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 
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 … 
… 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
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.

Entrepreneurship, Self-Improvement

Learn The Ropes from Viola Tan of Love, Bonito – Deborah Tan

Viola Tan, co-founder of online fashion retailer Love, Bonito, talks about her entrepreneurship journey with us at Material World. She shares with Deborah Tan about the beauty of being an entrepreneur.

It’s every (well, almost!) girl’s dream to run a thriving fashion business. At 30, Viola Tan already has 7 years of entrepreneurship experience under her belt. Today, Love, Bonito is a popular online fashion retailer with a large base of loyal customers. The label has even branched out from the digital platform by participating in the Fide Fashion Week last year and having a physical collection at TANGS Vivocity. We speak to Viola for some valuable advice on running a business.

Doing every girl's dream job.

Doing every girl’s dream job.

1. What inspired you to start Love, Bonito?
I wanted to empower women to pursue their dreams by dressing them and helping them feel more confident and stylish about themselves. I believe the first step to being successful is to be confident and presentable.

2. What was Love, Bonito when it first began? And how has the business changed over the years?
Love, Bonito was started with the aim to share our love for fashion and do Singapore proud by being a homegrown label. We have grown more passionate and now possess a stronger voice with the support of our loyal customers. We hope that when a woman puts on a stylish outfit, she feels empowered and confident about the way she looks.

3. What were some of the challenges you faced when you first started on this journey of entrepreneurship?
One challenge was definitely having to step out of my comfort zone by starting up a company with no prior training in design, fashion and of course, business. What I learnt in school could not be applied and there was this constant fear that we might not succeed; I gave up a stable job for this challenge. The journey has been extremely rewarding by far.

4. And from these challenges, what lessons did you learn?
The beauty of being an entrepreneur is that I learn new things every day. For one, I have learnt to be more discerning and how to take calculated risks. The company cannot grow if I am always safe and conservative when making decisions.

5. What was the ONE breakthrough moment for Love, Bonito, the point where you know the business was going to take off and be a successful one?
Our closing show at Fide Fashion Week last year was definitely one monumental moment – it was an affirmation of the impact we have made in the local fashion scene. The icing on the cake was that it helped propel Love, Bonito and thrust us into the spotlight in the international fashion scene.

6. What is the ONE lesson you would like all budding, aspiring entrepreneurs to know?
Take chances; speak to people. You never know who might believe in your dream and give your business a boost!

Love, Bonito_Viola Tan (1)7. You are someone lots of young women look up to as well. Have you been a mentor to anyone? What was the experience like?
I was a teacher prior to Love, Bonito so yes I have been a mentor before! The experience is amazing and the sense of fulfillment that comes with it is priceless. I’m reminded of my own mentor as well who told me to, “Pay it forward”.

8. What is in the future for you and your business?
Definitely to grow and expand Love, Bonito. We are working towards gaining more market share in neighbouring countries and expanding our customer base to include fashion-lovers from all over the region!

9. What are the 3 most memorable milestones for Love, Bonito? What do they represent to you as a entrepreneur?
The first would be the day we came together to form Love, Bonito. It was exhilarating to say the least, being in charge of your own business.

The second was when I got the chance to work with a renowned international designer. I benefitted so much from his expertise and experience. We were given the news only two months before the show.

The last, well, this isn’t actually be a milestone per se but seeing women from all walks of life wear Love, Bonito on a daily basis is definitely worth celebrating.

10. What is one book/movie you were inspired by in your entrepreneurship journey? How did it inspire you?
I have been inspired by countless people, books, and movies but one of my favourite quotes is by Vince Lombardi: “The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”

Check out Love, Bonito here.

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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 now publishes Entrepreneurship related articles on LinkedIn too. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.