Friday, 14 December 2012

Life after Navy "It's OK"

From my previous post, I was left with no choice and no stable employment, I decided to strive to be a boss myself.

Among all the "doable" business, I decided on printing business, specifically business card printing. Why?
  1. Every if not most of the business will need to get their business card printed.
  2. High demand
  3. Recurring business
  4. Cash cow
Not only that, the benefits far exceeded monetary rewards. From a mere business card, I will get to know the bosses (though they may not know me) where I can build a good database. In additional, I can gain easy entry into these companies and thus also getting other print jobs. This, to me is very expandable business. I could also print brochures, flyer, letterhead etc... for them apart from business card.

That was good right. Now, the problem came. I faced with these immediate challenge:
  1. Funds (I only got $1000+ and a mountain of debts)
  2. Office Space (Where to get a place with little or no money?)
  3. Technical Knowledge (knowing to use design software etc...)
  4. Fulfillment (where to get the cards printed? Do I buy machines?)
There were really alot of thinking going on. So does that dithered me from moving forward? The answer is NO. When I don't have the money, I do the "free and hard" way.

1) Funds
I really got no more funds. My credit cards and lines were all maxed out. I just got to start with that.

2) Office Space
I start exploring the possibilities of "free" offices such as using my own house. I also went to ask flavor from my auntie to let me use a corner of her office space as my small office (abt 64 sq ft - enough for 2 small table). And she agreed. Rent free too.

3) Technical Knowledge
I really wish that at that time I can turn to someone who will be so kind to teach and guide me. Yes, you got it right! Where got such people? The next better way is to learn through courses but still, it voice down to money which I don't have. Its OK. I will learn myself. I researched a fair bit and found out that most designer uses Macromedia Freehand to do the design. I immersed myself for 2 full days in library to read up and managed to learn the software.

4) Fulfillment
Its the same problem. No money to buy machine. But that is fine too. I can always pass the jobs to other printing company to do. I will just be a reseller. However, at the end of the day, to maximize profit, it will be better for me to do the production myself.

I researched and bough a relatively ok laser printer that can print card to be my first production "plant".

With this, I finally started the business. Expressprint was officially registered on 1 Jan 2005 (Saturday) and started business proper on 3 Jan 2005 (Monday).

There was no business at all which I expected. So on the first few days, I started to prepare the business such as admin, accounts, marketing plan, etc... I also designed my own logo with the basic design skill I learned, which I used until now.

This logo was a simple textual logo made with a combination of the word 印,which represent "E" and "P" when split. To be more artistic, I went to translate "Design Excellence" into Italian. This explain the word "Designo Merito" on the bottom of the logo. Was it nice?

When all were done, I needed to have card supplies. I don't know where I can find and most paper suppliers I called didn't really want to bother me because of my super small quantity. Its OK. I went to bookstore to buy vanguard sheets as my card material (so at that time, I only have one type of material). Before I could use that vanguard sheets to be printed from my laser printer, I need to card each piece to A4 size first. I used pen-knife and ruler to cut piece by piece. Just imagine, one piece of A4 size sheet can fit 10 business cards in it. So one box of business card (100pcs) will need 10 piece.

In that era, newspaper was still widely use as advertisement. I just got to follow but I have no money. I will need to pay upfront if I go SPH direct. So, what I did was I went to look for media space reseller who is willing to let me place ads with 30 days credit term so that I need not fork out any initially. I found "Lin's Advertising Agency" who is willing if I sign a run-on ads (3 line ads in ST classified) for at least one month. I agreed immediately. To be dead honest, my intention to pay or run if no sales was 50-50. So my challenge was whatever it takes, I must secure the sales. My ads was simple. It reads "Namecard printing $8/box. Fast & Reliable. Call 6481 6300 Mr Ang. Free Delivery"

And so the ads started and I receive a few calls. I managed to secure the first order of 200pcs of business card order. It was an easy job. The customer gave me a print ready jpg file which I can print without amendment. I cut 8 big piece of vanguard sheet into A4s and start printing with the laser printer. I am satisfied with the outcome (maybe because the printer was still new). Now siao liao. I still need to cut into individual card sizes. And so I cut piece by piece with pen-knife. This whole episode took me more than half a day and I charged on $20 for that 2 boxes. The cutting was completed eventually. NOW, even more siao liao. I got no namecard boxes to pack the cards. I went around the office to "borrow" used boxes and luck was with me. I managed to borrow quite a few and my job was finally done. The customer collected the cards feeling a bit unsatisfied because of my cutting. Its OK. I will improve. So i went to buy my first guillotine cutter to cut the cards better. Though the cutting improve, I am still cutting piece by piece.

The business built up slowly and I was actually working between 18-20hrs a day. t was worst than a coolie or slave. I just got to keep on going on. If you asked me how hard was hard that time? Consider this, you received an order of 10 boxes of namecard printing. Do you smile (because you have business) or cry (because you need to produce)?

In conclusion, I started Expressprint with no money, no skill, no knowledge and only with a mountain of debts and family commitment.

There are a lot of people that helped me in one way or another. Some of them are:

I wish to thank my wife, Joyce Liaw. She married me during my darkest moment of my life. In the lowest pit, she remains positive. When I have no income, she gave ALL her little salary to help in the family expenses. I am grateful to her for her sacrifice and standing by me in times of needs. No matter what happen in future, you will always me my only wife. One life, one wife. I love you.

The next person I will like to thank will me my Auntie who so willingly helped me out by giving me a rent free space in her office. She even gave me valuable advise on doing business. In addition, she even bought many business wear for me (as I couldn't afford) so that I could dress better and ging better impression to my customer.

I will also like to thank my mother, brother and my in-laws who helped me and believed in when I couldn't even believe myself. Thank you.

Last but not least, my lecturer who gave me money to help me through and started the business. When my electricity was disconnected due to non-payment, he even offer his place for my family to stay. Thank you.

This thanking list will never ends. I am really thankful to all who helped me in one way or another. This includes those nasty customer as well. I grew and gain valuable experience because of you. Thank you.

My reflection: When there is life, there is hope. Never belittle the small beginning. Rome was once a flat ground as well.

Continue to follow my blog. I will be posting in phases of my career in Expressprint. Stay tuned!

If you are interested to start a printing business, I can help you. Please contact Mr James Wee (9632 2086) or email I guarantee you don't have to go through what I went through before.

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