Thank for reading the (almost) verbatim script of the recently released Megrow Podcast Episode 4. If you prefer listening to it, click on this link or the image just below. Otherwise enjoy the reading.
This episode, the forth one I’m releasing in 2019, is a little different from my previous ramblings. My favorite topic, ERM, is taking a breather for now. Instead, I will share some of the experiences I made setting up and running Megrow. Hopefully, my thoughts are helpful to others who are in a similar situation prior to a start-up journey or any other career move.
the why and the how
Often, I get asked “how and why did you choose to leave the corporate world and embark on this journey”? Before setting up Megrow, I went through a high-level, structured thought process designed to help me in answering the “what’s next” question. I wholeheartedly recommend this approach to anybody who is looking to make any career move.
This thought-process is about answering three related, yet different questions pertaining to your skills, your preferences and perceived opportunities. If there is overlap between answers, I consider the manifestation of this overlap as an attractive career move.
the three circles
- First, think about what you are really good at. This can be any combination of hard and soft skills.
- Second, reflect on your professional passion, in colloquial terms “what gets you out of bed in the morning”.
- Third, you need to be very clear whether the intersection of your skills and passion has a “market” now and is likely to have a “market” in the future. I use the term “market” in the very widest sense of the word in this context. This can be anything from entrepreneurship to arts to charity work.
The intersection of the three circles – or more specifically the answers to the questions is a very good starting point to plan.
I came up with this three-realms-idea, when I helped a charity to guide young students along their journey. It is somewhat linked (but NOT a copy) to the well-known Japanese method of “Ikigai”. Ikigai is more complex and philosophical than my simple three circles method.
Whilst I find this approach very intuitive and extremely helpful, it is crucial to be open-minded for new ideas and opportunities that lay outside of the three realms. Sometimes a good opportunity comes along, hence it is important to stay alert and curious all the while. After all, outcomes matter not processes.
In my case, I am very passionate about Enterprise Risk Management, because it is a greatly undervalued strategic tool; secondly there is a current and future market for it and most humbly, I also think I acquired hard and soft skills necessary to support customers along their ERM-journey.
I’ll share a few examples from my Megrow journey where the three circles overlap well; and other cases where there was not even a touch point, let alone an overlap.
Often, people ask or challenge me about the benefits of entrepreneurial freedom. More casually put, “life must be wonderful without a boss”. This is the single, biggest misconception about a micro enterprise. I do agree that processes are lean and mean, and Megrow is nimble and efficient. I do have entrepreneurial freedom to manage my time and yes, nobody can “commandeer” me around. However, the pressure and expectation are of a totally different nature when running your own company. As a micro-entrepreneur I am acting in splendid isolation or in “intellectual loneliness”.
I realized this risk of being an eremite very early on and started building a network of like-minded professionals who are in similar situations. I’m grateful to Acacia Ltd in Hong Kong, AKR Zell Consulting and Covolve Pte Ltd in Singapore, Qalybrate in Malaysia and Dr. Bessant in Manila for being such great sparring and business partners over the years! We really do help each other as peers, idea reviewers, we share practicalities, sometimes act as mutual IT-helpdesks and much, much more.
“you are doing your current best and you keep improving”.my self-mantra
The most gratifying experience is direct, positive feedback from a client. Believe me, it doesn’t get better than this.
Clients have told me that my work or what I’ve delivered together with Megrow’s partners has made tangible impact to their bottom line, has solved some of their communication challenges, has opened new sources of revenues or drove their strategic thinking. This feedback is so valuable, especially since I use “outcomes matter” as a tagline very often. In other words, there were moments of grandiose joy and reasons to celebrate lavishly!
Having said that, there have been difficult and challenging periods.
For instance, at one moment in the not too distant past, my name card stock was gravitating towards zero. Despite ongoing and numerous sales efforts, not a single, new mandate was in-sight. At that stage, I was pondering for a very brief moment, whether I really need to print another stack of name cards or just let it all hit “zero”. Of course, I did print a new box of name cards, but still…
How do I deal with these challenges? I’d like to share a few points that certainly have helped me over the years.
- first, never never never stop the marketing and the networking.
- second, spread the marketing wider than the target client base; often, an indirect recommendation or source of information is most valuable.
- third, it is OK to chill occasionally, but keeping a good professional routine combined with a balanced lifestyle is such a great baseline! Mens sana in corpore sano – the old Romans knew that already.
- fourth, occasionally re-do the skills – preference – market thinking process. Especially in times of great innovation, a certain skill can lose its edge rapidly. Or another skill becomes a rare commodity overnight. Think of film cameras or radiologists. I emphasize on the “occasionally”, because if you feel the need to reevaluate your three circles several times a day, something isn’t right with at least one of them.
- And last, but not least: reflect on your value proposition: is it really unique what and how you are delivering? You might have the greatest product or service on a stand-alone basis, but if somebody offers your service or product as (a free) part of another package, then the market simply isn’t there and, in all likelihood, will not return.
d.y.i. or ?
If you start out and remain a micro enterprise, you have to decide and regularly reevaluate what you will do your-self and what is best outsourced. I probably could do most “internal” tasks, such as accounting, statutory reporting, data management, compliance and logistics myself. However, how efficient is this “solo” approach? And secondly, will I achieve the best outcome if I really do – or try to learn how to do – all these things myself?
I’ll pick three examples to share my experience, the thought process behind my decision and the outcomes.
passion: yes; skills: NO; market: yes --> outsource
Almost every time I give a name card to somebody, I note from their facial expression and subsequent comments how much they like the Megrow logo. I think it is a stroke of genius. Did I design the logo? I wish I could create an item of such beauty – but no chance. The three-circle model that I described a few minutes back, led me very quickly to the conclusion that designing a logo is NOT something I should try to do myself or aspire to learn.
The detailed self-assessment reads as follows:
- I really love creating visual things; hence circle No. 1 gets a tick mark
- Secondly, there definitely is a market for well-designed logos. In other words, two boxes are ticked already.
- However, do I have the skills to design a logo or could I acquire them within a meaningful time frame: the straightforward answer is “NO”. I realized the latter a long time ago, so I didn’t even bother thinking about designing a logo myself.
Luckily, my partner JC is very good with colors, shapes and designs, so all credit to her for designing this beauty of a logo. If you are interested in the history and “making of” the logo, head over to the “about” page.
In conclusion, the logo-design is a clear case, where a do-it-yourself approach would not have resulted in anything meaningful.
passion: yes; skills: yes; market: yes --> DYI
The Megrow website initially served a compliance purpose. I wanted potential clients to get background information about Megrow and myself. Furthermore, all stakeholders who visit the site should get the impression, that a real business, run by a professional, drives the content.
When I launched the website a few years ago, I wanted to have more and better content than just “what we do” and “about us”. Driven by this urge, back in 2015 I overdid it with the content. Hence, the web-page became bloated with duplicated and triplicated content. Over time, I have reduced the number of pages and most new content flows into the “blog” section, keeping the other pages stable. The “width” and “breadth” of the site feels very appropriate now.
The list of required features for the website was and remains straightforward: a light design that scales well on different devices, operating systems and browsers; standard fonts and colors; easy to manage, security taken care of; provides for “pages” and a platform for regular “blogging” and the basic social media buttons must be there. Lastly, the platform needs to be coding-free and WYSIWIG-style editing.
After a bit of trying and tinkering, I settled with the official WordPress theme in 2017 and its subsequent updates. I switched over to the controversial Gutenberg editor halfway through 2019, because I find it intuitive and easy to use. Very soon, I might consider migrating the layout to the official 2020 WordPress theme.
more on www
A few years into being webmaster and content creator, I feel comfortable making the following recommendations:
- as long as your web-presence consists of a few static pages plus a blog, there really, really is NO need to invest in expensive web-design, plug-ins and other customisation.
- get a proprietary URL for your company.
- leave no stone “un”turned in finding a good class host; speed, reliability, security and service is of paramount importance no matter how big or small the business is. I chose Axac Pte in Singapore, because they flawlessly host my personal website for 15 years. Their service is excellent, I never had a security issue, back-ups are available, and support is as fast as I need it.
As a side note: if you are a WordPress user, there are meet-ups of the local WordPress community in most bigger cities, highly recommended events to network and learn. I got many an inspiration from such meetups.
must do better
passion: yes; skills: ?; market: yes --> outsource
The final example is a great learning out of an old-school marketing approach. Together with a partner company of Megrow, I spent a lot of time, using modernist templates, to compile a content-rich, hard-copy brochure outlining the “things we do”. We invested significant time and other resources on it, had our fun and our discontent, got it printed on high quality paper and distributed quite a few. Initially, we were quite elated with the outcome. Clients “took” the leaflets and stashed them away.
More recently, however, each time I pick up a copy in my office and look at it, my enthusiasm to take it to a client meeting gravitates closer to zero. To a point where I don’t use the brochures anymore. There should be much more “ooommmpf” in the leaflet. The more I think about it, the more obvious it gets: we should have outsourced the design and lay-outing. Hence, if I ever decide that Megrow needs a hard-copy brochure again, I will spend money on the design. A lesson learnt!
the journey continues
What are the plans for Megrow heading into year five and further? I’m closing this blog by going back to the “three circles” approach that I described earlier in the podcast.
ERM will remain a core offering of Megrow, because all three circles get a “tick” mark.
Secondly, I have rediscovered my passion for teaching and coaching; Asia remains knowledge hungry (allow me the generalization for now) and I have honed my teaching and coaching skills. Hopefully, knowledge and experience sharing will become a slightly stronger leg to stand on going forward.
And lastly, my track record as an executive, particularly in generating growth and positive results, is another valuable asset to Megrow’s clients in the form of strategy advice or an interim mandate as a C-level executive.
Hopefully, you got some helpful information for your own journey out of this blog-post.
You can contact me via social media, LinkedIn and Email. The respective buttons are at the bottom of the page. Thank you for reading.