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John Lim is a trainer, counsellor, marketer and runs his own content agency. But he started a business because he needed to, not because he wanted to. He shares some honest - and unexpected - lessons from his entrepreneurial journey.

Lessons from the accidental entrepreneur

Lesson number 1: Own the moustache or it will own you

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John Lim is a trainer, counsellor, marketer and runs his own content agency. But what this entrepreneur really wanted to do was to make a difference within the social work space. 78 job applications, 19 interviews and six months later, he had zero offers and knew he had to change strategy. 

As John puts it: 

“I had to make something happen or risk having to eat grass.” 

John started a business because he needed to, not because he wanted to. But having his back to the wall pushed him to be grittier and to try anything and everything. He shares some honest - and unexpected - lessons from his entrepreneurial journey. 

Answer this: What would you do if you were sacked tomorrow?

My parents went through multiple retrenchment exercises as I was growing up. I remember my mum once came back with a bag of donated canned foodstuffs and that was when reality hit me - you can and will be retrenched, just like any number on a balance sheet that has to be balanced out. 

Asking yourself “What would you do if you were sacked tomorrow?” is a sobering but important exercise. And I would suggest that your answer excludes “finding another job” because this forces you to consider how you can be an independent creator of value which, in today’s economy, is really important. You should always think about your business value to the world, outside of a job. 

Not everybody can carry off a moustache 

When I started my content agency, I had two things going against me: One, I had no degree in marketing or writing. Two, I was 25 and people thought I was inexperienced since I was so young. So I tried growing a moustache to look older than I was. I don’t recommend it.

Initially, I thought it was a no-brainer - I’ll charge cheaper so people will come. But building credibility takes more than that. Little markers of credibility I’ve picked up include: Getting a custom domain email rather than a generic email account; establishing ourselves as a company entity; and having a business banking account. These little things add to your credibility. 

Entrepreneurship is great (but it’s also not)

The great thing about entrepreneurship is you’re able to organise your own time. But it’s a double-edged sword. You might be in a job now and think your paid leave is bliss. I’m an entrepreneur with flexibility 365 days a year but it’s not necessarily as joyful, especially when you don’t know from where or when the next dollar is coming. 

Another great thing about being your own boss is you can choose projects you want. You don’t have to take on a project you don’t believe in. The flipside is that not all jobs will pay well and you have to be willing to do things for free especially if you are new to the field. Going in and expecting that you’re going to earn as much as you did at your full-time job is just not possible. 

John interviewing construction workers. For this project he followed them around for a full day and even lived with them in their dorms so he could better understand what their lives were like. (Photo: John Lim)

Think personal finance is hard? Add your business finances to the mix

Go back to basics. Figure out your living expenses and make sure you have six months in your reserves (as an estimate, I budgeted my living costs to come up to $750 per month). In the same way, have six months of business operating costs in your reserves. 

A second tip is to have a bank account that suits your needs. I have a GXS Savings Account and earn 2.68 per cent per annum on my deposits which I put in a Saving Pocket. It might not sound like a lot but it adds up. Be discerning about finding a money management solution that suits you*.

*We might feel a bit more kindly toward John for his kind words about his GXS Savings Account but this is not a paid partnership! John got in touch after we launched Betterzine and we thought he brought a unique point of view. Feel free to get in touch with us at and who knows? We just might feature you too.

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