Allow me to do a bit of straight talking here.
Yes, I have been an entrepreneur for the last 10 years. I own two businesses – Utterly Art (2001) and Flight Plan (2011), none of which are multi-million dollar international businesses. I am not a millionaire and I certainly do not own flashy cars and apartments. I do have a decent quality of life, which some may say is an understatement. But, wealth is only a relative metric term for success.
Hence, I blog on my own authority and this is by no means to be used as a text book reference. Authority is not based on my wealth or success, but rather, a conviction on the beliefs, thoughts and opinions that I have built up over the years of being a businessman. I have mentored a number of young entrepreneurs and am proud to state that their businesses have either more branches or fancier office addresses than mine. Most importantly, they are still in operation.
Here are some pointers for aspiring entrepreneurs that I feel are not given enough air-time – the pep talk before everything else begins.
1) Passion drives home the idea
Everybody, young or old, will (at any point in their working life) want to be their own towkay (read: boss). Only then, do they begin to crack their heads on what their businesses should be. They are driven only by their desire to free themselves from the reign of hierarchy and administration. If every aspiring entrepreneur is guided only by this passion, there is little to distinguish them. Their businesses will be alike and highly non-competitive. This is going to make them wish they were back in employment when they struggle constantly to compete for the same customers as everyone else.
On the other hand, a passion for an idea strives on originality through keen observation of what the market is lacking. When it finds its niche, it morphs and evolves into many possibilities for this entrepreneur. His passion for his ideas drives him to stay highly competitive and is easily identified in a sea of pitchers (aka people pitching for jobs and contracts).
Passion is keenly important for another reason. In a cruel world, where everyone, like a broken record, is telling you to quit and get a regular job, your passion will be the only bandaid you have to hold your battled confidence together. Passion is the most basic essential to drive your business idea through to fruition.
“The more intensely we feel about an idea or a goal, the more assuredly the idea, buried deep in our subconscious, will direct us along the path to its fulfilment.” – Earl Nightingale
2) When thinking becomes too much
I know many people who have great business ideas, but never got round to starting any. It more than often boils down to the excuse of “I’m still thinking about it”, which is a sure sign of the fear of the unknown.
Sure, planning is critical to starting and operating any business. However, I was glad I went in with a clean slate. You see, one of the fundamental rules I believe in is: you can’t think of everything. You just do not know everything! And life is a sly poker player dealing with the most unexpected mean hands. You are just going to have to learn along the way.
A clean slate can be your advantage. A person who overthinks and reckons he has covered every aspect of running a business is in for a rude shock when roadblocks come along. And in my 10 years, the roadblocks come in plenty and in shapes and sizes beyond what you can possibly fathom. However, go in with an open mind, believing that this will be a wondrous learning journey where falls are inevitable and are going to leave scars. Scars act as a constant reminder to do better and they usually become a thicker layer of new skin. Thick skin makes for a good business person.
Over-thinking will also clutter your mind and create mental blocks and obstacles. Be concise and clear with your business idea and with what you need to do to roll out the business or fix any problem at any point in time. Remember, if you cannot simplify what your business idea is and what you need to do, you are going to be as confused as your clients on what you’ve actually got to offer. Keep your eyes and everyone else’s too, on the prize – which is your business.
“Just do it.” – Nike
3) Humble pie never tasted so good
Here’s one of the best pieces of advice I ever heard:
“Can you live with the fact that your peers will be rolling in the dough and living the high life, all of which you are giving up to start this business? If yes, do it by all means.” – Jessie Ow aka MUM.
Why am I making this sound so hellish? I suppose I am trying to remind every aspiring entrepreneur that it is not all fun and games. And if you believe so, chances are that you will roll the high stakes unnecessarily, spending more on glam and fun then they are really worth. Most of it is just for keeping up appearances – for potential clients to see that you are not a fly-by-night company and/or to show off a little to your peers.
In the first year of starting my business, I have learnt that it takes 3 hours to walk from Chinatown to Serangoon because I wanted to save whatever little bit of money I had left. I have learnt that it is better to call the bank that you are going to be late for payment than avoiding their calls. I have learnt that eating cheap and in smaller quantities is also a great way to lose weight. The most important lesson I learnt in being frugal is that I get more creative in the way I work. Clients also appreciate your cost-effective spending ways, as savings are usually passed on to them. As such, profit margins are also higher.
By the way, before you proudly proclaim that you are your own boss, remember that all your clients are your bosses. And before you sigh a breath of relief that you have left the office politics in your last work place, the politics of your clients are yours too.
Humility will see you through the angst.
4) Keep your loved ones close and posted
There are two types of investors – those who provide the funds and those who provide the emotional support. No need to tell you already that fund investors need to be kept up to date of your business progress. As for your loved ones, be it family, close friends, wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends and life partners, they invest their time and emotion in support of your endeavors. Therefore, they too need to be aware of the status of your well-being. You will be carrying your work with you 24-7, either on your mind or on your smart phone. It will affect your moods and take up every bit of your time. As your loved-ones give you their support, give them the respect and courtesy. Do not be ashamed to share the burdens, as you proudly share the joys.
Lack of communication will create misunderstandings and isolate you from your support system. I confess I have been guilty of that – guilty of thinking it is my own business (pardon the pun) and my responsibility – resulting in hurting and losing two great relationships. Money losses can always be earned back, but love lost remains forlorn. Regretful.
It is amazing how rejuvenating the company of loved ones can be, and the strength you can draw from them to face another day on the battlefield of entrepreneurship.
“Everybody needs a hug. It changes your metabolism.” – Leo Buscaglia
Over & Out,
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