This is the translated version of the interview I did with Desislava Pavlova: “The standard of talent in Bulgaria from the young population is absolutely outstanding”, which appeared on 15.08.2018 in the Bulgarian newspaper “Жълт Труд”.
Stephen Barnes, an immigration lawyer, is also known as the Hong Kong Visa Geeza. He specializes in immigration in the special administrative region of China where he has been working for the past 25 years. His wife and two daughters live in Australia and his brother – in Bulgaria for 7 years now. He is the creator of Intelligent Content Marketing. His business generates more than a million USD yearly income and is run by a team of more than 25 people, two of which are Bulgarian.
Is it hard for a Bulgarian to get a visa in Hong Kong?
Actually, it doesn’t matter which country you come from. Hong Kong has a 150-year track record of welcoming foreign nationals. Bulgarians, like any others, get a 90-day visitor’s status when they arrive. You can create yourself an environment: it is permitted to interview for work and then get a job offer. After that you make an application to the Immigration Department for an employment visa sponsored by your proposed Hong Kong employer and if you are approved, you can get your employment visa six to eight weeks later. If you have technology expertise: if you are a coder, you’ve got a university degree in computer science, your skills are in very high demand in Hong Kong.
How did you decide to start working with Hong Kong immigration?
Well, that was an accident really. When I got out of law school I started to work as a legal consultant here in Hong Kong. More and more people were asking me how to get Hong Kong visas so I went off to the law library to find the definitive guide (there was no Internet back then). To my great shock and horror there were no textbooks, no guide at all. A couple of years later I gave away all the other general legal consulting stuff and focused specifically on Hong Kong immigration, because nobody else was doing it and there was an opportunity for me to specialize on it.
How did you come up with the idea of Intelligent Content Marketing?
Most of my clients back in 1996 were Japanese so I wrote a “do it yourself” guide for it to be translated in Japanese and published. But then the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997-1998, and just as I was about to publish the book in Japanese my publisher went bankrupt.
I didn’t have anything that I could do with this guide! At that time another client of mine was an Internet Service Provider and he showed me for the first time the World Wide Web. I immediately thought to myself “Oh, I’m going to put this book on the Internet for free”. At that time except for Google there were two or three dozen search engines, the technology was very, very innocent and very immature. Websites with the most text content were given the highest ranking and because I’ve written a whole book and there were no other similar ones, we were able to achieve prominence at the top of the search engine results pages. So between 1996 and 2000 that I knew that if you put free information on the internet that helps answer questions and solves problems you’ll be successful. So, that’s the deep deep deep background to Intelligent Content Marketing.
How did things unfold after that?
I made a lot of early success by putting my stuff on the internet for free. Between 2000 and 2010 I got involved and invested in a lot of other businesses. Unfortunately, I lost all my money and almost went bankrupt… So I needed to go back to Hong Kong immigration. In the 10 years when I last published my material, the internet had completely changed. I understood I had to re-write the Hong Kong Visa Handbook but this time with high-quality content. But how do I bring my content to the attention of people that want to access it? That made go out and really research how the internet works and this took me seven or eight years to complete.
What is the idea behind Intelligent Content Marketing?
You use the facts of your website to share your knowledge and information for free to the people that you want to have relationships with. By virtue of them accessing your knowledge and information they come to conclude that you are credible and that you represent a solution to the problem that they’re facing. Clients are categorized into two different types: those, who rely on your free materials to help them answer their questions and solve their problems themselves; and those, who are willing to pay for the provided professional help. We put ourselves in the shoes of the customer and say: “Alright, I’ve got this problem. I know these people can solve it because their website persuaded me through the quality of their free information, which showed me what to do. I know that they’re credible and everything else that they have done makes it a no brainer for me to ask to work with them.”
You say you have “intellectual heroes”. Who are they?
They are four – Kevin Kelly, Seth Godin, Charlie Munger and Don Tapscott, also prof. Clay Christensen from Harvard Business School and prof. Jordan B Peterson from the University of Toronto, a clinical psychologists. Kevin Kelly taught me to disaggregate and re-aggregate value, because we now live in a Connection Economy and not in an Industrial Economy – the way that you relate to people via the internet is very different from the way that you relate to people offline.
Seth Godin told me the importance of being remarkable, of creating material so that you can generate a tribe; that you need to wrap up your proposition in something called an Idea Virus. Charlie Munger (he is Warren Buffet’s business partner) taught me the Golden Rule: to be successful treat other people just like you yourself ought to be treated. Essentially, what you do is you create a proposition that removes all the obstacles from people accepting it. We, for example, have a 200% money back guarantee – this is our irresistible offer.
Is Intelligent Content Marketing applicable worldwide?
A strategy based on Intelligent Content Marketing can be developed irrespective of the niche, language, country. And the beauty is that because you’re doing this via the internet, you’re actually accessing the entire world. My niche, for example, is very limited – Hong Kong Immigration. I’ve got an audience of about 50,000 people. But in this way I’ve gone on to build a business that generates more than a million US dollars of income each year, has a team of 25-strong and we grow little bit more every month because of the dynamics of the proposition that we have created. There are other niches that are much, much bigger globally.
What is your connection to Bulgaria?
I have some fantastic Bulgarian colleagues that I was able to get to know via the internet! Simeon, for example, manages our internet marketing outreach strategy as we are taking our Intelligent Content Marketing capabilities to a new level. We anticipate the questions that people are going to ask in Google and we have already published the answers on our website. This is the point of our aim for a much bigger market – not only people who are asking their questions at this point in time, but also people, who are open to the idea of knowing that there is a solution to that particular problem and we can help with it. I met Simeon through the Web, he came to Hong Kong and got a job here. That was the start of my professional relationship with Bulgarian talent. Now I have an editorial assistant – Konstantin, who helps me produce all the materials that I need to produce in tandem with the rest of our production and publishing team. And so, I’ve got two professional colleagues and I have to say that the standard of talent that I have experienced out of Bulgaria from the young population has been absolutely outstanding and I am very surprised that it is not widely respected and acknowledged.
In addition to that, I’m pleased to say that my brother retired to Bulgaria 6 or 7 years ago. So, I do have connections to Bulgaria, although I have never been, but it is high on my list of places to visit.
Do you think that an Intelligent Content Marketing strategy can be used in Bulgaria? What is your advice for Bulgarians, who want to start their own business?
The answer is YES! YES! YES! My advice for them is to go to our website Buildamonopoly.com. It’s completely free, you get all the information that represents everything that I have learned about Intelligent Content Marketing and applied successfully in my own immigration practice. I think the most important thing to do is once you have a business idea, whatever it is – don’t action it right away! We do not live in an Industrial Economy, we live in a Connection Economy but 99.99% of people do not understand this reality. I am not trying to sell anything, I have got nothing to gain by suggesting people go to our website. I just know that you can be successful just by virtue of the fact that you are sharing information with people. Seth Godin says: “Ideas that spread, win”. This is my philosophy.
What is your formula for combining a successful business, a famous career and a large family?
The successful business is really just about working hard –sharing my specialized knowledge and expertise via the Internet. In terms of the career, well, my fame is very small as Hong Kong is a very small jurisdiction. I have got a long earned reputation for solving immigration problems to people. The formula is ultimately all about hard work, knowing what you are doing and being competent in your expertise. I earn people’s trust as a result of helping them answer questions and solve problems. Combining the large family with the work I do is really all about being able to manage the separation of my own life in Australia from my work life in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I cannot spend as much time as I like to with my family. But thankfully my daughters are now 22 and 23 years of age. We do miss each other obviously, but we are able to connect very well these days because of the technology – we spend a lot of time on Skype videocalls, we chat online.
Have you achieved everything in life that you’ve wanted so far? What do aspire to achieve next?
If I look objectively back over the last 30 years of my life, I would have to say that I have been modestly successful, but then again I have also been very unsuccessful and failed as well. I have still got everything ahead of me. I subscribed to Charlie Munger’s philosophy of lifelong learning and I have discovered that the more I learn, the more curious I am and because I am more curious, the more things I want to do. There are a lot of things that still remain unaccomplished for me and I think that will be the state of my life until my dying breath. Ultimately, what I want to achieve, is attain a certain level of financial wealth and success. I know what that number is and once I have achieved that number, then I want to spend the rest of my life giving 50% of it away.