I started my career in the government sector upon graduating from Singapore Polytechnic in business administration, majoring in Public Relations and Advertising. From an administrative assistant, I rose to the rank of Communications Officer in five years. Under a great leader and mentor, I was groomed to take on bigger responsibilities such as producing C-level conferences and had a taste of being a young copywriter and Editor of a government publication. I was contented, and I told myself then, I was going to continue doing what I did and retire happy in my forties.
Lo and behold, my dream of retiring in the government sector got derailed as a new opportunity came knocking. In my 30s, I was recommended by a close friend for a position in a private sector organisation and started an exciting career in public relations. It was here that I developed a passion for storytelling and found a calling in media relations.
Discovering my passion
Being a media relations specialist kept me on my toes as I needed to keep up with the news locally and in the region. Part of my duties include reading local and international newspapers and providing media summaries of key developments in the education industry on our company websites and marketing channels.
My team and I were often in strategic and tactical discussions including with senior management, and internal stakeholders to boost the organisation’s brand exposure in the media. My work also involved keeping track and observing the types of stories the editors, and journalists cover and seek every opportunity to engage and get their interest to cover our announcements and events.
The learning curve was steep, but I was determined to do the job well. Reading, writing press releases and media pitches, producing web content and materials, taking notes and observing issues and trends in the local and international news became part of my daily DNA. I took pride in getting leads and inroads for our thought-leaders and academia in the papers, some of whom became household names in the labour and transportation scene in Singapore.
I was also privileged to rub shoulders and had the opportunity to work with world-renowned think-tanks, prolific speakers and authors such as Mr Azlan Osman Rani, Dr. James Canton, Scott Friedman, CSP, Malcolm Gladwell and Amazon adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg. Among my achievements were getting their interviews published on local major newspaper columns. Again, I told myself, working in a stable environment and enjoying what I did, I will continue working in the organisation until I retire in my 50s.
I was wrong. As much as I wanted to control my destiny, a higher being felt I had more to offer.
Mid-life crisis moment
Call it a mid-life crisis, but in my forties, I realised I was not meeting my life goals and came face-to-face with uncomfortable situations that affected my confidence and took a toll on my health. I realised that life is more than just clocking to work and getting a pay-check at the end of the month. I was restless and unmotivated.
I needed to find the real reason I exist and find self-fulfillment. Most of all, I was searching for the notion of being truly happy. An article I read by Simon Sinek sought the difference between fulfilment and happiness.
Being in communications, my intent is to draw inspirations through the stories I produce. With the talent that God has given me, I hope to give other people that little needed nudge to achieve their dreams. If our stories can help one person be a happier parent, be a more responsible citizen, do a little more to help save the planet, or make a difference in a child’s life, I have met my ‘what’s in it for me’ question. Most importantly, I wanted to lay the foundation and pave the way for my children and my future generations to realise that in everything that we do, find a purpose beyond happiness. Happiness is short-lived but fulfilment is a feeling you carry for eternity. Find a purpose so that you will find fulfilment on earth and eventually, in life here-after.
The question I had was, is it too late to start fresh?
My answer is No.
In my forties, after much thought and support from my loved ones, I took a leap of faith and left the corporate world — a secured job with a steady income and did some soul-searching.
That process led me to discover my self-worth, rebuilt my confidence, and new found strengths. With the help and encouragement of many great minded people in my life — I embarked on my entrepreneurship journey. Never in my wildest dreams would I thought I would end-up in the media and digital marketing business. Then it occurred to me. I had the training since I was 11 years old.
My mom — the entrepreneur
In my youth, my late mother used to supplement our family’s income by selling curry puffs, fried banana fritters, and Malay kueh (cakes). While Mom was the founder and brainchild of her humble home business, my younger brother and I were her Public Relations and Marketing Directors. Our role was to basically sell the kueh and worked on strategies to do it well. We did it via ‘direct marketing’ by carrying our basket full of food items and went around our housing blocks in the afternoons and weekends. Because we were so famous in building relations (PR) with the community in our neighbourhood, mom’s delicacies were among the favourites in back then.
Developing marketing strategies. My brother and I worked on marketing strategies to reach our goal — to sell our kuehs fast (so that we can have more time to play at the playground).
Thus, we did the following :
- We developed buyer personas of our target market. This includes identifying the age group, gender, income, their lifestyle (e.g stay home grandparents with grandkids), their challenges and how they make their buying decisions. We soon realised that once we understood what our target market concerns and needs were, we build trust with them. We knew why a certain aunty or grandma preferred our curry puffs or a certain uncle will always be waiting for our fried banana fritters. For me, I took the opportunity to do my PR — by engaging with them when I meet them in the neighbourhood or at the market.
- We conducted market segmentation — which geographic location or blocks of flats we should target depending on the demographics and which hour (which were linked to their behaviour patterns) will yield most customers.
- We did market research and identified the block of flats with the highest number of customers. They will include senior citizens or families who will be waiting for us to come by and provide ‘front door delivery and customer service’; the right time and hour to go out with our sales and find out which item would sell out the most.
We also noted that rainy days were the best times to earn our income because people were just too lazy to go out. Just like how GrabFood delivers to your doorstep today, my brother and I were the GrabFood of yesteryear. During rainy seasons, we were able to sell our basket of desserts in less than two hours as compared to four on other days. Of course, business has its ups and downs. There were days where we were not able to complete our sale. Our solution to help mom? We sat at the void deck and tried to gobble down the remaining unsold items as much as we can and took money from our piggy banks to cover the loss.
Business, in whatever form, is, therefore, about providing a solution. You need to find out what your customers want and how you can solve their problem. Just like life, we need to keep finding better solutions to make life more meaningful not only for us — but for the community around us.
A new life chapter
Writing and content curation have always been my passion. The break I took from the corporate world allowed me to embark on a writing gig with Marketing in Asia. What started as just one contribution led to many others and some in the Malay language.
As much as I enjoy public relations, marketing was a subject I did well in school and decided to harness my skills in social media and digital marketing by taking a certification course in Social Media Marketing. I also decided to build my personal brand on LinkedIn and connected with many professionals who proved to be great connections, sharing knowledge and opening up new business opportunities.
Tin Communication is LIVE!
In my interactions with friends, acquaintances and fellow entrepreneurs, one of the biggest challenges they face in their small business is managing multiple tasks and on limited resources and budget. Some had funding but was unsure on how to use the marketing dollar appropriately. It is here that my business idea came about. With an increasing number of brands and start-ups, it provided a huge opportunity for me to be an extended team for them to carry out these activities so that they can focus on running the business. I took several weeks to develop a business plan and launched my boutique agency — Tin Communications, in October last year.
Jumping into entrepreneurship is a real leap of faith. I decided to go back to my youth training as my mom’s marketing agent and conducted market research, planning, and working with the right and trusted partners to make my dream come true. Of course, there were days I had impostor syndrome. However, I told myself that until I try it, I will never know if it will work. Why guess and beat myself to it, asking why didn’t I do it in the first place?
A Late Bloomer
Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine and author of Late Bloomers, argues that our culture’s obsession with early achievement dissuades us from pursuing our passions. Instead of having varied interests, studying widely, and taking our time — essentials for self- discovery — we were encouraged to ace tests, become specialists right away, and pursue safe, stable, and lucrative careers. As a result, most of us end up choosing professional excellence over personal fulfillment, and often we lose ourselves in the process.”
He added, “As you move forward, there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost, it’s never too late to “become” yourself. Aristotle, for example, didn’t fully devote himself to writing and philosophy until he was nearly 50. There are also benefits to taking a long, winding path to self-fulfillment. Remember that age typically brings wisdom, resilience, humility, self-knowledge, and creativity. This is one reason the average age of founders of high-growth startups is 45.”
Embracing the new me — Fall forward
I am 45 and I guess the midlife crisis doesn’t have to be a bad thing, after all. It is about finding a new path and compass. My passion for writing brought me to where I am today, and while I am a late bloomer in my business, I know it is never too late to start. It is about discovering your self-worth and finding fulfillment. Sometimes, things happen for a reason. Some are bad and painful, but they are our stepping stones to creating new, better things.
I would like to quote what American actor, Denzel Washington, said:
Every failed experiment is one step forward to success.
You will fail at some point in your life. Accept it.
You will lose.
You will embarrass yourself, and you will suck at something.
Embrace it because it is inevitable.
Don’t quit. Do not fall back. Fall forward.
As I start in 2020, I am falling forward to a new beginning. Never let anyone tell you that you are too old to build a new life, start your own business, or even to be a healthier, happier, more productive you. There is no shame in being a ‘late bloomer’. At least you still have a chance to bloom.
How will you start your 2020?