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”.


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.


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.

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.


Character & Soul, Entrepreneurship, Self-Improvement

The One Important Lesson Every Entrepreneur Must Embrace – Deborah Tan

It is easy to feel lousy about yourself when you are caught up in the midst of running your business and trying to establish your brand. Deborah Tan confides how she too suffers from days when she feels exceptionally unexceptional.

“I feel very good about myself every time I tell people that I own a content agency,” said Denise. “Plus, I’m earning more now than I did holding down a full-time job and that is very empowering!”

I looked at Denise and I couldn’t help but smile. In front of me was a person who has wholeheartedly embraced her status as a founder of a business. But me? As much as I would love to shout it out loud and proud that I’m my own boss EVERY DAY, I have to admit that I still go through periods of low self-esteem – especially when I attend events and a voice in my head goes, “You’re now a nobody.” I know I’m being a complete idiot but …

This episode of confidence crisis came about after a particularly “lonely” event last week. There were 2 tables at the event and when I arrived, those from “big media” (my personal catch-all term for titles under the huge companies) had grouped together at one table. The other table was pretty empty and, not wanting to “intrude”, I sat at the second table on my own. For 2 hours, I felt truly alone and unspectacular.

“Why didn’t you just go sit with the media people?” Denise asked when I related the incident to her. “It’s not as if you didn’t know them!”

“I don’t know …” I mumbled. “A part of me just felt like I didn’t really belong there, the magazine world, anymore. I just don’t want to look like I’m intruding …”

“Aiyah! I think you are just overthinking things! No one will say that about you lah!” declared Miss Confidence. “AND … honestly, you are not a nobody just because you are no longer an editor. If you asked me to go back to a magazine full-time, I will really have to think twice. Now, I’m very happy waking up and going to work every morning. We own a business!”

Have I Lost Everything And Become Nothing?
And Denise has a point. While not every business can be an overnight phenomenon like Facebook or Uber, we entrepreneurs need to celebrate that we have done something brave with our lives. This is something many of us – especially myself – don’t do enough of. We need to remember that we took a chance, and we took a leap into a world where the outcome could swing both ways – we could be successful or we could fail disastrously. Giving up a regular paycheque is not something everyone has the guts to do.

It’s easy to get lost in self-doubt when you are struggling to turn a profit or trying to get your brand out there. For me, I’ll be lying if I said I took to entrepreneurship like a fish to water. When I made the decision to give up my car so I won’t have to deal with the stress of meeting the monthly repayments, I honestly thought I was damn “loser” for not being to keep my ride. Losing the so-called symbols of success – the fancy job title, the fat paycheque, the car – was, in a way, confidence crushing because they were what I saw as achievements that I had “unlocked” on my climb up the publishing ladder. By losing them, does it mean I have become nothing?

No. Here’s why:

Mmmm ... mmm .... mmm ...

Mmmm … mmm …. mmm …

The Chest-Thumping Belief Entrepreneurs Need To Have
I have not become nothing because …

1. No matter the scale of my business, I have gone from a salaried worker to becoming a business owner. I have, in a way, progressed.

2. It doesn’t matter how much profit I’ve made, as long as I’m making money, my business idea is viable.

3. I’m not at the mercy of bureaucratic layers and HR processes, I call the shots and therefore I’m no longer a “corporate slave”.

These are just 3 of the many reasons why we entrepreneurs should go about our everyday lives with our heads held high. There is no need to feel we are of a “lower class” than top-level executives of big companies because we are at the top of our own business. While we may not be able to flaunt a large paycheque, we can certainly flaunt the size of our “balls”.

We entrepreneurs do what we do because we have no respect for the status quo and we get a kick out of doing things our own way. We hate uniformity and mindless conformity, we live to be different, and to stand out from the flock.

And, it is this “I’m Not Your Average Salary Worker” mentality we possessed that we need remind ourselves of every day. No matter how small someone may make us feel because we are no longer a part of the corporate rat race, we have to – like Matthew Mcconaughey’s character in The Wolf Of Wall Street – thump ourselves on the chest and proudly remind ourselves that we are the shizzy and that, as entrepreneurs, we are on our way to change the game, change the world.

We are the change the world needs.

Entrepreneurs need to embrace the fact that they ARE awesome.

Entrepreneurs need to embrace the fact that they ARE awesome.


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 thanks for lucky stars that her co-founders are balls of positive energy that she can tap into every time feelings of inadequacy threatens to rock her confidence. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

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Entrepreneurship, Self-Improvement

Learn The Ropes From Rubina Tiyu of Inside The Knot – Deborah Tan

Rubina Tiya, Principal Planner and Founder of Inside The Knot

Rubina Tiya, Principal Planner and Founder of Inside The Knot

If you love surrounding yourself with beauty and love, then the perfect business to explore will have to be wedding planning. However, it’s not all glamor and, in order to get things looking this wonderful, a lot of hard work has to be done. Are you ready to get your hands dirty so you can help a bride achieve the wedding of her dreams? Do you have an eye for details? Most importantly, do you love networking? If so, Rubina Tiyu, Principal Planner and Founder of Inside The Knot, has some important trade secrets to share.

1. Why did you start Inside The Knot?
“I’ve been in the wedding and events industry since 2004 and knew I wanted to start my own company by the time I’m 30. In 2010, I actually started Scarlett Creations but the company closed down after a year because I wasn’t ready – both financially and mentally. Then in 2012, I decided to try again. I noticed there was a gap in the market for quality wedding information and supplies, so after doing my numbers, I started Inside The Knot!”

2. You mentioned you had to go back to Malaysia for a year after you started Scarlett Creations. What happened?
“Because I was unprepared for the financial commitments of running my own business, I decided to move my operations to Malaysia so I keep my costs to half. It was tough year and after folding Scarlett Creations, I went back to working in PR and Marketing, all the while doing wedding planning on the side. In the one year I spent working in PR and Marketing, I worked on expanding my network and gaining more contacts, and also on rebuilding my confidence.”

It's probably a good idea to be a gifted floral arranger too!

It’s probably a good idea to be a gifted floral arranger too!

3. What foundation do you need to build in order to get started as a wedding planner?
“Industry experience and knowledge are definitely crucial. These, you will have to obtain through working in the industry. You’ll also need to possess a lot of contacts and these you gather in the course of your work.”

4. How does a wedding planner make her money?
“We earn through consultation fees, commission for referrals … some wedding planners, like us, also earn by taking charge of wedding decorations and providing wedding stationery like invitations and place-cards.”

A wedding Rubina helped plan.

A wedding Rubina helped plan.

5. What are some “industry practices” a new wedding planner has to bear in mind in order to maintain the goodwill of competitors and vendors?
“Competition is always good so respect your competitors. This will also make you a better business-person too. Do not ever backstab the competition – what goes around comes around and you don’t want to be known as someone with such a toxic reputation.

With vendors, be honest and always communicate with them. If you are marking up their prices or you are expecting a referral commission, you have to be open about this and tell them. Clearly convey what your couple is expecting – word for word – to ensure they deliver according to expectations. This will prevent double-work on everyone’s part.”

6. If someone wants to get into the wedding planning business, how should she plan her career route?
“Gain experience by starting at the bottom of the ladder. Nothing beats on-the-job training and this will also help you see the operations from every aspect.

Be conscientious about doing research. You need to stay abreast of the latest trends and maintain scrapbooks so you can better advise your clients and inspire them.

Although there are now several places that offer courses on wedding planning, I still believe that you’ll be better off knocking on the door of a wedding planner and offering to help as a part-timer or an intern.”

Click to check out Inside The Knot!

Click to check out Inside The Knot!

Did you find this interview helpful? Do you have more questions for Rubina? Tell us in the Comments section below and we will try our bestest to get her to help you. If you are interested in learning about other industries, tell us too and we’ll seek someone out to do an interview too. Meanwhile, if you are interested in Entrepreneurship or are an Entrepreneur yourself, please take 5 minutes to complete this survey.

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 thinks all brides should enlist the help of wedding planners because Stressful is simply not a good look to wear on your big day. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweet.

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Entrepreneurship, Self-Improvement

Learn The Ropes From Ivy Woo Of FoodNews PR – Deborah Tan

foodnewslogoEveryone loves food and, in Singapore, we are constantly on the lookout for new restaurants and hawker stalls with snaking queues of customers. So what better way to embrace your passion for food than to start a PR agency specialising in F&B? This week, we interview Ivy Woo, the director of FoodNews Public Relations. FoodNews Public Relations is a three and a half year old setup and has an impressive list of clients which includes restaurants such as Absinthe, Halia, Fat Cow and cocktail bar Jigger & Pony.

We find out more about what drove Ivy to leave her 9-t0-5 job at Fiji Water to become her own boss.

1. How did FoodNews PR come about? Did you set it up by yourself or with partners?
I started the company with my husband. I was working with Fiji Water at that time, and though I was really enjoying the work there, I knew I wanted to try being out on my own. I was 34 then, and if I wanted to start my own firm, it was then or never. So I quit my job and started FoodNews. It was nerve-wracking but I thought, “What the heck!” If it did not work out, I could always go back to looking for a job, even if it meant waitressing (which I really enjoy by the way!)

Dealing with scrumptious food for a living? Sign us up! [Image credit: Halia from FoodNews PR's Facebook Page]

Dealing with scrumptious food for a living? Sign us up! [Image credit: Halia from FoodNews PR’s Facebook Page]

2. Before embarking on the path of entrepreneurship, what did you do for a living and what was it that drove you to start your business?
I was the Market Development Manager for Asia, for Fiji Water. I worked with Fiji Water for about 4 years and was still enjoying the work very much when I left. As I said, it was then or never. I didn’t want to wait till I was 50 to start a business! If I failed at that age, no one would employ me again!

3. What does FoodNews PR do?
We are a boutique public relations firm, with a strong presence in the food and beverage sector.

4. Briefly take us through the process of starting a PR firm [for example the licenses to apply, the certification you need to get, the kind of legal paperwork that you have to get done, etc.]
Starting a PR firm is really the same as starting any other company. Our advantage is that we are in the business of providing a service. So overheads and start-up cost can be pretty low.

You start by registering your business online. When registering the business, spend time studying the different “company types” such as private limited, sole proprietorship etc.. Each category has its pros and cons, so you read up carefully before choosing one. If it helps, you can also visit ACRA personally to ask questions.

5. What was your vision for FoodNews PR when you first started it? How has this vision changed or shifted today? Was that something you expected?
I knew from Day One the agency would service the food and beverage sector. That hasn’t changed. What has changed though, is the size of the team and our service offerings. On top of traditional public relations, we offer marketing and social media management for our clients.

6. What are some of the biggest challenges facing PR firms today? How is FoodNews positioned to deal with them?
There are so many of them, big and small. The PR world is also evolving, and many are struggling to understand the world of social media. We just have to continue to invest in learning/training, retaining talent and doing a good job for the clients.

Ivy (seated, left) with her team at FoodNews PR.

Ivy (seated, left) with her team at FoodNews PR.

7. How would you describe your management style?
Open and collaborative. I am straightforward and I always ask that the team be honest with me. We have a very open channel of communication and I am always ready to listen.

8. How do you deal with competition in this industry? How do you guard against competitors out to one up you all the time?
I don’t spend time worrying about others. I prefer to spend time building FoodNews, ensuring the company and team are growing in the right direction.

9. Any advice for new PR firms struggling to get their businesses off the ground?
Don’t just do what’s expected of you. Always strive to deliver more. This applies to everything you do.

Material World would like you know what your attitudes towards entrepreneurship are. If you are running your own business or are thinking of starting out on your own, take this 5-minute survey. We will be presenting the results in an infographic soon. So stand up and be counted! Click on the banner below to start.


Click here now to take our survey!

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 hates that it’s so difficult to start a food truck in Singapore. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweet.

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Character & Soul, Entrepreneurship, Money, Self-Improvement

What Every Entrepreneur Needs To Know: Terms Of Payment – Deborah Tan

"Dear Sir, I'm writing to inform you that our invoice dated ...

“Dear Sir, I’m writing to inform you that our invoice dated …

I bet I made a number of enemies last week.

You see, while at home nursing a bad bout of bronchitis, I decided to take the time to get some financial housecleaning done for the company. While going through our invoices and checking up with my business partners on stuff like outstanding payments, I found out that we were owed quite a fair bit of money.

Some of my friends have told me this is something every freelancer has to put up with. One of my friends – I heard – has been owed money since last year and is now unable to get that money paid out to him because the “budget” has been “used up”. Some friends tell me I’m crazy for sending out Letters Of Demand to some of my clients because I shouldn’t be “ruining relationships” so early in my business.

Well, here’s my stand on the nature of business:

You required a service. You came to me. I delivered it. I think it is fair for me to expect to be paid on time for it.

Simple and straightforward. But, silly me, it seems businesses aren’t run like this at all.

Before I proceed, allow me to present this scenario:

I needed a drink and so I walked into a little cafe. The waitress asked me what I would like and I told her I would like to have a Coke. She said, “We have many different types of Coke here – regular, Coke Light, Coke Zero, Coke with Lime, Vanilla Coke – which Coke do you want?” 

“I want a regular Coke, please,” I replied. Off she went to the bar. Within 5 minutes, she was back with a refreshing glass of Coke. It wasn’t flat, it was icy-cold, the glass was chilled, and she even took the trouble to throw in a slice of lemon for me. She was polite, professional and I had a very enjoyable time drinking this glass of Coke.

When I was done and ready to go, she came up to the table with the bill. I took a look at it and asked, “Thank you for the very nice glass of Coke. My terms of payment are 30 days. Can I send you a cheque 30 days from today?”

As you can see, it is pretty ridiculous and if you were the waitress (or even the restaurant owner), I’m sure you would call the police immediately.

mortgage_debt_collectionBut the world of business functions exactly like the scenario above. “Terms of payment” is something business owners throw at each other on a daily basis. When I send a client an invoice, I have to put on the invoice that my terms of payment are 30 days from the date of invoice. What this means is that if I issued an invoice on 1 November, I should be paid within 30 days from that date. And, if I don’t see my money before 1 December, I have the right to take action against the client.

Why Bother With “Terms Of Payment”?
Well, first of all, business people deal with amounts larger than the price of a glass of Coke. If they are expected to pay every vendor they hire on the spot, it could lead to liquidity problems. Fair enough. So “terms of payment” is instituted so that business people can have some lead-time to prepare the amount of money needed to pay off vendors and service-providers.

What Are The Usual “Terms Of Payment”?
Most businesses adopt a 30-day terms of payment. This means the customer has 30 days to pay up. Before any service provider is engaged by a business, usually both parties would agree on the “terms of payment”. We have a client whose terms of payment are 60 days. Before she engaged us to help with the copywriting of a project, she was very clear with that and we accepted the job on her company’s terms. So, when we issued her the invoice after the job was completed, instead of “30 days”, we stated “60 days” on our invoice.

Also, when an invoice says, “Terms of payment: 30 days from date of invoice” … it doesn’t mean you send our invoice through to Accounts on the 30th day. It means you have this time to put that invoice through to Accounts so that your colleagues in that department can get our money to us by the 30th day.

Whose terms of payment should businesses follow?
When nothing has been said about whose terms of payment should take precedent, the service provider’s terms of payment should then be followed.

A while ago, we emailed a company (let’s call it Company F) about a payment that has been owed to us since July. The manager apologised for the delay but promised she would pay us by end of October. End of October came and still we did not see our cheque. When we emailed her again, she said, “Our terms of payment are 30 days. So when I said ‘end of October’, I meant 30 days from the end of October.”

She was wrong. First, it should not be her terms of payment we should be following. Second, since we already stated that our terms of payment are 30 days from the date of invoice, she should have rightfully paid us by August. In short, Company F owed us money for close to 120 days.

In another instance, we had agreed to take on a job where the terms of payment were 30 days after the magazine hits the newsstand. The license to run this magazine was given, later on, to another company. When we wrote to the editor who commissioned us for the outstanding payment, we were told that the new company’s terms of payment are now 60 days after the magazine hits the newsstand. Should we follow the new company’s rule? The answer is a No. We took on the job and did it based on the first agreement. As such we should be paid according to what was originally agreed upon.

Now you may think that I’m being pedantic and inflexible here. After all, surely I’m not the only business owner who is owed money. But, I prefer to look at this issue from the angle of best practices.

You said your job was urgent, so can we now say our bills are in urgent need of payment?

You said your job was urgent, so can we now say our bills are in urgent need of payment?

1. Why Delay Payment At All?
A service was needed. My company delivered what you needed on time and according to the brief. If service providers are expected to deliver on time, why is it that we cannot expect to be paid on time?

Many salaried employees think they are doing their companies a favour by withholding invoices and delaying payments. I would just like everyone who draws a regular paycheque to know this: While you can expect a fixed sum of money to be deposited into your bank account every month, a business owner’s income is dependent on the cheques he gets in the mail from his clients. Every delay, every invoice not paid ON TIME means he has to dip into his personal savings to pay his bills.

You may think, “Oh, then when the money comes, he can just put it back?” No. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t work this way. A guaranteed salary ensures that I can schedule my payments in a predictable fashion. If money is put into my account on an as-and-when basis, I’m forced to make ends meet. And even when a payment finally comes through, the accumulated dent this has made on my personal savings cannot be repaired because I now have yet more bills to pay.

2. Why Make A Service Provider Beg Or Chase For His Money?
The thing about chasing for payment is that we often feel frustrated and yet we are expected to NOT show it. Many clients would think it rude for a service provider to call and chase because we should be “grateful” that we got their business in the first place.

This happened to me last week. Frustrated that we were repeatedly told that “the cheque is on its way” (when it became obvious that Singpost would not be so inefficient as to take 2 weeks to deliver a mail), I decided to write to the CEO of Company F. Five minutes after the mail was sent, the finance person emailed to say we can pick up our cheque at the office the next day. When my business partners showed up, they were told that I shouldn’t have sent the CEO such a “rude” email.

Why not? Considering that the sum of money involved was less than $500, I think it was ruder of the company to have had taken more than 100 days to give us the cheque. Considering that we had had to put up with so many “the cheque is on its way” even when it became clear that it wasn’t, I think it was ruder of the company to be angry with me for asking for what is rightfully our money. A job was done, an invoice was issued, you ignored us until a Letter Of Demand had to be sent. And yet, we still had to “chase” you for a good two months before we finally saw our money. Who’s the rude one here?

3. Should Small Companies Just Learn To Put Up With It?   
What gets to me most is when people tell me I should grin and bear it.

At the end of the day, we are running a business that provides a professional service. We may not be a listed company, and we may not be a company that employs hundreds of people. But we put in effort and time into each and every job we take on, regardless of the client’s name, job position, or company. That’s because we respect what you do, and in turn we hope you too respect what we do.

A small company may not have the financial might or the legal muscle to take a big corporation to court, but it doesn’t mean we should get paid only when you remember to do so, or when it suits your schedule.

Chasing for payment doesn’t make me an ungrateful business person. As the owner of a business, my duty is to ensure that my company has the liquidity it needs to continue operating. Then, I owe it to the other service providers I work with to ensure they get paid so they would continue to work with me to deliver the good work we do. To my clients, my duty to you is to make sure that whatever work you give me, I do them to the best of my abilities, with the resources you can provide.

Yes, you can take your business elsewhere because you are angry with my insistence on being treated right. But here’s what I would like you to think about: if a business person isn’t willing to fight for her own company, do you think she would care about yours, including whatever work you do with her?

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 believes that learning to treat people right is the first step to greatness in business. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

Career, Character & Soul, Entrepreneurship, Infographics, Self-Improvement

[Infographics] Happiness In Entrepreneurship – Deborah Tan

The traditional standard for measuring success is often using money and the accumulation of luxury goods. What many people are doing are SEEING SUCCESS. But the material trappings of success and wealth may not actually reflect the true happiness one feels about his or her job. As an entrepreneur, I’m definitely earning way less than I used to. However, the past six months have seen me using my time to help a friend’s social enterprise deliver food to youths at risk, train for a half-marathon, learning to bake, and still earn money doing what I love most. It has been a challenge not being able to buy shoes and dresses whenever I walk past Zara but at the same time, life is more fulfilling. As the year draws to a close, I hope you will think about embarking on the entrepreneurial journey! If you’ve been dreaming about starting your own business or, just simply, breaking free from the corporate world, I strongly encourage you to follow your dreams! I hope this infographic will spur you on to taking that first step.

And being Happier definitely leads to a Richer life!

And being Happier definitely leads to a Richer life!

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. The Material World team is running their first half-marathon together this Sunday, so please wish them luck! Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

Career, Self-Improvement

How To Run A Successful Online Business – Vanessa Tai

material world singapore-entrepreneurshipHave you ever entertained thoughts of being an entrepreneur? Perhaps you are slouched in your office cubicle, or glancing around the tired faces around you on public transport and thinking, “Surely, I should be doing something that makes me excited to get up every morning.” Or perhaps you have a groundbreaking business idea but aren’t quite sure how to get it off the ground. If you daydream of being your own boss, you aren’t alone. In 2012, 56,778 new business start-ups were set up in Singapore!

And why not? Singapore has a great environment for start-ups to thrive in. There are a slew of public and private funding to choose from, plus government entities like EnterpriseOne that support young start-ups. The time is especially ripe for online businesses – according to research by Paypal, the size of the Singapore online shopping market reached S$1.1 billion in 2010 and is forecasted to hit S$4.4 billion in 2015.

material world singapore-harley finkelstein

Harley Finkelstein, Chief Platform Officer at Shopify

Harley Finkelstein, Chief Platform Officer at e-commerce platform Shopify was recently in Singapore and we sat him down to get his advice for up-and-coming online entrepreneurs. Trained in both law and business, Finkelstein started his own business at the age of 17. Apart from his role at Shopify, he also serves as a mentor and advisor to a number of entrepreneurial organisations and incubators.

What are some common misconceptions of e-commerce?

Newbies tend to have this perception that setting up an online store is difficult and expensive. But as an online retailer, there’s actually so much you can do that doesn’t even have to cost you. For example, if you have an online store selling hats, you could always start a blog or Twitter account that gives people interesting hat-related information … or send samples of your hats to key online influencers, who can help you generate buzz. Or if you feel the look and feel of your e-store isn’t working, you can change the layout in a matter of minutes. Technology has made everything much clearer and easier.

What are your tips for e-commerce retailers to keep their marketing ideas fresh? 

In business, creativity and versatility is important. Just throw some spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks. At Shopify, we have “Hack Days” once every three months where people from different departments get together to work on new experiments. One of these experiments was Popify, an idea that Brennan Loh (Head of Business Development) and I came up with. Basically, we set up a pop-up store for several Shopify stores that only had an online presence. It was really amazing to see how well it worked for these retailers. There was this store that sold hammocks – their customers loved being able to try out the hammocks at a brick-and-mortar store, then going online to buy it (that way, they don’t have to lug a heavy hammock all the way home.)

If I’m looking to set up an online store, why should I do it on Shopify? 

Because it’s so easy, anybody can do it! Plus, you’ll get a tremendous amount of support not just from the Shopify team, but from other Shopify merchants. Our Shopify blog is the second-most popular e-commerce blog in the world, and we also have something called the E-Commerce University, where we dish out tips on everything from marketing to design and even delivery. Shopify merchants are also very active on the forums, sharing their experiences and other business best practices with newbies. In fact, some of them have even taken these interactions offline. Some of the e-retailers in New York, San Francisco and Israel have organised gatherings to swap stories and ideas.

Finally, what’s your best advice for an aspiring entrepreneur?

Be tenacious and persistent. You may not succeed on your first try but you should work on building a culture of experimentation. Just put something out there and get feedback. Don’t give up.

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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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.


Food News, Lifestyle

Lessons in Entrepreneurship (by Fidel Gastro) – Denise Li

The founders of Material World and Matt Basile (aka Fidel Gastro) have something in common: we both resigned from jobs in the media industry to start our own company. Formerly a copywriter at an ad agency, Matt left to pursue his passion for food, cooking for food events within the Toronto underground food scene. After gaining immense popularity for his Cuban-styled sandwiches – or Extremo Sandwiches as they became known as – he then became known for his pop-up cooking and food truck (which he’s coined “Priscilla”), selling his own brand of robust sandwiches. Since then, he’s started his own restaurant, Lisa Marie, and is the star of his own food show, Rebel Without a Kitchen, on the Asian Food Channel.

We caught up with Matt to find out more about his entrepreneurship journey.

Matt Basile, more affectionately known as Fidel Gastro

Matt Basile, more affectionately known as Fidel Gastro

You were a copywriter at an ad agency. What did you like and not like about the job?
I loved coming up with big ideas! I hated seeing really good ideas that never saw the light of day.

What preparations did you do prior to starting your business?
Before I started Fidel Gastro’s I did quite a bit of work. Business plans, concept development, quite a bit of branding and of course, product testing. When I decided to go with the “pop-up route”, most
of the planning and research I did had to be scrapped! I re-wrote my business plan and re-positioned a lot of my branding. The company was officially started in October of 2011, I had done about a year and a half of planning to get to that point.

How did you feel about leaving a stable job to start your own business, and how did you deal with it?
I didn’t quit my job until my business was really ready to go. I had my first event lined up and I had already started to make some solid business connections. I felt quite relieved after I quit my job because Fidel Gastro was something of a “dirty little secret” that I had kept from some of my colleagues. After leaving my job, I was finally free to share what I had been working on. I moved back home with my parents to save money and started hanging out in kitchens and with other chefs just to surrounded with the food industry. I even took on a “job” giving free labour to my friend’s butcher shop in order to use their kitchen to prep for my events.

Do you have any tips for saving or managing your money for people who are thinking of leaving their jobs to pursue entrepreneurship?
You will not make a profit right away so don’t be alarmed when you get to take home a paycheque for a while. You’d be amazed how little you can live off of when you need to!

What are some important traits or attitudes that an entrepreneur needs to have or adopt?
You have to be fearless, full of optimistic passion, have a positive attitude and a little fire in the belly! Some luck is definitely welcomed as well!

What has been the most rewarding part about being an entrepreneur?
The most rewarding part is when you create something that people know about. It seems simple but whenever I go out and people say, “Ohhh I love Fidel Gastro’s!”, it makes me extremely proud.

What’s the most important piece of advice you can offer to people with startups?
If you don’t love what you do then don’t do it.

Finally, you’re known for your Extremo Sandwiches. What exactly are they?
By definition, the extremo sandwich means: nothing is too weird for a sandwich!

Matt Basile’s show, Rebel Without a Kitchen, premieres on August 20, 2013 on the Asian Food Channel (Starhub channel 435) at 9.30pm.

About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Lastly, she believes that everyone should make it a point to travel solo at least once in their lives. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.

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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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