Article 5 – Some advice on the road to success

by Tan Thiam Hock

Jagdev from StarBiz sent me a cheerful email this morning reminding me of my weekly responsibilities. I am desperately searching for inspiration as I look around the dreary faces of fellow passengers on a train ride from Cambridge to London. Looking out the window, the sunny autumn day looks promising as we pass through the pretty countryside but somehow I had this feeling that it was going to rain in London. It was a hardly an inspiring thought but I do have to persevere and continue, inspired or not.

Since I started this column five weeks ago, I have had quite a number of entrepreneurs writing in, describing their frustrations at their slow progress in achieving success and was searching for nuggets of inspiration from me. Some relate their current business predicaments and asked for advice, others seek direction and even mentorship.

As for me, I was seeking refuge from a deluge of questions tinged with high expectations. I was in trouble, deep trouble. All I wanted to do was share some experiences, make a few jokes about celeb entrepreneurs and show the Star CEO a thing or two about mass marketing. Suddenly, I am expected to give advice and solutions to a vast variety of business scenarios and problems.

Qualified and knowledgeable consultants charge you for advice as much as your wallet can afford. Advice with solutions will cost you twice as much. Solutions with more questions which begets more solutions will result in permanent charges. I believe they call this personal coaching.

Sharing of opinion is free. You do not have to agree with an opinion. But you normally take an advice seriously because you paid for it. For once, I will give you free advice which should save you tonnes of ringgit in consultant fees. Just a few simple opinions for that man in the mirror.

Know your own limitations. Strengths. Weaknesses. Tolerance tests for suffering, humiliation, stress and financial deficits. Only your mum knows more about you than you. Once you have a favourable opinion about yourself, set realistic and achievable targets. Just be yourself. Play to your strengths and be the biggest fish in a small pond.

Be happy with little successes. Each brick of success will inspire you to the next level. Do not always dream of the big day, the one deal that will help you rule the world. It might never come. Besides higher financial rewards, have you built a better reputation with your bankers, suppliers and customers?. Are you happy with what you have achieved or do you still feel that the world owes you a living?

Wealth is relative so do not compare. There is always someone richer than you, bigger than you and smarter than you. Unless you are Bill Gates. Of which you are not. So stay humble. You will have more friends. And you will be a richer person for that.

Do not profit from other people’s misery. Share your profits with your suppliers and your staff. A continuous profitable supply chain ensures long-term business survival. Suppliers and staff stay with you if they trust and respect you. And the only way you earn their trust is through honest engagements and mutual respect.

Behind all successful entrepreneurs, you will find a loyal core team of very capable managers. Ralph Marshall of Astro and Maxis, Kathryn Tan of AirAsia, Tan Sri Tay Ah Lek of Public Bank and countless other professional managers in all the successful corporations. Entrepreneurs hog the limelight with their vision and persona but they need to be complemented by trusted executioners to crystallise their vision. They are the unsung heroes and deserved to be treated with tender loving care by entrepreneurs.

Whether your business is small or big, when you are faced with what seems like insurmountable problems, you will feel really lonely sitting alone on your own little hill. Learn to embrace the solitude. Take this opportunity to reflect on where you have gone wrong. Take responsibility and not blame others. Eat humble pie if you have to. Take a step backward so that you can move two steps forward.

All entrepreneurs make mistakes. A successful entrepreneur does not make fatal mistakes. They just make more right moves than wrong ones. Just make sure the sum of positives exceed the sum of all negatives and you are on the way to a healthy balance sheet.

The Achilles Heel of high flying entrepreneurs has got to be over-confidence. Used to continuous rapid success, they start to believe in their own invincibility and perceived ability to be successful in every new business they wish to undertake.

Over-leveraging to fuel expansion can be fatal if the bleeding from new projects does not stop. So unless you have a bottomless pit of reserves like Genting or Hong Leong, be cautious in your ambitions. Expand, consolidate, strengthen your cash-flow, then expand. You will never be poor again.

I must admit that these opinions or free advice are hardly inspiring to entrepreneur wannabes. If you are seriously looking for guidance, there are many books on entrepreneurship. You could attend many seminars and join the numerous clubs for entrepreneurs. Just Google and you will find enlightenment.

Last piece of free advice.

No free lunches in business. Chew on that.

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