Be a local hero first

When you talk to people about business, quite often they will say things like: "You've got to go regional" or "Aim for the international market". Why? Because according to them, Malaysia is too small a market.

Really? Our population is nearly 30 million. That's not small.

I always believe it makes sense to conquer your own market first before even attempting to go abroad with your business ideas. If you can't even make it big in your own neighborhood, how are you going to succeed overseas?

The other challenge that many people underestimate is how "local" most businesses are. Extremely few businesses are borderless in their nature. That's true even of digital products. What would do well locally might not have any resonance at all regionally or internationally.

A big part of making business work is the network that you have. And again, for most people anyway, their network is local. Yes, there are some people with broad regional or international connections, but those are few and far in between. And usually, their local connection in each market is not as deep as they should be.

I have some experience helping to start up a publishing venture in Singapore many years ago. Even in a country that is so near to Malaysia -- where the language spoken is similar and where the culture is compatible if not similar -- it was very tough trying to do something there.

Mind you by then I was already fairly well-established in the media industry and my contacts in the local (Malaysian) media landscape was fairly deep and broad. But all of that meant nothing in the new market. Nobody knew me there. Whatever reputation or contacts I'd developed in Malaysia countred for almost nothing in the new market. That was an eye-opener and I realized I had to start from scratch.

Most likely those who tell you to go regional or international straight away have had no experience trying to do something overseas. Otherwise they would tell you to try to make it big locally first. Remember, you have to learn to walk before you can run.


Strengths & weaknesses

I always tell people who want to strategize and plan their career to first work out their strengths and weaknesses. We might superficially know what we are good at and what we are not, but unless we really sit down and think about it, we won't realize the full extent of what we have going for us and what areas we are quite poor at.

When I refer to strengths, I'm not just referring to our skill sets and capabilities but also our assets. This could include a strong network of people or a good reputation or a famous brand name. Or even good looks (hey, it always helps!). These are not skills but they are strengths that we can leverage on.

Likewise, weaknesses could include deficiencies in certain skill sets (e.g. poor in accounting and financial matters) but it could also include things like being media shy or lack of capital or not enough spare time to work on new projects. Again, nothing to do with skill sets but are still drawbacks that affect your ability to achieve your goals.

Once we have mapped out our strengths and weaknesses then it becomes possible for us to plan properly because we know what we can tap on to further our cause and we know what we need to bolster or work on to plug the deficiencies. Perhaps if we are particularly weak in a certain area we need to find a suitable business partner to collaborate with, to fill that gap.

It's really not enough to think about it. We really need to map it all out by drawing or typing it out. Then, we will have a good picture.

This, I believe, is the very first thing anyone should do when planning their career path.

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