No more business? Try giving money away
A year ago today I gave birth to an unplanned business.
Parents name their children for whom they may become. I had no idea what my company would do. So, like parents who name their children after auto parts, I literally called it after the journalistic jargon for the opening line of a story, simply because I love stories, whether telling them or listening to them.
On June 12, 2019, Lede Collective Pte Ltd was registered just so that I could bill my previous agency as I was finishing some work for them. Of course I didn’t need to set up a company for that but I thought it might be handy if I wanted to explore options later.
The initial plan was to register as a sole proprietorship – it was much cheaper and you didn’t have to pay for a Company Secretary or an accountant to do your financial statement.
But I wanted to start things right and having a company would remove the temptation to under-report income when tax season comes along. (I would rue this decision later when I was excluded from the $9,000 that the Government doled out to the self-employed.)
What I thought it would be like
The company didn’t have a mission statement nor a 10-year plan. Heck, it didn’t even have a six-month plan. Even though I didn’t know what the company would do, I knew what it should be.
Treat partners with respect and fairness: This includes not squeezing partners down to the last cent and to pay them as soon as the work is done.
Helping others: One of the things that impressed me the most in my previous agency was that we were all given eight hours a year for community service. Now that I make the rules, why stop at eight? I wanted to set aside 16-20 hours a month for pro bono projects, either volunteering in the community or helping startups that have a solution or product that benefits the greater good.
Giving to the community: I didn’t know if the company would make any money but if it did, I wanted to give at least 15% of the profits to the community.
What it was really like
Those were the scribblings of an idealistic mind. By the time I figured out that Lede Collective is a content marketing agency, coronavirus was already making its rounds in Wuhan. As with many small business owners, I’ve been hit too.
When rubber hits the road, what happens to all the lofty ideals jotted down on a piece of scrap paper? If I didn’t keep to them, who would know? Who would care?
Like many people putting their exercise routines on social media during the Circuit Breaker as an “accountability record”, here’s mine.
Partners have been paid within a day or two of invoicing the company – even if it would be another three months before the client pays. Savvy friends tell me what I’m doing is bad for cashflow. I agree, but I’m not starving yet.
For pro bono work, my hours are generally split between the community and startups. With HealthServe, I help out in their virtual care clinics for migrant workers as well as with some Thai translations. I’m also coaching startups in Thailand on their communications strategy as they prepare to launch their product. To be totally honest, given the current climate, there are days I’m tempted to shift some of these hours to activities that might actually generate some income.
What I want it to be like
The last item on the list was the one I struggled with the longest. It’s easy to talk about giving money away when everything is fine and dandy. But when you’re staring into an abyss of no business coming in, it’s almost counter-intuitive to think about cash donations. As the company’s financial year end approached, the excuses started surfacing.
Your so-called “profits” are not even real profits. To safeguard company reserves, I draw a salary that’s less than what a fresh graduate gets. Technically speaking, if I’d paid myself a more appropriate wage, the profits would be minimal.
You might not even get anything from the Job Support Scheme. I was missed out in the disbursement and I’d need to appeal. Even then, 25% of my salary isn’t much to shout about.
What good would your paltry donation do? When you think about how my total donation is less than what an expat pays in a month just to swim in a pool at a house in Sentosa Cove, it can be really discouraging.
Ok if you want to give, what about just giving say 1% or 5%? This seemed to be a good compromise since I didn’t actually promise anyone I’d give anything.
In the end, I stuck to my guns – 15% of my meagre profits to three charities that do amazing work with abused women, disadvantaged children and migrant workers.
Ultimately, it’s not about the company donating money. It’s not about the beneficiaries. It’s not even about doing good.
It’s really about keeping to the values that I started with. Even if things become so dire that the company folds, I know that it started right and it did right. The company has been blessed with many amazing clients in its fledgling year and I’m beyond thankful. As Lede Collective crosses into its second year, the economy may tank, who knows? But I do know Who holds tomorrow.