It seems like the dream these days is to mind your own business, literally. Ever since Sophia Amoruso’s book #GIRLBOSS came out in 2014, the term has become a sought-after title. But what does it mean to be a woman running your own business? CLEO speaks to three women about what it takes.
"Being your own boss has been overly glamourised. You hear about all these success stories, and it makes it easy for people to get carried away with their ideas.”
Charmaine Seah-Ong, Co-founder of Elementary Co., a marketing and communications agency.
People have this misconception that as your own boss… your life is “very good”. They think that you pay yourself a lot of money, and that you’re free to go on holidays as and when you feel like it. But the reality is the polar opposite. We’re working 24/7 and we pay ourselves the least and the last. I’m earning the least I’ve ever earned my entire career. That’s not to say that I earn very little. I’m still comfortable with my salary, but I definitely would be drawing much more if I were still holding a corporate job.
In fact, I had one of the most trying times as a boss earlier this year… when our company expanded. We increased our headcount – there are now 15 of us compared to the six-member team three years ago – and moved into a new office, and did some renovations. There were some clients who didn’t pay us on time, so our cash flow was really tight. We (the directors) dipped into our own savings to pay our staff first, and we didn’t pay ourselves for two months. That’s the thing about being the boss – you feel responsible to the people working for you.
I feel like these days… being your own boss has been overly glamourised. You hear about all these success stories on the Internet, and I feel like that makes it easy for people to get carried away with their ideas. Sometimes, I just want to sit these girls down and tell them about how it really is. Of course, it helps to have experience working for someone else before, and at the end of the day, not everyone can be a boss, you know? The position is earned, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time for this to happen, and you need a great deal of humility.
"We cut our salary and save on every other thing to make sure that our cash flow is stable.”
Ashley Soh, Co-founder of Blow + Bar, a lifestyle grooming bar that serves hair and nail services with a side of bubbly.
It irks me when people say… “she’s a boss, so she must be very rich.” I find it funny when people say this, because running your own business means we cut our salary, make a lot more sacrifices, and save on every other thing to make sure our cash flow is stable.
One of the toughest parts about running my own business is… people management, definitely. Being a boss means you have to work with all types of characters from all sorts of backgrounds, yet you have to consolidate them and win them over for them to be part of your team. I’ve had episodes when I was too forthcoming and made my employees upset with my choice of words. I’ve since improved my leadership and communication skills! I believe that the best way to build a team is to care about my employees’ growth, to love them and lead by example. I would clean the toilets and sweep the floor when I’m at the salon.
Before I became an entrepreneur, I wished someone had warned me about… how hard it is to maintain a worklife balance. You really work 24/7 – there’s no real holidays or off days. You think about work all the time… even in your dreams.
"Being a businesswoman means you need to be a good problem solver. The problems will be endless.”
Rani Dhaschainey, Co-owner of The Curve Cult, a plus-size fashion retailer.
When I first launched The Curve Cult... I was only 25 years old. This is actually my first job; I’ve never worked elsewhere before starting my own company. It was mainly my family, both immediate and extended, who had doubts because they felt I was too young and inexperienced to start a business.
I wish someone had told me before I started my own business that… the challenge is real and it never ends. Being a businesswoman also means you need to be a good problem solver. And trust me, the problems will be endless – you just have to stay calm and keep solving them.
That said, I still do what I do because… with the pressure and the workload, also comes gratification and a sense of achievement when you know you’re making a difference and people are benefitting from it. And I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I was chosen to be one of the CLEO Change Makers a few months back. It was the first time I was recognised as the owner of a store that not only sells plus-size clothes but also uses fashion as a tool to empower women and push for body positivity.
If you’re thinking of being a #girlboss yourself, remember that… there will always be people who will try to imitate you and compete with you. Don’t let that faze you.