Article 1 – Do dream but wake up, get real

by Tan Thiam Hock

When was the last time you had the feeling that you bit off more than you could chew? After a recent golf game, I complained incessantly to the CEO of Star Publications on the lack of articles that addresses the needs of the small business people and those who want to start their own. With a deadpan face, he turned around and said : “Why don’t you write a column on entrepreneurship for us?” I thought I detected a smirk on his face but that line stopped me from grumbling further. I was trapped.

I have been an entrepreneur running various businesses for 26 years but writing a column is totally different. I can speak in front of hundreds confidently, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out the verbs from the nouns. Like William Hung, I have no “formal training” in writing or journalism but I have survived 3 recessions, a global financial crisis and a 24-year marriage. I guess that qualifies me for a degree in survival with honours and the experience to share quirky insights into business issues that matters to entrepreneur wannabes.

Since I am an unqualified con-sultant’, advice on brand building, cash-flow management and any other irrelevant business issues will be dished out free of charge. Yes, FOC a sort of national service.

As I will be concentrating on small businesses, I will not make any references to very successful entrepreneurs like Tune Sri Tony F as his success story is unreal. I know he asks you to be brave and dare to dream the impossible. I will be asking you to dream, wake up and get real.

There can only be one Tune Sri and unless you own a plane, your head should never be in the clouds. And since size is relative, you decide whether your business is small or big and ego free of course.

In small businesses, there are only two types of entrepreneurs: BY CHOICE and NO CHOICE.

For many people with limited academic qualifications or a lack of career opportunities, starting a small business is a no brainer no choice and no major opportunity loss. Normally, this type of business is limited by capital. You open a stall instead of a restaurant. Or, you start something related to your previous work experience, for example a mechanic will go on to open his own workshop.

Generally these new small businesses have a higher chance of success because of their realistic expectations and familiarity with the business.

Making an honest living (of three meals a day) is not difficult but making zillions will require a lot of dreaming. No reference to Uncle Lim of Genting please. That was 50 years ago.

Present times, entrepreneurs of No-choice category slog like mad to put food on the table, pay for house and car mortgages and worry about the high cost of university education for their children.

It takes years of effort just to achieve middle class status and to save enough for retirement. So spare a thought for the thousands of these entrepreneurs you meet everyday. They live in the REAL world.

As for entrepreneur wannabes By choice, the primary drivers in the decision making process revolves around “I” and “Want”. I want to be my own boss. I want to work when I want and where I want. I want to make zillions so that I can buy what I want.

Yeah, dream on.

Here is the reality check. If you want to become an entrepreneur because you want to be your own boss, you are probably a frustrated employee with a bad boss in an unhappy workplace.

When you are an entrepreneur, you work 24/7 and you go wherever the business takes you. And in the early years, you will not have spare cash to go for holidays either, as you will need to reinvest your hard earned profits to expand and consolidate a sustainable business model.

So, if it is because of “I” and “Want”, I suggest you get another job that pays you better and hopefully is in a happier environment.

Making the decision to take the plunge into business is never easy. It is age related, needs commitment, is about gut feel versus viability and, most important of all, it is about having sufficient common sense.

In my next few columns, I will try to navigate through the big idea, the sustainable business models, decision making, cash flows and other relevant concepts that I can think of. That is if the Star’s CEO allows me to continue after this first column.

So, if you have any questions on entrepreneurship (to do or not to do), partnership problems (non marital please) or just plain business curiosity, write to me.

Your responses could just help me keep this column going and wipe that (you think you are so smart) smirk off the CEO’s face. And I will thank you for that.

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