There are 101 articles out there dishing out advice for a budding entrepreneur and checklists to distinguish the dreamers and the doers. Not many tell you what the mistakes are you should be making.
Having moved from the Netherlands to Singapore over 10 years ago as a young, aspiring entrepreneur trying to pave my own niche, I found myself falling more often than not, and it was in those mistakes that I learned how to succeed. I would love to share some of my failures with you.
1. Be risky. And enjoy it!
Making the decision to set up a business is perhaps the most difficult step of the entrepreneurial journey as the future is largely uncertain and risky. I’ve never been much of a risk-taker, but my advice now? Go for it.
Of course, you want to take time to think it through, plan and strategise but if you’re waiting for the perfect moment, it doesn’t exist. As a foodie who has been traveling across Singapore in search of great eats and sharing my recommendations with friends, Table Tales made sense because it was an extension of what I had already been doing and it was a low-cost business that required more time than financial commitment.
2. Be stubborn. Dare to say no.
I made the decision to embark on my entrepreneurial journey with Table Tales when I was still holding a full-time job. That meant that I had limited time to spend on it; however, that encouraged me to make decisions based on what’s right for the business and the brand.
When you start, it’s very tempting to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way since ‘you have to try’ or ‘it’ll be good exposure’ or ‘you always gain something.’ Because I still had a full-time job I couldn’t, hence I was forced to really evaluate each opportunity closely to choose which ones were worth my time and investment. The key factor was not about short-term returns but what would be beneficial for Table Tales in the long run.
Yes, everyone runs a business to make profits but it’s important to make sure that you have the right balance.
3. Be determined. And open minded.
One of the logical concerns for an expatriate would be the lack of connections when launching your own business. However, Singapore offers many many entrepreneur focused networking events – ranging from co-working space events, to chambers of commerce from different countries, to topic specific or female specific events. All often free or for a small fee to attend and it really helps in building bridges. At the same time, as the scene is saturated, you need to be strategic in what contacts you’re looking for. So before you go, be clear on your intention or expectations. My aim in the beginning was to meet 1 relevant new contact per event – this sounds low and easy to accomplish and it is. And that’s the point – it gives you confidence to set your goals higher and higher each time.
Another thing that I like about Singapore is that there is a lot of support to guide aspiring entrepreneurs in setting up their company. These are both online and face-to-face and range from how to manage your finances, create a simple marketing plan or how to actually set up your company, whether on EP or on Dependant’s Pass. Again these are often free of just a couple hundred dollars and they help you to get started as well as get a peer group of likeminded people. It’s great that it’s very affordable to get advice here or to participate in solo courses.
4. Give up. And move on.
Starting a business means taking on all aspects of it, especially in the beginning when you don’t have the finances to outsource anything. There is quite a lot involved in publishing a book and let’s not forget about the back-end administrative work like finance and website management.
It was a challenge to be an expert in everything, even for someone like me who loves reading and learning new things. While there were online classes available, the breadth of the various subject matter was simply too wide to master. Sometimes it felt the more you learned the more you realized you didn’t know.
The advice I got during this time was to specialise and hone my skills instead of trying to be good at everything but not doing it well. Take social media for example, this is not one of my strengths, and when setting it up, the advice I got was to post once or twice a day, different content across the different channels and be very active with commenting and following likeminded people. This gave me so much stress that I often ended up not doing anything, which caused even more frustration!
It’s easier said than done though – to really focus on your strengths. I realised that for me this means ensuring that I work on multiple projects at the same time, rather than just Table Tales. This made me much more efficient and again, it naturally made me focus on the elements that could have the biggest impact. While growing the business I slowly started to outsource different parts and learnt to identify partners who I felt could value-add to the business.
5. Don’t hire. Do collaborate.
I’ve tried outsourcing parts of my business – to varying levels of success – and I realised that I am drawn to people with complementary skill sets and personalities as it becomes a mutually beneficial relationship.
I also realised that I want to remain a small, independent business as it provides the most flexibility for me. In that sense, I don’t intend to hire employees and I prefer to work with other entrepreneurs or service providers who operate independently.
By doing so, it creates an enjoyable environment for me as I’m not tied down with managing employees and a fringe benefit of working with these independent service providers is also the opportunity to forge a quid pro quo relationship. These parties would often be small business owners as well and in an attempt to minimise costs on both ends, we would offer an exchange in services rendered.
Time is a great teacher and I have gotten a lot better at finding great partners to work with and it has made me better at maintaining focus on what’s most important and will add the most value to my business.