How I built a leading personal finance website in Malaysia and the startup lessons I have learnt along the way. Entrepreneurship starts from an idea to a vision, from setup to strategy, and from today to tomorrow.
This is a hopefully informative and useful story about my journey as an accidentrepreneur. Personally, I feel that I am just getting started; I have so much more yet to learn and do! Yet at the same time, interacting with many others who have asked me entrepreneurial questions prompted me to share and hopefully help those who come after me. And, like any good story, it begins at the beginning.
Choosing to start a business was not my life plan. Granted I had an entrepreneurial streak having started a handful of businesses including in ICT and even a bakery, but it was previously always a side hustle. My original life plan was to work my way up the corporate ladder while investing on the side. However, life took a different turn when I left a stable well-paying job as a senior division manager at a relatively young age (then), to pursue a vocation or a calling in personal finance.
Starting up and taking that leap of faith is never easy and here are the key things I learnt:-
- Set aside at least 12 months worth of expenses (preferably 2 years worth). This will make sure you have a safety net starting up and don’t have to worry whether you have food to eat and a roof to sleep under.
- Talk to different people especially from those who have knowledge in your choice of business focus. Don’t be afraid that someone is going to “steal your idea”. And chances are, it’s not really as unique as you think it is.
- Find 1 or 2 co-founders who truly share your vision for your startup. You can motivate one another and focus on your strength areas. But if you can’t find a co-founder with your vision, it is okay as 50% of successful startups did so with only a single founder.
Setting up a business is never easy (and even more so if you are a 1st time business owner trying to setup a F&B business without a franchise – just don’t!). There is so much to think about and to plan, and it’s so easy to get caught up in all the little details. Then there are costs involved in setting up the business to get it running and generating revenue! What are the key things you need to nail while setting up?
Register Your Business
- Decide on the business structure most appropriate for your startup whether it be a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) or others.
- Choose a relevant name for your business and alternatives. Check that your website domain name is available as well.
- Calculate your initial startup capital of at least 6 months expenses which you are going to pump into the business. It costs lower if you’re running a service or freelancer business, or if it’s a side hustle initially.
Keep Costs Minimal
- Famous stories abound of billion dollar companies that started in a garage like Apple, Microsoft, Disney, Google, and Amazon. While your house probably doesn’t have a garage, you can most definitely kick off your business from your home.
- Should you consider a co-working space? While it may have benefits, it does increase costs as well, i.e. space usage, transportation, eating out.
- Get only what is absolutely necessary needed to run your business. Reuse what you or your friends have.
Setup Your Website and Social Media
- In today’s age and world, you need an online presence. The setup costs are virtually free to setup a Facebook and Instagram account. It is also increasingly low cost to setup your website (especially if you DIY it on platforms like WordPress.com or Wix.com).
- Consider other social media platforms depending on your target demographics.
- Do buy your own domain name to give your business a professional look, build credibility, and for search engine positioning.
Setup Your Contacts
- Don’t use a free gmail email account. Once you purchase your own domain, you can setup your own firstname.lastname@example.org, i.e. free with Zoho.com or G Suite from $5 monthly.
- Design your logo for your brand. You can cheaply get your logo designed on sites like Fiverr.com.
- Print name cards if you will be meeting anyone face-to-face. You can get your card designed and printed for very low cost online or at shops. Or setup your e-name card and/or online contact forms.
Setting up is just the beginning and was the easy part. Next comes the long months of slogging and sacrifice with the inevitable ups and downs. And the sacrifice doesn’t only involve you but also your spouse if you’re married or family members. Yes, you do gain flexibility in time. But you end up working twice or thrice as hard, without necessarily getting paid.
- Do expect some pressure from your spouse and/or family members. They may pour cold water on you while meaning well and relationships may become slightly strained.
- Do not expect your friends or family members to support your business. Many will take a wait and see approach. Sometimes for years.
- Do setup your daily schedule even (especially) if you are working from home. Set time daily for work, exercise, and sleep.
Personally, I struggled quite a while especially with getting into a good rhythm or schedule. Looking back now in hindsight, one of the best things I have ever done was to setup my Google calendar and put everything on my calendar. And when I say everything, I do mean everything! Also, if you have yet to practice Inbox Zero, do so keeping your unread email daily at zero.
Every organisation in the world (even non-profits) need funds to survive. As the saying goes, cash flow is the life blood of any business. Now that the basics of your business is setup, you need to sustain, survive, and thrive! At the least, these are the questions that you need answers to:
- What are your key revenue streams? What is the best way to grow existing/new revenue streams?
- What are your client demographics? Who are your best clients?
- What is your monthly and annualized budget? What is your projected versus actual income and expenses?
I started out with a personal finance site knowing that I wanted to build a platform to share quality, simple personal finance information that would help people grow financially. I grew much slower than I should as I did not start with a revenue model in mind. Armed only with a believe that I would be able to survive by delivering value, I started writing articles regularly. My audience who was benefiting from personal finance content began to ask if they could pay me in some way. I considered options like Patreon before deciding on a subscription model.
Today, there are many options available including but not limited to:-
- Referral or affiliate marketing (note: if you’re a financial blogger or influencer with a reach of 10k followers or more total across your platforms, we want to hear from you)
- Sponsorship or donations
- Content subscription access
- Advertising revenue
- Paid marketing to followers/email list
For startups, it is very likely that your business is now different from your original brilliant unicorn idea. How then do you decide on the right strategy for your business? You cannot afford to by paralyzed by over analysis, nor can you on the other extreme running after every single idea. You need to spend time thinking about what are your best two or three options. What are the key things that you want to achieve this year, next year, and in the next five years? Does your strategy align with your vision, mission, and values? What is your unique selling point (USP) or moat that differentiates you from your competitors and has the potential to disrupt the status quo?
This is also time to start building teams if you have yet to (and doubly so if you are the sole founder or solopreneur of the business). Who is in charge of what? Who do you need to hire and how are you going to cover that cost? Consider hiring on a freelance basis which often cost lower, gives you access to better talent, and allows you to
fire switch to a different person if he/she is not performing to expectations. A bad hire can be an expensive mistake for startups especially during the early stages!
You should also consider how you can collaborate instead of competing with others. Are there other companies with suitable values and strategic alignment with yours? Are they doing certain things better than you, while you excel in other areas? By cooperating, it can be a win-win situation that enlarges the pie, reduces costs, and improves focused productivity. This can happen in various ways and forms whether by a mutual understanding, a limited time agreement, or to the extent of setting up a joint venture or merger.
I started out with only an ideal but this evolved over time always looking ahead as far as the next medium-term horizon of five years ahead. It involved not only introspection, but listening to what our audience has to say, and what is happening around the world. I started out solo but over time we have grown to a diverse team covering editorial, content, research analysis, digital audio and video, social media, community building, and more. We started as a single solo company but now work closely with many companies in the financial industry, and are now reaching out to other financial bloggers and influencers to build a stronger community and network where we can grow together.
As your startup continues to grow, your business will increasingly become more complex. How then do you make work and tasks simple?
“Simplicity is the greatest sophistication.” ~Leonardo da Vinci
- Focus or prioritize on what’s the single most important thing for your business. You need to know what’s your key metric or focus, and spend 80% of your resources be it time, money, or personnel there.
- Technology is increasingly efficient and cost-effective to automate tasks, reduce errors, and allow for clients and employees to self-serve themselves reducing the need for human intervention.
- Outsource non-core functions that can be performed better and at a lower cost. This may include HR, book keeping, systems, or other business process outsourcing (BPO) functions.
- Relentlessly simplify everything that can be simplified from the workplace to the client experience to the checkout process whether online and/or offline. Even choices can be made simple to keep – at most 3 options.
Simplicity is something I embrace and is part of our brand’s vision and tagline. How we simplify is to keep improving on processes making it simpler and better for our clients and partners. We know that we are rarely going to hit it right off the ballpark but slowly and surely continue to simplify and improve along the way. This is especially important for personal finance as there is just so much noise and often unnecessary complexity involved that turns people off. I guess it shows that we are making personal finance simple when our audience tells us that they like what we share as it’s simple, unbiased, and yet in depth. Also, we have a close to equal gender balance between male and female, which is very rare for a financial-related site!
As your startup continues to grow, it may be time to consider scaling up the business. Scaling up your startup needs to be done in a responsible manner. This means not over-committing, over-spending, or over-leveraging on debt. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you consider scaling:-
- Is your business scalable? What is the demand like? Can it be easily replicated?
- Are you sure you want to scale? Scaling changes the business which may or may not be what you’re looking for.
- How will you raise funding? Many new business owners do not realize that raising money can be a full time job in itself.
Various costs will be incurred and challenges faced in scaling including people and technology.
You need to hire the right people so you can delegate effectively to scale. Company culture and values are of great importance as you build a belief system and challenge people to grow. There needs to also be a sense of urgency with deadlines and goals in place.
Technology helps reduce costs and speed up the process of scaling. However, you still need to pick the right technology at the right price that fits your needs. You need to master your branding, marketing, and sales flow to generate leads and convert prospects to clients.
I am, like many of you, also continuing to learn and grow especially in scaling the business. Our strategic business direction has changed as well to focus not merely on lead generation for financial services but to also be profitable, sustainable, and scalable. My role has recently expanded more in branding and marketing, which is a new learning area for me. (Note: I’m hiring a branding and marketing manager) I have also been learning to delegate effectively to the right people so we can scale better. And I am looking forward to new technological implementations and analytics to help us continue growing!
Growing a startup has been a ride with both bumps and straight roads. I thank God, my better half, our MyPF team, Wealth Vantage Advisory, our partners, and each one of you reading this article. I am immensely humbled by the growth and opportunities both personal and for this financial education site. I look forward to continue simplifying, sharing, and scaling in the days ahead. The journey has only just begun. Let’s make it an awesome one!