DISCLAIMER: This article is sponsored by OCBC Business Banking, who supports businesses of all sizes – including smol businesses like us.
At the turn of the 2010s, the startup scene in Singapore exploded. Many people built fantastical businesses on sheer wit and pluckiness. Then they got millions of funding and became unicorns.
…we weren’t amongst them.
Instead, we spent most of our working lives as employees. Tucked away in various creative departments, we didn’t need to worry about stuff like revenue, operating expenses, taxes etc etc.
As a result, the learning curve in business was especially steep.
That said, we’ve run a boring, five-person publishing business without going bankrupt for two years. Hardly entrepreneur-of-the-year material, but it’s not nothing either.
Looking back, here are some things that would have smoothened out the journey. If you’re thinking of also starting a business in 2022 (or any time, really), here are the things that we’d actively look out for.
Cashflow will make or break you
I hate to say this, but many of your clients are going to be paying late. Especially so if they find out they can get away with it. The regular employee will be paid monthly, but the business owner must be ready to be paid once every 60/90 days, or in a doomsday scenario, not at all.
In the meantime, freelancers, employees, internet providers and landlords will still need to get paid.
As a business owner, you’re not only responsible for providing for yourself but for your employees as well. Ensure you have enough savings to tide everyone through when times get rough.
Not paying them will often result in a loss of reputation, or the total implosion of your business. Often both.
To overcome this, you’ll need contracts with clear terms and conditions with non-payment or late-payment clauses. In addition, it’s paramount that you keep enough cash reserves to tide through any winters of payment.
On a separate note, ensuring your cash flow is managed well can also help you to establish good credit standing for financing options in the future. While we’ve always been self-funded as a business, we’ve heard that this is a pain point from many business owners so we thought it was worth mentioning.
Of course, how much your cash can last depends on how much you spend, which leads us to the next point.
Live below your means (aka keep OPEX low)
What is ‘monthly expenditure’ on the individual level will translate to ‘operating expenses on the company level. Essentially, this is how much it costs to run your business.
The bane of many businesses?
High operating expenses.
What I’ve observed is that many business owners fall in love with the image of success, and are willing to spend quite a bit to look the part. In the regular person’s eyes, a successful business owner has a swanky office with plenty of staff.
As such, there is an innate pressure – perhaps more than non-business owners – to look the part. In reality, staff costs and rental costs can be the very thing that kills your business.
For that reason, we prefer to be conservative when taking on the lease for an office space.
At the same time, think long and hard before adding members to your team.
The same principle applies to hiring; see if you can automate or streamline tasks using software before hiring staff whose only role is to manage payroll or to do simple accounting.
Don’t be afraid to re-invest in YOUR business
There’s nothing wrong with investing your own money in the stock market (effectively other people’s businesses), or other financial instruments.
However, after securing a 6-12 months runway by having enough operating expenses, you might also want to consider spending money on your own business to earn more money, or save more time.
These investments can come in the form of employees, equipment or other income producing assets.
Here’s an example: If you invested $100,000 in a simple S&P 500 index fund on 1 Jan 2021, you would have earned a profit of $28,710. That’s not bad at all for something with relatively low effort needed.
However, let’s say you invested $100,000 to expand your capacity to take on more business, which allowed you to take on $200,000 of projects. You’d have earned a profit of $100,000. Then that’s also pretty decent (albeit with significantly higher risk and effort).
Be prepared to be very, very lonely
Yes, you read that right.
In our years operating this page and replying to DMs, we’ve come to find out that many people have a dim opinion of SMEs and their owners.
SMEs have a reputation for paying their staff below market rate, offering little or no career progressions, and are, at best, a stepping stone for a role in a bigger company.
The sheer one-sidedness of these criticisms makes me inclined to think that many are oblivious to the challenges SME owners face; smaller budgets, difficulty in attracting and retaining talent.
Under the pressures and stresses of keeping a business afloat*, it’s not uncommon for a person to have their mental health affected. This may even affect their ability to be good bosses.
Indeed, entrepreneurship is a lonely journey. I’ve met people who remarked to me that even their own spouses don’t understand the challenges and struggles they face, especially if they come from a different industry.
(*None of which should be used to justify any toxic or abusive behaviour.)
If you can find a business partner, community or a mentor who can provide sanity checks and function as a good sounding board, hang on to them for dear life.
For anyone starting a new business, I think there are two meaningful ways to interpret this statistic.
The first is a reminder to stay humble. Some success can lure you into making overly aggressive plays that put the survival of your business at risk. It can also give you the illusion of invincibility. Like people, businesses must constantly adapt to stay relevant.
The second is one of acceptance. I find it comforting that the rise and fall of businesses are as natural as the ebb and flow of the tides. This means you don’t need to beat yourself too hard if you’ve tried your best, with regards to a failed business.
I think one of the most underrated skills of an entrepreneur is knowing when to quit. Deciding to persist for years can easily turn a formerly profitable business into a loss-making operation. Or even worse, some form of personal bankruptcy.
Your business is an avatar of your entrepreneurial will.
What matters far more is your ability to learn from past mistakes, as well as manage your risks; so you can live to fight another day.
As Ms Frizzle of the Magic School Bus used to say: Take chances, make mistakes.
Stay woke, salaryman.
Start your business right with OCBC Business Banking
If you’re thinking of starting a business (or you’re already an existing business owner), you’ll probably need all the help you can get. Help comes in many forms too – whether is it a reliable business partner, good and efficient employees, or even the bank you choose to transact with.
OCBC Business Banking has tons of resources you can leverage on for your business journey, from starting to growing your business. They offer (amongst other things):
- An all-in-one business account: By simply opening an account, you get to enjoy many perks as an OCBC Business customer. The account comes with free cashflow and e-invoicing tools, particularly useful to monitor your inflows and outflows and bookkeep more efficiently, so you can make informed decisions and allocate the right resources towards certain activities.
- Same-day online incorporation and account opening: This allows you to start your business right away. Skip paperwork and meetups. Everything is done online and you get everything you need to start a business (incorporation, corporate secretarial, accounting, HR and bookkeeping services) as a bundle. Pretty convenient, if you ask me.
- A digital specialist: The digital specialist will give advice on all the things you need to get started, like engaging a corporate secretary, getting information about CorpPass and business licenses you need, recommending ways to go digital and cashless and more. So you can get started faster and on the right foot.
- Free resources and guides: They have compiled insights from an extensive pool of experienced business owners to create a knowledge hub for you to start, run and grow your business. Check out the free Business Starter Kit to help you do things smart, right from the start!
PS: They are offering a free 1-to-1 business consultation. Simply get in touch with them here.