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

When You Have Been Listed as “Competition” – Deborah Tan

Do you get upset whenever someone says you’re their competitor? Deborah Tan says you shouldn’t and in fact, you should learn to see it in a more positive way.

armwrestlingI used to cringe at the words “competitor” and “competition”. Why? Well, let’s just say I’m the sort who would pick running a marathon over a 100m sprint just because in the former, you are encouraged to “run your own race”. And even though many of my friends have described me as a competitive person, my brand of competitiveness focuses on improving myself rather than taking people down.

Recently, a friend brought up how her boss told her that we – Material World – are their “competitors” and she was therefore not allowed to do business with us. It didn’t come as a shock – we weren’t expecting to be received with open arms in the first place. But what surprised me was how well (as in, I didn’t lose sleep over it) I took the news.

In another life, I would have taken to being called a “competitor” very badly. It would have hurt my feelings to know that there was a person out there who thought my presence in his life was unwanted, a nuisance, and something to be crushed. The old Deborah would have wanted to find out how I could go back to being “liked” by this person, I would have done all I could to be viewed as an ally, a friend, and a partner.

As I mulled over what my friend told me, something lit up inside me. Her boss had, unexpectedly, paid us the ultimate compliment.

The Unexpected Compliment
When and why do we see someone else as competition?

Imagine this: You’re dating a guy and you find out another woman has her sights set on him. Upon further investigation, you discover that (1) she’s not attractive (2) her personality isn’t that great either and (3) she’s just not his type. Would you worry? Would you see her as a worthy competitor?

To call someone your competitor, you are actually paying that person a compliment. You are:

1. Telling her that she’s doing something right

2. Telling her that she worries you

3. Telling her that you are thinking about her more than you care to admit

You only see someone as the competition when you feel threatened.

Are You Afraid?
Predictably, most people react to competition the same way Margaret Chan’s character in Masters Of The Sea, an old TV series in the 90s, would – crush them like a cockroach. While loathing and despise are two of the emotions most of us would bear towards our competitors, the one we don’t like to acknowledge is FEAR. Fear that the competition would do better, fear that the competition would prove us wrong, and fear that the competition would make us irrelevant. The more negatively we approach competition, the more it shows how great our fear towards it.

Cos honestly, there are more than enough love to go around ...

Cos honestly, there are more than enough love to go around …

Dealing With Competition In A Healthy Way
There is definitely a better, healthier way to deal with competition. Lisa Firestone, Ph.D, on Psychology Today states that, “… feeling competitive is 100 percent natural, and it is impossible to avoid it. The trouble comes when we start to express these feelings by lashing out at others or turning on ourselves. … Listening to and acting on our critical inner voice is the worst thing we can do when we feel competitive.”

To deal with competition in a clean and healthy way, Firestone recommends these steps:

1. Accept the competitive thought for what it is. Don’t rationalize or justify it. Allow yourself to take pleasure the angry thought. We are all just only human.

2. While competitive thoughts are acceptable because we are not infallible, being cruel to someone is not. Don’t start building a case against the person you’re feeling competitive with. Learn to let go.

3. Compete by challenging your inner critical voice, and not by diminishing the worth of the other person. Why try to slow your competitor down when you should aim to be faster and better?

One of the questions I’ve always hated answering is, “Who do you see as your competition?” If you have ever asked me this, you will know one of my favorite answers is, “There’s no competition because there is no one like me.” I never believe in competing with other people because I believe I am unique and what I have to offer is always going to be different. I believe in being the best I can be so people would find it hard to one-up me. To my friend’s boss, I would like to end this by assuring you that, as always, my greatest competitor is myself and while I thank you for seeing me as your competitor, I would like to say you’re definitely not mine.

Have a great week ahead!

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 likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, and Suits. She doesn’t believe in spending her time plotting and scheming to take the competition down, she believes in getting so far ahead, no one can catch up. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.



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

Stop Telling Me To Unplug! – Deborah Tan

I'm only bright when I'm plugged in!

I’m only bright when I’m plugged in!

I don’t know about you but with every article I read about “unplugging”, about “not working so hard”, about “being mindful of your free time” … I get more and more offended. Excuse me, successful people, but I believe once upon a time, you were all probably chained to your desk and buried in work! How is it possible to be as successful as you are if I were to work only 4 hours a day (yep, I’m not a fan of “The 4-Hour Workweek” as you can see)?

Perhaps with luck and sheer ingenuity, it is possible to work very little and still be rich beyond your wildest dreams. Perhaps with angel investors and rich relatives, it is possible to hire an army to help you look after your budding business so you can “unplug”.

I think it is hypocritical of successful people to go about dishing out advice, telling people that they take life easy, that they enjoy their Sundays by not checking Facebook, that they make it a point to not do anything work-related while on vacation. I think it is insulting my intelligence when a rich person say working hard is not the be all and end all of great entrepreneurial success. I think it is rude for those who have made it to say, “Success is not defined by money and power.”

Let’s Be Brutally Honest, Shall We?

The reason why we all work so hard is because we want to get promoted. We want to get promoted because we want the bigger paycheque that comes with it. While we may not be happy, while we may not be healthy, we are rewarded with something tangible. For most of us mere mortals, possessing spending power is one way of seeing success. Shallow? Yes. But you cannot deny it is the TRUTH. Don’t tell me footballers don’t give a shit about their insane paycheques. If so, why don’t they just donate ALL their money to charities instead of buying gorgeous houses and expensive sportscars? Don’t tell me that CEOs don’t give a shit about profits and bonuses. If so, why don’t CEOs just take home a $5,000 paycheque?

Money is important and, having a lot of it does not give you the right to tell the rest of us that “there’s more to life than money.”

How We Make Our Money

Why, by working, of course! In this day and age, work is omnipresent. It’s an undeniable fact. It doesn’t mean I live to work. It just means work is unavoidable. When you are a boss running a company of 1,000, of course it’s okay for you to “unplug” and fly off to the Bahamas for a holiday. When you are one of the 1,000 minions employed to keep the boss’ company running, DO YOU THINK YOU CAN “UNPLUG”? Of course not! Let’s be real. Let’s face it. “Unplugging” is a luxury not many of us can afford! When I was an editor, I checked my magazine’s Facebook Page at 3am to make sure people don’t leave spammy messages on my Wall. Now that I’m running my own business, I check my Facebook Page every six and half minutes to ensure people are continuously giving a damn about what’s going on at my website. It is NOT possible to unplug unless you have someone else plugged in on your behalf. I’m sorry but to ask me to unplug is to ask me to NOT give a shit about my business … and … HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO BE SUCCESSFUL IF MY BUSINESS WERE TO LOSE TOUCH WITH MY CUSTOMERS?

When I unplug, my life goes into a tangle.

When I unplug, my life goes into a tangle.

Don’t Tell Me These Don’t Matter

Success, money and power. The dream tripartite every entrepreneur wishes to achieve. The thing is … we want them FIRST before we do a Bill Gates and give it all away to the less fortunate. When a businessperson has success, money, and power, I think it is incredibly rude to go, “Look at me, I used to be rich, but I was soooo unhappy. Now, I am the chairperson of a humanitarian organisation … and my life is sooooooo much better.” Hey, I think you forgot to mention that your house is fully paid for, that you have a huge trust fund set up to give you a comfortable allowance every month for the rest of your life, and that your best-selling self-help book is still bringing in huge royalties. Yes. While I would love to go into world-changing philanthropy work in Africa for good, my bank manager isn’t being very supportive at the moment. So money and power do matter.

The Hard Life For Now

Until the day we achieve success, money and power, it is safe to say that we are in for the HARD LIFE. A life of working past 6pm, a life of working on weekends, a life of checking emails at night and on vacation, a life of doing business calls at family dinners, a life of Facebooking at 4am, and a life of telling clients, “No … you are not getting me at a bad time. How can I help you?”

It is not depressing – mind you. I love my work, I love what I do, and I cherish every minute of a life led fully and fruitfully. I am passionate about my work but it doesn’t mean my loved ones are being cast aside. I may work while I’m on vacation but it doesn’t mean I’m losing my sanity. Facebook may be the first thing I look at when I wake up in the morning but it doesn’t mean the quality of my sleep is any worse. I exercise, I hang out with friends, I watch TV, and I still do the things I love.

The only thing I don’t do is … UNPLUG. And I really don’t think I’m being shortchanged by life here or that my life is soooo tragic.

Until I make the kind of money I want to make, until I get to where I want in life … I am not UNPLUGGING.

And I refuse to let anyone (successful or not) guilt-trip me about 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 likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, and Suits. She updates two blogs, three Twitter accounts, three Facebook Pages, one Pinterest account and two Instagram accounts every day. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.


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Deborah Tan, Opinions

Because I’m Worth It – Deborah Tan

writing-first-blog-paragraphThe thing about leaving a salaried job to start your own business is that people assume you’ve somehow struck gold and therefore don’t need money. My dear readers, allow me to assure you that the truth cannot be further.

I gave up a six-figure annual salary to start a business dealing in something I am passionate about – quality content.

Two weeks into starting Material World a guy got in touch with me via LinkedIn and requested to meet up. When he asked what my “business model” was, I honestly had no answer for him. Not because I do not know what my business model is but because I knew my “business model” would not interest a mercenary businessman like him.

Business people want to trade in something tangible and to them, content is something people don’t pay for (because there are tonnes of people out there who can do it for next to nothing and because you can highlight what you want from some random webpage and copy and paste). Remember the line Miranda Tate (played by actress Marion Cotillard) delivered to Bruce Wayne’s business rival John Daggett?

I could try explaining that a ‘save the world’ project, vain or not, is worth investing in, Mr. Daggett. But you only understand money and the power you think it buys. So why waste my time indeed?”

Similarly, I could try explaining why good content is worth paying for. But IF the businessman was only concerned about money and profits, I’d be wasting my time explaining to him the story behind Material World.

One of the things I personally find offensive is when a potential client asks me why Material World charges what it charges. I think a quick browse around this website will tell you (1) that we aren’t just some freshly minted graduates with hopes to make it as freelance writers and (2) that we have the 3Es: Experience, Ethics, and Editorial Skills.

This short-sighted focus on numbers, on profit margins, on budgets, often leaves us freelancers wondering, “Do people not care for quality anymore?” While it’s often tempting to go, “Well, how much do you want to pay me?”, I am still holding my ground and insisting that my work be paid on my terms. Because … as one of the world’s biggest beauty companies has taught me … I’m worth it.

If you can pay over $7,000 for a Chanel bag, you should understand the value of The Craft True that there is a great number of people who queue outside the boutique to buy a bag because of the Brand but my idealistic self would like to think that beyond the brand is heritage, quality materials, and workmanship. More importantly, the fact that Chanel can charge this much for its bags is because they take pride in the Craft – the process of putting the bag together, one stitch at a time. While you may not be able to wear a story on your shoulder, a well-written one can enrich your mind and widen your horizons. The Craft of Writing therefore is one that should be paid for just as how many of us would pay for The Craft of a Bag.

If you can pay for Cable TV subscription, for a movie ticket, you should understand the value of Creativity
It never ceases to amaze me how while we pay over $100 a month for movie channels, we stop short at paying for the one thing that makes it all possible: Words. Describing a picture, telling a story, planning a book, writing a proposal, selling an idea … all these would not be possible if a person does not possess the POWER OF CREATIVITY. The movie industry has been fighting, for so many years now, against piracy because the existence of pirated DVDs only leads to people thinking they don’t have to pay a just price for viewing that content. If we all – as a people – think it’s okay to pay poorly for content, we will truly come to a point where there will be no creativity at all because … why bother?

If you can pay for an expensive gadget, you should understand YOUR OWN NEED for Content Why pay close to $1,000 for tablets, smartphones, and ultrabooks if you don’t have stuff to put in them? Apps are never totally free – they have ads to support them. Digital magazines are not free because writers and editors have to be paid. Facebook is NOT free, it supports itself on ad revenue too. At the end of the day, CONTENT is not free. Some of us pay outright for it, some of us pay for it in terms of our “eyeballs”, some of us pay for it with our continued use of the platform. Human beings have proven that they have an insatiable appetite for content. It is just jaw-dropping that they think “free”, as a business model, will keep it going.

CONTENT and the process of CREATING IT are not free. Most importantly, there are those of us who believe that we should be paid a fair price for creating GOOD, QUALITY MATERIAL that supports consumerism, grow brand awareness, and help foster a general environment of creativity.

The biggest insult to a freelancer is therefore asking us why we charge what we charge for our work. Just because we don’t have an actual good to sell (like a pair of shoes or a dress), it doesn’t mean we have nothing to sell. Or, be upfront and tell us what you want to pay and we will tell you if we can accept the amount.

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 likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, Suits, and believes one day, the world will come round to her idea … Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.


Deborah Tan, Infographics, Opinions

[Infographic] The Biggest Misconception People Have About Writers – Deborah Tan

Pens are for hire at Material World

Pens are for hire at Material World

“Content? Who pays for content? Nobody pays for content!” said the person I was meeting for a “entrepreneur catch-up” session. My first reaction was to throw my glass of water in his face. Then, as he went on and on about how I can never become a successful businesswoman by selling words, I really wanted to break that drinking glass and use a broken shard to slit my wrist.

Monetising is THE word of the moment for anyone who wants to start a business. What is the product that’s going to be bringing you money? What is the service you are selling? Why should people pay for your stuff? While it’s easy to justify why people would pay good money for clothes bought in bulk in a South Korean fashion wholesale market, it’s not that simple to explain why people should pay me (and my team) for WORDS, for IDEAS, for simply sitting in front of a computer 12 hours a day, stringing words together to make stories. After all, Uncle Google can point you to loads of FREE content, right?

Yeah, I admit: Content is everywhere. But it ain’t free, honey.

Because it’s everywhere, everyone takes it for granted. Like fresh air and clean water, no one really gives a hoot about these resources until they become precious and scarce. Turn on your tap and you can get water. But what if you were told tomorrow that all the glaciers in the world would melt, evaporate and disappear, and that the ONLY clean water in the world would lie in a lake in Mongolia? I’d give my last ice cube to bet that you wished you were living there.

Content only looks free.

Every content is worth something – how much depends on its quality and the “process” behind its creation.

You can’t sell your umbrella without someone writing about what your product is. You can’t sell it until someone writes why it is worth something. That line beneath the picture of your umbrella on your website telling people how much it costs? THAT IS CONTENT AS WELL. Content is the building block of every single business transaction in the world. You think you are reading this story for free? Wrong. I am only able to write it because (1) my Internet bills have been paid for (2) my time doing this has been “justified” by an assignment that came in late last night, and (3) I still have money in the bank.

The next time you think “content is worthless”, go to Google, type in something, and look in wonder at the massive industry behind all that content that now fills your computer screen. Yep, without content, Google’s got nothing to show you.

You may not pick my brains for free. Allow the infographic below to tell you why:

Infographic by Deborah Tan, Material World

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 likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, Suits, and wants to change the perception that writers don’t make good businesspeople. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

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Career, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Vanessa Tai

Working With Friends – Vanessa Tai

Yesterday, I read an article in the newspapers about how it may not be a good idea to work with a friend. On the surface, it may seem like a fantastic idea – working alongside your BFF for eight (or more) hours a day – what could be better, right? However, according to the article, friends tend to have the same outlook as you so this might lead to a shortage of fresh ideas coming into the company. Another potential problem with working with friends is the unwillingness to question or criticise each other’s ideas.

I found it very relevant for us at Material World because after all, we Material Girls are friends who started this business venture together. (We didn’t start off as friends, though. We were colleagues first, then friends, and now we are business partners.) While the article did bring up some salient points, I think the four of us have found a way to make this partnership work without compromising on our friendship. Here are some of the methods, which hopefully you’ll find useful if you ever find yourself having to work alongside a friend!

1. Be Honest

As with all relationships, transparency really is key. You can’t have a thriving relationship if you’re not honest with what you’re really thinking about. We’ve had frank discussions about our strengths, our weaknesses and even supposedly touchy topics like our finances. And whenever we have brainstorm sessions, we’re not afraid to tell each other if an idea doesn’t work. Which brings me to my next point …

2. Grow A Thick Skin

For some reason, being criticised stings more when it comes from someone we’re close to. That’s because we value the person’s opinion way more than say, a random hater on the Internet. However, you’ll need to view things from a macro perspective; everything that’s being said is for the good of the company. So shrug off those hurt feelings and focus on how you can improve the quality of your work.

3. Communicate (A Lot)

"Anyones wants to go with me for the event?" (What a typical Material World text might look like)

“Anyone wants to go with me for the event?” (What a typical Material World text might look like)

The Material Girls have two chat groups on WhatsApp (don’t ask me why.) And not a day goes by without us updating the group chat about our daily on-goings, whether it’s a story we’re working on or an event we’re attending. We also have a compulsory weekly meeting and once a month, we spend an entire day working alongside each other. So because we’re constantly kept in the loop of each other’s lives and work progress, we are able to easily pick up the slack should one of us fall ill or go overseas.

4. Spend Time Away From Work

Work hard, play harder!

Work hard, play harder!

This is a very important point. Sometimes, if you spend too much time working with someone, you’ll just start to associate them with work, which is why it’s crucial to spend time with your friend/co-worker doing non-work-related stuff.We Material Girls often do things like boot camp or night treks together. The endorphins plus the great outdoors make for a fantastic stress-reliever, plus it serves as a reminder why we enjoy each other’s company so much.

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 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets

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Is This Too Big A Sacrifice? – Deborah Tan

Since embarking on this project, I have been lucky that people have been generally positive about my move into entrepreneurship. Even if you were being polite, I still want to thank you for stopping yourself from raining on my parade.

You know, everyone thinks I was fully prepared for this journey into self-employment. My friends like to say, “If there is anyone in Singapore who have the balls to quit a well-paying job and risk everything to start anew, it would be you.”

I’m not this brave all the time. Some days, I am wreaked with worry that I would fail and that everyone around me would go, “You were so dumb to quit your job.”

Reading Vanessa’s post about credit cards made me, admittedly, miss my old lifestyle a teeny bit. A month before my final day as a salaried worker, I called up the banks and cancelled all but one of my credit cards. Gone are the days when I could stroll aimlessly into Zara, pick out two dresses, and buy them without even trying them on. These days, life has taken on a more austere pattern. Just last week, at the mall, I had to remind myself not to buy anything that wasn’t on the sales rack.

It’s not that I’m starting to count pennies. The purse strings are not being tightened to the point where my wallet is turning blue. What I guess I kinda miss is the financially more carefree Deborah. The Deborah whose salary was more than enough for life’s necessities and commitments.

Before you launch yourself into a vitriol about me being a floozy who isn’t fit to talk about being broke, I’m not saying that I’m poor. I definitely am aware of the fact that a lot of people in Singapore can’t even afford to eat at the foodcourt. I’m not saying, “Poor me, I have no money.”

Of course I saved up in the months leading to my final decision to resign from my job. I met up with my financial advisor on how I can keep up with my insurance payments without affecting my medical and health coverage. I made sure I had the support and understanding of my boyfriend (who is living with me and sharing the bills) before I made my leap into business.

Is it too big a sacrifice? I don’t know and, I certainly hope not.

Just last night, I wrote this on my Facebook:

I’m waking earlier, working longer, thinking harder and sleeping later … but I’ve never been happier.”

And it’s the truth.

Perhaps at the end of this year, my partners and I will decide to go back to full-time employment. Perhaps something drastic will happen and one of us have to bid this partnership farewell. But I think all four of us can safely say this is an experience of a lifetime. If it succeeds, we will know we have what it takes to start something of our own and see it flourish under our care. If it fails, this year of entrepreneurship would have given us lessons working in a corporate environment would never be able to provide.

Maybe it’s a sacrifice. But I think the question here isn’t whether it’s a big one or a small one.

The question here is … is it worth it?

One week into Material World’s launch and I think I can say, “It is.”

And since today is my 34th birthday, I’m glad I had the courage to give myself this gift of adventure.

Because at the end of my long life, I can look back and say, “Well, at least I tried.”

Happy birthday to me.


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 likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, Suits, and hopes to meet Steven Tyler in person one day.

Career, Money, Self-Improvement

From Debtor to Millionaire – Vanessa Tai

It’s been said that desperate times call for desperate measures and in 2009, Pam Siow was desperate. The then 28-year-old had racked up more than $14,000 in credit card debt. Recalling how she used to avoid looking at her credit card bills, Siow says, “I felt terrible knowing I was so deep in debt even before I hit 30 years old. At that point, it felt like everything in my life was going downhill. It was then that I decided I needed to do something radical in order to turn my life around.”

Her radical idea? Setting up a simple, three-page website to connect violin schools with no online presence with potential students. She earned a commission from the schools each time she referred a student. To her surprise, the website took off almost immediately. Within four months, she was raking in five-figure sums and soon left her job as a marketing manager. After paying off her credit card debts, Siow used this simple business model to build similar websites, connecting potential students with schools offering various types of music lessons.

Fast forward to 2013. Siow has since expanded her business by setting up Internet Biz Owners Club, where she coaches groups of aspiring entrepreneurs on the fine art of online marketing.

From struggling debtor, Siow is now a confident young millionaire; the very picture of success.

From struggling debtor, Pam Siow is now a confident young millionaire; the very picture of success.

She shares her top three tips for budding businesswomen:

1. Emulate a Success Story – “Find a role model and learn from him/her instead of starting from scratch. If you want to earn money fast, it’s a better idea to model after a business that’s already successful than to invent something new.”

2. Marketing is Key – “Allocate at least 70 percent of your budget to marketing. Why? You’ll only make money when you have clients, so it’s crucial you spend most of your time acquiring new clients.” 

3. Think Long Term – “Focus on the returns on investment. In any business expenditure, think of how much returns you will enjoy, rather than how much the investment is.”

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 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets