Happy 50th National Day Singapore!

Congratulations Singapore!

50 years is a momentous milestone and you deserve all the bouquets and celebrations.

You have been my home since 2011 and what a wonderful home you have been. While I appreciate your fantastic infrastructure and corruption-free bureaucracy, the freedom I have experienced here as a woman in public spaces is the truly matchless gift you have given me.  I am supremely grateful.

Today though, I have just one thing to say to you- don’t be disheartened by the criticism you receive, especially from your young ones. You have served every generation well but each new generation has different desires and expectations and you need to adapt to fulfill them.

But be mindful that you don’t blindly agree to everything. You know from experience that limitless freedom can easily devolve into anarchy. Given the unique character of Singapore, some restrictions are necessary to preserve the integrity of the country.

Give your people space to be themselves and grow, without jeopardizing their future. I have been here a short time but I am confident you can do this.

Here’s wishing you another glorious 50 years Singapore!

P.S:

Friends, as my contribution to this joyous occasion, I am volunteering with Singapore Fashion Runway, an SG50 celebration programme that aims to bring the country together through fashion. You can read more about it and sign up to join here.

3 months, 6 lessons

Double profit! It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

Approximately 3 months ago, I began my journey as an entrepreneur. These are the lessons I have learnt (or rather have been knocked into my head), not just by running my own business but also by observing successful and not so successful small businesses around me.

1. The founder has to do everything. 

When I started out, the first goal was to register the business.

Then get requisite permissions from the Government. Then set up the website and email account. Then get my visual identity package (logo, letterhead, visiting card, envelope) designed. Then promote and publicize the business. Then pitch to clients and get accounts.

Then do the actual work for my accounts. Then do the changes and corrections in the work. Then send invoices and collect payment. Then figure out my accounting and tax obligations. Then…

Yes, I have to do everything, everything on my own and it just doesn’t stop.

2. …and I can. 

3 months ago, I wouldn’t have thought I would be able to accomplish any of the above. But I did. And the lesson is – anyone can.

The pattern is – a challenge comes up and you figure out a solution. Either ask Google or find an actual person who can help. I can’t tell you how much confidence and self esteem I have gained by being able to face all the challenges and come up with the solutions – for everything, on my own.

An entrepreneur needs to be comfortable with uncertainty, with asking questions and seeking help.

3. Networking is critical. 

I have to give credit where credit is due.

I would not have been able to do any of the things I did if it wasn’t for the help I received from people in online and offline networking groups. Tips, contacts, advice, solutions, business leads – you can get it all by networking in the right communities.

But remember, the first rule of networking is – pay it forward. A helps you and maybe you can help A in return. Or maybe not. But you can definitely help B and C.

I currently volunteer for a phenomenal networking group for female entrepreneurs – CRIB. It stands for Creating Responsible and Innovative Businesses and is a social enterprise that empowers women to become successful entrepreneurs through networking, matchmaking and business incubation.

4. Communication is the difference between a successful business and an also-ran. 

In today’s world of instant communication – not replying to WhatsApp or Facebook messages within an acceptable period of time, taking days to respond to emails, not picking up calls despite previous confirmation, going off-the-grid without a word – is just not going to cut it. I am not saying that you need to be chained to your smart phone but responding especially to current and prospective customers, hardly takes any time.

A lack of communication hurts the reputation and credibility of your business. With so many choices available, a customer will just take her business elsewhere. But before doing that, she’ll write a nasty post about you on the Internet.

Is this really worth not picking up that phone?

5. Choose your clients/customers wisely. 

This is especially true if you are in the service industry. One gets a fair idea what a client will be like and what your experience will be servicing them in the pitching stage itself.

Do you want a client who pays you peanuts but expects artisanal chocolate in return? Who is obnoxious and thinks they have bought you? Who will keep asking you for options till the last minute and will never be satisfied? Who thinks they have done you a favour by hiring you and now they must justify the cost by making you do as much work as possible, even if it is not required?

Is their money worth the physical toll, the mental anguish? Won’t the time you give to such a client be better served on other clients?

This is a personal choice every business owner has to make but my answer is no.

6. Never give up – there is always a solution. 

Being an entrepreneur is hard – hard on the body, hard on the mind, hard on the soul. But we must remember why we chose this path.

I became an entrepreneur because I want to make money, I want to be the boss and I want to do this while taking care of my children.

Whatever be the challenge, there is always a solution. If you can’t figure out, ask someone else. Do some research. Don’t give up.

Whenever I feel low, I read Tim Ferriss’s blog. This guy and his off-the-beaten-track approach to life has been a source of inspiration for me for many years and finally, I am trying to put some of the things he says into practice. Do check out his site if you don’t know him already. You will definitely not regret it.

7. Manage your email well.

Here’s a bonus lesson – while communicating and responding are a must, you must learn to manage your email else email will manage you. Emails can become time sucks. Your work will be left unfinished if all you do is keep responding to emails all day.

If you are like me and don’t like seeing emails piling up in your inbox, then you need a strategy.

Unless you are in a business that experiences emergency situations, check emails no more than 3 times a day – morning (after putting in a solid hour or two completing urgent work), afternoon and evening (before the end of your work day). Try and respond as soon as you check the emails and not leave them for later. Set aside a time for this and don’t exceed the time limit. Aim to respond to all emails you receive on the same day.

Here’s wishing all business owners many more months and many more lessons!

7 tips for balance in life

All our plates are full.

I have the house, the child, the business and volunteer work. My husband has a full time job, the child and cricket. Everyone I know is essentially running around from morning to night trying to balance all their obligations and interests.

Here are my tips to balance it all and keep sane.

1. Quiet time – If meditation and/or prayer is not your thing (I do both), just take 10 minutes every morning and evening to be alone (without any person or thing). Sit or lie comfortably, focus on your breathing and try not to think. It’s o.k if you fall asleep. It’s as relaxing and rejuvenating.

2. Exercise – Even 10 minutes a day is enough. Any form of exercise that suits you is good. I have tried many – aerobics, jogging, weight training, kick boxing, cycling – but what suits my body and routine most is free flow yoga and stretching. 10 minutes of this and I feel revitalized.

3. Diet – I have realized that what I eat has a major impact on my energy levels. So if I eat rice or wheat, I feel sluggish, physically and mentally. While I love my two cups of coffee a day, green tea is most refreshing for me. After significant trial and error, I have figured out that I work best on a diet of eggs/fish/chicken, vegetables, fruits, nuts and Greek yogurt (I also have milky coffee, green tea and occasionally soup).

4. Lists – I am always making lists. To-dos for the day (the night before), to-dos for the week (the weekend before), separate business, personal and volunteer work lists; separate lists for each of my clients, grocery lists, cleaning lists – see I am listing here too. I have a daily and a monthly planner and it really helps me stay organised and on the ball. The key is to do urgent work first on all the lists and keep pushing non-essential work to the next day.

5. Read – You don’t have to read fiction or non-fiction books if that doesn’t interest you. Read newspapers, magazines, online articles, business features. Read for information, for motivation, for inspiration. On a day when everything seems to be going awry, reading an inspiring story gives me perspective and puts me back on track.

6. Make time for that one passion – We all have something that makes us come alive. No, not your child, your partner, your work – it could be books or art or music or dancing or friendships. In my case, it is movies. I don’t get to go to the cinema hall these days (childcare issues) so whenever a good movie is coming on TV, usually on weekends, I schedule my entire day around it. The movie is my top priority that day. And I have never regretted this.

7. Fun – Take fun breaks as often as possible. This is what we are doing on our fun breaks these days.

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When it all seems too much, slow down and take stock. Cut out the non-essential. Delegate and postpone. Recall why you are doing all this. Be grateful for all the gifts in your life. And remember you will feel better soon.

This always works for me.

What a haircut taught me about entrepreneurship.

A week ago, my husband and I took our son for a haircut. We were prepared for the usual meltdown. I tried positive thinking and affirmations but it didn’t work.

My son hates haircuts. He starts howling the moment the hairdresser puts the cloth around his shoulders. He did the same thing this time too. He flung the cloth aside, started howling, threw his head back, arched his spine and tried to get off my husband’s lap who was sitting in the chair, holding him.

I don’t know what we feed him but he is surprisingly strong.

The two of us just about managed to hold on to him with my husband pinning his arms down and I holding his head in a tight grip. The haircut took about 15 minutes – definitely the longest 15 minutes of our life. We ended up with a decent haircut (barring a small patch that was missed due to all the drama) and lots of hair over all 3 of us.

Now to the point of this story – throughout this ordeal, my son kept crying. Many a times, he would be sniffing softly, eyes closed, leaning into my husband, face covered with tears, snot and hair and we would be lulled into thinking he has given up fighting. Suddenly he would rear up and try to leap out of the chair. And he kept doing this throughout.

I was filled with admiration – what spirit he has. He didn’t give up. He kept fighting. He didn’t accept defeat. And this is the spirit we entrepreneurs need. Keep moving forward despite the roadblocks, the dead ends, the rejections, the curmudgeonly clients.

I thought this was just another cliché but now I know it to be true – you lose only when you give up.

The unimaginably traumatic haircut
The unimaginably traumatic haircut

5 tips to become an excellent volunteer

Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to volunteer with a number of organisations – from NGOs working on social causes to business networking groups. I have come across many good volunteers, some bad volunteers and very few excellent volunteers. Here is how the excellent ones do things (obviously, I fall in this category).

1. Take on a project only when you have the time.

A lot of volunteers start out enthusiastically and take responsibility for a project only to realize later on that they don’t have the time to work on it. As volunteer work is unpaid, accountability is usually lacking and people don’t feel guilty about not doing the work properly, not finishing it on time or handing over charge to someone else at the last minute.

2. Communicate with all the team members.

Volunteer work usually means there is a lot of flexibility in terms of when and where you work. What is sacrosanct however is that there should constant communication between all the members so that everyone is on the same page. Nothing hurts a project more than miscommunication. In this age of WhatsApp and Facebook messenger, there really is no excuse.

3. Be involved throughout the process.

When a project begins, a certain number of people are marked on the emails. They are all supposed to give their inputs and feedback. What happens is that eventually only a few committed ones respond and give timely feedback. The project moves forward, is about to reach its goal when suddenly the dormant members will wake up and start giving their two cents on the topic. You have to listen to them as they are part of the team and there is no boss as everyone is a volunteer.  Work has to be redone, deadlines are not met and a smoothly running machine sputters to a stop. This also demotivates the team members who had been working on the project throughout this time.

4. Do not give excuses.

If you can’t or won’t do something, be upfront and say it. Don’t sit on things till the last minute and then give a 100 excuses to prove that it wasn’t your fault.

5. Treat the work like you would a job.

Being a volunteer doesn’t mean you can slack off. You still have to work as efficiently and effectively as you would in a regular job, in fact more, as places that usually need volunteers are resource poor. You have to be creative, accountable, work as a team and meet deadlines. If you can’t do this, please don’t volunteer.

What this viral video taught me.

This Youtube video has been going viral all over the world for the past few days.

My mind was flooded with thoughts when I saw it. Here they are in no particular order:

1. This is one brave woman.

2. Pleasant people become vicious monsters under the garb of anonymity.

3. When will we stop judging women by their beauty – and men by their money?

4. No matter what the world says, one has show up, take a stand and fight back in this beautiful, positive way.

5. I should postpone my Youtube debut for some time.

All new The Straits Times

The Straits Times with a brand new look
The Straits Times with a brand new look

To celebrate its 170th anniversary, my favourite newspaper now has a brand new look and more engaging content. I am still going through it currently but I can say this for sure; print, particularly newspapers are definitely not dead.

I love newspapers. It’s what I used to get up to in the morning before I had my son. Barring the sports section and the obituaries, I read it cover to cover. Even though I read a lot of content online these days, not a day goes by without me perusing the paper.

In another one of those media-hyped battles these days, we are being asked to choose – print or digital? TV or Internet? Worse – many a times we are informed – print is dead, TV is dead. Why do we have to choose one? I consume a variety of media and I couldn’t do without any. I read physical books and listen to audio books, read newspapers, magazines and online articles, watch shows on TV and Internet. And millions of people around the world do this every day.

Just like women are expected to have it all – husband, kids, career, looks, body, money and be nice (oh because what’s the point of having it all if you are not a nice woman) – why can’t all forms of media coexist?