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Lessons I Have Learned About Scaling a Business as a Startup Founder

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When I set out to start my own business three years ago, I never imagined bright lights and private jets to New York or Shanghai for business meetings. Good thing I didn’t because it is nothing like that at all. It was a struggle from day one and I had to embrace the grind to grow.

This is probably why today, my company has offices in four countries across Asia. We started from a humble place and are still growing. We have a long way to go, but I have learned some crucial lessons as a company founder headquartered in Singapore, which is Southeast Asia’s startup hub.

One of the things that benefited my business and my personal journey as a founder, was honest accounts from others who had taken the journey before me. That’s why I will be sharing some key takeaways that can be applied by small businesses looking to expand their scope across countries and regions.

Pick the right time rather than the first opportunity

It reads like a textbook rule, but this is a fundamental principle that any business founder needs to follow when planning their growth. Think very carefully about the right time to expand internationally. Your staff, financials, and product all need to be in order, and you should ensure you have done your market research thoroughly. 

One of the things I see most entrepreneurs get wrong is their budgeting. Do not underestimate the budget allocations required to expand in your new region and sustain growth in your home market. Your expansion should not come at the expense of the work you have already established. 

“Scaling is only difficult when you grow your organization like a tower instead of a city.” – Jurgen Appelo

Valuing partnerships

As entrepreneurs, we need to do better at supporting our peers. Relationships between business starters can be soured by various factors: jealousy of success, placing value only on the opportunities offered by leads or contacts, and lack of shared experiences once businesses have varying levels of success. 

However, it is important to understand that collaborations and partnerships can be extremely valuable in helping business starters to overcome many hurdles they face, not only in terms of shared knowledge but as a therapeutic support network for a job that comes with a unique set of stresses and challenges. We need to work harder at building each other up and becoming a valid resource of support.

Partnerships are also the most cost-effective way to scale and generate business in my experience. My network has been instrumental in generating revenue at the beginning and also during the pandemic, which was critical to us being able to weather the storm and come out stronger.

Being an agile business

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that stability should not be taken for granted; the entire world can turn upside down alarmingly quickly. While businesses have continuity plans that allow for a sense of preparedness, it is also vital to think flexibly and be open to pivoting quickly when a crisis strikes. Agility is the key to survival and scaling. 

Bass & Flinders Distillery in Australia is an excellent example of being agile, especially in such trying times. This startup adapted immediately to the circumstances of the pandemic, working first to produce hand sanitiser and then focussing on online sales and virtual tasting sessions to cater to a house-bound market. Through swift adaptations, they were able to survive a pandemic that has been devastating for the hospitality industry. 

Understanding that each market is different

The importance of fully understanding the market where you intend to move cannot be understated. A product that works in one region will not necessarily work in another. Sometimes costly adjustments are needed. Other times you may need to design a completely new product to meet a similar market need. 

By their nature, businesses that are operating locally will have a deeper understanding of the local market. Expanding startups will need to grapple with this if they are to flourish in their new environment – remember success in your home market is no guarantee of success elsewhere.

Many of these challenges can be reduced by doing effective research. Make sure you are getting information from accurate sources and have conducted proper testing. 

Investing in ground-based teams

Related to the previous point, it is crucial to have teams on the ground in all your operating locations wherever possible. We have teams in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and India- every single market where we have clients. These ground-based teams have proved invaluable in ensuring that we provide our clients in each market with a seamless service. I meet frequently with each of these teams, (virtually or physically) to maintain our strong collaborative relationship.  

While there are cases of successful companies being able to sell or provide services without being there in person, I find that in my experience and industry, having local knowledge and expertise is paramount. Trying to expand in countries without fully understand the local nuances is a challenge and an expensive one at that.

“The gap between what’s expected and what you deliver is where the magic happens, in business and in life.” – Jay Baer

Do not let irrelevant things hold you back

Sometimes it may seem that a lot of things need to be in order to get any startup running, let alone expanding the business across countries. This can be a stumbling block of a lot of people who never actually get their startup or business off the ground.

To better understand this, I spoke to a great entrepreneur, Mathew Stillone, on my podcast Business Over Drinks, about his protein empire that started off from a garage and now makes products for supermarket giants across the globe. Prioritize your focus on your product and generating sales. Learn to prioritize. Producing a solid product and making sales is far more salient than realising your dream office space, for example. 

Expanding your small business into new markets can be an exciting way to grow your business. Expansion to new markets can be daunting, but by ensuring you have the right product, budget, and have done thorough research, you can set yourself up to prosper across multiple locations. 

Terng Shing is the Founder and CEO of SYNC PR, a PR and content marketing startup that uses technology to reduce time-wasting and administrative tasks in delivering results. Based in Singapore, Terng Shing has been focused on helping startups and SMEs build their brand story through media and content. Most recently Terng co-founded Travel Wanderlust, a travel-based community platform to share information with travellers from around the world and introduce new experiences to people. He is also the co-host on the popular business podcast - Business Over Drinks - which seeks to bring humour into real business conversations.

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15 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting a Business in 2021

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‘Learn from the mistakes of others, you cannot live long enough to make them all.’ These famous words from Eleanor Roosevelt stand more accurate than ever in the business world today. Starting a business is challenging, and making mistakes even before starting can sabotage your entire venture.  The best way to ensure your new business’s success is to plan each step carefully to prevent falling into obvious traps. (more…)

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5 Women Who Revolutionized Tech and Made Millions

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There are many female entrepreneurs in today’s world revolutionizing the tech industry and owning their own unique craft. Before, technology and business was seen as a more male-dominanted industry that women rarely crossed into. That’s no longer the case. (more…)

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The Truth About Marketing Every First Time Founder Should Know

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While starting your own business is an exhilarating experience, many start-up founders struggle with successful marketing more than any other area of business. So if you’re thinking about starting a business, here are some of the key things you need to know about marketing before you take the plunge. (more…)

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5 Hacks to Improve Your Writing Skills in English for ESL Learners

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Studying in college is hard for everyone, but ESL learners arguably suffer the most. Moving to a foreign country, learning a new language, and keeping pace with the rest of the class may seem like an unbearable burden. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, but you have to pull through and not give up. 

In moments like this, it’s always a good idea to seek help. Whether you go to WriteMyPaper to order an essay or just talk to a friend, admitting vulnerability is an important step towards improvement. In this article, you will find some tips on how to get better at essay writing, even if English is not your native language.

 

Control Your Environment

Improving your language skills is all about constant practice. Living in an English-speaking community is the first thing you should do to start your practice. It might be tempting to surround yourself with people who already speak a familiar language. However, this way, you won’t be practicing English on a daily basis.

You need to make those lessons almost intuitive in a way that you don’t have to do anything to learn the language. If you live in an English-speaking community, for example, if your roommate speaks English, you will have to practice the language, whether you want it or not.

Still, make sure you don’t take it too far. Taking care of yourself is still as important as ever. Feeling like an alien for the sake of education is not worth it. Remember to keep in touch with your friends and family, talk to them as often as necessary.

 

Practice Constantly

Practicing language is not just about doing your homework. You can make practicing English a normal part of your daily routine by watching TV, listening to music, and reading books in this language. 

Yet, this is a bit tricky. When being surrounded by white noise, people tend to learn not to notice it. You need to ensure this doesn’t happen. As you watch movies or read books, maintain your attention on what you’re doing. If you hear or see a word that you don’t understand – translate it and write it down. Be mindful and remember what you’re doing this for.

 

Writing Is The Answer

If you want to specifically learn to write, you need to do one thing, and that is to write. Continuous practice will help you understand what mistakes you often make and, in time, eliminate them. Focus on your goal, and don’t get discouraged when something’s not working. After all, even Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Get a journal and write in it daily. Pick a new topic every time and note everything you can think of. It’s also important that you write by hand, a spelling checker in your computer is tempting, but it will not help you remember how to spell words correctly. 

Besides, journaling as a habit has multiple health benefits, and it can be therapeutic. It can help you get in touch with yourself and process your emotions better.

 

Learn In a Group

It’s proven that learning in a group is more efficient due to the sense of competition. Find a bunch of like-minded people who want to study with you or join an already existing one, like a speaking club.

The benefit of such activities is that you get all these people from entirely different backgrounds who are all good at various things. This will help you exchange experiences, which is impossible if you’re alone.

Schedule regular meetings, come up with topics to discuss and activities to do. You could watch videos or movies together, or talk about common things. Having assignments like describing an event can also be beneficial for the entire group. This way, while one person speaks, the rest think about how they would say the same things differently. 

This will help you feel more confident in your skills and, consequently, speak and write better.

 

Expose Yourself

The most important thing about learning a language is not to be afraid of making mistakes. It’s inevitable; you just have to take it as a natural part of a learning process. 

A child that is learning how to walk doesn’t give up after falling once, and you shouldn’t either. It’s most likely that your friends understand that you’re just learning a language, and they won’t laugh at you for misusing a word or a few. 

Get over that fear of error and make as many mistakes as it will take. Treat it lightly, and don’t beat yourself up for it. On the other hand, try to attend as many events as you can that will expose you to the foreign language. Not only will it boost your English skills, but also improve your social confidence!

 

Wrapping Up

Learning a language is hard; there’s no arguing about that. However, it’s going to get easier with time. Take every hard thing that life throws at you and turn it into a lesson. 

Watch your favorite movies in English, converse with native speakers, and you’ll see the improvement very soon!

Remember to be patient about it. Don’t give up, and don’t beat yourself up over something that you have so little control of. Good luck!

 

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