.  

For you: This is good because you know how many clients you can book for every month. (4 weeks / 2 weeks = 2 clients)

For the client: This is considerate because the client can make the necessary arrangements. For example, the client won’t be able to cook in her kitchen for 2 weeks, so she can order takeout in advance / not buy so many groceries.

How long will EACH task take?

The next important thing is stating the time allocated for each task. Your client needs to know how long you'll take to do each task listed in the 'Roles and Responsibilities' section.

You may feel like this is unnecessary because you’ve already told the client the duration of this project. Like, what else do I need to tell? 

But like I’ve mentioned before, the client wants everything to be done yesterday. Or better yet, before the last dinosaur on Earth hatched out of its egg. (Random hyperbole)

This is because the freelancer hasn’t informed them how long things actually take.  

For example, your client for your interior design service may feel like: 

Why can’t she just come over to my house after signing the contract and start on my kitchen? 2 weeks is too long! This should just take, like, a weekend to finish.

But in actuality, you need at least 2 days to research kitchen styles properly, 1 day to come up with design drafts, and so on and so forth.

When you let them know how much time certain tasks take, they’ll appreciate the creative process so much more. And as a result, they’ll appreciate what they're going to get from you so much more.

Putting it all together for a Project Timeline...

The last thing to do under this part is setting up a Project Timeline. The Project Timeline is a a start-to-finish look at what’s going to happen in the project.

Starting from Day 1, you combine the responsibilities (yours and the client’s) with the days allocated for each ‘task’. I have two ways you can visualize this timeline: 


Timeline Task
Day 1 Go over the questionnaire for ideal kitchen together to finalize the vision
Day 2 - 3 Develop 3 design options for the kitchen by researching and outlining layout
Day 4 Present 3 design options to the client for consideration and request client to make final choice
Day 5 Send client a 3D look of the kitchen based on design chosen, for approval

...and continue this till the end of your project!


Freelancer DIY contract.png
You can use Google Drawing or Lucidchart to make nice flowcharts! I used Lucidchart for the flowchart above.

Any option you choose, make sure the Project Timeline can be easily understood by the client!


4. Payment methods


Freelancers need money. Freelancers need to get paid. But you’d be surprised at how reluctant most freelancers can be to include this in their discussions with the client. 

This is what your contract can do for you: Ensure you get paid by the client.

It does this by....

  1. Informing the client WHEN you should be paid. 
  2. Informing the client HOW you should be paid. 

Let’s take a look at it one-by-one.

When and how often can you say "ka-ching"?

You can inform the client WHEN you should be paid by creating a PAYMENT SCHEDULE. A Payment Schedule is a timetable for payment. Here's what it looks like:

Event Payment
Upon signing of the contract 10% of the total Fee = RM100.00
Upon sending of the 3D image of the kitchen 20% of the total Fee = RM200.00
Upon confirmation of order with kitchen cabinet/furniture supplier 50% of total Fee = RM500.00
Upon confirmation that work is completed 20% of total Fee = RM200.00
TOTAL RM1,000.00

(Yes, this is what I use even at work)

The first thing to do for your payment schedule is to decide how often you get paid... 

  • Payment in lump sum or instalments? 
  • Upfront or at the end of project? 
  • Deposit or no deposit? 
  • How many instalments? 

Look at your own needs as a freelancer and decide the frequency of payments accordingly.

The most prudent practice is always to take a deposit at the start of the project, especially if your project duration is long. It’ll let you know how interested the client is in the project and lets you have some extra cash to buy your supplies. Also, if by the end of the project the client disappears, at least you’ve gotten some payment. Better than nothing.

So, assuming you’re taking a deposit and want your client to pay by instalments, it’s time to figure out what events in the Payment Schedule will trigger payments.

OK, let’s go over that again.  Events in the Payment Schedule will trigger payments.

For example, when I send my client the 3D image of the kitchen based on the design they had chosen, the client will pay me 20% of the total fee. The trigger here is the “send 3D image”.

Both you and the client must be totally onboard with this. Payment is a sensitive issue so there’s no room for miscommunication. 

Soooo... That’s why the next step is really important: The trigger events in your Payment Schedule must match the Project Timeline.

Meaning, if the event is not one of the tasks in the Project Timeline, then it has NO business being on the Payment Schedule. Cuz if it’s not in the Project Timeline, the client will be confused about when they’re expected to make payment.  

Like — if the client didn’t know that you’d be sending her a first draft, she wouldn’t have set aside money for payment. Right?

Even if you have a payment schedule, make sure you officially remind your client to pay by sending them invoices after the relevant ‘triggers’.

So go through your Project Timeline and make sure it links to your Payment Schedule.

Do you accept vegetables as payment?

The second thing to do is to decide HOW you want to get paid.

Trust me when I say that you can’t take this for granted. What do you accept as payment?

  • Cash?  
  • Attention / credits / publicity / exposure?
  • Vegetables?
  • Love and affection?

Even if you’re doing the project for FREE, or even if you’re doing it on a barter basis — SPELL IT OUT.  

I took this part for granted, TWICE. Both times, I did the work in exchange for exposure. You know how it goes, do work for someone famous, get mentioned on social media, gain some followers. Simple, right? 

Both times, I made the mistake of NOT requesting/specifying the kind of exposure that I’d like. I just assumed that the other person would know what to do and all will be well. 

What I should have spelled out were these things: 

  • The social media platform(s) that I wanted exposure on
  • The description (or even photos) I wanted to be mentioned with
  • How many times I’d be mentioned
  • When I’d be mentioned (specific dates!)
  • All my social media accounts that I should be tagged with

Because I didn’t spell out all these things, the end result was that my work was undercompensated. 

It’s such a sucky feeling you know. I know I should be grateful for the opportunities to work with those people and not ‘demand’ the exposure, but I wasn’t doing those projects for fun. I wasn’t busting my ass for fun. I provided value. And exposure > More clients.  

So don’t be like me. Negotiate for what you want in return for your services, and then put it in writing. 

Remember, a good client will want to be fair. They’ll want to provide value to you in exchange for your service. So if your potential client refuses to discuss this part or brushes you off, you know it’s a red flag.


OK, let's recap a bit...

You can put any T&C in your DIY contract, but the FOUR contract must-haves above are the ones that MUST be in your contract.

  1. Roles & responsibilities - what you & your client are supposed to do.
  2. Scope & limitations - what IS & ISN'T covered by your services.
  3. Project timeline - the deadlines for your project.
  4. Payment method - how & when you're gonna get paid.

If you have other T&Cs that are more specific to your industry/services -- please put 'em in! Create new 'headings' if you have to.


How to start DIY-ing your freelancer contract

Now that you already know roughly what a contract is for and what you have to put in them, it's time to start DIY-ing your own. This part is straightforward!

Firstly, I recommend that you brainstorm and jot down everything that you can about your project. Don't limit yourself to only the four contract must-haves.

  • If you have a 'standard' process for your services that won't be changed from client to client: jot down every step that you usually take for your previous clients.
  • If this is your first time as a freelancer or if your contract is more personalized: refer to standard practices in your industry or your meeting notes with your client.

Secondly, separate what you've brainstormed into headings.

  • For T&C that fit under the four contract must-haves: Put them under 'Roles & Responsibilities', 'Scope & Limitations', 'Project Timeline' and 'Payment Methods' respectively.
  • For T&C that don't fit: See if you could group them into bigger categories. Those categories will be your new headings. For example, if you provide maintenance and support, you could have a heading called 'Maintenance & Support'.

Thirdly, decide what format you want your contract to be in.

  • WhatsApp: Not recommended. Too casual and has limited space/formatting.
  • Email: Recommended for contracts that are 'standard', where there's not much personalization. Your client can just reply that they agree to the T&Cs and you're done!
  • Google Doc: Recommended for most situations, including 'standard' contracts.

The reason why I highly recommend Google Doc is because your client can view, edit and comment on the contract before it gets finalized! You just need to send a link to the contract to the client for them to check out.

I've prepared a sample of the contract for you in Google Doc to use if you want. Feel free to copy it into your own Google Doc and personalize according to your project!

Fourthly, the contract has to be agreed upon by you and the client.

Notice that I haven't said anything about 'signing' the contract yet? Just like when you buy things online, your actual signature isn't actually required for the contract to take effect.

When you happily click on those ‘Pay Now’ buttons, you’re basically showing that you agree to the T&Cs through your actions.

That's why it's enough if you can have your client reply to your email I agree to the Terms & Conditions in your email below. Or any kind of wording that shows they agree to the contract.

BUT -- if it's not inconvenient for you to print out your contract and sign it with your client, DO IT! Not only is it the best practice, you can also go through the contract one more time with your client. This builds trust.


Can you enforce your DIY contract in court?

The answer depends on a lot of factors, but generally, your DIY contract can be the basis for you to bring your claim against your client in court. Specifically, the small claims court.

Under this small claims court, you can sue your client (or any other party) if your claim is LESS than RM5,000. So for example, if the client was supposed to pay you RM4,900, but failed to do so, your case will be heard by the small claims court. For a more lengthy explanation on the process, check out Syahredzan Johan's article.

You won't be allowed to hire a lawyer to represent you (which means no legal fees), but don't worry -- the judge will guide you on what to do.

Please note that I said you can definitely sue, but WINNING your case isn't 100% guaranteed, even if you have a contract (DIY or not). It all depends on the facts in your situation.


Is that it? Can I start using the DIY contract now in my freelancing business?

Yes, you can!

Like I’ve said before, a contract is 90% business and 10% legal.  As long as you have a clear picture of what you’re doing as the freelancer and what you want out of your project, your contract will follow naturally.

Just like marketing and bookkeeping parts of your business, the legal-ish part of your business needs to be taken care of too.

What’s the most important T&C that you want to incorporate in YOUR DIY contract?