Character & Soul, Deborah Tan, Entrepreneurship, Money, Opinions, Self-Improvement

I’m Sorry! But I WANT TO WORK For My Money! – Deborah Tan

Deborah Tan does not agree with ads that promise you a 5-figure salary while working from home selling “nothing”.

Busy as a bee but happy!

Busy as a bee but happy!

I’m sure you’ve seen the ads on Facebook. Ads that go, and I quote them verbatim: “Ever thought it is possible you can make money online without selling anything?”; “Learn how a struggling Singaporean employee makes $20k/month from home in his spare time”; and, “Thousands of people are quitting their jobs and joining our popular online work program.”

Were you tempted to find out more? At the very least, I’m sure you went, “What?!? For real?” For me, after the curiosity, I just went, “Sorry. Not for me.”

Perhaps, in 10 years’ time, all the people who have signed up to these programs would look at me and laugh at me for being a cynical fool. Perhaps, in 10 years’ time, I will still be slogging my ass off working as a freelance writer. Perhaps, in 10 years’ time, I will be the poorest person in Singapore … but, I will not regret not signing up for these “courses”, “seminars” and “workshops”.

Why?

1. If it sounds too good to be true …
… it probably is.  Out of curiosity, I clicked on one of these Facebook ads just to check out their website to see if I can find more information about these programs. I was brought to a page asking me to enter my email address. No. Just no. You see, if I wanted to sign up for an MBA program, the school’s website will tell me details about the coursework, tell me what I can expect, etc. But this website doesn’t want to tell me anything until I give them my contact detail. Are you selling my email address? Are you just another layer in a massive multilevel marketing scheme in the business of collecting email addresses? WHAT ARE YOU? WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO TELL ME MORE UPFRONT?

2. There is no shame in work
What I hate most about these ads is this picture they paint: that you can just do jack-shit, just click on your mouse all day long … and wait for money to roll in. If you set up a hawker stall and sell prawn mee, you know that $5 you earn comes from something tangible. If you set up an ecommerce website selling headphones, you know what exactly is earning you a living. For me, my product is Material World, a content agency and a website. Every piece of writing I put out for my clients, I know how I’m being paid. I am proud of my work and I really don’t agree with this whole “sell nothing, do very little” way of making money.

3. There is an inherent integrity problem
A few days ago, a friend posted up on Facebook how his picture has been used by one of these work-from-home programs for its Facebook ad. The picture of him standing next to a car is a great image of a young Singaporean who has achieved the trappings of success. Hey! But guess what? He didn’t sign up for this program. They had simply pluck his picture from somewhere and used it without his permission! This incident further cemented my belief that there is more than meets the eye here. If people are really becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams with your program, why don’t you just use their photos and stories instead?

I know that in order to be a successful businessperson, I have to find a business model that’ll eventually allow me to make passive income, something that will keep earning me money even if I go on a holiday or when I’m asleep. But I want to be able to grow my business using a product I have built, that will add ACTUAL VALUE to other people’s lives. Just blindly signing up for a program takes away that pride, that ownership that make up the core of entrepreneurship!

If you have no choice but to work from home, if you have no choice but to really consider one of these programs, I urge you to do your homework. It shouldn’t have to demand for an upfront payment of a large sum of money. It shouldn’t demand a percentage of your earnings to be channeled up towards your “supervisor” or “mentor”. You should be able to see if the business allows you to be different and unique from the 678 other people who have also signed up to do it – and we don’t mean just by changing the name of your company.

Like I’ve said before … call me a fool, call me stubborn, call me stupid … but I really rather become rich by working hard, really hard.

I want to get my hands dirty.

I want to get my hands dirty.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She doesn’t respect anyone whose wealth came to them easy. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

 

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Career, Self-Improvement

3 Interview Mistakes You May Not Know You’re Making – Vanessa Tai

Whether you’re seeking your first job or are planning a mid-career switch, it’s always helpful to have a few interview tricks up your sleeve. Vanessa Tai speaks to two recruitment experts on some less known interview no-no’s. 

material world_job interview 2

1. Before the interview: Asking about salary, overtime, and work culture 

Before you join a company, it’s only natural that you’ll want to know about its culture as well as the job perks you may receive. After all, a solid organisation is one that is provides a transparent hiring process and will have programmes set in place for up-skilling and flexible work options.

However, according to James Tan, a consultant with the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) and a member of the SHRI HR Advisory and Consultancy Panel, “Employers are not obliged to answer such questions through phone calls or emails. Asking such questions before an interview may put the interviewer off, and the jobseeker is likely not be shortlisted for interviews.”

Michael Smith, country director at recruitment agency Randstad Singapore, recommends the following instead, “The company’s website is an important first step when researching a potential new employer. It can provide you with information about the company, the management, company stability, workplace culture, and what to expect as an employee when working there. Also, more companies are using social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to engage with current and prospective employees, clients and customers. Reading blogs and comments, reaching out to current and past employees are all great ways to find out more details about the company environment and potentially the job scope.”

2. During the interview: Telling a potential employer, “I’m here to learn.”

It’s an employee’s market at the moment. A competitive salary and good benefits package are no longer the only factors that jobseekers today are looking for in a new employer. According to the 2013/2014 Randstad World of Work Report, 56 percent of employees are looking for leadership development and 43 percent are looking for career growth and training opportunities.

However, as much as the desire to learn is a good thing, is it really a trait that employers are looking for? After all, wouldn’t it make more sense for employers to hire someone who can hit the ground running?

Smith says, “A willingness to learn is an attractive trait. However, apart from demonstrating that you have an aptitude for learning quickly, you can also back this up by demonstrating other transferable skills such as team work, computer skills, communication and leadership. These are all highly valued by employers.”

To demonstrate that you’re in for the long haul, you could tell your potential employer something along the lines of, “I am eager to contribute to and grow with your company.” This shows you’re loyal and tenacious, instead of giving off the impression that you’re just here to pick up some necessary skills before jettisoning off.

3. After the interview: Being over-persistent

The days right after a job interview can be a nerve-wracking, nail-biting affair. As much as you want to know the company’s answer right away, refrain from following up too often lest you come across as a nuisance. If you’ve already sent a thank-you note right after your interview (which you absolutely should have!), the next best thing you can do is to create a “follow-up schedule”. Draw up a plan on how often you will follow up with the interviewer, but only allow yourself a set number of attempts over a limited frame of time. If you get your feedback within this time frame, great. If not, just move on. As frustrating as it can be, always remember to maintain a level of graciousness and professionalism when communicating with your potential employers.  Remember, just because this door doesn’t open this time round does not mean it will not in future.

Good luck!

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Home & Design, Lifestyle, Self-Improvement

6 Floral Arrangement Hacks For Newbies – Vanessa Tai

Floral arrangement is no longer an old-fashioned pastime for housewives or “aunties”. According to Jaclyn Lim, founder & florist of Bloomroom.sg, more young and house-proud Singaporeans are buying flowers to display in their homes. Intrigued? Consider this your cheat sheet. By Vanessa Tai

In the past, Singaporeans will only think of buying flowers on special occasions such as birthdays, wedding anniversaries or Valentine’s Day. “However,” says Jaclyn, “lifestyle habits have since evolved and now young professionals (mostly women) are buying flowers to spruce up their home or simply to banish Monday blues.”

Contrary to popular belief, floral arrangement is not that expensive a hobby. Jaclyn explains, “Flowers are not exactly cheap in Singapore as most varieties are imported. But it is possible to mix expensive flowers like hydrangeas with more affordable blooms like baby’s breath or sweet william to achieve your desired effect.”

Oh, and if you think floral arrangement sounds like too much of a hassle, just give it a try and you may find yourself reaping its therapeutic benefits! Jaclyn says, “I think anyone can do flowers, even if they don’t feel particularly creative. For example, I noticed students who were easily stressed out started by holding on to flowers tightly, which created tightly bunched arrangements. However, over time, they loosened up and let go of their grip. The floral arrangements started to look more natural and were in fact, very lovely. So, any personality type can work with flowers … in fact, working with flowers may actually shape your personality!”

bloomroom1

Getting Started

You can pick-up floral arranging tips from your regular florist, YouTube videos, and floral arrangement books. Then, start by buying fresh flowers to experiment with at home. For flowers such as lilies, roses, gerberas, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers, you can find them at your wet markets or supermarkets. To get more premium blooms such as dahlias, peonies, ranunculuses, and alstroemerias, you’ll need to visit an established florist.

Choosing Your Flowers

For a complete floral arrangement, you’ll need the following:

  1. Focal flowers: These are largest blooms in your arrangement and are often the centre of attraction. Examples include roses, gerberas, sunflowers, and tulips.
  2. Filler flowers: Typically, these are smaller than the focal flowers and are usually in clusters. Examples include sweet william, baby’s breath, and wildflowers.
  3. Textural flowers: For variations in height, directions or textures, you can add these to your arrangement. Examples include hypericum berries, billy buttons, matthiolas, and lotus pods.
  4. Foliage: The greens to provide support for your flowers, for example, eucalyptus leaves or ruscus leaves.

Prepping Your Flowers

  1. Remove flowers from packaging/cellophane wrapping.
  2. Clean your lower stems of thorns and leaves that fall below the water line. Submerged leaves will rot and cause bacteria to form. However, if you keep the water in the vase clear, your flowers will last longer.
  3. Cut stems at a sharp angle to create more surface areas on the stem. This increases water absorption, and again keep flowers fresh longer.

Floral Arrangement: Decoded

  1. Have an idea of what you are planning to create. For example, have a shape of the intended arrangement in mind, know what vase you’re planning to use, and the flowers that complement it.
  2. Work with only one type of flower at a time. Start with the biggest (more dominant) flowers because they can help to create the basic shape of the arrangement/bouquet, before going on to the filler flowers (smaller clusters of flowers) to fill up the arrangement. From there, you can continue filling up the “holes” in the arrangement with some greens.
  3. Try not to use even number of flowers (2, 4, 6) because the bouquet/arrangement can end up overly traditional/symmetrical. 3 or 5 are great to work with for a livelier bouquet.
  4. Always take a step back. When you’re busy adding flowers, you may be obsessed with the task at hand and forget about looking at the arrangement as a whole. You need take a step back, breathe, and judge the composition.
  5. Know when to stop. Sometimes, it can be tempting to keep adding flowers. One way to know when to stop is when there are no more obvious holes exposing the floral foam in the arrangement. Remember, it doesn’t have to be PERFECT. As long as you like it and it makes you happy, that’s enough.
  6. Go with the flow. By experimenting with different styles, you’ll get to learn how different flowers work within an arrangement. From there, you’ll also develop your own style.

bloomroom3

Tools: 

  1. Sharp florist shears (MOST IMPORTANT): A sharp edge is desirable, not only because it is easier to cut the materials, but a sharp, even cut will allow water to enter the flower stems. A ragged, crushed cut edge may inhibit water and food absorption, causing your flowers to fade faster.
  2. Pruners: These are useful to cut woodier branches, like large eucalyptus leaves or wax flowers.
  3. Floral foam (optional): If you’re planning to create an actual flower arrangement in a wide-mouthed container, like a colander, you need to cut the floral foam to size, lay it in the container and use sticky tape to hold it in place. Available at florists.
  4. Floral tape (optional): This is great for making a tape grid to keep flowers in place.
  5. Plant Food (optional)

How to keep fresh blooms longer: 

  1. Change water every other day to ensure the flowers get fresh water that is devoid of any bacteria growth. Be sure to re-cut the stems at a 45-degree angle to ensure maximum absorption of water.
  2. ​Place the flowers in the coolest corner of the room, out of direct sunlight. They will last longer.
  3. Dissolve a pack of commercial flower food in the water to help cut flowers last longer. Chrysal packs are readily available in Singapore.

Get fresh flowers delivered right to your doorstep!

 

There’s something immediately calming and charming about having fresh blooms in the house. If you’ll like to have fresh flowers delivered to your home each week, register your interest here!

Current delivery areas:

  • Monday evenings: Tampines/Pasir Ris/Simei
  • Tuesday evenings: Serangoon/Braddell/Toa Payoh
  • Wednesday evenings: Hougang
  • Thursday evenings:  Sengkang/Punggol/Yio Chu Kang
  • Saturday afternoons: Joo Chiat/Marine Parade/Siglap/Telok Kurau

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

Confessions of a Vertically Challenged Guy – Alain Moggi

… as told to his partner, Denise Li.

I'm about 5 foot 7 inches .. in good company with Tom Cruise and Josh Hutcherson.

(Image courtesy of Next Movie) I’m about 5 foot 7 inches .. in good company with Tom Cruise, Josh Hutcherson, and Robert Downey Jr.

“Honestly when Denise asked if I wanted to be interviewed for this story (not that I had much of a choice, really), my first reaction was ‘I don’t have anything to tell you’, mainly because it’s something I hardly think about, nor have an issue with.

Although, yes, it’s true that at 1.72m, I am about 6cm shorter than the average height of Belgian males. On the plus side, I’ll be considered of average height when I move to Singapore. I can see why my height would be interesting topic of discussion though. Women have to deal with societal pressures to be thin, while for men, being tall is definitely what society deems to be the physical ‘ideal’ of being a man. The difference is, that’s really not that much a short dude can do about his height.

Growing up, I was already conscious of the fact that I was, shall we say, vertically challenged? One of the few times I feel it’s annoying is when I have to hang up the boxing bag at the gym – I usually need the help of a taller guy to do it.

Sometimes, other guys would tease me about my height, but I usually go along with the joke, telling them that I would headbutt them in the testicles, or something. It’s all about not taking yourself seriously.

I’ll tell you one thing though – your dating pool is a lot smaller than that of taller dudes. Obviously it stings a little when I hear girls say they prefer taller men. Then again, I wouldn’t go out with a girl who’s a lot taller than I am. A difference of 10cm would be a dealbreaker for me. I guess you can call me a victim of societal norms … Some short guys might not have an issue going out with a much taller woman, but I think they are in the minority. Once, a girl who was a lot taller than me fancied me. She was nice and funny but I just couldn’t get over the fact that she was taller than me. When she hugged me, I felt like she was protecting me, when it should be the other way around. All the women I’ve been in long-term relationships with are slightly shorter than I am.

Other than that, my height isn’t really a big deal in day-to-day living. In a way, training in martial arts has made me more appreciative of the fact that there are so many different body types in in this world, and each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. After awhile, you learn to play to your strengths, and this can be a huge confidence-booster.

That being said, “short man syndrome” is a real thing, and it can be used as a force for good … or become terribly annoying. At best, it motivates a short guy to excel in one way or another: Be it athletically, intellectually, or in his career. At worse, it causes the guy to be an over-confident, smarmy asshole who likes to big himself up – all signs that he’s compensating for something, of course. It’s not in your best interests to date a guy like that cos it’ll eventually be tiring having to deal with his insecurities and fragile ego.

For me, it’s really not such a big deal. I’ve learnt to live with it, and it’s not something I consciously think about. And that’s the long and short of it.”

[If You Like This, You’ll Like]

The Perks Of Being a Tall Woman

Letting Go Of My Insecurities

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Career, Self-Improvement

10 Productivity Secrets You’ll Wanna Steal – Vanessa Tai

Everyone has days (or even weeks) where you just lack the drive to get anything done. Of course, “not feeling it” is not a good enough reason to be inefficient. 10 women share with Vanessa Tai their secret to powering through the day and ensuring things get done.

Browse through any productivity or self-improvement blog and you’ll find scores of articles along the vein of “Habits Of Highly Successful People” or “The One Thing Famous Leaders Do Differently”. As much as I get that these articles are supposed to motivate me to get off my lazy bum, I still experience a sense of disconnect between myself and the people in these articles. To me, they are people who have already “made it” in their field of work and as such, are probably dealing with work situations very different from mine.

Which was why I started to wonder about the everyday woman — women like you and I — and what she does to keep herself motivated on sluggish days. I spoke to women across different age groups and industries (there’s even a full-time mum in the mix!) and here are their top productivity secrets, just for you:

Start Your Day Right

“I have a routine of going for a swim every morning before work, even on days when I don’t feel like it. The mechanical motion of going up and down helps empty my mind of those annoying negative thoughts and allows me to start the workday with a clean slate.” – Wyn-Lyn Tan, artist  

Space Your Day Out With Incentives 

“When I write out my to do list, I will set myself a reward for every few completed tasks. For example, once I complete tasks 1 to 3, I can walk to the canteen for a coffee. Once I complete tasks 4 and 5, I’ll allow myself a break to read some fun articles online. If it’s an especially bad day, I’ll buy movie tickets online so I can look forward to something nice when I leave the office.” – Shila Naidu, writer

Use The Power Of Visualisation

“On days where the pressure at work gets overwhelming, I will start thinking about and planning for my next vacation. I even have a calendar on my desk that I use to count down to my next overseas trip. It helps me put up with the stress at work because I know that as long as I persevere now, the sweet rewards will come soon enough.” – Lin Yongsi, web designer 

Find External Inspiration …

“When I’m feeling down or discouraged at work, I’ll search for inspirational videos on YouTube about successful people who went through multiple rejections and struggles in life before reaching where they are today. It helps me feel less alone and gives me the strength to deal with work problems more effectively.” – Lee Desiree, financial advisor 

“There is a section at the back of the Straits Times Classified pages, which dispenses a lot of work-related tips related to confidence, determination, and so on. When I find myself getting bogged down, I find it motivating to to have a coffee and read through these tips.” – Viviene Goh, early childhood educator

… Cute Works Too!

“On days where nothing seems to go right, I’ll just step away from my cubicle to watch cute videos of dogs on YouTube. It cheers me up and helps me get back in the right frame of mind for work.” – Charmene Phang, marketing manager

It can be helpful to take 15 minutes to clear your mind and prepare for the tasks ahead.

It can be helpful to take 15 minutes to clear your mind and prepare for the tasks ahead.

Just Take A Moment To Breathe

“When I feel myself start to get overwhelmed and pulled in all directions, I’ll take a step back from the situation and remind myself, ‘You’re doing the best you can.'” – Deborah Giam, freelance writer

“Stepping away from a stressful situation is very helpful for me. I usually duck out of the office to a nearby cafe for my favourite cake and coffee. It clears my mind and gives me the mojo to power through the rest of the day.” – Sheryl Koh, senior associate 

Get Back To Nature

“Going for long walks on the beach helps me to focus on coming up with constructive solutions to the issues I’m facing, instead of dwelling on negative (and unhelpful) emotions.” – Lydia Toh, stay-at-home mum

Run Your Problems To The Ground

“If I know I have to work overtime, I’ll pop out of the office to go for a quick run. As you know, you can become quite brain-dead after sitting in your cubicle for 10 hours! Running refreshes my mind and gives me the energy to power through the rest of the evening.” – Lynette Wong, PR consultant 

What are some of YOUR tips to power through lethargic days? Share with us in the Comments section below!

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets

 

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Career, Character & Soul, Health & Fitness, Self-Improvement, Wellbeing

10 Signs You Need A Break – Tan Lili

But if you find yourself agreeing to all 10 of them, Tan Lili reckons you might want to consider going on a year-long sabbatical. 

We may all be busy running the same rat race, but some of us are so hellbent on completing it (haha) that we forget to stop and rehydrate along the neverending journey. Here are 10 telltale signs you need to take a break before it’s too late.

1. You find yourself vacillating between stewing in unbridled rage over non-issues …

Need. To. Strangle.

Need. To. Strangle.

2. … and laughing hysterically for absolutely no reason.

This clicking pen makes the funniest sound!

This clicking pen makes the funniest sound!

3. And heaven forbid last-minute changes to your schedule.

I can't.

I can’t.

4. You live for Beer O’Clock.

Did someone say "beer"!?

Did someone say “beer”!?

5. You’ve forgotten how your best friend looks like.

What she said.

What she said.

6. Instead of counting sheep, you mentally check off your to-do list.

6. Checking off to-do list - check.

6. Checking off to-do list – check.

7. You are seriously considering the feasibility of snorting coffee powder.

Because, why not?

Because, why not?

8. You wish someone could pee on your behalf.

Peeing is so overrated.

Peeing is so overrated.

9. The energy it takes for you to summon up a smile has officially become your way of keeping fit.

Nope.

Nope.

10. Vacation pictures make you want to curl into the foetal position and drown in your own pool of tears.

HAVE MERCY!

HAVE MERCY!

Jokes aside, though, I’m sure you don’t need any reminders about stress and its link to a myriad health problems. Apart from physical illnesses like heart-related diseases and weakened immune system, stress can also lead to mental disorders. “If you don’t end up identifying a method to handle your stress then it eventually can lead to a heightened sense of dysfunction,” says Dr Steve Bressert, author of The Impact of Stress on Psych Central. “This may result in increased anxiety or a sense of depression because you’re not mastering your world.”

Know that taking a break every now and then is a necessity, not a luxury. And I’m not just talking about work; we all need some time away from the hustle and bustle of life to recharge our mind so we can come back and take on the madness with renewed vigour.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction.

 

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Entrepreneurship, Self-Improvement

10 Things No One Told Me About Being My Own Boss – Deborah Tan

Deborah Tan thought she was ready for life as her own boss but little did she expect …

You can plan, plot and scheme all you want but diving into the world of entrepreneurship is like Forrest Gump with a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. I thought I had sufficiently prepared myself for a new life as “My Own Boss” by reading memoirs of daredevil entrepreneurs and subscribing to websites and magazines about Entrepreneurship. I had made sure that I started my business with people who possess skills and character traits that I don’t. But still, even after a year and a bit of running Material World, I continue to find myself surprised every other day by this rollercoaster ride called Entrepreneurship.

1. The daily panic you get every morning upon waking 
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At first, it was more of a “Is this the day where I finally get a call from the bank telling me, ‘Game over’?” Slowly, if things start looking up, you wake up with this, “Okay … what day is it today? REALLY!” feeling. Every single day, the game plan changes because you have different needs to meet. Today, I could be playing the role of writer, tomorrow, I might have to take off that hat and become a business development manager. Everyone, take a queue number!

2. The amount of negativity you would come to face
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I’m referring to negative voices both inside and out. I remember a meeting I had during Material World’s early days. It was with a guy who is a sort of a “start-up genius”. He has carved a successful career out of starting ecommerce sites delivering food, selling glasses etc. At the meeting, he asked me what Material World was about and five minutes into my intro, he declared that he didn’t see the point of the business. If I had allowed his words to take root inside me, I don’t think I would have lasted to this day.

3. That you need to educate people why your services are worth paying for
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A lot of us go into business thinking we are fulfilling a need in the market, and that people will rush in to pay for our products and services. That’s not always true because sometimes the market might not have realized it needs you. In the beginning, a lot of people would ask to “try you out”, offer to pay you “in kind”. Do you take what you’re given or do you take it upon yourself to explain why you need to be paid in cash? The former earns you goodwill but it doesn’t earn you a business relationship; use it selectively and only with associates you know will honor their word to come through with paying business.

4. That people are more than happy to disavow you
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The silence you receive when you send out emails asking for business, the blank looks you get when you run into familiar faces outside … Thankfully, there are also many who are more than happy to share knowledge, experience and advice. Moral of the story: It’s not always personal so don’t let it get you down.

5. The level of importance you start giving to $5
ArlhK
Yes … I know some bosses will say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff” but when you are running your own business, every cent counts. Besides the onerous task of getting numbers to balance, you have to watch your cashflow like a hawk. There is no room for frivolous spending, no room for unnecessary headcount, no room for late payments. And yes, a lawyer who can help issue Letters of Demand at a moment’s notice is also very helpful.

6. The crazed level of importance you start giving to your Time
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It’s been mentioned more than a couple of times on this website that to an entrepreneur, TIME is everything. In fact, Time is even more important than Money. You feel bad when you are running late, you feel angry when people run late and don’t warn you beforehand, you go ballistic when you are stood up. Everything that takes up Time, takes up Money.

7. That you don’t want to talk about business all the time
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When I was working, I talked about work all the time. And so, naturally, when I started Material World, I thought I would be talking it about 24/7 too! But surprisingly, I don’t! Sure, among us four partners, we do chatter on about the business when we get together for a beer after 6, however, it is not a conversation that lasts the entire night. Also, whenever friends ask me about Material World, I find myself reluctant to talk about it. It’s not because I’m ashamed of my business but because I feel everything’s cool and I’ve done what I can so I would like to focus on other things now.

8. How paperwork can be so, so, so painful
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At this point, I would like to say this to those who get the whole Government Grants game down pat: RESPECT. One of the things we four found challenging AND tedious was figuring out which grants to apply for, how to file our taxes, how to go through our bank statements each month with a fine-toothed comb … Although our business coach has told us many times to hire someone to do that, we still insist on doing these ourselves because we feel we need to know what’s going on. As Jerry Seinfeld said in the episode in which he refuses to just pee anywhere cos he couldn’t find the toilet, “It builds character.”

9. You lose your ego … 
you-know-im-right
… or at least learn when to put it aside. I used to think that my pride would be the last thing I would put down. But when you are running a business, you learn you don’t always have to win. As the saying goes, “Which would you rather – win or be right?” There have been days when I found myself tempted to pick up the phone and scream, “The deal is OFF!” but then, you learn to see the bigger picture and after a cup of tea, you go, “Hey … it’s not so bad.”

10. You’ll let go of things that don’t serve you
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At first, as with all rookie entrepreneurs, I saw every contact as important, I valued every event as a potential opportunity to get new business. However, as we developed our intuition, we also learned to discern which business was worth pursuing and which ones, to give up. Because like most goods of value, there is a finite number. If you make yourself and your services so readily available to everyone, then people will either take you for granted or you will end up shortchanging yourself. You can earn so much more – in terms of money, experience and self-respect – by limiting your business to the few who are willing to pay top dollars for it.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She is really enjoying the entrepreneurship journey and says it’s going to take a lot tempt her to return to a full-time job. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

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Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

The Day A Taxi Driver Made Me Cry – Tan Lili

After reading this post, Tan Lili promises you would never forget this significant line: “Today you … tomorrow me.” 

today you tomorrow me

At first I thought I was just staying true to my emo roots, then I chalked it up to PMS. But later on I realised, with abrupt clarity, my outburst was a perfectly normal human reaction.

Allow me to start from the beginning. When you run a business, busy is never a bad thing. But alas, I’m no miracle worker. Some days, you feel as if you were trapped in quicksand – the more you struggle, the faster you sink. Yesterday morning was one of those days. Weighed down by a laundry list of things to do, I decided to take a taxi to work so I could get down to business earlier. I got into a Yellow-Top Fiat Croma JTD taxi with a scowl and muttered my destination without even glancing up from my phone. Immediately, I was greeted by a warm and friendly female driver, probably in her 50s. She exclaimed, in Mandarin, “You’re so pretty!” I’d felt anything but, what with my morning grumpiness and the stress-induced frown on my face. But hearing those words, I felt a rush of gratitude towards the auntie because her compliment worked to instantly turn my frown upside down.

Later on she asked about my usual commute to work. When I told her I’d normally take three different buses, she expressed such concern and empathy that I had to assure her thrice that I really do enjoy the bus ride. Soon after we lapsed into a comfortable silence, then she told me to go ahead and sleep if I wanted to. When we arrived at my destination, the fare was $18.50. I had already prepared $17 in my hand but just as I was about to start digging for coins, she grabbed my hand and took the $17. “No, don’t need to give me the coins. Auntie will give you a discount. Here, $15 will do,” she insisted, handing me my $2 note. Flabbergasted, I tried to return her the $2 note, which resulted in a minute of reverse tug-of-war. The auntie won. Right about then, my lips trembled and my vision blurred. I nearly wanted to hug her but I figured she might not take too well to my outpouring of love and gratitude.

After I got off the cab, I slowly made my way up to my office trying to compose myself. I was – and still am, in fact – overwhelmed by the depth of a stranger’s kindness. The auntie owed me nothing, absolutely nothing, yet she unknowingly gave me everything I never realised I needed at the time: strength. Kindness is one of the three strengths that make up humanity (the other two are love and social intelligence); what I had just experienced felt so powerful, it made whatever stress and worries that plagued me before appear trivial. My only regret now is that I wish I’d taken down her taxi’s licence plate number and her name so I could give her a proper thank-you.

today you tomorrow me 3My experience reminded me of a beautiful anecdote Vanessa recently shared with me. It was about how a Mexican family went all out to help a guy whose car broke down in the middle of the road. When the guy tried several times to pass the family some money as a token of appreciation, the father shook his head and replied in broken English: “Today you … tomorrow me.”

It’s kind of sad when you think about it. We are all so used to being selfish, so wrapped up in our own wants and needs and worries that such random acts of kindness are a shock to our system. So often, we forget that it’s the simplest pleasures in life that pave the way to happiness. It’s always the little things, you know?

I hope these two anecdotes would leave a profound mark on you, as they did on me. Go ahead and make someone else’s day – it certainly doesn’t take a lot to be a little kinder and more compassionate.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction.

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Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

Why Are We Romanticising Depression? – Tan Lili

There’s been a lot of coverage on the topic of depression lately. While this spike in interest is great in that it helps raise awareness of the mental disorder, there is another rising trend on social media that is both worrying and maddening. Tan Lili explains.

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The word depressed has been thrown around rather flippantly in everyday conversation (“Is it Monday already? GAH I’M SO DEPRESSED!”). But even though we know better than to dismiss a person’s unpleasant feelings, there is a need to put it out there that feeling sad is not the same as depression.

First things first, let’s take a quick look at the stats. A World Health Organization (WHO) study in 2012 found that more than 350 million people around the world suffer from depression, which is ranked the leading cause of morbidity in developing nations in the next century. According to a 2010 Singapore National Mental Health Survey, 6.3% of Singaporeans will experience at least one episode of clinical depression in their lifetime.

Before we ask ourselves if we’re part of the 6.3%, we’ve got to understand what depression is and what it isn’t.

Defining Depression

Where symptoms of clinical depression last for at least two weeks and will continue for about six months if left untreated, sadness comes with it a comforting hug that says, “This too shall pass.” We all experience fleeting moments of sadness every day; it’s a perfectly normal human emotion. And while some of those moments may last longer that we’d like, they don’t (A) kill the important neurons in our brain; (B) stop you from enjoying activities you’ve always enjoyed; and, most importantly, (C) they shouldn’t trigger suicidal thoughts.

Depression is a sickness, a disease, a mental disorder that makes the person feel as if a thousand tiny glass shards were being driven into his body, leaving him to bleed while he is awake and aware of  it all – a product of his warped imagination, but a disease all the same. The reason: Depression is neurotoxic; it changes the way your brain prioritises things. The scan of a healthy brain is different from that of a person suffering from clinical depression. As Dr Stephen Ilardi, a US-based clinical research specialising in the treatment of depression, puts in in Psychology Today, “depression is shorthand for a debilitating syndrome – major depressive disorder – that robs people of their energy, their concentration, their memory, their restorative sleep … their ability to love and work and play. The disorder actually lights up the brain’s pain circuitry, inducing a state of suffering far exceeding that of any physical discomfort.”

All that means depression is no more a choice than is being diagnosed with cancer, and which also means telling a friend suffering from depression to “snap out of it” is no more helpful than telling a cancer patient the same. “When those suffering from depression confide their diagnosis to friends and family, they’re often met with relative indifference, born of the assumption that the patient is afflicted with mere sadness – a condition from which they can quickly and easily recover,” says Dr Ilardi.

However, the good news is, as with any medical condition, depression can be managed. Using a combination of strategies – medication, counselling, etc. – the treatment is effective for up to 80% of those suffering from depression, according to WHO.

If you think you or a loved one could be suffering from depression, visit this page for a list of mental health support services in Singapore.

The Problem With Calling A Tragedy “Beautiful”

depression 2

On social media, we see the word depression being used very loosely. Dr Stan Kutcher, a psychiatry expert, told The Atlantic that in today’s digital age, “there is a lack of critical understanding … You see kids self-identifying as having that depression, but they don’t have a depression. They’re upset, or they’re demoralised, or they’re distressed by something.” The strange thing is, this romanticising of depression doesn’t just affect impressionable teens; take a look at Tumblr and Instagram, and you’ll notice many adults glorifying the “beauty” of suffering. Even I – EmoGal84 – do it sometimes, I’m not going to lie.

The problems with romanticising depression are that (A) many are led into believing they are depressed when they aren’t, and (B) it unfairly downplays the gravity of those truly suffering from depression.

The bottom line: Depression is not the same as everyday sadness, nor is it a Like-bait. Let’s stop romanticising depression, please?

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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Money, Self-Improvement

How To Clear Your Debts … Fast! – Vanessa Tai

There’s probably nothing more stressful than knowing you owe somebody money. Whether it’s a bank loan or an overdue credit card bill, being in debt is a source of stress for many. Here are some smart ways to get out of debt quickly. By Vanessa Tai

According to data released by the Credit Bureau Singapore (CBS) in September 2013, more Singaporeans are struggling to pay off their credit card debt. For example, in July 2013, 62,830 people did not make a minimum payment in two months, which is a 12.7 percent jump from the previous year. In addition to consumer debt, Singaporeans are also forking out more to repay bank loans because of the rising cost of living.

Yes, I recognise it may be impossible to be completely debt-free, especially when you have a mortgage or car loan to finance. The debt I’m referring to in this article are consumer debts and debts owed to friends and family members. All these seemingly small amounts add up and can feel overwhelming. However, with smarts and discipline, you can repay these debts quickly.

1. Accept You Need To Make Changes 

Before you roll up your sleeves and get to work, you need to recognise that changes need to be made to your spending habits. It’s important to get into the right mindset so you can make a stand against marketers offering “easy financing schemes” or “zero interest rate credit cards.”

Relevant read: 3 Steps To Fix Your Relationship With Money 

2. Rank Your Debt

Make a list of all your outstanding debts, be it to banks, credit card companies, telcos, and even individual creditors like your friends and family members. Write down the amount owing and the existing monthly payment amount for each one of them, then rank them according to the interest rate. The creditor with the highest interest rate should be ranked at the top.

3. Take Stock Of Your Resources 

Apart from your monthly salary, are there other ways you can supplement your income? Perhaps there’s an extra bedroom in your apartment that you can rent out? Or, perhaps you have a skill that allows you to freelance on the side. It may be tiring, but every dollar counts towards clearing your debts as soon as possible.

4. Create A Strategic Spending Plan

Once you’ve established your monthly income, write down all the expenses you have. These expenses include the minimum payments on all your debts. Take a look at your expenses and rank them in order of importance to you. See if you can get rid of any of the items at the bottom of the list. The objective is to create a spending plan where your expenses are lower than your income.

Of course, you need to be realistic as well. It can be discouraging to live each month just repaying debts, so be sure to allocate a small portion for “Fun” expenses. You should also set aside money for “Emergencies”, for unexpected expenses such as your pet falling ill or your car breaking down. Once you’ve done that, you can set aside funds to make each minimum monthly payment on your list of creditors. Any extra funds should be channelled towards the account with the highest interest rate.

Climbing out of debt is undoubtedly not an easy task, and if you feel in over your head, I encourage you to approach the professionals. Credit Counselling Singapore is a charitable organisation that helps indebted individuals resolve their debt problems and educates the public on financial literacy. CCS offers talks on debt management as well as one-to-one counselling sessions to explore feasible debt repayment solutions such as working out a debt repayment plan with a longer repayment term.

Need help? Contact a CCS counsellor at 1800 2255 227 or visit http://www.ccs.org.sg 

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Character & Soul, Entrepreneurship, Money, Self-Improvement

The 4 “Mistakes” I Want To Make As An Entrepreneur – Deborah Tan

Everyone who wants to start a business these days keeps talking about claiming the PIC Bonus. Deborah Tan wants aspiring entrepreneurs to know that there is nothing wrong with good, honest work.

Passive income = the ultimate entrepreneur goal?

Passive income = the ultimate entrepreneur goal?

How would you start a business? Would you bootstrap your business, i.e, fund it out of your own pocket? Borrow money from your relatives? Or, try to get investors to put money into your venture? For many of us small business owners, we often take the first option. We dig deep into our pockets to fund the venture, go without a salary until it starts to turn a profit and, dollar by dollar, we build up the business.

While many “business gurus” may turn their nose up at the idea of “starting small”, as a year-old entrepreneur, I must say, I prefer to grow my business step-by-step. There is a certain pride in seeing your business prosper gradually and you are much more aware of what it means to “take ownership”. For instance, I have been advised by many people on the many different ways one can employ to claim the PIC Bonus: from setting up many versions of one business (because every business is “entitled” to claim up to $15,000 in PIC Bonus) to paying a huge sum for a basic ecommerce website, which is something you can easily set up for FREE. Although the methods are all not illegal, they are certainly what I – after much thought – am uncomfortable with.

Articles abound about the “mistakes” first-time entrepreneurs tend to make, most of them about why we spend too much time working and not enough of it growing our wealth. While some I agree with, often, I find myself questioning why these so-called “mistakes” are bad. People have asked if I hated money but I simply just can’t agree with these:

1. “Mistake 1” – Not Paying Someone To Do Your Nitty-Gritty For You
Yes, all of us who come out to be our own bosses would love nothing more than to lay claim to the fact that we have minions running around doing our shit for us. Who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t want to say, “Get your people to call my people.” But leaving a job to “become your own boss” also means you are now your own employee. I like to think that by being able to take care of my own taxes, manage my own timetable, chase down my own payments, I’m getting acquainted to the unglamorous side of what it means to be a business owner. When you can finally afford to pay a part-timer to take care of your things, you will also know what is the real work involved so you won’t be held at the mercy of an admin person.

Be careful of hidden traps!

Be careful of hidden traps!

2. “Mistake 2” – Not Willing To Pay Money To Grow Money
I recognize that for a business to grow, investments have to be made. However, I think investments have to be worthwhile and made in an ethical way. I am uncomfortable with paying someone $15,000 for something that is actually worth $3,000, just so I can make a maximum claim on the PIC Bonus. I’ve been told, “Once you see all that money in your bank account, you will look at things differently.” I hope I never will have to.

3. “Mistake 3” – You Can’t Take Care Of Everything
If it’s my business, I want to know everything – from the product I’m selling to the licensing issues it faces to the profile of the customer who consumes my product. Sure, you should have partners who possess skills and traits that make up for what you don’t have but it doesn’t mean you just leave whatever you don’t want to do to them. You can take care of everything, you just don’t have to do it all. It’s called “taking ownership”. “Taking ownership” means whenever someone has a query about your business, you have all the most basic answers at your fingertips.

4. “Mistake 4” – No-Risk Is Good 
There are many business opportunities out there that allow you to take up the basic template and run with it. They call it no-risk because there is a set pattern you can use to build your business. But the only person who is getting rich out of it all is the one who is selling this same business template to hundreds of people out there. Unique ideas are hard to get off the ground and yes, you may fail. However, if you are really serious about your business, you will want to channel your investments into the things that make you DIFFERENT, not Xeroxed ideas that you can tweak only slightly to set you apart from the crowd.

I realize that it may sound idealistic of me to say that making money is less important than doing things right. However, I can’t emphasize how crucial it is to not go into business simply because you hope, eventually, that the passive income will let you live out the rest of your life in comfort. You still need to have a basic respect for WORK – good, honest work. You can’t just think, “I’ll set this up, sit back and watch money roll in.” If you think the first and foremost thing about business is PASSIVE INCOME, you are truly making a very big mistake.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She recognizes that she may never be rich but at least she is proud of her business. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

 

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Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

The One Thing You Should Never Lose – Vanessa Tai

During her 2.5 weeks of backpacking around Laos and Myanmar, Vanessa Tai encountered many different travellers, and she’s now convinced about the type of traveller — and by extension, person — that she always wants to be. 

Ever gone on a holiday with people who are just so darned hard to impress? You know the kind … when you’re marvelling at a certain sight or scenery, they will simply nod and say, “Yeah, but have you seen (insert name of some other sight or scenery)?” Or, when you’re raving about a local dish, they will say, “This is not that great actually. I prefer (insert name of some other country’s cuisine).”

Buzzkills like these annoy me to no end.

Now I’m not saying we pretend to like something when we don’t. However, in this age of instant gratification and round-the-clock entertainment, it seems as if we’re getting harder and harder to impress. Is it just me or does anyone else find it hard to sit through a movie without mentally critiquing everything from the plot to the choice of cast? Or perhaps you visit a place of interest only to compare it to other bigger/grander/more hipster places? It seems as if everything is now viewed through the lens of social media – is this place Instagram-worthy? Is it exciting enough for me to check in to on Facebook? Is it obscure enough? And so on.

On my most recent trip, I met two 18-year-old guys from England, who appeared to be on their first trip abroad. When I met them, they were recounting tales of their past few days spent in a local village “where no other Westerner has set foot in before.” While you may laugh at their naïveté, I found their buoyant enthusiasm endearing and almost contagious. Listening to them, you can’t help but feel excited about travel again; the fresh exhilaration of seeing or experiencing something for the first time.

Interacting with them reminded me of the one thing we should never lose – our sense of wonder. We may have gone through plenty of varied experiences, which makes it easy to slip into the “been there, done that” mindset. However, even if you may feel like you’ve seen it all, there are always different ways of seeing the same thing, and still have an experience completely different from all your other experiences.

How? Here are some suggestions:

1. Be A Kid Again

You know how kids get fascinated by the littlest things? That’s because human beings are born with an innate sense of curiosity and fearlessness, which only gets sullied as we get older. While it can be difficult to shed your “adult” sense of self-consciousness, sometimes you just got to ignore the dissuasive thoughts in your mind and just do it. Wanna torpedo off a cliff into the ocean? Why not? Wanna break into song while running errands? Go for it!

We often worry so much about what others will think that we censor our words and confine ourselves to doing what’s “normal” or “acceptable”. However, isn’t it tiring to constantly put a lid on who we truly are? It’s only when we step out of this safe zone that we start to feel exhilarated and excited about life again.

2. Record The Moment 

Although this article claims that using a device to record experiences may cause you to lose the memories instead, I’ll like to suggest that when used sparingly, a camera can actually help you find new ways to look at things. That’s because you’ll always be looking out for a fresh angle, or seeking out beauty in the seemingly ugly or mundane. I was recently in Yangon and wasn’t particularly enjoying myself; I found the city chaotic and dirty. However, while lugging a heavy bag across an overhead bridge one morning, I found myself pausing to enjoy the cool drizzle and being high above the maddening crowds. In that few seconds, I found myself thinking, “Okay, maybe this place isn’t so bad.” And to remember that moment, I snapped a quick picture (see below).

Good morning, Yangon!

High and above the chaos.

If you’re not into photography, try penning down your experiences. It helps you remember what you did and gives you an opportunity to reflect, instead of simply going through the motions then asking, “Ok, that’s done. What’s next?”

3. Talk To Others

Let’s face it. When we hang out with the same group of friends too frequently, we run the risk of groupthink. How are we ever going to get a fresh perspective on anything if we’re always interacting with people who share the same ideals and viewpoints? The beauty of travelling (and in particular, backpacking) is you get to meet people from all over the world and from all walks of life. Over hours of trekking through the Burmese countryside, I spent time discussing everything from books and music to euthanasia and Singapore’s death penalty with a 24-year-old Belgian girl, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There’re precious few things more soul-nourishing than an engaging conversation where you walk away feeling like you learned something new. Even if you’re not on the road travelling, it’s still a good idea to continually seek out new people to talk to and exchange ideas with. Here’s a little challenge: the next time you’re at a party, try striking a conversation with the person you think you’re LEAST likely to have anything in common with. You may just find yourself pleasantly surprised.

material world_never lose your sense of wonder

Of course, these are just some suggestions. The most important thing to remember is, simply approach life with a sense of curiosity and desire to learn. Paradoxically, it’s when we remove our attitude of “Impress me,” that we’re more likely to actually be impressed.

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

[If You Like This Post, You Might Also Like]

1. How To Be A Good Listener
2. 4 Things I Am Grateful For Every Day
3. 20 Things You’ll Learn In Your 20s 

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