The Accidental Entrepreneur

Hello. I am back.

Yes. I have been missing. But for good reason. Sometimes we all need a break, even from our favourite rant machines a.k.a our blogs. Sometimes there’s just too much to say and sometimes there’s no reason to say anything. I’d rather have something important to share than gab on mindlessly.

Anyway, you must be intrigued by today’s post title.

I got around to thinking about this when Alexandra, a friend who writes for The Star’s Weekender, emailed me. We were in USM together about a decade ago and although we weren’t in the same course, we met up while taking elective classes. In her email, she said that I didn’t really look like the type to go into business. She figured I’d be a lecturer or something like that. The bookish sort, really.

I am what you would call an Accidental Entrepreneur.

I got around to pickling her question in my head. It is an interesting observation from a friend. You know how sometimes we go around having this Image in our heads of ourselves and suddenly someone comes along and tells you the Image of You that they have in their heads?

Yup. It makes for a great dissection. (Also another friend, Rona asked a very provocative question – should she still be an Employee or start a new chapter as an Entrepreneur?)

I started thinking. Now what if I weren’t running this business with Nic? What would I really be doing? Did I even imagine running a business? Hell no. I never even minored in Management while in university when all my coursemates did and here I am, running a business.

How things turn out…

I always believed (OK laugh if you want) that I’d be some head of the corporate communications department in some glitzy multinational corporation. Oh, perhaps jetting about every few weeks or so. Ordering subordinates about to write press releases, plan the next press conference etc. I’d be president or at least VP some day (you know I watch too many TV dramas about climbing the corporate ladder – actually I wanted to be a hotshot lawyer but that is totally another story for another post).

The thing is, I NEVER majored in PR either during my years in university.

Completely odd.

I did Journalism and minored in English. Then I had itchy fingers and went back to uni to get my Masters (in English!) just for fun. It was that time that I jumped from being gainfully employed (makan gaji) to being the mistress of my own universe (running a business with my husband).

The things people often told me not to do, I did anyway. Just to experience life on the wild side, so to say. I quit a well-paid job to go into the unknown. I had no experience except that kind that I racked up as an employee. I had no idea what I was going to do except use my skills in writing for the business. My Dad was secretly worried I’d be eating Maggi mee for the rest of my sad life. The other no-no is never run a business with family (that includes spouse) because it complicates relationships. Personal is personal and business is business right?

But the weirdest part is, I’m still around and I am truly enjoying this chapter of my life. I wouldn’t consider myself particularly enterprising in that gung-ho, in-your-face way.

There’s no need to be ruthless or unethical or even plain money-minded. Those myths about people in business belong to the last century! (That said, I can be quite persistent when it comes to money matters.)

It starts with me and myself.

Running a business is always crazy – you are responsible for what you do, or don’t do. I’ve had to pick up and read a whole lorry-load of marketing and business books (and I still read ’em).

I’ve had to learn psychology because when you deal with people, you need to understand what makes us all behave the way we do. I’ve had to change my mindset (don’t go after clients, attract them to you).

I’ve had to change the way I viewed life (my most precious resource now is Time and don’t let others waste your time unnecessarily).

I’ve had to re-learn what I know (customers aren’t always right and you must get rid of those who suck the lifeblood off you) and yes, remove those awful habits that were in the way of success (if you want to get ahead in business, you must factor time for play – really it’s all about working smart).

Much of the growing comes from the inside.

For the past few years, Nic and I find ourselves challenged in so many ways. And each time we hit a wall, we only only re-strategize and come out better, we’ve also created some of our own ways and systems to deal with future issues.

It’s your game, play it your way.

Whenever we face an issue, I always tell Nic, “Look, it’s our business. We can run it however we want. We can make our own rules if we don’t like the old ones.” You see, in business, we can run the business any way we want. There’s no hard and fast rule. If you know Nic, you know he has never been one to toe the line. All his university friends know this. If there’s a rule to be broken, my mad husband will be the one to break it.

I can tell you what I love about running our own business. We can take a vacation any time we want and however long we want (that is why the system set-up is so important). Our last holiday was a 10-day stretch with minimal email. We can go off at a moment’s notice (we once had a durian lunch on a Wednesday and took the rest of the day off). We can have the freedom to do the things we like, as long as the team knows how to do their tasks right. But it wasn’t overnight. We struggled through a lot in the early years, fighting a lot of inner demons, adapting, modifying and figuring out how we were to run this business. Oh and lots of arguments too. Nic and I have differing opinions on most things and we often have to argue things out first.

The secret sauce to a more intriguing marriage.

Having a business also brings a special dimension to our marriage. While most spouses grouse about not having anything in common to discuss, we have a bit too many! Our business discussions sometimes go way overboard, during meal times, during holidays, during family events. We talk about marketing ideas, we talk about clients’ issues, we talk about our next big thing to do, we buy and read the same marketing books and get excited over business stuff most people find tedious.

Oh and we see each other all the time. I see him 24/7. (God, give me a break sometimes! That is why I go off on my own at times – maybe that’s really why I started a businesswomen’s networking group.)

The thing is, running a business can be the most exciting thing for some people once they “fall” accidentally into it (like me).

Funnily though, I was also quite happy being an employee. Sure there were office politics and petty annoyances. But I loved every bit of it. I loved reporting to my CEO and telling him what I had planned for the Corp Comms department. I loved the office parties and gossip. I enjoyed the offsite retreats.

So are you cut out to be a business owner?

I guess what I’m trying to say is this – you may not think of yourself as particularly enterprising or business-like but running a (small) business has a lot of advantages – personally and financially. If you’re the type who likes being independent and making decisions or solving problems and can retain a sense of humour about it all, it’s gratifying to be in business for yourself.

The not-so-nice part is, the early years can be tough on you and your family. If you are willing to rough it out and live on less, you can probably make it. We rented an apartment for 9 years because whatever we made, we re-invested in the business. The business came first. We didn’t have a holiday for the longest time because we didn’t have proper systems in place – if we weren’t around, the business couldn’t run itself. If something happened, we had to fix it. No one else could do it for us. (Maybe I should start another blog on sharing the lessons learnt in our 13 years of business. Hmm…just a little maybe.)

And did I tell you we were a work-from-home business in the early years? Yup we were. I could tell you about the incredible joys and horrors of working from home.

So tell me, are you in business? What do you like about it? What do you despise about it? If you’re not in business, do you wish to be in it one day?

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