Top 3 tips for new freelancers

It’s slightly past July, which means … it’s business review time 🙂 This time of the year, I like to analyze my business activities to see what I’ve done right and what can be improved. Yes, working in a corporate organization does rub off on you!

One of the biggest things that happened to me late last year was this: a big client restructured his business, which would effectively kill off a sizable percentage of my income. Five years ago, I would have panicked big-time. But this time, I didn’t bat an eyelid about how I was going to plug this big hole.

That’s because I’d learned from past mistakes – over reliance on one or two customers. I thought I would talk about this at length since a reader who’s thinking about venturing into freelance writing asked me for my top three tips, so here goes 🙂

1) Networking

I have a simple rule – be professional and helpful to everyone you meet, not just people in positions of power who can advance your freelancing career. Sometimes, a simple act of kindness can open doors that purely professional relationships can’t.

As a kid, I was a super-nerd who used to stalk and write to my favourite columnists. I never got a reply. So when I eventually became a columnist, I told myself I would reply all letters. One day in 2009, a reader wrote in to ask for freelance advice, I emailed her a few practical tips. I forgot all about it until a new client revealed she was that reader I’d taken the trouble to reply nicely. Know what? She’s turned out to be a gem, the only customer I know who actually chases her finance department for deposits and pays early. My revenue from this client has tripled in the last year.

I don’t mean you should spend all your time helping build other people’s dreams, but not everything you do needs to be justified with ROI. Karma works in mysterious ways.

2) Self-motivation

A few years ago, I was drowning in stressful jobs and payment collection problems. I was thisclose to quitting until a phone call from a kind stranger who rescued me out of a tight spot during an assignment saved me.

Sadly, he had not-so-good news. He was fully paralysed after an automobile accident two months ago. With time to reflect, his thoughts recently turned to our encounter, which, though brief, left a deep impact because it reminded him of the muhibbah (multiracial harmony) in our country. “So I hope, Miss Alexandra,” Encik Ismail said, “you will continue to do what you do to remind people what Malaysia is all about. Writing is a noble profession. I am happy there are people like you who appreciate what I did. Do you know I still keep the envelope you used to send me the article?”

That phone call reminded me of the original purpose of my writing journey, why I quit my high-paying corporate job to write for a living in the first place. It’s so important to remember the raison d’etre, the why of what you do. You never know when it will steer you through your most challenging periods.

Wanna read the whole story? It’s here:

3) Time management

One of the first oh-no-why-didn’t-anybody-warn-me realizations that hit you when you go it alone is you become CEO, salesman, debt collector, and janitor rolled into one. In the early years, I was running around like a headless chicken but in the last couple of years, friends have been asking me – eh, didn’t you tell us your workload is increasing but how come you seem to have more time to watch movies, go on dates, travelling etc?

Well, the secret is in managing your time more efficiently. I know I can’t do everything on my own, so here are two strategies I swear by:

Capture them: I rely heavily on digital tools so important tasks and appointments don’t fall through the cracks. Google calendar tracks my appointments and deadlines, while Evernote gets my vote for the most nimble app to jot down ideas that occur to me while I’m on the road. That way, I have a ever-ready pool of ideas (something editors love!) without having to whip out my laptop on the bus or lrt!

Outsourcing: I am a big fan of farming out unsexy tasks and I’m super thankful that Malaysia is becoming a thriving marketplace of services apps. I outsource everything from grocery delivery to ride-hailing to housekeeping (I hope my mum doesn’t read this!). Outsourcing has saved me so much time, not to mention spared me a tremendous amount of pain, that I’m now ready to move to the next level: invoicing. Recently, a friend introduced me to Invoice2go. Not only does its interface look like a breeze to use, it’s got a feature that automatically generates charts and reports – meaning I can easily monitor my business performance and drill down who owes me money. Now that’s definitely a feature any freelancer would love!

I hope that some of you will find this helpful. Any feedback, tips and stories are welcome at alexandra.lywong@gmail.com

Happy freelancing 🙂

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Invited speaker: Putra Business School-Uniten Networking Day 4.0

Wow, 2016 has been a milestone year for me!

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Clutching our souvenirs after the talk. I’m thinking, whew, I survived pontificating 20 minutes on stage!

Last Saturday 20th April 2016, I was invited to speak on business with conscience to about 300 MBA and PHD students at Networking Day 4.0, an event co-organized by Putra Business School and Uniten.

I shared the stage with two very dynamic entrepreneurs, Tai Hau and Amir Abu Hasan, the respective founders of Pott Glasses and Aiskosong app.

Formerly known as the Graduate School of Management, UPM, Putra Business School is a full-fledged private business school with a University status, and the first business school in Malaysia to be accredited by the Association of Advance Colleagiate Schools of Business (AACSB) in Malaysia.

Every semester the PBS Student Association (PSA) and PBS organise a Networking Session to enable their students to network and learn from the industry players, which is why I got invited in the first place.

Dr Brian Wong, who got to know of me through one of my readers, felt that my experience as a corporate worker who transitioned to an entrepreneur who runs a writing business, could offer a new entrepreneurial perspective to the students. My area of specialization in human interest stories, too, jives with PBS which is anchored on Human Governance, a belief about being human at our work and as a business leader.

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Because these days, it didn’t happened unless you wefied it!

And here’s the blow-by-blow article, in case you’re interested 🙂 

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Women Share: Malaysian Women’s Weekly March 2016

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Thank you, Malaysian Women’s Weekly, for featuring me alongside accomplished Malaysian writers Lydia Teh and Ellen Whyte, in the March 2016 issue.

Love the write-up Jasnitha Nair – you really did all of us justice!

This will go down as one of the biggest deals in my life achievements 🙂

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Sharpened Word is exactly what Ipoh needs

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(From L-R): Ted Mahsun, Chua Kok Yee, yours truly, and Tany Leia Harris

I first heard of Sharpened Word, dubbed as an Ipoh-based event to open up the writer’s world to the world at large, sometime early last year.

I reacted with joy at first. Ipoh could sure do with an injection in the cultural and literary scene. Not that we lack creative talent, but Ipoh people can be – how shall I put it – a little laidback when it comes to driving and supporting such events.

Then came the doubts. Who would have the drive and energy to push it through?

Enter Pak Peter, short for “Grandpa” Peter in vernacular lingo. Whether it is the fabled water, the incomparable white coffee or the profusion of fair skinned leng luis, Ipoh has managed to attract some of the world’s top talents. Peter Bucher (his real name) is a Swiss-born former hotelier who yearns to see Ipoh fulfil its potential because, as he puts it, he is a “Perakean by choice”.

I do not know if he is a grandfather, but I do know that he has the semangat (spirit) of a man half his age. It can’t be an easy task to persuade authors who live outstation to make the journey to Ipoh on a Saturday afternoon and speak to a roomful (or not so full) of strangers, month after month.

Despite this, Sharpened Word has marched confidently into its fifth session last February 20th, a session I had the honour of sharing with three immmensely talented writers: Chua Kok Yee, Ted Mahsun and Tany Leia Harris.

It being my first time attending the event, I was blown away by:

* The meticulously organized program that was rich both in content as well as entertainment value. Let’s be frank: if it’s boring, nobody will come (or stay to the end). I was glad that everyone was glued to their seats, thanks to the careful planning of each session, which features a mix of seasoned and new writers for different perspectives.
* Their brilliant choice of venue in Sepaloh Art Gallery, one of Ipoh’s finest examples of well-restored architecture. It’s a place that you walk into and feel awed and inspired. Exactly what we need to foster a lively and active discourse.
* The professional emcee. May Foo – who was so good I thought she could be on Oprah – she kept us on our toes with thought provoking questions that showed she not only did her homework but understood her subject matter very well.

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Pak Peter (Photo credit: Marcus Pheong, www.themalaymailonline.com)

This wouldn’t have been possible without the team of invisible elves who have been helping Pak Peter. You have the terrific PR/marketing copywriter in playwright Charmalee Sivapragasam, who puts together all the communications; CO Lo the photo/video -grapher; Nur Aida the facilitator and Mai Palmer, guardian of the all-important donation box.

Speaking of which, I’d like to mention that this gig has NO external funding whatsoever, except for the ringgits deposited into a donation box at the end of every session. For that matter, souvenirs for authors are totally dependent on public largesse. I was super lucky that for my session, we got a lovely souvenir in the form of an absolutely gorgeous coffeetable book donated by photographer CO.

Sharpened Word is important because it answers the question: does Ipoh have a literary scene? Ipoh has consistently produced artists, writers, and filmmakers through the decades and Sharpened Word supports budding talents by providing a platform for novice writers. Writers read from their work whether prose, poetry or play and then they participate in a question-and-answer session on their writing process.

Parents and teachers, if you have or know of children who are aspiring writers, this is the place to bring them on Saturday afternoons for a fun, enriching session where you can pick the brains of writers who are all happy to share their experiences and knowledge in the writing industry.

And to writers who’d like to read for Sharpened Word, Pak Peter tells me he has a bunch of writers lined up till August (!!) so let him know quickly if you are interested!!

Thank you Pak Peter. I am honoured to have been part of Sharpened Word and may it continue to grow in strength, reach and impact.

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Catch the Moment: Furnish Now Dec 2015 Cover story

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Professionally 2015 has been such an exciting year, marked by an array of diverse projects that range from brand stories for business award submissions to intimate insights into local traditions for travel magazines, to insider trade stories like the recent cover article I wrote for Furnish Now, the official magazine for the Malaysian International Furniture Fair.

It’s not your usual interview-and-write kind of story. In the last two years or so, I’ve been working with the international team from Media Mice on what we affectionately call a “makeover project” for highlighted local furniture makers. In this case, we traveled to wooden frame sofa specialist Yee Guan in furniture town Muar, Johor, for a thoroughly fascinating look at why and how a successful company repositioned itself to adapt to the changing marketplace – one dominated by millenials, no less.

You can read the full story at this link:

Furnish Now Dec 2015 - Cover story

Here’s to an even bigger and better 2016!

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A love letter to Paris – Navel Gazer

Love letter to Paris

Read the article here.

I fell in love with Paris as a teenager, yet it wasn’t until early this year that I finally visited it.

The morning I found out about the attacks, I cried. To be honest, the strength of my own reaction surprised me. I’ve visited a lot of other countries where the people have shown me kindness and generosity. Perhaps this hit home because it could easily have been me.

I wrote this as a thank you, more than anything else, for the beautiful experiences that the city of lights gave me.

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Lee Ting San Group – SOBA 2015 winner and finalist!

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Congratulations to my client Lee Ting San for their fantastic results at the recent Star Business Awards (SOBA) 2015!

After largely staying away from the limelight to fully dedicate its resources and energies to transformation, the Penang-based regional logistics provider has reemerged with a bang, chalking up commendable results:

– Won: Most Promising Award

– Finalist: Best Brand, Best in CSR and Entrepreneur of the Year

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Read The Star news here.

I am delighted to have contributed to this success, and wish them all the best in their future endeavours!

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myBurgerLab’s Teoh Wee Kiat: Recipe for Success

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What a treat! The recipe for myBurgerLab’s success – a not-quite-an-interview with one of its founders Teoh Wee Kiat – was published on my birthday 😀

I didn’t *intend* this for an article at all, but wrote it for fun for myself. I wanted to document the unusual circumstances under which Wee Kiat and I met, and so that I could remember the lessons I learned.

Then I thought, why not try my luck …

I hope I did justice to the guy. Before meeting Wee Kiat in person, I had this idea of a bunch of spoilt rich bratty millenials using daddy’s money to put their half-baked business idea in motion, but talking to Wee Kiat made me realize there’s a great deal of substance and maturity to these guys. A classic Made-in-Malaysia success story!

May you enjoy many more years of success!

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Stories about ordinary Malaysians (The Star) and Books by Ipoh Writers (Ipoh Echo)

Thanks so much for the lovely writeups, Amanda and Mei Kuan 🙂

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Link to Star article here:
http://www.thestar.com.my/Metro/Community/2015/05/18/Stories-about-ordinary-Malaysians-Wongs-book-aims-to-inspire-others-to-perform-acts-of-kindness/

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Link to Ipoh Echo article here: http://www.ipohecho.com.my/v3/article/2015/05/16/books-by-ipoh-writers

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Malay Mail Online: “We are all made in Malaysia”

I’ve been a secret admirer of Kenny Mah‘s writing for a while now, so I couldn’t have been more thrilled when I found out that the MMO journo doing the interview was going to be him.

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 5 — “Being Malaysian isn’t about one size fits all,” says Alexandra Wong, author of Made in Malaysia: Stories of Hometown Heroes and Hidden Gems.

She should know.

Her articles, including her popular Navel Gazer column in The Star, have been compiled into a collection of tales that show what it means to be truly Malaysian.

From a former nuclear scientist from France who has made Malaysia his second home to family life in an Iban longhouse, Wong digs deep into the lives of ordinary people and uncovers their remarkable stories.

“Their lives are so varied and different yet they are all uniquely Malaysian,” says Wong.

“After all, our country is a land rich in history, culture and diversity. We don’t have a single way to be Malaysian; instead, we have many, many stories.”

Wong’s own story would make for good reading. A bookworm since young, she grew up with the typical expectations that she would have to get “a real job” eventually. Writing was encouraged, but only as a hobby.

“In the mid-90s, after my Form Six and before I started at university, I joined The Sun as a cadet reporter. I covered mostly entertainment news and then the food scene. Honestly, I didn’t get paid much as a novice and I had to take several buses to work, but I really enjoyed it because it was what I wanted to be,” she says.

This early taste of the writing world made Wong long for more but, like every obedient Asian child, she continued studying and started climbing the corporate ladder soon after that.

“After graduating in English Literature from Universiti Sains Malaysia, I first worked at a non-profit organisation and followed this with a sales job at Dell for seven years. But I never gave up my dream of writing.”

In 2005 Wong left her managerial position at Dell to pursue her dream of being a full-time writer. During this period, she wrote for various national dailies and magazines while perfecting her craft.

“I was very blessed in that I made many people along the way, especially editors, who encouraged me. Right after I left Dell, I wrote about why I had quit my job. I sent the article to New Straits Times and I remember one of their editors Joan Lau liked it and even blew up the picture of my parents tending their flower garden.

“I was very moved by this and it gave me strength to continue writing.”

Another wake-up call for Wong was an accident she experienced in May 2005.

“It made me realise that life is so short; I had to pursue what I love while I am still able to. So I started ‘chasing my passion’ – as clichéd as that sounds – by writing as much and as well as I could.”

Wong became known for her heart-warming and introspective stories; even when she was writing about food and travel, she was really writing about people.

“I enjoy writing about warungs and kopitiams, and I love speaking to different people from all walks of life. Everyone has a story.”

Each “hidden gem” that Wong unearths inspires her to look for more.

For her, leading a simple life and taking public transport isn’t a sacrifice because she is happy doing what she loves.

“I remember bringing my mother to Nasi Vanggey in Ipoh. It is opened by a relative of the famous Nasi Ganja founder. The Nasi Vanggey owner, who has a degree in commerce, told my mother that I was an ‘experience millionaire’ and that impressed her!”

Wong’s tenacity as a writer is balanced by a practical and methodical work ethic.

“I will always test the viability of an article by posting it first on my blog.

“If the post garners a lot of comments, I will then expand it into a full article. This is how I can survive as a writer; I don’t sit around waiting for an acceptance letter from an editor. I keep writing and selling my work.”

Two of the people Wong had interviewed in Made in Malaysia died — the last chapter is a moving dedication to one of them — and this has reminded her yet again on how brief life can be.

“I feel the sense of urgency and my motto is to ‘try everything once’. 

“The least we can do for ourselves is to give ourselves the chance to chase our dreams and to conquer our fears.

“I used to worry I couldn’t do justice to the people I interviewed. I understand now that these are their experiences, what they went through, but what I write is told from my perspective.”

These stories that Wong tells? They are stories that can only be made in Malaysia.

Still puts a smile on my face every time. Thanks, Kenny for nailing it (as usual!); May for taking the superb photo, and Joan for the opportunity 🙂

Link to original article is here

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