23 Aug 2018 – A Start-up Story with Dean Loh
How is it like being your own boss? Does freelancing mean having more free time for yourself? Does being your own boss automatically means having more money?
All these questions and more were answered at our event last Thursday (23 Aug). Helmed by professional web designer and business owner Dean Loh, we got some keen insights into the world of entrepreneurship, business, and freelancing.
The event was co-organised together with NTUC’s Freelancing and Self-Employed Unit (U FSE) – the hardworking team supporting and looking out for the needs of Singapore’s gig economy workers.
It was an event that was both insightful, passionate and touching at the same time.
The event kicked off with our usual pre-event mingling and chit-chatting, with early attendees speaking to each other and Dean himself. Plenty of opportunities to network at an IoTalents event!
Also see: 5 Tips for MASSIVE Networking Success
When the event began good and proper, Dean started his sharing in earnest. Here are 3 of our favourite points from his sharing:
1. Know Your Why
Simon Sinek in his famous and now classic TED Talk Start With Why, listed out a very simple but effective strategy for becoming a better leader – ask yourself why you are doing this, the reinforce your why with your behaviours. This strategy helps you to lead and motivate better. When applied to a business, it can positively impact company culture and therefore, its long-term success.
Hence, for those looking to become their own boss, the reason behind doing so is very important. It will become the main driving factor behind waking up everyday, ready to work on your business. It gives you motivation for what you are doing.
Dean says, “Know your why. Not just any why, like ‘I want to make lots of money’ or ‘I want to wake up later’, but something really profound. I assume that some of you are in business or are planning to go into one. When you embark on a journey of starting a business, you will almost immediately realise that it is going to be a very difficult road, I guarantee you.
You will face a lot of challenges and setbacks. You will question what you are doing and wonder if you should go back to a regular job with the regular paycheques every month. I sometimes look at people with salaried jobs and go, ‘Wow, I think you have a better life than me man!'”
So what do you do when thoughts like that start hitting you? That is when you turn to your why. Preferably, you should have them printed out and stuck somewhere where you can view it, to remind yourself why you started, and why you should get going. The reason should be profound enough to keep you going.”
Defining and understanding why you want to do something is key to success in any endeavour – business, relationships, sports, etc. It will keep you going when the going gets tough.
2. Be The Brand
Many of us who have seen the Christopher Nolan series of Batman films would be familiar with this. In what is now an iconic scene from the series, Batman (Christian Bale) says:
“It is not who I am underneath, but what I do, that defines me.”
Dean uses this famous and meaningful line to describe his point: Be The Brand and focus.
“When you are focused at something, you become good at that something. When you become good at something, people remember you. It is as simple as that.”
It is also about letting the customer know that you are of value to him, by emphasising on what you can do to help the client grow his business. Dean talked about his industry to illustrate this point.
For example, some web designers would list down all the skills and technology they know to impress the client, like, ‘I know PHP, HTML5, JQuery etc.’
But what the client really wants to know is, can you help them get more customers?
“Stop selling your products and services. Instead, sell yourself as the brand, or your company as the brand. Be in front of people, solve the problem for people.”
One of Dean’s favourite stories illustrating this concept was this: some time back, he wanted to purchase a car to replace his ageing one. He does not remember the car sales company – only the salesperson’s name! (It was Arnold).
This was because Arthur sought to understand Dean’s needs – and he made sure he fulfilled them. As it turns out, Dean remembers Arnold’s name and not his company – He made sure HE was the brand.
3. Choose Your Clients
As a freelancer and/or business owner, you need to understand that not all customers are created equal. Successful business managers understand this. They know that certain market segments are not who they want to target. Not everyone can be your customer – and that is a good thing.
“It is an art – and I’m not ashamed to say that I am able to do it. To survive in this competitive world, you need to be able to do this.”
Dean then proceeds to list down several reasons why it is important to choose your clients:
It’s not just about the money
Choosing your clients does not mean automatically going for the wealthiest and richest of clients – like big corporations, MNCs, etc. The clients with the deepest pockets may not be the most suitable one for you. For Dean, he enjoys working with small businesses, especially the ones where he gets to work with the decision maker directly.
“The business owner, he knows what’s best for his business. So when I’m talking to him, I can know and do what’s best for his business. This is very different from larger clients.”
Good clients know your worth…and respect your time
“Good clients are fun to work with, and they know your worth and respect your time,” Dean says. His good clients understand that the weekends are strictly off limits for work, and they respect that.
Bad clients on the other hand will suck everything out of you; your confidence, your mood. This negativity can ruin your relationships with the good clients, and those around you.
Hence, good clients are worth seeking out!
Good clients trust you
In general, good clients want to listen to you and your ideas. They welcome you to ‘own the project’. They will sit down with you and work with you to find the best solutions possible to problems.
Ultimately, these are the kind of clients you want to have because with them, it is a two way street of communication, where you are free to give your input as a subject matter expert. You do not become a mere executor, so to speak.
Good clients pay you on time
As a self-starter and business owner, cash flow is paramount. Without consistent cash flow to cover expenses, your business will fail. Being paid on time ensures that you have enough cash to complete the project as well as keep the cash flow healthy.
“True story, I have clients who decide to pay me upfront instead. They say, ‘Hey Dean, I don’t want you to stress, I just want you to finish the job.’ This kind of client, i stayed with him for eight years.”
Bad clients are the exact opposite. “When you see a bad client, fire them quickly. Basically, move on. We are living in a digital world. Unlike the old days, you don’t have to travel many miles to to reach the client . Back then you had to hold on the client no matter what they are like because you travelled so far to meet them.
Moral of the story: Find the good clients and hold on to them dearly; fire the bad ones quickly.”
A Great Event Indeed
Dean’s sharing was impeccably delivered, with brilliant sparkles of humour throughout the talk combined with very useful advice. Knowing and understanding your why behind all that you do was the overarching theme of the talk – and Dean did a great job at explaining why you should do so.
Overall, we enjoyed the event ourselves, and so did the attendees. Here is what two of them had to share after the event:
“The event was well organised in a conducive environment. Besides learning from the speaker (Dean), the audiences were encouraged to interact with him and the organisers. Having NTUC as a co-organiser added value to the participants’ experience in terms of networking.
Dean illustrated his life journey well and I was appreciative of his generous sharing of tips as a freelancer. Of the 8 points he shared, there was a constant reminder to know your why; the why is key for sustaining his energy on his own entrepreneurial path. I certainly felt his passion.” – Soh Kim Fai, Deputy Director (School of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering), Singapore Polytechnic
“Dean is a natural speaker and was flawless in his delivery. We were all abuzz with praise and totally inspired afterwards, as we truly understood how starting out on your own can be a tough and rough journey. Dean managed to express how challenges can be overcome just by holding on to the right beliefs, values and motivation. Presentation theme was phenomenal and well thought out too. I am truly impressed.” – Karen Yee, Digital Marketer
Thank you to everyone for your support!