I got to know Benjamin in 2013 over at an event he organized. It’s about how you could leverage on LinkedIN for career and business success.
As I continue to follow him online and offline (yes, I’m quite the stalker), I can’t help but be impressed by his achievements over a very short period of time.
For someone of his age (he was 26 when I know him), he could communicate really well.
At 26, I’ll be lucky not to wet my pants on stage. For Benjamin, he seemed so natural at what he does. And the ease he exudes in weaving everyday experiences with the topic of his speech is amazing.
However, all these wasn’t something he was born with. Just like me, Benjamin is a true-blue introvert. It took him decades of practice at Toastmaster to arrive at that level.
He has since gone on to released a book on public speaking, appeared in the media at least 60 times and tied the knot last year.
I am fortunate to get some time from Benjamin to share his entrepreneurial journey and help us learn what you need to become an entrepreneur.
1. Please share a bit about what you do.
I help my clients be confident, authentic and effective on stage. As a Public Speaking Coach, I’ve helped over 100 executive and start-up clients professionally and also addressed over 3,000 clients as a Professional Speaker.
In late 2015, I also published my book, ‘INSPIRIT – How Asian CEOs Inspire Action From The Stage’ where I spoke to 12 brilliant Asian CEOs on how they make speaking their business too. No surprise, Adrian was one of them.
2. What were you doing before starting your business?
I studied Accountancy at Singapore Management University (SMU) but never got into a big 4 accounting firm. My first job was doing sales for a sales training company – spent some of the best times there learning, growing a thicker skin and making rain. And then I exited to do what I do now.
3. What ignited the spark in you to start your business venture?
I like to think it’s a romanticized idea that makes the next million or billion dollar start-up but my work is just as it is – conventional but ever-green.
I was an introvert turned professional speaker (i.e. clients pay me to speak) and I thought if someone as shy, introverted and socially awkward as me could speak, I can serve a spectrum of clients – from those who may be paralyzed by the fear of speaking to those who are seeking performance on stage.
4. What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
I never really thought about sacrifices as much as necessary trade-offs. In doing my work, I think I sacrificed stability, the lure of a prestigious corporate job and many late nights to build to what I do today
5. How did you get funded or what creative strategies did you use to execute on minimal cash flow?
I self-funded and bootstrapped at the start. Till today, my registered business address is my residential address and my clients have never at any instant, doubted the legitimacy of my work. If anything, it’s my youthful demeanor 🙂
Other strategies including leveraging media. I’ve been on regional and local media (TV, radio, newspaper, new media) close to 60 times and I am proud to say I haven’t invested a single cent with a PR consultant. All through pure luck and hustling.
But the best strategy to acquire new clients in my work is always to still present the best version of myself on stage and be authentic.
6. Could you describe your first sale and how it came about?
I was in Seoul for an overseas student exchange 5 years back and at that time, I was still doing trainings on a volunteer basis. I then receive an email from an organization asking me how much I charge for a full day of training though they were quick to qualify they can only set aside a small honorarium.
So my first sale was a grand… $50 for a full-day of work. Today, I’m glad to have my clients invest close to 100 times of that for the same day of training.
7. How do you go about marketing your business?
Being effective on stage and always having the intention to serve my audience. That has been the best form of marketing for me.
Every time I am off that intention, my audience will invariably feel it and I know I’ve not been most congruent to myself.
8. Describe your typical day?
There isn’t any typical day, fortunately or unfortunately. Some days, I will clock in 14 hours of work (a full day training, client evening event and then heading home to respond to enquiries) and on others, I will take a creative break to boost up my program and coaching offerings.
9. Who has been your greatest influence in your business?
My late grandmother. She was one of the few pivotal characters when I was growing up as a serial bully victim and loved me for who I am even when I was fearful and didn’t discover my voice. In large part, she was the reason why I have the courage to discover it and on the platform.
10. What has been your proudest moment in the history of your business?
Numerous. Not so much the standing ovations but having one of my audience come to me in tears, sharing with me how what I’ve shared has impacted him and got him reminded of what matters most – his loved ones. We ended our short encounter with a hug.
11. What were some of the biggest lessons that have impacted the way that you work?
I would say – focus on the fundamentals and as with most businesses, it’s a structured, disciplined and progressive marathon. If I can do it all over again, I’ll invest more in outsourcing away my gaps and weaknesses, earlier and faster.
12. What is the worst mistake you’ve made during your entrepreneur journey?
I would say because I’m first a speaker and coach and then next, an entrepreneur, my worst mistake happened on the platform. It happened when I was replacing one of my mentors to deliver a training on his behalf.
Due to the short turnaround time, I wasn’t able to catch up with the requirements and desired outcomes of the training assignment. As a result, the training didn’t go the way our HR leads wanted.
It felt really bad because I couldn’t drive my learners to the end point and I just totally winged it, which is exactly what I tell my speech-coaching clients what they ought NOT to do! Well, I distilled my learning experiences in a LinkedIn post.
13. If you could go back in time to speak with your 20-year-old self, what would you tell him?
You have a voice, a resounding, and authentic one. Be brave and let the world hear it.
14. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Find mentors and the top-1 percentile in your industry to learn from. Nothing beats fast-tracking your success by gaining a blueprint and big overview of your work in an accelerated fashion with someone who’s truly invested in your success.
Don’t get lured by the “shiny objects” along the way or the non-essentials like a corner office, embossed business cards or fancy slogans. Your clients could care less about that. Find out what are the core pains of your clients and serve them deeply and be bloody darn effective doing what you do.
15. What’s your business focus for this year?
Systemization and building an online university for my programs so I can offer extension of learning and also serve a global audience.