Ahmed Khalifa: Content Therapy – Using your platform as a voice for others

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Notes

Ahmed’s journey with content has evolved over the last ten years from SEO consultant to raising deaf awareness.

Content was heavily involved in Ahmed’s work as an SEO consultant but realised he could use content and share his story to have to create a greater impact and help people in the deaf community.

Ahmed shares how raising deaf awareness has helped him grow and opened up many different opportunities for him.

The Interviews:

Additional Resources:

Transcription

Chris: Hey Ahmed, it’s so good to have you here. How are you today?

Ahmed: I am excited. Really happy to be here. Thanks for the invite.

Chris: Yeah, that’s great. I mean I can’t believe that we’ve not had you on the podcast. I was saying this to Roger earlier as well, he’s in the same batch of podcasts with you as well, and I was saying to him that, “He’s never been on the podcast either. I can’t believe it. What have I been doing with myself? Have I really been doing a podcast?” I’m not sure.

It’s so good to have you here, Ahmed. Thanks very much for joining me.

Ahmed: No problem.

Chris: We love interviewing the members and try to get to know their journey. Especially members have been with CMA for years. It’s good for people to know where you started and what was that moment where you were like, is content marketing going to be the thing? And then you’re doing your different projects, and all the different content you’re doing, and what successes you’re having. And I’d love to talk to you about all of those things as well.

Then I want to talk about you winning an award this year at the CMA awards. We want to talk a little bit about that, and then then we’ll see where it goes from there. Right? There’s always nice little surprises that come up too.

So I guess the first question is Ahmed, and I don’t know if we really ever talked about this, even privately is, where does your content marketing journey begin?

Ahmed: I think it’s always been part of my career because really by trade, I’m in SEO, and I’ve been doing it for over 10 years and really content is part of SEO. Whether you like it or not, it’s part of SEO. And it’s one thing to do the technical side of things and your user experience and analytics, but then, SEO is not going to be SEO without content and even content has its own special style and skill, and kind of unique perspective into the whole journey.

And it’s always been kind of part of my background and my career, not really until you really dive into it, knee-deep with yourself and everyone around CMA and learning more about the content market area, that you realise it’s part of a much bigger kind of sphere than you think.

Because I always thought as SEO, being kind of central and then there are so many little things around it, as another side, the analytics, keywords, the technical stuff. All of these things, they play a part in SEO, and then I put content on top of that.

But really, content and content marketing can be a massive, massive thing on its own, and then you can break it down even further. So I guess, it’s always been part of me for over 10 years of my career in SEO and digital marketing.

Chris: So if you weren’t creating content, you were doing things that helped people’s content to be seen, at least. And I think you’re right about the different layers of content marketing, there’s the creative, then there’s the technical, and then there’s the … you can go so deep with that, can’t you, into the specialisms?

When we’re thinking about your journey then, when you started to really get into content marketing for growing your own enterprise, where did that start for you, then?

Ahmed: It definitely really kick-started properly when I decided to fly solo and start my own business, my own kind of career in my own way. Because I’ve been, always part of an agency or in house, and been part of companies and an employee, and that was a crucial part of my journey. But it was not always a big thing for me to talk about content marketing when I was an employee.

Not until I really, really pushed forward and I thought okay, this is a lot bigger than I thought. This is something that I really want to do. And I thought, could I have a bit more control over my business? I thought this is the direction I want to take. And I realised even more, again from putting my SEO hat on, that I wanted to talk about content in a certain way. Personality is in there, your expertise, your authority is in there. And I found out when I did it via my business, you should mainly focus on SEO.

I found that I was able to talk about it using content, using the blog format really, really easy compared to being an employee, because of course there are other people involved, that makes it more difficult, but I knew that I had a responsibility to, one, to oversee how that pressure of making your business work, but also, I feel like it’s my responsibility to educate my audience, educate my clients, and even part of that is to educate myself as well.

So I guess now it’s been over three years now, running my business and it’s amazing how, it’s an essential part of my business right now, and if I feel like I haven’t done anything, I didn’t wash myself, if I haven’t done a content for a long time. It just such an essential part of my marketing overall and part of my sales as well. And I couldn’t continue doing my business or even go too long without even thinking about content in the first place.

Chris: Yeah, I love that there’s that sort of like a sort of insight into your philosophy and about your responsibility to create content, to educate your buyers.

But you mentioned something that I think oftentimes people miss, not just educating your buyers but your own education is developed through creating content too. And I think a lot of people don’t see that as an element of the bigger picture of content marketing, is that in order for us to make, we take the responsibility of teachers to educate our buyers, but we’re also learning at the same time too.

Ahmed: Definitely, definitely. I think people forget that a lot. When you think about content and video, you’re just thinking about who is consuming it, but you don’t really think about what it can do for you as a person, to your skills, to your personality, to your business expertise, because it opened my mind that a lot more about by the art of communication, the art of writing and creating video and editing.

It opened up my mind a lot more about the art of public speaking and how to kind of speak to the audience, not just speak to them in the brain and make them think, but also speak to them in the heart as well. And I know it sounds a bit cliche, but that’s really important to me as part of writing content.

And people underestimate the power of content for you as a person as well.

Chris: Yeah, personal growth is huge. Like we see it in CMA all the time. And there’s a big part of that in this conversation, we’re just about to have, I think as well, is that personal growth.

You start somewhere and then a year or two later you’re in a totally different place. You’re still practicing the same thing, you’ve still got the same philosophy, the same approach. You’re still operating with the same values, except you’re doing something that you never thought you would be doing, but it started as a seed at some point in the past, which was from something else. And we’ve seen that so much in CMA.

I think, popping to mind would be Debbie’s journey over the last couple of years as an in-house marketer, and then going out on her own, and content’s just been the catalyst for that whole approach.

Similar to your project as well, Ahmed, we’ve talked about, obviously your decade of experience in SEO and in content and in marketing. But then when we presented you with an award at CMA a few months ago, it wasn’t for this business, in fact, you were nominated multiple times.

I’ve got them all in front of me. I can’t read them all out, but people are just absolutely loving the content that you’re doing and nominating you for our Ann Handley’s Bigger, Braver, Bolder awards because of the work you’re doing with Hear Me Out.

And I think it’s incredible. I mean, this is what Ann said. Just for those that aren’t aware, we have these awards, we do them each year, they’re all a bit different. And this year it was, we had 10 award categories and four of them were sponsored. There wasn’t any money changing hands. It was more an acknowledgment. Mark Schaefer, Brian Fanzo or Ann Handley and Marcus Sheridan.

And the Bigger, Braver, Bolder award was Ann Handley’s awards. And we sent away the nominations to Ann and she had to pick who she felt deserved the award. And in this case she picked Ahmed, and he was nominated three times…

“Jeeez. Calm down Scotland. Who is this guy?. Turns out, he’s doing tremendous work from a content perspective. He’s identified an underserved niche. We hear that every industry is oversaturated with too much content. But Ahmed throws up a side-eye and goes, ‘Eh, says who?’. Then he goes out and smashes it with a podcast that doesn’t shy away from the hard truth. Bigger, Braver, Bolder doesn’t mean crazy, over the top. It means being real, honest and empathetic to the audience you serve. I am tattooing Ahmed Khalifa on my left bicep, who reminds me of the same”.

And Ann is like a huge personality in the marketing space. She stands out above everybody else because of the … and that Bigger, Braver, Bolder, just is exactly who she is. And the empathy, and the honesty and the realness that Ann brings to the marketing industry, the work that she does is the Bigger, Braver, Bolder work that she has to do for her space as well. I think there couldn’t have been a better person to choose the right person for this award.

So I think it’s absolutely amazing. We’re blown away by that. I guess, when we pull this into the wider conversation that we’re having Ahmed, is that oftentimes with content marketing, a lot of people have challenges, usually challenges with time and not being able to be consistent or committed to something. And essentially what you’ve done is, you’ve decided to bring, essentially another content project into your life, right?

You’ve got your entrepreneurial project. I don’t know what to call this, I’m going to say passion project, but no way do I mean that to undervalue it in any way at all. It’s a project that you’ve got a lot of passion for and it’s something else that you’re doing that’s getting the same, seems to me even more content through it, than perhaps even your SEO business.

So how did you make that decision? What was it that drove you to decide that, I’m going to do this. I want to do this project, this Hear Me Out project. Even though I’m entirely aware that you probably had plenty of things to keep you busy within your own business…

Ahmed: Definitely. So many things to do, and it wasn’t a decision that I took lightly because I am the kind of guy who doesn’t want to spread myself too thin. But too late now. So I just thought I’d go for it.

And you talked about that seed, you said, you plant that seed and it grows over time and it takes you on a journey. For me, that seed was when I did two things in one day, and that was exactly two years ago. So we were recording August 2019. Exactly two years ago, I decided, first of all, to publish my very first YouTube video ever, and it’s public and it’s out there. That was two years ago.

The same time, because that YouTube video is about me letting go. And what I’m really letting go is about me accepting who I am, by letting go what I perceive myself to be. In this case, all my life I’ve been labeled as someone who is technically deaf, and I struggled with all these things.

I struggled with being part of an environment, I struggled to communicate, I struggled to hear certain things and it has been a challenge for me for decades. And I’ve always allowed that to hold me back.

So really, two years ago I thought that video will be my first video and it’s got to be an important one because I’m going to let go of that perception of myself. And that was an encouragement done by Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income.

He did a competition for his book launch, it’s called Let Go, and he shared his own story about his version of Let Go. And he wanted to encourage people to do a three-minute video, that’s it, about what are you letting go of? And he’s encouraging people to submit and he will pick.

And I just thought you know what, here’s a good time for me to do it anyway, without expecting anything from him. Because he offered a big prize, which I will explain in a minute, but I just thought, you know what? I’m sick of being held back and I’m sick that I’ve not done a video yet. So I’m going to do two in one and do that video.

And long story short, it turned out that he wanted me to come over to San Diego and spend the day with him. And he is someone that a lot of people know. I look up to him very, very much. And it blew my mind that he actually picked me.

Watching the video, and anybody can watch it on YouTube, it is awful when you compare it two years ago or five years ago, when anyone starts, it’s awful. Like the first video you do, it’s always going to be really bad. But you have to start somewhere and that was a big trigger.

The video, doing it the first time and then being invited out there to San Diego and spend the day with him, which is a privilege in itself because I know he doesn’t do that for anyone.

And that was like the seed. That first video was the first seed and then that trip. And then it allowed me to grow as a person. We talked about that. It just made me more comfortable with who I am and the content helped with that, talking about it helped with that. It’s almost therapeutic.

And over the years I have become more and more comfortable with videos and I talked about it in an SEO sense, about why video is important. And then on the video, I talk about what you can do with analytics and WordPress and all the things.

But then gradually, I find myself naturally drifting back to talk about deaf awareness, my journey, educating people and trading stories, and I use videos and podcasts and blog to do that. And that’s where Hear Me Out CC came about.

And it became so therapeutic for me that it helped me to handle the challenges that I deal with every single day, every single second of my life, let alone every single day.

And it’s very, very therapeutic for me, to an extent where, it’s so easy for me to create the content that I felt like I can talk from the heart, talk passionately, talk in a way that it doesn’t require extensive research.

You know, you talk about how to do X, Y, and Z in WordPress, that requires a lot of research to make sure you get it right. But sometimes when it’s about your thoughts, you can talk from the heart and it doesn’t require too much research, but it requires a lot of soul digging and it can get emotional.

So that was the seed and it took me to today, where I am, where I’m starting to get private messages from people connecting with me, thanking me and saying that you have made him less lonely.

For the first time I have got an invite to speak at an event and it’s from me, not applying, they approached me. And they will invite me over, cover expenses and stuff like that. And this you all from me sharing, as you said, a different side of content, that is not really my main business but it has its own benefit, that people say money can’t buy.

But you know I am thinking like okay, what can I do though? How can I help more people? Because I think the therapy side of it helped me personally. But it seemed like it really resonated with a lot of people.

So it really helped me to, I guess, get naturally drawn to creating more content around that, and I’m still doing it after a year of officially doing it properly.

Chris: That’s awesome. I think it’s funny when we go through this journey, right? You’ve got your SEO background, you’ve got your content marketing background, and now you’re applying all of that foundational learning you’ve had to a new project, which in turn is allowing that project to be successful too.

So does that make sense? You’ve got this skill set now that you can apply to different things. And you’ve got another, it’s like you’ve applied another layer to it now. You’ve got several layers of learning happening from your business side and you’ve put a new layer on top of that now, and then that project’s been successful. There’s no telling really where that’s going to take you, now that you’ve started that process.

I love the stories about how what you’re doing is helping other people to feel less lonely and you’re starting a movement there. You’re talking about topics that other people aren’t prepared to talk about, that need to talk them. People that have wanted to hear someone talking about things that they never do. For people that can’t articulate their own feelings about things, you’re doing that for them. For people that want someone else to talk to about how they feel about things, you are now that person for them.

So I can see the big impact this is having on individuals across the world because that’s the world we live in. Right? It’s a very small place now.

Ahmed: Yeah.

Chris: But what I guess I’m interested in as is how this has changed you, with regards to your approach to how you do everything? Right, so two years ago you let go, you did your first video. You’re now two years further down the road. How have you changed?

Ahmed: Confidence is a big one. I think it’s amazing what confidence in yourself can do to yourself and the people around you. And of course I still have the moments, we have those imposter syndrome moments. I still get that now and then and whether that would ever go away or not, is another story.

But I definitely became more confident about who I am as a person and how you can help that person.

And when you do that, you know, people say giving is a lovely thing, giving is something beautiful, and you don’t always have to expect something back. And it makes you realise even more that you do have something to share to the world. And I’ve always thought that I don’t really have anything to share, it is a story that is boring, or something that not all people will understand or resonate or perhaps they don’t care about it.

But then it made me feel confident about saying, you know what? I want to talk about it. I want to be able to share that story. And I want to be able to show people that everyone has a story that they can share, regardless of what you think, because a lot of people will say, “Another person who is going through this, what do I have to say? I don’t have anything to say”.

But I just think that everyone has their own unique story that they can share that nobody else, or maybe very few people, or maybe even a small community can resonate with.

And it made me more confident into talking in front of an audience, doing public speaking and I never really thought of doing that until a year or two down the line after I started my business. I didn’t really think about that at all as an employee, and now I feel like I’m confident enough to talk about and share that message, without trying to waffle on too much. I just want to make sure that the method is hitting them as short and sweet if possible, but also makes them think.

And it’s amazing what that can do for you, and that’s why I use the word therapeutic quite a lot because right now, it’s not my main business. Maybe one day it will be in the future, I don’t know. But in the meantime, the benefit that I get from doing that, it’s very therapeutic. It keeps my feet on the ground, it keeps me level-headed. It keeps me sane, mentally and it does make me feel more relaxed when I do this content.

And I think I’m able to convey that better when I talk about deaf awareness, than when I talk about SEO, because it’s very difficult to talk about SEO in a very emotional sense. I guess I can’t really do that, maybe someone can be better than me, but it’s very difficult to do that. But of course, when it’s about something deep in your heart, then that’s a separate story.

Chris: Yeah, I think that’s kind of where, I guess when I was saying you’ve got all that foundational learning, you’re now applying it to something with much more passion and emotion attached to it. And I think that to me feels like that recipe is going to build into like a more beautiful cake if you will. I just feel like there is something very special happening there that’s yet to be … like, is still in the oven. You know, it’s still cooking away. We’re not quite sure where it’s going to go or what it’s going to look like, but we’ve got more of the right stuff in there.

I love how you’re saying therapeutic. And again, this comes back to a point that you mentioned earlier about how you grow through the process of content, your blogs, the videos. Doesn’t matter what topic it is. The fact that you create content, you put content out there, it helps you to grow as a person and to see content marketing as therapy because that’s what you’re really saying. It’s like a therapy for you. Right?

And I think a lot of people, again don’t truly see this, they sometimes see content marketing as a burden or something that we have to do to grow our businesses. But if we can start to see what you see, Ahmed, and all the things that you’ve shared with us today, the therapy, the education, the growth, the, “I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I know it’s going to be special”, type of attitudes towards content marketing. Then I think this gives people a much more intrinsic drive to want to make the world a better place, to do something different, to open themselves up and essentially, what Pat Flynn did for you, Ahmed, is ultimately what you’re giving to other people as a gift.

Ahmed: Yep. And I guess I didn’t see it that way, but I can see what you’re thinking of, and it’s actually a very nice way of saying that because I never thought I would be able to do that. I never thought I’d be the kind of person where, like you say, the Pat Flynns out there, or you know whoever big name out there. I never thought I’d be the Pat Flynn of this topic, but it turns out that you can.

Because I think when you live in that bubble of marketing, you see everyone talking about the same topic and you see your peers and I think it’s hard to kind of step back and think, you know what? Not everyone is the same is you, talking about the same thing as you do and trying to shout about the same topic as you do. And it gives them that fear about saying, you know what, I’m just another noise on top of that noise.

But you tend to think about, no, that’s not the case because you’ve got your own audience that may be more likely to prefer you than Pat Flynn and then all the other ones out there. They maybe prefer to connect with you because they feel like they can connect at a deeper level. And I think that taught me along the way, that you don’t have to have a big name and a million followers or whatever to make an impact. And I’ve learned that in just two years really, in just two years. So I think it’s a nice way of putting that. It’s really, really cool.

Chris: So when it comes to like, if you think someone’s listened to this podcast just now who is where you were three, four or five years ago, Ahmed, right? They’ve got a seedling of an idea, right? They’ve got something that they want to do, but they don’t have perhaps the skills that you have, right? This SEO background that you’ve had for a decade, but they know they want to get a message out to the world. They know the need to start this journey with content marketing. What’s your advice to that person? What do they need to do? What would you say to them?

Ahmed: I would use my own experience of how I learned about SEO and websites and using WordPress. That really came about when I was working in a job, which is just looking after a shop’s eBay store and Amazon store, they have their own version of that. And what I used to do back then, almost every night, I had a curiosity of wanting to know what is it like to have your own website? And almost every night, I’m not going to say all the time, all night long, but a lot of time after work, I just wanted to experiment a lot with having a WordPress site, understand how it works, and learn as you go along.

And don’t be afraid to break things as you go along, because you could learn from that failure. And I’ve learned so much from all the failures all over the years. And there’s so much failure, in terms of running the website or starting a new project or have a new podcast, because I’ve had two podcasts before that and they were a good experience and I’ve done it, but it didn’t get anywhere. But I’m still using that experience to help me with something else.

People should be aware that every single little thing that you do in your life can act like a trigger, without you knowing it. I didn’t know two years ago that my very first YouTube video using a webcam on my laptop, which is not really high definition or anything like that, bear wall in the background in my spare bedroom. I didn’t know if it was going to lead me to where I am today. Yet, it became a trigger that has resulted in something big.

So I think people should be aware that every little thing that you do at home, for half an hour each day, you learn as you go along, you fail as you go along. They are all part of the experience that can eventually lead something at the end of the day. And that’s how I learned all these things, just by not being afraid to break things, not being afraid to get myself out there and just be out of your comfort zone.

And you just never know what will happen a year or two down the line, which is really not that long. You just never know where that can lead you and if I hadn’t done that, then I’m just going to be going along as normal without really feeling like I’ve made an impact in people. So don’t be afraid to experiment and to break things and use that as a learning experience along the way.

Chris: That’s a great way to bring the podcast to a close. And I’ve had this conversation many times Ahmed, with many people who said to me, and this is the funny thing about content is and that content journey, is that oftentimes we don’t realize what we’re doing because we set off a butterfly effect or a ripple in the lake with a little stone or something. A trigger, like you, said. And we don’t really know where that’s going to take us until we look back a year from now.

Like we’re having this conversation now Ahmed. It’ll be interesting to have the same conversation in 12 months time, for example, or in 24 months time or whatever and look back and see what’s happened. And people have said this to me oftentimes, it’s like, if I never did this a year ago, then I wouldn’t be where I am today.

And I know it sounds obvious, but in order to create that trigger, that ripple, that butterfly effect, you have to do something. You have to go, take your idea and make it a reality or you’re never going to see what the next part of the journey is.

Ahmed: Yep. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to think of, but it’s a dangerous way to think if you don’t think that you can do something with your passion, your business and whatever. Like I said, you don’t have to … there’s a story about Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans, that is enough to have a small community of people resonating with what you do and love what you do.

So just because there are hundreds of people who have a blog about fishing or knitting, it doesn’t mean that people will not want to follow yours because you have a special way of doing it, which is, first of all, your personality is unique. You know, maybe that’s better than everyone else and that is something that you can build upon, I think. So do that. A year or two down the line, you just know what’s going to happen next.

Chris: Absolutely. Thanks so much, Ahmed for coming on today. Spending some time with us and getting a little bit of emotion into the podcast, which is never a bad thing. If people would like to find you, talk about your projects and get in touch with you, maybe even ask you questions about the things we’ve covered today, Ahmed. Where’s the best place for people to find you and seek you out?

Ahmed: You have to keep things simple. I think on social media, my handle is, all the same, it is @iamahmedkalifa and that would be the best place. But of course, my website is iamahmedkalifa.com and it is also heremeoutcc.com for the deaf awareness side of it as well.

Chris: Brilliant. And we will pop links into the show notes for everybody, so they can go ahead and check everything out.

It’s been a real pleasure, Ahmed. Thanks so much for joining me today and thanks for sharing your journey. I really enjoyed that chat, and we’ve talked about something here today, I think that is really special, but also stuff that we don’t spend enough time talking about.

Ahmed: So I appreciate you and thank you so much.

Chris: No problem at all. Thank you for chatting with me.

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