Bali-based digital media writer Tamar Hela hails from California, has worked and taught in Shanghai, and served clients around the world. In this episode, Tamar explains why persuasive writing needs to tell stories and evoke emotions; compares Chinese learning and writing styles; and presents four ways that Chinese social media writing styles differ from those of Americans or the French, tips for writing for global audiences, and ways to shortcut your social media cycle to get it to rank higher. And how does this involve goldfish? Their attention span is one second longer than Americans’.
Turning words into money with digital marketing.
The intuitive editing approach
Things to avoid in digital marketing and persuasive writing.
Writing style rules for different cultures and languages.
Teach methods for Chinese students.
Business in China vs Silicon Valley
The tips for working with Chinese businesses.
Finding the right words to get top rankings on google.
Currently living in Bali, Tamar Hela is a California girl who’s had adventures all around the world. Before Bali, she lived in Shanghai for five years, where she worked with SMEs and Fortune 500s like W.L. Gore as a LinkedIn agency owner. While living in Silicon Valley before her move to Asia, she worked with Hollywood celebrities and Amazon best-selling authors, moonlighting in the publishing industry and partnering with a media company owned by Bill Cosby’s nephews.
No matter the client, size of the company, or project, Tamar’s main focus for her clients is to help them to do what matters most online: get the right message across to the right audience. She does this by using processes she’s been testing out for over 16 years, along with what she calls “an intuitive editing approach.” This helped her to become a 6-figure copywriter in less than two years.
When she’s not collecting shekels, you can find Tamar curled up with a good book, on her next travel adventure, or brainstorming a new business idea.
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[email return to Philip@Auerbach-Intl.com]
Since today’s guest has lived in Shanghai, I thought it would be appropriate to start with the blooper of a sign in Chinese and in English that said very simply, and I do not know what the Chinese said, but it says in English, “Free yourself from the mystery of an existence”. Whatever that means.
Today’s guest is Tamar Hela, currently living in Bali. Tamar is a California girl who has adventures all over the world. She lived in Shanghai for five years before Bali and while in Shanghai, she worked with small and medium enterprises, in Fortune 500s, like WL Gore. As a LinkedIn agency owner, while living in Silicon Valley before her move to Asia, she worked with Hollywood celebrities and Amazon bestselling authors moonlighting in the publishing industry and partnering with a media company owned by Bill Cosby’s nephews. No matter the client, the size, the company, or the project, Tamar’s focus for her clients is to help them do what matters most online to get the right message across to the right audience.
She does this by using processes she has been testing out for over 16 years, along with what she calls an intuitive editing approach. This has helped her to become a 6-figure copywriter in less than two years. And when she is not collecting shekels, you can find Tamara curled up with a good book on her next trip, thinking about her next travel adventure, or brainstorming a new business idea.
Welcome, Tamar. Delighted that you’re with us today.
Thanks for having me, Philip. It is great to be here with you guys.
Thank you. So, to begin, your own LinkedIn profile headline says turning words into money and you specialize in digital marketing, so you could perhaps tell us what kind of special techniques you use to do that.
Yeah, I mean, OK, it’s kind of funny, but my grandfather always told me two main, important lessons in life that I didn’t understand until I was older and a little bit wiser. And being an entrepreneur, he always said first take care of #1. So that’s a hard lesson for all of us. But I’m still learning. That and the other one he told me, was money talks, the other stuff walks, and at first, I thought, OK, that’s maybe a bit too capitalist for me.
But I really understood what he meant because it’s true. A lot of people kind of blah blah blah and they try to use words to persuade, but it doesn’t always work. And I discovered this early on, especially when I started just having a natural gift in school for writing and editing and making things sound better, but I actually was able to persuade people quite easily, and I did this a lot through storytelling, through narrative.
And so, I kind of figured that out. I really honed my skills more as a copywriter, and as a storyteller. That if you use a story and you tug on people’s emotions, you have buy-in, but it’s always for a purpose. I don’t think it’s…. we should just talk to talk. I think money talks and the other stuff does walk and for me, I thought, how can I add value to other people and show them how to be persuasive? Because I think it’s something that a lot of people struggle with, or people try to embellish things, or they think they’re telling a story, but they’re not really giving much or adding much value. They’re just talking to talk or they’re marketing to market because their boss has told them this is your budget, and you need to get us more followers.
So, if you think about the end goal in mind, which, yes, it’s not always money, tangible money, but I think money can also equal attention. You know, if you don’t have attention like you have nothing. If you do not have an audience, you don’t have a business. And if you’re not making money or, at least getting joy from presenting the things that you’re presenting, to me, there’s no point.
And what is beautiful about words and about storytelling and tugging on people’s emotions, which is the main part that I use for myself and for my clients, is this ability to grab people’s attention, to make them think about something in a different way, different perspectives and to get them involved, maybe they feel empathy, or maybe they feel compassion, or maybe they feel anger. Whatever those emotions are, when you can tap into people’s psyches and into their emotions and you’ve got them because you’ve got their attention. And I think attention, especially these days with all the social media we have and all the reactivity, attention to me, is everything.
It’s very true, and targeting emotions is the main way to attract people and to persuade, of course.
You mentioned in your LinkedIn profile something called the intuitive Editing approach. Is that part of what you’re doing? Is that part of your process?
So, I actually was not trained fully as a professional editor, the way most editors are trained, I did have academic training to a certain level, but the rest was all kind of self-taught. And through that, I discovered more about the structure of words.
So let me give you an example. During my first year working as a publishing director and editor for Cosby Media Productions, I edited 25 books, 25… in one year. So that is the best crash course you could ever have because most traditional editors are in, let’s say, the Big Five traditional publishing houses, they maybe will do five books a year because it’s really intense.
So, multiplying that by 5 for me was huge and what it did was it helped me almost like when you’re learning a language, it helped me learn the structure of English almost like a song. And that definitely changed my perspective on editing, because at first, I was looking for grammatical mistakes or structural mistakes or OK… Does this sentence construction match this one, or is the plot accurate? Are there any rifts in the plot? Is the climax even there? Is there an introduction that’s interesting?
I had to go beyond that. And just think about this natural language is the way that people talk every day is the way that people think. And so, once I kind of kicked the rules to the curb because I had learned them so well, that became like an intuition. And I built from there.
So now I’ve edited over 80 books in my career plus countless articles and websites and all kinds of things. I’ve lost count. And I think my approach is using my intuition because I’m so passionate about language, and about making English better because I think it’s an ugly language. My passion and obsession to make English better are almost like a song. That is what drives that kind of intuitive part.
So, I have been able to teach some former students a little bit about that, but it really is something that comes with a practiced eye. And that’s why often even people I’m mentoring will ask me to come in and do that kind of final polish. You know and give it that smart touch. So that’s a bit like my intuitive editing approach.
Very interesting. Thank you. I’ve also edited many books and many 200-page technical reports and other articles and so forth. So, I also love editing and good writing, and good English speakers.
It’s fun, it’s fun when it’s done well.
It’s fun if you’re sort of a nerd and a geek and then you like it a lot; other people don’t. Like anything else.
It’s true, and when it’s not done well, it’s extremely painful.
I have edited billboards and menus, so I know.
Oh wow, how fun.
That’s where my mind goes.
I love it.
In digital marketing, which is your specialty and your persuasive writing, are there specific techniques that people should avoid?
I taught my students a lot, kind of like five pillars, and one of the main pillars is to be concise. Again, I think that when people want to be persuasive, maybe their first instinct is that it needs to be long-winded.
When I was teaching, I used to teach junior high kids in Silicon Valley and you know, you asked them to write a persuasive speech, and it’s like three pages long, which is painful for them. And then they have to present it. I was such a different teacher for them because when I was teaching them English literature, I said, No, like I want your speech to be one page and I want you to be able to capture our attention and make us want whatever you’re talking about in five to ten seconds, and they couldn’t get it until they went through it and I give them the structure, then when they had to present to the class, it was so different from the years before with prior teachers that they started to understand.
OK, you don’t have to be long-winded to say what you want to say and get the result that you want to get, but part of that is always grabbing attention like in the first three seconds because that’s all we have, so it includes having an interesting hook which is the same in fiction and nonfiction. And I think it also includes always having some kind of call to action even if it’s subtle. It can be an obvious call to action. You know, telling people what to do next, or it can be something that’s kind of thought-provoking and makes them question themselves or their beliefs or what they assumed in the beginning, and it’s now changed at the end.
So always making people want more or want that thing that idea you’re talking about. That’s what’s really, really important and the call to action can be just as challenging to craft, just as the hook is the attention grabber in the beginning. But with practice, it gets easier.
And I assume these same techniques apply to social media writing, whether for LinkedIn or Instagram, or Facebook. Each one has its own rules. Of course, you know that one wants more photographs and fewer words. One wants words and fewer photographs, but in essence, are these rules the same?
They’re similar. I think I like LinkedIn the best and that’s why I wanted to specialize in it when I was in China because there’s more to say and because it’s such a business-oriented audience, people do expect more. They take time to read on LinkedIn. They’re getting their news on LinkedIn.
Facebook is different, you know, you have people who now prefer videos similar to TikTok. Or visuals similar to Instagram, and people don’t always read long-winded captions on those platforms, the way they do on LinkedIn, so you do have to think more visually and if that’s something that you excel in, then those are great platforms.
And then Twitter is almost like this witty one liner. You can really sell a lot, but you have to be so concise. And super reactive on Twitter because once that threat is gone, most people are going to go back and search for it, whereas Instagram or other platforms, it’s so much easier to find: Oh yeah, I remember that post. Let me look.
So you have to think about the speed and kind of algorithm and how that menu on the main page is going to be changing. So, I would say, yeah, in philosophy, there’s a hook there is the essence of it. There’s a called action, but they’re going to be structured a little bit differently on each platform.
When you’re writing for an international business audience, how do these rules differ? If you’re writing, for example, for Europeans versus Americans versus English-speaking Chinese, how do these rules differ? How would you change your writing style?
The only thing I actually changed is not using an idiom. Not using idioms and something I stick to which not everyone is a stickler for or believes in, but to use hashtags to trend or to try to catch that algorithm, I’m only going to use three.
So, for any client whom I’m writing social media posts for on any platform, for the most part, I’m going to stick to this kind of rule of thirds and then that’s how I think about structuring any kind of message. It’s like a book or like a play. There’s Act One and Act Two and Act Three.
And once you kind of structure those beyond the kind of cultural context… I think you can use a lot of the rules loosely in the same way. Asian audiences do tend to like me a little bit less. And they want more visuals and I think that is a kind of a product of TikTok coming out of China. And that’s kind of spread all around Asia. Whereas I think Europeans still value reading more and being informed. So, you definitely can have longer posts with them. And then for Americans, I think it just depends really on the age group or the generation. I know like the younger kids, I call them, I’m almost 40, so they’re kids to me, they’re going to also prefer the visuals like the Asians and the TikToks and all this. Whereas maybe millennials or boomers or Z Generation Y, the Yuppies, are going to still take time to read a bit more because they still value being informed, but it’s definitely a shorter form. You know, they’re not going to read a book. They’ll read a post. Like this long and that’s it.
Of course, we all know that Americans have the attention span of a gnat.
Well, did you know that the new attention span record is six seconds or seven seconds, and a goldfish’s is one second longer than us now, as humans? It is pretty terrifying. That’s why my future kid is not going to watch TV until she’s like 2 because I’m terrified for her.
That’s fascinating and very frightening, as you say.
You mentioned before about China, and I know you’ve done digital marketing in China. How would you describe the teaching methods that you would use for Chinese students versus the teaching methods you would use for other nationalities or in other countries?
It was really fascinating to teach at the university level in China because I had never taught at that level in the US before. I had worked with college kids and adults one-on-one, more for academic enrichment in the US, but never in a classroom setting, and also the school I taught at is Emlyon, which is a French school. So, it’s their extension campus in Shanghai.
So, the children, the kids. They are a bit more worldly. They are more international than your average Chinese students, and all speak English very well. They all spoke French because they wanted to go study in Paris or, you know, elsewhere in France. And they were fascinated by the culture. And then, of course, they all speak Mandarin.
So, they came from this kind of product of private schools that still have a very Chinese government philosophy where when you’re studying, it’s to memorize the answers. It’s not to understand what the problem is, it’s to kind of regurgitate the right answer, because the right answer in their experience, is what passes, gets you a passing grade on the test, gets your parents to be proud of you. And it’s your teachers to say, hey, good job and bust your chops or anything like that for getting below an A plus.
So, I kind of had to work with that and I was probably a very strange teacher yet again for them because I only taught bits and pieces of the actual textbook and the rest thankfully, the director let me create my own curriculum, which I’ve done since the dawn of teaching as I’ve done for almost 20 years.
So, I brought in all the different communication gurus from the US, and I would play short YouTube clips for them. I would have them then tell me. OK, what structure do you see when Dean Graziosi is talking about how to sell with words, or I would make them present and pitch a business idea as a team? Then I would say OK. You are pitching to Givenchy or you’re pitching to Lego and you’re a marketing agency. You have to convince me as a fake marketing director, why I’m going to hire your company and you need to use storytelling to do it.
So, it was really weird for them because it was so based on philosophy and not a right answer that they were at first trying to give me the right answer; and I was like, guys, there’s no right answer and it freaked them out like they were shaking in their boots.
But once we kind of created guanxi, the relationship, they trusted me more and they actually started having fun with it. What’s cool is that just a few months ago, a few of my former students I didn’t know made such a big impression on them. They wrote to me, and they said, we really loved your class, and they gave specific highlights and they said, could you please write a recommendation letter because I’m applying for my master’s course and it needs to be you, because you are my favorite teacher.
So yeah, I think it was just me not being afraid to be myself, while still respecting the culture, and still making sure we got the learning modules done that the school wanted. But wow, I mean, those kids, they really surprised me too, because they had a lot of creativity in them that they were never allowed to express in school before. So, it was really cool.
That’s very interesting. Yes, because most countries’ education systems outside of the United States and Britain, and perhaps Australia as well, are all about rote memorization. The entire curriculum is about, as you say, regurgitating whatever the teacher says to you and regurgitating that for the exam. And it’s not about critical thinking.
A lot of American schools do teach critical thinking. Many of them don’t. Many of them try to, but there is more of an emphasis here on critical thinking, which is why our societies are so different. Our society is so different from China, for example,
Very interesting. Similarly, business practices in China versus Silicon Valley when you worked there, how would you compare or contrast those?
Night and day. That’s why now most of my clients are independent business people. It’s mostly, I would say 80% to 85% of my clients are American. Just because I speak the culture, I understand it’s more straightforward and there’s more of a… I don’t know, willingness to collaborate if something’s not up to standard or up to par, whereas for example as I’ve worked with Ukrainian clients, they’ll just fire you for some things and they won’t give you a chance to redeem yourselves.
But in China, it really was. But we chose when we did our LinkedIn Agency to not work a lot with the Chinese because first, you do need to really have this relationship created which is called Guanxi which basically means that they trust you. If there’s no trust, they’re going to be completely skeptical or not even willing to talk to you and it is easy in a way to create the Guanxi if you have a friend of a friend or someone in your network and they introduce us, and they like that person. Then they’ll be keener to talk to you.
But if they’ve never heard of you, or if there’s no desire that you created that you’re something great, or you have a great solution, or if you haven’t intrigued them, they don’t care that you don’t exist, especially as a foreigner, so we mostly work with foreign companies in China doing their LinkedIn strategy and their LinkedIn marketing. And that was a bit easier, but because my business partner is French, we mostly worked with the French and they’re also skeptical too of everything or they’re very budget-oriented or they want certain guarantees.
So that was brand new for me as well, but we did present… we were kind of like these keynote speakers after COVID at a huge tech convention and we had done so many on-stage things and all these LinkedIn events by then that it was so natural for us to be on the big stage and we really made a Big Bang because we gave them that goldfish attention-span statistic and how you can make yourself stand out on LinkedIn and as a Chinese, how you can bridge the gap internationally to get foreigners to do business with you.
Afterward, the Chinese were like swarming us and taking our number and like making sure we were connected on LinkedIn, and they were so interested, and I had never seen that before.
So, I really learned too that there are different ways you can create this Guanxi or this kind of admiration and respect.
It was a lot of learning that I never took a course on cultural context with the Chinese and in doing business. It was just really like experiencing it firsthand and kind of navigating the waters and seeing, OK, that works; that doesn’t. This is not the right audience for us. This is. So, it was interesting.
Could you give our subscribers and listeners and our viewers, a summary of what are the points, what are the principles of working with the Chinese?
OK, number one, always create Guanxi: the relationship. That is what they care about more than anything. If they like you, they will listen to you. If not, they won’t do business with you. So that means you need to know someone who knows them or find a great way or go to a networking event where they’re going to be at and just kind of start creating the relationship and it can take time.
#2 even if things are said in word or in written form, they will change it. They will change it and it’s going to be OK to them. It’s not about integrity. And so, for me since American integrity and respect are my biggest core values and if someone goes against a contract, I get so ****** ***. That they’re like that doesn’t mean anything like there could be a big red stamp with their company on it; they will change it because they’re going to change it to their liking.
So, you have to #3 be super, super flexible if you’re going to be there.
And then #4, if you’re going to do anything that’s non-service based, especially manufacturing, import-export, you better have your feet on the ground there or have somebody you really trust because a lot of times people get screwed over by their manufacturers or the quality is not good or this and that. Happens a lot, and so you really need to make sure that you have some kind of eyes, ears, and feet on the ground, making sure that things are going well.
So that’s why a lot of people too will partner with a foreign-owned company in China, that kind of does consulting and they’re the middleman between the U.S. business, let’s say, and a manufacturer. And they’re making sure that things are getting done well, but also, they give the client a guarantee because if you just do it directly with someone in China whom you don’t know, there is no guarantee if you try to go after them legally. Good luck. Like good luck, like even with so many trademarks and stuff that have been registered in China, for example, I think it was Michael Jordan who got screwed over by the Air Jordans because the Chinese manufacturer copied them and they couldn’t sue them because they couldn’t reach them.
So, things like that happen; it just is what it is. They don’t care about copying. And to me, it has nothing to do with integrity. It has to do with them wanting to make money;that’s their priority. And they will do things to win no matter what in the end, not all are like that. I do have some really lovely Chinese friends who are, I feel, more westernized and care about that, but there’s just, it’s different. And I don’t say it’s right. I don’t say it’s wrong. I just say it’s different. And so that can be quite a shock if people never experience business in China before. It’s so different from Korea. It’s so different from Japan, totally different.
One final question about digital marketing before we close. To get to the top rankings on Google is very difficult if you’ve got a common word like school or printing or something similar; it can take over a year. Is there a way to shortcut that process, either in English in the United States or abroad?
Yeah, I think broader, the more local platforms, they may not be as saturated in the local language. So it may not take as long as you still have to do your SEO research and In that, but in English, there is something that actually I have tried before that works pretty well. You can see results within six to eight months instead of a year. So first of all, you do need to do your keyword research, which is what’s called SERP. And you can use tools like ….
What does the SERP stand for?
Oh gosh, Search Engine Ranking Something; you are really testing me. I’ll have to Google that later because I do know that it’s not at 10:00 PM at night, but it’s called a search for SERP for short. But basically, it’s quick SEO research and it’s going to give you the saturation of what people are searching for. It’s going to give you not just the main keywords like school, education, and paper. It’s going to dig down a bit into niches, which is what you want. Because it’s really super hard to rank and even like single-word common words.
OK, So what you want is long-tail keywords, which are basically short phrases that are still related to this mother keyword. But it’s niched down a bit, and when a certain long-tail keyword has less competition, according to your research, that’s what you can start putting into your content. So, I shortcut this. I never guess and do all this crazy research. I’ve used tools like SurferSEO, and Ahrefs or Frase is one of my new favorites. And I get a quick snapshot of SEO rankings in Frase for the top 20 competitors as of right now. So, I know what they’re writing about. I know what the long-tail keywords are. And the phrase is going to tell me what I should focus on in order, like when I’m writing to optimize above a middle grade level.
The other thing is Quantity. Yes, you need quality, but quantity also plays a role. So, what I last experimented with, which may not be relevant this year because I’m not quite sure we’re still rolling into the year, is if you have a baseline of 120 blog posts, that also helps with your ranking.
What it does on the Google algorithm is it’s saying, hey Google, this person is not a one-hit-wonder or just writing five blogs a year. This website actually has valuable content and a lot of it with a lot of these keywords. So that when Google crawls your site. It’s going to index it better and you’re going to start showing up better in results.
The other thing is, it’s kind of interesting that Google used to ding you if you had AI-generated content, if it was copied and pasted directly. Now, because they want to include their own kind of open-AI thing in their Google search, they pause and say, we can’t slam people for this anymore.
So, they’re making it easier for people to be encouraged to use AI-generated content. And you need to go back and edit things, insert any keywords and you need to make it sound a little bit less formal because AI tends to write without contractions. So, adding contractions, putting anecdotes, putting in some narratives, changing up the beginning structure, and Google is going to love it. And I use things like checking with the uniqueness or plagiarism checkers to make sure that the content is no less than 96% unique.
So, Google’s going to look for that. And then the last thing is how long people linger on your article or your content. Google wants to see how long people are hanging out on your website, so if you create interesting content and you have great visuals, people are more apt to read it and that is going to make Google rank you higher. The thing is that the algorithm changes so fast these days, probably every two weeks, that the Google engineers couldn’t even tell you tips and tricks about hacking the algorithm anymore, because it’s just too fast.
So, the number one thing really is that like… Did you write something or present something that’s good enough that people will linger more than 30 seconds? If you’ve achieved that and you have a bulk of it, you’re probably going to start ranking faster than taking a year to do it.
That’s fascinating. Thank you so much for those insights.
Yeah. You’re welcome.
Just to add before we close.
It’s just been a pleasure to talk about a few different things in my international experience with you. These are questions people have not asked me before.
So, it’s been a real pleasure. And yeah, if people want to have never come to Bali, I really encourage people to come and visit. It’s really beautiful and we’re getting into the dry season.
That’s great. Thank you so much.
For the benefit of our listeners and viewers, I wanted to draw your attention to a new section of our podcast website, which is underneath the contact information of each speaker and these are additional links. So, for example, there is a link to get a quote for translating or interpreting and a link to a marvelous children’s book called the DanSing Pancakes, which teaches young kids not to smoke, drink or do drugs and also has a wonderful song by the writer and composer Joe Coleman.
There’s other business information from a company called Rain Makers Forum, which is a tremendous benefit our subscribers.
And in addition, there’s a website called IGICworldwide.com, which is a new venture for anyone who has incurred property damage or auto damage, or personal injuries. It is an intake center for you to be linked with a lawyer who will fight your case and get you, in most cases, a far higher settlement than the insurance companies will offer you, and you don’t have to speak English.
Our company Auerbach International will translate and interpret between the client and the lawyer, and you don’t have to pay anything upfront.
And finally, this has been your host, Philip Auerbach of Auerbach International (www.auerbach-intl.com) and I certainly hope you will join us next week for another wonderful edition of Global Gurus and their stories of international business. Thank you.
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