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On 27 October 2022, DollarsAndSense will celebrate its 10th year in existence.
Lately, with the reopening of the economy, I have been attending more networking events. Invariably, I end up talking to people who are curious about how we started, and how we manage to survive given that we don’t have a paywall for content, nor do we actively get people to apply for products.
We are always excited to share our motivation for starting DollarsAndSense, what keeps us going, and the challenges that we face over the years. My co-founder, Dinesh wrote about our story five years ago. Today, I will share more about the financial operations behind how we run the business.
Passion Got Us Started, Perseverance Is What Got Us There
Most entrepreneurs usually start a business for one of two reasons. They love what they are doing and/or they want to get rich. We belong to the former.
DollarsAndSense started in 2012 after we graduated and it was a passion project. Initially, we didn’t make a single dollar, nor did we have to. Everyone in the founding team had a full-time job, and nobody was meant to be working on it full-time anyway.
Within three years, things changed. The results of all our weekends spent writing articles started compounding and the website gained traction, both from readers and advertisers. In 2015, with the support of an angel investor (who still is our only investor to date), we went full-time.
Fortunately, many people are impressed by how we have grown since 2015. However, in my opinion, it was the 3-year period from 2012 to 2015 that was harder for us. We were transiting from our lives as students to working adults – with real financial commitments. During this time, I got married and bought my first home. All of us were juggling our careers and personal lives. At a point in time, DollarsAndSense could have been disbanded. But we stuck through because we love what we were doing – otherwise why would we have started it anyway?
If you are an aspiring entrepreneur today, I can’t tell you what your motivating factor should be. I can only share my experience with you. If you are thinking of founding a startup, do it for passion, and not the money or the prestige.
There is a good chance that you are not going to get paid in the early days. When that happens, it will test whether you can transform your passion into the perseverance required to give your start-up a chance to succeed.
If you lack perseverance, chances are that you will bail out once mental fatigue sets in and passion wanes over time.
Unfortunately, Following Your Passion Isn’t Going To Be Enough
There will always be skepticism from others whenever someone says that they want to pursue a career or business because of passion. After all, we all know that passion, by itself, doesn’t pay the bill.
Once you decide to make your passion a business, the dollars & cents matter. These are not mutually exclusive criteria; you must have both to succeed. Otherwise, it’s better to stick to a day job you like that pays well.
Obviously, you need a business model. A business model is a plan on how you intend to generate income for your company. While it sounds basic, without one, you will not be able to afford to do this full time, let alone hire staff to support the business. Some business models take time to scale up (e.g. Tesla took about 18 years to become profitable) and that means you need to have strong cash flows to sustain the business, especially in the early days.
Business Models For Media Businesses Like DollarsAndSense
Unlike most of our peers, we function as a media business rather than a financial comparison site or a FinTech platform.
If you didn’t already know, running a media business can be very costly, especially when you are based in Singapore. You need to pay your full-time staff including writers, media sales personnel, admin and tech staff, office rental, server costs and other subscription costs.
While we have fixed monthly costs, advertising revenue will fluctuate each month. There are months when we generate higher ad sales and months when it’s lower than average. Furthermore, like most other businesses, ad sales don’t immediately become cash in the bank. Depending on the clients, invoices can sometimes take a few months before they are paid. There are also a handful that hasn’t been paid for over a year.
Image from OCBC Business App, DollarsAndSense Monthly Cashflow
With our OCBC Business banking account and through the OCBC Business app, you can see that our cash inflow can be unpredictable each month while our business expenses are more predictable. If your business is like ours, you will also need strong cash flow as well.
At a glance, I also know how my monthly sales is performing and whether it’s improving, stable or declining. Likewise, I can also better manage my cost and keep track of whether our cost is trending upwards, and if so, what can we do about it.
As the business owner, it’s my responsibility to ensure that our financial operations remain sound.
Image from OCBC Business App, DollarsAndSense Account Balance
With the OCBC Business app, I can check our business account balance and compare it against previous months. This gives me a month-on-month overview of our company’s overall financial health.
More importantly, it tells me whether we may have cash flow problems in the future and gives us time to respond to the problem in advance, or whether we are doing well and can afford to expand and invest in more areas if the right opportunities arise.
Analysing Customer Trends
Another valuable insight that the OCBC Business app provides is who our key customers are.
This is useful for reviews as we strategically plan for how we can continue to engage them and foster stronger business relationships.
Image from OCBC Business App, DollarsAndSense
Managing Day-To-Day Financial Operations
Managing our financial operations isn’t just about looking at sales, expenses and cash flow trends. We also have to pay our vendors, freelancers and check on whether the invoices we issued have been paid.
For entrepreneurs who are likely already swamped with a long to-do list, such day-to-day financial operations can be time-consuming.
Fortunately, on-the-go solutions such as the OCBC Business app allow us to check and make payments wherever we are. For example, we can use PayNow for Business to pay our vendors and freelancers quickly and immediately. Similarly, it can also be used for us to receive immediate payments from our clients.
If I were to sum up my entrepreneurial experience running DollarsAndSense, I would say that passion is vital for the business to succeed.
Yet, as entrepreneurs, we cannot be oblivious to the fact that every sustainable business needs equally good financial management. This means having the financial discipline to ensure that our cash flow management is sound, and that we are aware of any potential financial issues we may encounter – before we actually encounter them. For me, I use the OCBC Business app regularly to ensure I stay on top of our finances, in addition to regular meetings with our finance manager.
If you are a business owner today or an aspiring entrepreneur, we’d also like to welcome you to take a read on some of the articles that we have on DollarsAndSense Business, a site dedicated to helping business owners, entrepreneurs, freelancers and self-employed individuals make better financial decisions for their business.
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