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.