Being an expat in Saudi Arabia where cliches exist isn’t easy. Laila, a Pakistani lady, who doesn’t know anything but her life in Saudi Arabia, made it to become an SEO specialist in Riyadh, with many Saudi clients, including me.
Q1: Laila, please give me a little background on you.
Born in Makkah and brought up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has been my home and my cornerstone since the very beginning. Natively from Pakistan, I always felt more comfortable in Saudi more than anywhere else on the planet. I am an MBA, a medalist and a writer by the soul. Fortunately, I found this world of words in the form of copywriting and currently I am working in a copywriting and translation agency in Riyadh, Taglime. I provide copywriting and SEO services to brands, agencies, startups, and corporates in the MENA region.
Q2: There are many people from Asia coming to work in Saudi Arabia. What were the reasons for your parents coming to Saudi, Laila?
My father has been working in KSA for the last 40 years. My mother is a homemaker. My brother is working as a consultant in a management consulting firm here in Riyadh.
My father came here in the 1970s when there was a boom in the construction sector. Me and my siblings were brought up in a very isolated manner, which we realized at a later stage in life that it was wrong. Growing up, we studied in international schools and sadly, we never had any Arab friends. We lived in an area where South Asian community was dominant. Our parents made us focus on only one thing: education. No social life, no playing with the neighbors – it was just school and home with weekly trips to Panda supermarket and Herfy.
It was a good simple childhood.
Q2: So indeed an isolated childhood:) Saudi Arabia was a closed society until a few years ago, were you able to connect to Saudis?
When I entered the workforce 7 years ago, I remember I was very hesitant about how the Saudi businesses will see me as an expatriate girl but the experience was beyond anything I could ever imagine. My employers and clients accepted and appreciated me for my work. They guided me, motivated me and trained me to realize my potential in the copywriting and SEO industry. It was the first time I ever interacted with the local people and it just changed my whole life perspective. I taught them how to make Biryani and they taught me the recipe of Hummus. I gifted them the ‘Jhumkas’, the traditional Pakistani earrings and they welcomed me wholeheartedly into their homes (even had sleepovers!). For most of my friends, I am their first Pakistani friend. And I am happy, I was able to bridge the gap.
3. The SEO industry is fairly young and Saudi Arabia is still growing economically, is it easy or difficult is to work in a specialized field like SEO in Saudi Arabia? And how about the competition?
I think it’s more important to have a passion for your work as I have known this industry for 7 years. Passion allows you to learn the core expertise required to do your work in a most professional manner. For me, SEO is a field where the magic happens. I absolutely love what I do and my personality matches my work as well. The competition is high in the content industry as it’s a growing field. I have been blessed in this case that I get a lot of repeat clients based on the quality of work.
4. How do you view the content industry in a country like Saudi, do they believe in the importance of SEO for their content?
It’s all about customer’s trust. You have to do the full research, meet the client, understand their vision and then write something which will add value to their business. People in Saudi Arabia understand the power of words and when you help them to write such words that come on the 1st page of Google search, they remember you. And that’s all that matters.
5. How do you acquire business/work? Is it like anywhere in the world? Are there are of similarities and differences?
Yes, it’s the same all over the world. I usually share my experience and sample work when pitching to new clients. But I feel it’s more about building the relationship here in Saudi so that the client feels comfortable in sharing his/her requirements.
6. Laila, A lot of development is going on in Saudi Arabia. Has this changed before and after the reform process? Is this reflected in your work?
Yes, Definitely! When I started 7 years ago, there was a very small room for English content in the market. But now, as Saudi Arabia is opening up to the world, people want their communication to be primarily in English rather than Arabic. This has reflected greatly in my work and my clientele.
Moving forward, I believe that the gap between expatriates and locals should reduce. There are very big misconceptions that need to be addressed in the form of meetups. My vision is to become a copywriting expert for startups and use my words to bring positivity into people’s lives and businesses.