Ep 87: 3 Business Advice for Side Hustlers, Indie Hackers & Small SME Owners

3 Business Advice for Side Hustlers, Indie Hackers & Small SME Owners

In episode #87, we share 3 business advice for side hustlers. These days, many people want run their own side hustles, be an indie hacker, start a small little business, be a small little boss and what have you not. But the thing is, there are actually a lot of challenges going on within this space. So today, we’ll dive into them and find some ways to manage them.

Tune in as we share with you the more relevant risks you should care about. What are some things you need to look out for? What are some typical challenges and mistakes in side hustles? What are some strategies, some core ideas that will aid you? 

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podcast Transcript

Yo yo guys! So I know these days, many people are looking at running their own side hustles and be an indie hacker, do a small little business, be a small little boss and what have you not, right?  There are actually a lot of challenges going on within this space, and I’m sure you know a little bit of these things, because there are a lot of content being created. But different content creator for different size of audience, and for all of us, they are just trying to do that small little busi(ness)… we are not trying to change the world, we’re not trying to make billions, billions of dollars. We just want to essentially do some small business and potentially make sufficient income to retire into that business. 

What are some things we need to look out for? What are some strategies, some core ideas that will aid us? That’s what we’re going to cover today, following the launch of our new podcast called Our Entrepreneurshit Show. So welcome home. 

Good morning everyone. I welcome you to another day with The Financial Coconut. In our podcast, we’re debunking financial myths, discovering best financial practices  and discussing financial strategies that fits our unique life. You get it, ultimately empowering us to create a life we love while managing our finances well. And today, we’re going to share with you some business advice for early side hustlers, indie hackers, small business SME owners, essentially for all you people that are running a small business, trying to replace your active income and job. No big investment capital, just trying to make something happen. So I have some good stuff for you. Welcome back.

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Okay, by now we should have launched our new podcast called Our Entrepreneurshit Show (OES). If you have not followed the podcast, you have not checked it out, what are you waiting for? Go to your search bar or wherever you consume your content, search “The Financial Coconut”, all these interesting content will come up.

We have a lot of new stuff coming on, but just for today’s episode, I’m going to give a special shoutout to our podcast Our Entrepreneurshit Show. So check it out and I’m sure you have a great time because we get all these entrepreneurs to come on, to talk about their inner world, the challenges that they face, founder dispute, investors doing all sorts of weird shit to them, business going through multiple cycles of problems and what have you. Some of these guys are doing very big businesses or were attempting to do very big businesses. Some of them have scaled their business after all these hiccups and got to where they are today. 

But for many of you guys that are listening, you don’t want to be like this big ass business person. You just want to run a small little shop or run a small little side hustle or run a small little digital business and what have you not. I think there is a very different way to look at business and there’s a very different way to get started. 

So a lot of these online content talking about business or side hustles or entrepreneurship tend to be very technical. They either spend to become very, very technical, tell you this, this, this, this, this, all these need to do, which is great, you know, but when do you apply all these things? They still take a little bit of nuances, you still got to figure it out a little bit. 

Or then there’s this whole other big pile of motivation, very motivational and makes no sense. [laughter] You know, because motivation is one thing. Yes, you need motivation. You need people to tell you during your downtimes that “yeah! You should keep doing this, keep grinding” and all that. That’s good, but the reality is no matter how much motivation you consume, you still need to get down to do the job. You still need to make it happen, you still need to go through the grind and there are a lot of problems waiting for you to solve. So don’t overconsume motivational content. I recognize that they have their place in the content spectrum, but don’t waste too much of your time doing that. Today I’m going to spend some time to share with you some business advice.

If you are just starting out, thinking of running your small little business, it can be your Carousell store, your website, your Shopee, doing some sort of site editorial services or an extension of your professional skills, you know, maybe you are an engineer, you’re a doctor or whatnot. So all of those kinds of small little side hustles and businesses, I think there’s a very different way to do it and I have some business advice for all of you. 

But before I proceed, I just want to caveat that you know, I’m a serial entrepreneur. I’ve not really made very big success until today with all of you listening and with all these interesting content coming out, all these businesses coming up. So finally, after many, many, many, many rounds of trying, I’m getting somewhere, we are getting somewhere. So that’s great. But you know, I do not claim to be wildly successful to tell you the tips and tricks and insights to the business world. But through this process of failing multiple times and trying and trying and trying again, I have gathered some sort of business advice.

I’m going to share with you just from a very honest recount of what I have done, what I have tried and what some of my friends have tried, especially after I’ve interviewed all these different entrepreneurs. I’ve picked up some things from them also, and I will not share with you what they shared with me because you know, then that will be… [laughter] that will kind of… you don’t need to listen to the podcast already mah, right? So I’m going to keep those things, go and listen to that podcast. But sometimes when they say certain things, I picked it up in a sense like “oh yeah, I used to do that. I didn’t remember I did that anymore.” So those are the stuff that I’m going to share with you.

And the very first business advice that I have for you, very first business advice is: when someone says no, always ask why. Find their problem. The reality is when you are doing a very small business, you’re probably selling some sort of product, some sort of service. It tends to be a bit simpler in your business model, or there’s something that you’re trying to sell somebody, and somebody wants that thing. They buy it from you, they buy the service, they buy the good. Very simple kind of transaction. There’s no complicated “create a platform”, and then you know, “get traction” then “sell to another person”, “big data”, “aggregated”… None of those things, very simple service. 

You’re a photographer. You want to sell your service as a photographer. People want to get wedding and what have you. Or you’re an accountant and you want to do some side… extra accounting job. You have this service you want to sell to someone else and what have you not. Essentially, it’s a simpler trade of you have something, you want to sell to someone. 

But then the question is why they don’t want? In your attempt to start a simple business like that, you generally will have to do a lot of door knocking and you will generally have a certain target group, right? So if you can be as narrow as possible, there’s great because as narrow as possible… uh what is narrow, right? Some people will say there’s no real definite calibration, but let me give you some example on what is narrow. 

Something that is not narrow is “oh, I’m going to offer an accounting service to all SMEs.” That is extremely un-narrow. It’s like all SME 有什么,什么 (got what) right. So a lot of different kinds of guys, but if I’m going to provide accounting service for tuition centers that are within the size of two to three centers only, well, that is extremely narrow, and there must be a reason why you’re offering to the three tuition centers only because they are not that small that they can do everything in house, but they’re not that big that they have their own team. So they’re kind of in an awkward position where they’re trying to scale and they don’t want to take on all these full-timers. So they want to get external vendor.

 That’s kind of where a lot of SMEs get a lot external vendor until they scaled to a certain level. Then they think of whether should we internalize some of these business processes. Not giving you a tip there, but you get the idea. So once you work with a certain target group, you talk to them, you try to pitch to them, your service, some will say yes, some will say no. In the beginning, it tends to be no, no, no. It’s always like that. 

But when they say no and you say “okay, that is the end of the discussion”. You don’t pick up anything from the interaction, you will pitch to them something. If they say no, I always ask “why?” “Why is this a no? Is it not what you want? Is this the price not good enough?” You let them elaborate. ” Oh no, because there is this other option” or “no, because your price is too high”, or “no, because we are trying to look for this and you cannot offer this” and all that. When you find out their problems, you find out why they say no. 

Then you can go back to your drawing block to try to find out: can I give them what they actually want? If I cannot give them what they actually want, after I door knock many, many rounds, a few rounds like 10, 20, 30, 50 customers are attempted… potential customers. I door knock, I pitch to them the same thing and they have a similar profile. It tends to give me a very good data set. 

 If I have one SME in maritime, five SME in education, two SMEs doing I don’t know what things, cafe and whatnot, then I don’t have a very clear data set as to what do these guys want. Because they are doing all sorts of things, they’re everywhere. They’re at different sites, which is why if you can be narrow and you would talk to them. If they say no, they will be able to tell you why no, and then you get all these information, right?

So once you get all these information, you can go back to your drawing block and say “okay, can I give them this?” “Can I provide a different service that they want?” Or “what can I do?” When you go through that process of iteration, you are improving your product. You’re finding that product fit and for smaller businesses, this tend to be the case because you’re not really creating a whole new thing. You’re not really shaking up the market and reinventing something. You’re just providing something that people want. You’re an option, which is not a bad thing per se. A lot of people get very like… you know “oh, you must be a monopoly, you must be the only guy. Blue ocean strategy” and all that. 

Okay, okay, okay. I get all those things. I understand those things. But for many of us that are just trying to make that a little bit extra income or explore ourselves in this business world, then many, a times, these are the things that we’re doing. We’re providing the goods, providing a service that people already are using, but we provide an option, to provide an alternative. So in this process, when people say no, we ask why. We get information. It gives us an advantage when… continue to calibrate our product. So be prepared. 

A lot of people will say no, and you may in your head have this amazing thing that “okay. I’m going to bake this cookie. Then suddenly come out, right, “I’m going to like be insta-famous and all”. But turns out there are many other cookie bakers, because you are an option and people have a lot of choices and you’re trying to find your market. So when people say no, which is… essentially the assume… uh, answers, tend to be that people will say no, ask why, try to figure out how can you fit their problem? How can you solve their problem? And if you can solve their problem, you can meet the objectives. Then the answer will become a yes. And after you find that sufficient yeses, then you essentially have found a product market fit, okay? So that is business advice number one: people say no, ask why. Find their problems.

Number two is: do not pour ad dollars until you have organic traffic. Uh, very counter-intuitive because these days, YouTube guys always tell you “put ads, put ads, put ads”. So I’m going to come back to you with some realistic thoughts on this after a word from our sponsor. 

Okay, so I get the power of YouTube ads, Facebook ads, Google search ads and all those kind of stuff. It does give you traffic in a shorter period of time. You can… don’t need to do a lot of content. You don’t need to do a lot of stuff. You can essentially use money to get traction, right? So it’s not a problem. In fact, it is very powerful if you use it well and a lot of these advertising tools these days have that kind of very strong, advantageous targeted strategies that will help you get a higher hit rate. That is true. 

But why do I think you should not pour ad dollars until you have organic traffic? What is organic traffic? Organic traffic means without putting ad dollars, just based on word of mouth, just based on referrals, just based on, you know, sharing on socials and just based on your door knocking, you get business. People want your service, people want your thing. You’re good, your service and whatever you’re doing. Once you find that fit, that means you have found a sufficient calibrated service, and you have found a business for this… once you have found it, then you go and put your ads. Then you go and double down and get the reach. 

To me, that is the way to go. Why? Number one: you don’t want to be shoving things down people’s throat if they don’t want it. Personal experience is we have tried this, even at TFC. I think there was this one time we tried to run a giveaway but in the giveaway, it was a discount code giveaway. We didn’t realize that it was a thing. I think we tried it. So we didn’t realize that giveaway must be free, must really give free, cannot give people some sort of discount code. Then become like National Day coupon, right? They give you the whole thick stack of coupon, you didn’t use single shit out of it. 

So we’ve tried it and one of the intern, the guy overseeing it, he did a great job trying to liaise all these things, but both of us didn’t realize that giveaway must give free one, cannot give this kind of discount code. Why do we say so? Because nobody picked it up. Nobody share and whatnot. So he was telling me like “hey, maybe you should do a shoutout on Telegram again, or on our podcast again” and whatnot. It rung a bell in me, in my head and I told him this “if people don’t want the thing. we already shared in Telegram once, why do we want to shove it down their throat?” it’s not like we have five people in our Telegram, we have thousands of people in telegram and nobody wants to pick it up. Nobody’s sharing it. Nobody’s participating in a giveaway. Then why do we want to continue to shove it down their throat? It’s not going to create a pleasant experience. They’re not going to like it because they already don’t want it. What kind of image are you creating? What was the hit rate? 

So when you’re in your early days, trying to figure out your business, trying to figure out your product, it’s not a linear process. You’ve got to test it out. A lot of people will say no and you’re going to try and try and try and reiterate your product until you find a yes, yes, yes. People start to say yes, then that is a sign that okay, you’ve found a product that works. You have organic traffic, now people are referring you to different people. Okay, not bad, you’ve kind of found something. Then okay, at this point in time, I think when you double down on ads, you’re essentially just sharing with more people, something that others already want.

But before that happens, you are testing the market, which is not a bad thing also. You can put a little bit of ad dollars to test to see if there is a market for this. Yes, that’s not impossible but don’t keep putting more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more ad dollars thinking that you’re going to make it work if you have not organically found something that people want. Because to me, I don’t want to be shoved something that I don’t want further into my throat, okay? So yes, this is extremely important. Of course, definitely subjective. This is my view, but in a world where almost everyone is starting on digital, like Instagram or Facebook, or running your own website, doing ads and all that, this is my humble take. Use whatever you can, ask your friends, share around, do social posts and all that. And if you start to see some traction, people want it, ad dollars’ going to do you amazing. 

But anything before that, I question whether you want to do it, which brings me to my third business advice for you and that is to pace yourself. The wait is real. [laughter] So yes. What do I mean by you have to pace yourself? Because actually in the business space, there’s a lot of discussion about hustling, keep doing, hustle, hustle, hustle, you know, and there’s a negative connotation to the word is these days we call it hustle porn… just means that there’s too much hustling, you’re wasting too much time doing all these things.

Why is hustle porn a problem? To me, it’s a problem because you’re just doing too much and when you’re doing too much, essentially you’re burning both ends of the candle. What’s worse, you have a full-time job, you probably have other hobbies and interests and every time you’re trying to do more, you’re essentially diverting resources from elsewhere, from your rest time, from your hobby time, from your social time. It destabilizes your life. And don’t get me wrong, when you’re trying to do a business, of course, you got to put input. You’re not gonna sit there and suddenly it’s gonna happen. No, you’re going to invest your time, you’re going to invest your network, you’re going to invest your money and all those things into your business.

But there is only so much you can do at one point in time. If you’ve talked to all of these people and they gave you all these feedback… that means your early days, you’re trying to figure your market reach. You’ve talked to all of them, they give you the feedback. Then what do you do? You’re not going to talk to more people, you’re just going to try to see if you can solve some of these problems, right? And that is the idea of “don’t over hustle”, because if you over hustle, you just keep doing, keep doing, keep doing. You stop thinking, you stop recalibrating, you stop taking a break. You don’t breathe, you will burn out, okay? 

One of the clearest way to fail in a business is to quit. By the time you quit, that is the end. Any time before you quit, there is still some sort of hope no matter how slim it is. So definitely learn to pace yourself. Don’t over hustle. There’s a bunch of people out there that essentially built their whole career on pushing and stretching and, you know, just kind of pushing themselves through the extremes and those are your athletes, your musicians, your performers. These guys, they are so used to pushing themselves to the extreme, I call them people with very high pain resistance. They are not afraid of pain, so they can keep doing, keep hustling, but they have very high resilience to pain. You may not have it, but they may not succeed either because they are not strategic enough. They don’t heal, they don’t take breaks and whatnot. They may burn out, even though they have higher resistance. 

So if people have higher resistance are already burning out, then, okay, maybe you got to do something, right? I just want to be very honest with you. In business, things are not linear. It’s not like in a job setting when you have a very clear target goal, you are part of a certain process and you’re just trying to achieve something. What is your project… trying to get some clients, do something simple. You are only a part of the whole thing. 

When you’re doing a side hustle, you’re doing a small business. You are a small man team, bootstrapping, trying to get yourself off the ground. Things are extremely dynamic. You’ve got to do a little bit, do a little bit of that. You got to find customers, you got to sort out your supply chain, you got to write invoice, send out contracts, manage your accounts, all these kind of things that, wah piang, only way you start, you will freak out by it. So recognize that doing a business is non-linear. Even when you scale it, it’s not linear.

You can sell a hundred cookies a day with one oven, but when you try to do 300, you’ve got to get three oven and when you are going to get three ovens, how are you going to place your ovens? Have you maxed out your capacity at home? Do you need to get an industrial kitchen and all these kinds of stuff? Depending on the business that you’re doing, it has different, different processes, but one thing that’s consistent to all of them is that it is not linear. Because it is not linear, things are dynamic. You have to break things to build things. You want to really go for the longer term game, right? 

Pace yourself, all right? Take your time. The wait is real. Sometimes you can do all these things, but you still gotta wait. The market may not be ready or your customers have a longer sales cycle and whatnot, so depending on your industry, things are different, but definitely pace yourself. Don’t go crazy. That is my humble take. 

So with that, I’m going to sum up the three points today, business advice for early side hustlers, indie hackers and small SME owners. Number one is when someone says no, always ask why. Find out their problem, because a lot of times when you’re going into the market and you have some sort of thoughts, you think people want this. But as you are exploring and you realise that “hey, maybe people want other things”, so you can kind of tweak and meet their demand, right? Solve their problem. 

Number two is don’t pour huge number of ads. You can pour a little bit of ads to test the market but don’t pour huge amount ad dollars until you have organic traffic, until you have proven that the thing that you’re pushing, the business that you’re setting up, the product that you are selling actually has value. People want it. So when people want it, you can pour all your ads and do all your digital marketing from there. 

Number three is pace yourself. The wait is real. Things are not linear. You got to do a lot, but you got to wait and then there’s… things get very complicated. So don’t let your insecurities overwhelm you. Definitely learn to pace yourself. I will leave all these other entrepreneurs to share with you their experiences and their perspectives. So definitely check out Our Entrepreneurshit Show and other podcasts by The Financial Coconut. And with that, I hope you learnt something useful today. See ya.

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Woohoo! Yeah, I hope you guys had fun. I’m very excited for a new show because I am a serial entrepreneur and I love it. Although it gets crazy, many a times we feel insecure. There are a lot of problems. And I’m not saying that everybody needs to run a big business, right? For many of you guys, you are trying to do your whole small side hustles. I hope you learnt some interesting stuff today, and I do believe that in the future, many people will need to be more entrepreneurial or even just kind of sell their packet skillsets to multiple people as we move towards a more gig-oriented economy. So definitely prepare yourselves for something like that if that happens. 

Later this week, we’re going to get Sam on. Sam is like a branding pro from Stories of Asia. He has spent a lot of time in the branding space. So I’m actually very iffy about personal branding. My view is like wah lao eh, [indiscernible] the brand brand brand brand brand? So because I think a lot of people that do too much of the branding thing, they don’t really know what they’re doing, so they keep branding. But I may be wrong and I have a very good conversation with him. So he has some interesting perspectives as to how you see personal branding and that will be later this week. I hope you can enjoy your time with him, definitely a lot of good stuff to learn from. 

Next week, it will be May and we’re collaborating with Providend. And I’m sure you guys know, you’ve probably heard Chris, you heard Keith, and turns out Keith is also from Providend. So 赢了 lor (win already lor), everybody work for Providend these days lah. But [laughter] the idea is they are the first fee-only financial advisory wealth management company and now we’re working with them to run a mini series. Four episodes, we will talk about family planning, we will talk about mini retirement, we will talk about term versus life and we’ll talk about estate planning and all those kind of stuff, which will be fun, it will be great. Some topics may be a little technical, but I think we will all learn some good stuff. 

To go in conjunction with that, we’re going to talk a little bit about investing in Singapore. So we have some friends coming on, Sudhan from Seedly and whatnot. We’ll keep you posted. Next week, we’re going to talk a little bit more about investing. I’m not too sure exactly what we’re going to talk about yet, but I’ll plan. I’ll keep you posted and we will see you guys next week..

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