It’s only recently that my mum got round to thinking that her daughter is serious about this online venture. I think it sank in about a day before The Royal Armoury’s official opening. You could practically see the realisation set in her face and her thoughts going like, ‘Hmm. She’s really doing it. She didn’t buy those bling-blings just to put them in her room to collect dust.’
The FB is also not my most ardent supporter in this; he’s too preoccupied with his iPad mini these days. I tried to get him involved in matters related to packaging and the printing of my name card because he had prior work experience in a related industry. Well, I might as well have been dangling a million dollars in front of a real bunny.
Aside: If you find a real bunny who gets excited about a million dollars in cold, hard cash, and that excitement is due to the purchasing power that money accords, let me know. I’m a pretty demanding taskmaster, and I’m sure I can find some use for that bunny.
DBS (Dearest Beloved Sister) has been way too busy to help me at all. Her work load is horrendous, and coming from a self-professed workaholic, that’s really saying something. Her emotional support is boundless though. I show her my accomplishments at the end of each day, and she offers praise and suggestions to help me improve upon my work.
I’m not complaining about the lack of help my family has proffered. I’m all for independence and self-governance. It’s just that when I conceptualised my business, I had a totally different idea about how the people close to me would fit in. I wanted the oldies (my parents) to do something that is not physically taxing, slightly mentally challenging, and it would be something that they can enjoy and be fairly paid for as well. I guess I forgot to ask what they wanted.
As it was, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that I was feeling grumpy and aggrieved for some days during the preparation phase. I spent a month just thinking about my packaging, another couple of weeks coming up with my logo and name card design, and approximately 80 hours just on my homepage. The 80 hours were spent scouring the internet for royalty free images that I may use (hey, I’m no graphic designer), using those images to give actual shape and form to my ideas, and making those ideas work on my website.
To add on to all the above, I also had to test the system and get a feel of the different themes and layouts to find out which ones are suitable to showcase my ideas. Maybe I spent about a week on this? The memory is vague, but I know I took days to choose a theme, and to try out various versions of that theme.
Then, there is the photography and the touching up thereafter to make my products appealing and lovely. I’m really beneath amateurish level, so it was yet more hours spent trying to figure out terminology like white balance and focal length, and how adjusting contrast may have an effect on sharpness, etc. I try to achieve realism, so it’s basically adjusting the background lighting and the product colours to be as close to what the naked eye sees as possible. When I started out, I could spend 8 hours or more on a single photograph. Talk about fist clenching and teeth gritting and cultivating infinite patience.
I’ve often been called a perfectionist. Maybe true. Maybe not. I do know that when I spoke to my name card vendor about my idea, he came back to me with alternatives to fit my budget, and…I wasn’t so fixated on the image that I had in mind to reject those alternatives. More than being anxious to get things right or worried about getting them wrong, I like to think that I’m just very clear about my objectives, but still flexible enough about the means I choose without compromising my ethics or losing sight of said objectives. Self-delusional or perfectionistic? Well, I’m sure I’ve been called worse.
Lastly, there is the writing. It’s about sharing beautiful things, but it’s also about sharing my thoughts, which are sometimes beautiful, other times not so much, but always honest. Does the writing detract from my products? I don’t rule out that possibility, but guess what? My ultimate product is myself. My main aim was to get people to think along the lines of:
‘Hey, this girl can write. Maybe there’s something we can get her to write for us.’
‘Oh, she’s competent in English, Chinese/Mandarin, and Japanese…maybe we need someone like her for that interpretation/translation job.’
‘Hmm…her ideas are quite creative, and we need that for this project. Maybe we can call her?’
From the reviews I’ve received from friends and acquaintances, I would say I’ve already achieved that goal.
I love to write. Many times, I start out writing with no idea or just a vague image of where I’m going with the article, and end up surprised and satisfied at the output. There are just as many times when I end the day as equally clueless as I was at its beginning. Writing is easy and difficult, agonising and therapeutic, soothing and aggravating, all at the same time! Yet, I still persist in it. I’m not a perfectionist; I’m a masochist.
Again, I’m not bemoaning about oh-how-tough my life is, or the general lack of interest (and hence, emotional support) my parents have shown in my business. I was also fully aware that there would be a mountain load of work to do before my business can even be registered, and am not spewing bitterness about the hours put in.
It was the fact that I felt I was fighting a battle all alone when I anticipated fighting alongside comrades that got to me. My parents belong to a generation that has doubts about the viability of online retail. I didn’t blame them, but I was discouraged by, what I felt, their lack of belief in me. Some of my friends didn’t help improve my state of mind when they started expressing concerns about how long I was taking to start my business. I took about six to eight months in total, I think. I’m not really sure because things happened along the way, and that necessitated stopping the preparation work for a while before restarting it at a later date.
I began to question my efficiency, my supposed perfectionistic tendencies, my capabilities, and my judgment. I kept asking myself whether I was trying to drive a nail into a wall using a five-tonne turbocharged machine when a traditional hammer would do the job. It got so bad that I wanted to throw in the towel.
It was then that I realised that my idea of an online business, is very different from what others have in their heads. As usual, I was…not usual. Then again, it was my business model, and not their business models. I listened to them, I questioned myself…and ultimately, I refused to compromise. If my ultimate product is myself, then others should appreciate or deride me for what I am, and my ideas should speak for myself and not be tinged with others’ expectations or perceptions.
While I was discouraged and plagued with self-doubt, it also hit me then that I was not emotionally alone, as I initially believed myself to be. Random strangers helped me. I trawled the internet for ideas on packaging, and found lots of creativity and help rendered for nothing. When I wanted to do up the images for my homepage, again I found graphic designers happy to share without insisting that you link your website to theirs, or give them a portion of your profits, etc. The rollover effect for the images that you now see on my homepage? That wouldn’t have been possible without kind souls who share in online forums or in their own websites dedicated to tackling various system/website problems.
It’s amazing how people at one end of the earth can make a difference to what a girl can do here in Singapore. I’m not sure about you, but if I’m them, I’d be really happy that I could help someone whom I’ve never met and shall probably never meet. Now that, to me, is beautiful.
That’s really my message for today. When you feel alone, or are down and out, look to the people close to you for support. In reality, that’s just not possible sometimes, but take heart that somewhere out there, there are people who have been through or are going through similar experiences, who are willing to share themselves and their honest opinion with you precisely because of the anonymity that the internet offers, and who will actively or unknowingly encourage, inspire, and spur you on through their writing.
Not immediately apparent at times, but always waiting in the shadows. Sometimes, it springs out at you voluntarily, but there are times when you need to look for it and the only way to do that is to traverse the darkness. Do what you can and should to improve your situation, but it’s just as important to remember to…
Hang in there and wait it out.