Army Admin Clerk to Entrepreneur: 10 Things I Do Differently Now

6 years ago, I was an admin clerk in an army camp.

To be honest, it could have been a great job but I landed with the wrong Company Sergeant Major: I stayed in-camp while watching my clerk friends go home every day. In case you are wondering, the computer was not connected to any internet and my only luxury was a “dumb” Nokia phone. I made a total of $500 each month. That life, for 2 years.

Somehow, I managed to save $10,000 while moonlighting on the weekend. I used that money and backpacked around the world for a year. It changed my life. (I highly recommend everyone to do that once in their life.)

After coming home, I took my interest in wedding planning and started a studio, Beautiful Gatherings. One thing led to another, I became one of the top 10 wedding planners in Singapore and now, I run an animation studio.

I thought an appropriate end of this chapter would be to share 10 lessons I learned along this journey (More on the chapter-ending next.)

Stop Growing my Business

I once interviewed a hospitality mogul. After the interview, he said to me: “Bryan, I’m so jealous of you. You can just take off anytime and travel anywhere”.

Did he felt trapped by the business of his own making?

It made me reflect: “What the most important point of the business?”

It is to produce capital. The capital to do what I love to do. Period.

How much? It is $5,000 a month for me.

How about you? Everyone should have a different number because we are in different situation. Do you know what is enough for you?

But what if you love what you do?

Then why not do it for free? There is less pressure anyway.

Don’t let the business become the golden handcuffs.

Do It For Free (or Charge in Full)

“I only have a small budget.”

These are dreadful words for any professional freelancer.

Because let’s face it, I hate feeling that I need to lower my rates. I enter a negotiation with a friend that I genuinely want to help.

What if I give a big discount and they demand the world?

Don’t negotiate – it’s a lose-lose situation.

So, when I have made enough for the month and I want to help. I say this:

“Here are my usual rates. But I know you have a small budget, why don’t I do for free? It’s on me. You can repay me the next time:)“

This is professional. This saves time. This allows me to assume the posture of generosity.

Stop Selling, Start Caring

Smart people don’t want to be sold to. They want to be informed.

I used to work as a part-time emcee for many banks. My job was to gather the crowd for the financial advisor to “close the sales”. I was incentivised to “keep my mouth shut” while knowing another bank is offering a better plan.

Imagine that the client finding out…

The bank might have won the sale but definitely lost a client.

Today, my focus is to solve the client’s problem with the best possible solution. If I happen to provide the best solution, great. If not, I would advise a better solution, if that means recommending them to my competitors.

In a world full of salesmen, care cuts through the noise. And that is how I create recurring sales.

Fire my Clients

This is one of the hardest lessons that I need to learn as a business owner.

After spending a huge effort to win a client, I find out that he is a rare breed of energy-draining vampire.

I proceed and go into energy deficit – devising ways to end the job swiftly.

What is the fastest way? fire the client.

I even came up with a script to help me do so easier.

“I’m writing with a situation today.
As you know, back in September I agreed to create the video for Cama Beds. When I said yes, I fully believed I had the ability to do a great job.

In October, we had developed the vision for this video project. While I love the new vision, I don’t have ability and bandwidth to commit.

It pains me to say this, but I need to step down from this commitment. The project deserves an incredible team and I’m sorry I’m not able to deliver as I thought I could.

I apologise for causing the project an inconvenience and likely a delay. I will do a full refund and you can take what we’ve done together to a more experienced team.

Let me know if there are any questions I can answer or any other way I can support the project moving ahead.”

Sometimes, they are just not worth the money.

Give Questions, Not Answers

I am a compulsive problem solver. I even solve problems that people don’t want solving.

When running a small company, I have the solutions to most problems. But when I give the solution, people come back to me with similar problems.

Why? I believe our brain defaults to conserve energy. After the getting the solution, we stop thinking.

Now, I respond: “Would you like to walk me through on how you solve the problem? I’ll fill in the gaps.”

It’s hard to craft questions to poke holes at thinking and lead people to answers. It’s easier to give the answer, at the sacrifice of an opportunity to learn.

If you want to teach, questions are more powerful than answers.

Stop Selling the Humble Pie

“Oh no, I just got lucky.”

As a Chinese, I am taught by my parents to be humble.

But being humble is not helpful. It ends the conversation.

I’ve interviewed many guests in my podcast, and I learnt nothing from people shying away by being humble.

So today, when someone says, “Oh. You are so lucky. You have the freedom to travel all over the place.”

I reply, “No. I worked for it for the past year. I can show you how to do it if you are interested.”

They get to learn. I get to share. Everyone wins.

Stop Reading the News


Think about a piece of news that has make your personal or professional life better? Is there any?

If it matters, would your friends have brought it to you?

This is the age of information overload. The power lies in consuming the right information.

And to develop this, we need to understand the idea of Circle of Control, versus Circle of Concern – a concept introduced by Steven Covey in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (A very wise man indeed.)

Beginner’s Circle of Control and Concern.
(Image from Mr Money Moustache)

The diagram shows all the things we care about. Sadly, we can only impact things very little. If we want to expand our Circle of Control, it is wise to use the time and develop some valuable skills and assets.

Today, I focus my attention on issues that are within my sphere of control – writing this article. It brings me happiness and hopefully some insights.

Make it Easy for People to Say “No”

When asking for a request, I will give people an easy out.

I want to work with thoughtful people and the first step is to be one.

Here are some examples to consider:

“Just floating up in case you missed it. Ignore if you are busy.“

“If you’d rather not because you have enough emails in your life, that’s totally cool too”

“I understand you are busy, I hate getting bugged too. If you are not keen, simply reply: ‘Thank you, I’m not interested’ ”.

This also allows me to be insistent while showing that I care.

People love to help others. Give them the opportunity to gracefully do so.

Let Go of Your Great Employee

Notice that great people change job roles in less than a year. The best-case scenario, 2 years. And, if you were to be honest, you would do that too.

If I want to work with great people; paying a fair wage is table-stake, I need something better. A joyful experience. An experience that consists of learning and growing.

At the end of a year, when your employee’s learning experience peaked. When they would be so good at the job that they find it boring. It’s time for a new challenge, and if I can’t provide that, I help them find a new environment.

This is also good HR strategy. Instead of praying that a good hire to stay forever, I plan for their grand departure. I get to assume the role of a good friend and in return, I hope they will do their best for me.

Now, this is my people policy.

Look for Blind Spots

I used to think I’m smart by asking: “What is the secret to success?”

It’s like getting the winning number to the lottery, only to find out it is not the same game.

On the flip side, most projects fail because of bad assumptions. Assuming that it would take less money, less time and less effort to do it. Assuming that the demand is enough, that it can gain a 1% market share or that the product is great.

The result: Failure.

A business plan merely is just a business guess.

Next time, instead of asking for magic bullets, ask for pitfalls, misconceptions and principles.

How About You

Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. When I started, I got tired of explaining the things I do and drifted away from friends. I was alone for a long time.

I hope this article gave you a leg-up on your journey (and explain a little of my crazy.)

Here’s are the key points:

  • Stop growing my business
  • Don’t negotiate (do it for free)
  • Stop selling, start caring
  • Give questions, not answer
  • Stop selling the humble pie
  • Stop reading the news
  • Make it easy for people to say “No”
  • Let Go of Your Great Employee
  • Fire my clients
  • Look for blind spots
What’s next

I’m flying to Austin to attend a bio-hacking event with Aubrey Marcus, then to Portland for the World Domination Summit.

If you are interested to join my journey of meta-learning, psychedelic experiences and other esoteric subjects – let’s keep in touch.

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