What is the first thing you did to turn your current business from an idea into a reality?
Ironically, I became a business owner because I was so bad at finding work! After over three years of failing to find a consistent, full-time job as a writer (of any kind) in New York City, I was fed up. I was tired of stringing together part-time, freelance roles.
I was also getting better at finding part-time gigs simply because I had spent so much time doing just that. My hunch was that if I just kept at it, I would eventually reach a point of consistency. So I figured I might as well try to start my own agency. After all, I’d been fortunate enough to work at several excellent agencies over the years.
What was the worse that could happen? I had to choose between being a solo freelance writer (risky) or fledgling agency owner (also risky). If your only other option is to drift aimlessly in space, why not shoot for the moon?
What is the scariest part of being a young entrepreneur and how can others overcome this fear?
My biggest fear was that I was a fake. Impostor syndrome hit me really hard; fear of success and of standing out set in.
I had this nagging suspicion that all my friends and family knew me for what I was — just a normal guy who had no business running his own business. Even though we were profitable from day one, I felt like it could all come crashing down at any moment when my clients saw through me. But that never happened.
I was finally able to overcome this fear when I realized that there isn’t really any secret to being successful in business. You’re still you. The only real difference is that you have to make a daily choice. You have to choose to show up, put in the work and give it your best shot despite the uncertainty.
That can seem intimidating and overwhelming when you’re new to it. But once you get into the habit of making that choice every day, you start to feel great. And you won’t be able to imagine living less productively again. I think that’s when you fully “embrace” your identity as a business owner and come to peace with it.
Were you ever told not to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams? Who told you that, what did they say and why did you ignore them?
Oh yeah, all the time. I grew up in an immigrant family, and while my parents never told me outright not to pursue my interests, I could tell they weren’t exactly thrilled. To be fair, being a writer (especially a professional writer in NYC) is extremely difficult no matter who you are. There’s this huge pool of talent but very little demand. There just aren’t enough jobs.
And when you’re an Asian-American guy, it’s even harder. I can count on one hand the number of Asian-American male writers I know of in the entire country, and none of them are doing what I’m doing (agency owners).
So, on one hand, there was the, “Oh, you want to be a writer? That’s…nice” sentiment coming from my family and a lot of my friends. And on the other hand, I didn’t have a mentor or role model. I guess I ended up going for it anyway because I have a huge chip on my shoulder. I wanted to prove everyone wrong and break stereotypes. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.
What is the No. 1 thing you wish you’d known starting out and how did you learn it?
This one’s easy: clients don’t pay you on time, especially in B2B service industries.
I’d already been working at agencies, so I had a decent view of all the operations from account management to editorial. But I had no view into the finances until I started doing them myself. When you only get paid about 70-80 percent of what you bill in one year (the rest trickles in the next year) and you have to pay expenses and self-employment taxes on top of that, your profit margins will be slimmer than you think. Take that into consideration and make sure your contracts are airtight.
What do you recommend all new founders do for their business — or their personal lives — that will help them the most?
Wake up earlier! Eat breakfast. Walk your dogs. Go to the gym. Stay in shape for your health and for more energy. Do something fun, like a hobby or a second passion, before you start work. Spend time with loved ones and your dogs after work. If you don’t follow a schedule like this, work will eat into everything you do and you’ll binge-watch Netflix until 2 a.m. to de-stress and forget about your 9 a.m. meeting the following morning.
How do you end each day and why?
There’s no particular way I end each day. I just make sure I get my work done. I have a weekly to-do list that I usually fill out by the end of each Monday. I give myself conservative goals for each weekday. And then I do my best to hit those goals. That’s more satisfying to me than any end-of-day ritual.
Some days I’ll be really productive and finish work by 5 p.m. (this is very rare). Other days I’ll work until 8 p.m. or later (more common). Either way, I focus on hitting whatever goals are on my to-do list for the day.
What is your best PR/marketing tip for business just starting up?
Personal branding is key to success. Because small business is all about earning trust and respect (and convincing people to like you), it is far easier to brand a person than a company in the short term.
If you’re B2B, go all-in on LinkedIn. If you’re B2C, focus on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. There’s no need to be on all social media channels at once, though. That’s just a waste of time when you’re starting out. Also, definitely start blogging. Even if you don’t have your own personal blog (I don’t), it’s a good skill to have so you can pitch to publications where your audience spends their time online.
What is your ultimate goal? What will you do if/when you get there?
Tailored Ink has been a great adventure so far, and we’re grateful to all our clients and supporters who helped us get to where we are today. I guess our goal is to just keep growing sustainably, making sure we can keep the quality and trust in place with each new client we onboard. Eventually, we’ll take stock of what we have and where we’re at and we’ll pivot from there.
A part of me still wants to be a novelist. But I don’t mind putting that boyhood dream on pause for now. This business thing I never thought I’d get myself into? It’s way more fun.