Exactly two months ago, I started my own business venture. It’s something I never announced here, because I didn’t want the hype, but I mention it now because I realized that, like so many other new experiences I’ve had, it’s damned near impossible not to recount the experience that this has been thus far.
It took me long enough to get here. The idea for my own brand of accessories was given to me during a conversation about online retail businesses. And as the idea grew, so did my enthusiasm for it, although I had my doubts about whether I could make it work. But after some encouragement from friends and realizing that if I didn’t want to become an employee again, I would have to find a way to work for myself that would be more consistent than my freelance jobs.
So I launched Kelip. It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done, and considering that I launched it while in the thick of the insanity that was my relationship, sometimes I’m amazed I even did it. For the past two months, my life has turned into something that I have absolutely no name for, because I can’t even bring myself to think about anything except how to keep the business going. But here are some of the things I’ve learned so far:
Patience is an art form. There is nothing virtuous about it. Nobody could, out of the goodness of their own hearts, look at an unending stream of WhatsApp and email enquiries and cheerfully, blissfully, answer every one of them. People have not failed to observe that I, of all people, am now forced to be patient with my clients because I am not, by nature, a patient person, and I have absolutely no tolerance for incompetence, inattention or stupidity. It takes a lot of deep breathing, eye-rolling and vocal profanities to get through every question in as polite or cordial a tone as humanly possible. And it takes only one day of operations to learn the value of copy and paste.
Know your market. This is relevant not only to what you are selling, but also to dealing with the people who are buying. It’s one thing to be promoting a business on Instagram, but quite another to be promoting a business on Instagram to a market who is on Instagram just to look at pictures and stalk people, because said market belongs to a country that can barely read (It is a tragic reality that Malaysians don’t read, because this is a society that places no importance on the benefits of reading). Therefore, it is imperative to understand the idiosyncracies of your target market in order to tailor your marketing ploys to their limited attention spans. No matter how many times you put your prices on Instagram, the masses will still come a-knocking to ask how much each item is.
Haters gon’ hate. If my years in public relations and watching my father run his businesses have taught me anything, it’s that practically everything that a public sees is intentional. When the (loosely-termed) celebrities post anything on Instagram and tag a brand or business, it is because they were either paid to do it or given a gift that they felt obligated to help promote it. I am one of the few who are fortunate enough to have friends in that position who were more than happy to help me promote my brand. This has led to a few people airing their opinions about the way I run my business, which I will admit stung for a little while, because these were people whom I regarded as good friends. When the feeling passed, I realized that it didn’t really matter if they wanted to judge me from their soapboxes, because they were, after all, just on their soapboxes. As a friend, herself the founder of a local startup, told me, “You will face a lot of backlash and a lot of negativity all around you — even from your own friends. They will question and criticize your business practices and ideas, but until they have it in themselves to do what you do, just hold your head up and keep persevering.”
There’s nothing like it. When I left my last job a year ago and decided to work freelance, I knew within a couple of months that I would never want another full-time job again. It may have given me a guaranteed source of income every month, but what it gave me in financial security, it took away in job satisfaction and emotional health. Now that I have my own business, however small it is, I know for a fact that I will never work for anyone again. The money tide ebbs and flows, but the one thing that remains constant is the knowledge that everything I do now is for myself, and I am accountable for my own business, not someone else’s. Owning and running a business may be the most terrifying position I’ve ever put myself in, but it has helped me find who I am again, at a time when I thought I had lost myself, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.