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?

Let’s do away with ‘free’.

Don’t get me wrong.

I am not immune to the allure of the ‘free’. That sign draws me like a magnet just like anybody else.

However, when I am buying a commodity, I know it is not really free. I have paid for object A to get object B for free. Object B is probably free because it isn’t selling anyway. Or if I am offered a free service say at a spa, they will collect my contact details – phone number and email – which in today’s world, you can’t really put a price on. They will also feel entitled to bludgeon me with their marketing pitch and I will feel obliged to listen to them because I got something for free.

Now that I have begun my journey as an entrepreneur, in an industry that anyway pays less than most others, some people – well – wishers, acquaintances and prospective clients – have suggested (subtly, of course) that I should work for free. They also say it’s not really free. I gain experience, I add a brand to my portfolio.

Once upon a time, I would have accepted such an exchange as fair but not anymore. I am at a stage in my career and personal life where that’s not enough value for the time and effort I put into my work.

If you want to read more on why communication and content especially is not free and shouldn’t be given for free, do read this article by Deborah Tan of Material World.

I don’t get angry when people say this. I get disappointed sometimes but not angry and I understand as well. To expand my business, I need services from other people but I can’t afford them right now. I could use some free stuff too. And there are many businesses which are in my situation. So this is what I propose:

Let’s bring back the barter system among startups. I tell you what I need and you tell me what you need and if there’s a match, we can help each other grow together with zero money involved. If you like this idea, do check out The Platform Collective, an organisation in Singapore which has formalised this very concept.

This system will solve some of our problems, not all. The critical issue – getting paying customers, who pay on time – remains.

Delete these words from your email vocabulary.

Recently, I have been reading a spate of articles on how women subsconsciously minimise themselves and the work they do, especially in the professional space.

The reasons are varied – a need to please, to be liked universally, to not offend, to not come across as aggressive and so on. The result is that many women often seem to be lacking in clarity and confidence, when that’s not the case.

This article on Ivanka Trump’s website lists five words women – and men – should delete from their email vocabulary to sound more confident.

I would also recommend signing up for the Ivanka Trump newsletter. It’s free and you get access to some unique and helpful content right in your inbox.

What working from home while caring for your child is really like – without Help

So this is how a normal week day pans out.

My son, who is currently 18 months old, and I get up almost simultaneously in the morning between 7 and 8 AM. While I feed him his morning milk, I check my mail, Facebook and Whatsapp messages. I reply to the last two immediately and any urgent emails. After changing his diaper, I head to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for my husband and myself. My son usually plays with his dad at this time.

Breakfast done, my husband leaves for work usually between 9-10 AM. I freshen up and answer other mails. After that, there is a lot of juggling of activities; office work – basically answering calls, messages and mails, playing with my son, feeding and bathing him, housework, reading the newspaper, checking all my social media, watching TV and preparing lunch. For the first hour or so after waking up, my son plays independently – with his toys, utensils, empty buckets, bottles, stroller – basically anything he can get his hands on. After that, he demands more attention from me. I hover around him and he hovers around me.

The moment my son goes down for his nap which is around 1-2 PM, I start work. He usually naps for 3 hours in the afternoon so that’s when I do the bulk of my work. He is a light sleeper and tends to wake up a couple of times in between so occasionally I work on our bed so that I can immediately reach out and put him back to sleep.

Once he is up from his nap and has his evening milk, it’s a repeat of the morning routine till his dad comes home. I cook, clean and finish all the household chores for the day. We all spend some time together at dinner after which my husband looks after my son while I finish any pending work. My son then chooses who will put him to sleep that night. After some catching up time with my husband, I go to bed with a novel. Unfortunately, I just get to read a paragraph or so before the book crashes into my face and I realise it’s time to sleep. I check my mail one last time, shut my eyes and hope to drift into the land of dreams.

This is of course the routine on a good day.

With a toddler, there is always something or the other happening since they are growing and changing really fast. If my son has a cold or an upset stomach or he is teething for instance, he won’t sleep well and he will be clingy all day. Then it becomes really difficult to work. On such days, I become best friends with coffee and sacrifice my sleep at night. Also, I try and finish all my work a few days before the deadline so that crises with my son don’t affect my work.

Luckily, motherhood has taught me to forge ahead despite intense fatigue and sleep deprivation. I have learnt to expect change, be prepared for anything and alter strategies at a moment’s notice. I have learnt that there is always a solution.

I think motherhood is the best preparation for entrepreneurship. And it’s not just my experience as a mother. I have learnt so much by just watching my son. So if his toy rolls under the bed, he won’t call out to me immediately to take it out. He’ll lie down on his stomach and try to fish it out on his own. He’ll try one position then another position, one angle and then another angle, one side and then the other side and only when he has tried everything and exhausted all his options, he calls me. His perseverance at everything is just so inspiring.

He jumps out of bed every day with so much excitement and anticipation and he goes on and on all day till he physically can’t anymore and just drops into sleep mid activity. And I think to myself – if he can do it, so can I.

In my next post in this series, I’ll share with you some tips I use to manage everything smoothly (well, most of the time).