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27 Lessons I Have Learnt Since Starting A Business In The Philippines

The last four months have been a whirlwind of a ride, it’s been an incredible new experience for me with many ups and downs. I have really enjoyed my newfound freedom, but it has not been easy. I have had to make adjustments everyday as I try to adjust and find the best balance between life and business.

I feel a little stupid writing this post, as their will be many, much more experienced business people laughing and chuckling at some of the lessons I have learnt, but nevertheless below is a snapshot of just some of the lessons I have learnt. I am certainly a

1. Fears Are Never As Bad As We Imagine

When I was back in Australia, preparing for a major life change of moving to the Philippines. I had so many extreme thoughts going through my head, I couldn’t turn my mind off, with all the negative thoughts I had. Now that I am on the otherside, my mind is peaceful again … it’s rarely as bad as we think. Although some of my fears could still come true and some have come true, its has not had the same impact on my life I imagined it would. I just keep moving and taking action. As Joan Baez said, “Action is the antidote to despair.”

2. Readjustment Takes Time

It’s a massive change in lifestyle, going from a 9-5 job in a large corporation in Australia to a business owner in the wild west, aka the Philippines. I hugely underestimated just how much work has been involved setting up this business and toll it has taken on me both phyisically, mentally & emotionally. It has taken time to get into any sort of routine, for my body to adjust to a different living environment & for my mindset to change from being spoon-fed tasks to monitoring my own productivity.

3. Routine & Consistency Is A Must

I heard somewhere recently (wish I could remember where), someone say that the difference between most wildly successful people and the rest of the world is the ability to consistently perform a task at a high level. Consistency is the hard part for most of us. I know I am definitely in this boat, I have always found it difficult to do anything on a consistent basis, from exercise to writing a blog post. I have began to realise that it is no good doing anything short term, the only way to stand out continually perform a task over the long term.

4. Health Is A Major Productivity Factor

Since I have got to the Philippines I began to place a lot more importance on keeping healthy and fit. Whilst I am a long way from being “healthy and fit” in my opinion I am at least on the right path to doing so. Back in Australia my diet was extremely poor, eg Meat pie for breakfast & my fitness schedule was worse (there was none). I am really starting to see the benefits of exercising and eating right. It has given me a lot more energy & helped me become a lot more productive. Like I already mentioned I got a long way to go. I still have my weaknesses in this area (coffee is the big one), but I am happy that I am slowly losing weight and improving fitness and being more aware of what goes in my body.

5. Run Your Business Otherwise It Will Run You

This is where our new “Work the System” philosophy comes into play. After a few months here, both myself & Matty began to realise that on a daily basis we were more often putting out fires than we were adding any additional value to the company. We have begun putting into place systems & documentation so that way day in the future, there should be far less issues and much more time can be spent on improving the overall business.

6. Prioritise & Focus

You know the feeling of finishing a long day at the office and then asking yourself “What the hell did I actually get done today?”. Well that is how I felt everyday. Their was a clear lack of focus and prioritising of tasks. We have always used tasks lists, but it felt like they were getting larger and larger and I was jumping from task to task without getting anything done.

We now focus on the 3 most important tasks and ignore the rest until those tasks are done. This helps keep my mind on track until the completion of the task.

7. Look For The Quick Wins

When I am super tired, opening the email inbox and replying to a client enquirying seems like a huge issue. During moments like this, I look for quick wins, if I got for that important task, I generally get overwhelmed and do nothing at all. Once I knock off a few “quick wins” I get on a role and get moving again and gain the energy to then complete that large task.

8. We Are All Salespersons & Marketers

Marketing & selling are the cogs that drive the business forward. Whether we like it or not, any business person has to on top of this area in order to keep the business moving.

9. What Gets Measured, Gets Managed

I have heard this one a million times in my lifetime, but never really listened to it. Since I have been thrown in the deep end when it comes to management, I have never really had the need before to pay attention to this tip. I get it now … cannot measure performance without a specific measurement … it’s that simple.

10. Maximise Your Best Energy Windows

We all have them … “best energy windows”, “optimal time performance” … whatever you want to call it. A time period during the day when you are switched on, full of energy and you can get a shit load done. The time is different for everyone, for me its in the morning. I would say between 8am and 12pm. Study yourself and determine when your peak performance time period is, then be sure to take advantage of it. I reckon I get about 70% of my tasks done in this time period … takes the rest of the day to make up the other 30%.

11. Expenses Can Add Up Real Quick

Business is all about generating more money than the business is spending. Pretty straight forward right? Well I was so focused on generating sales, I did not look at the quick fix … reducing expenses. I was very much in the mindset of “oh its just one more small expense” … but those “small expenses” added up very quickly.

12. Hire Slow, Fire Fast

Again another one I have heard a lot of smart people say, but never really paid any attention. Particularly in the Philippines this is a very important mantra to stick too. The Philippines has laws that are very much skewed towards the employee rather than the employer, so it is important to get it right when hiring. However keeping someone around in a business that is clearly not a good fit, can be deadly to your business.

13. Cultural Differences Are A Bigger Issue Than I Thought

There are a lot of small nuances I am still learning about Filipinos, some of which have taken months to grasp others which I am sure will take me years to really understand. Cultural differences have an affect on all aspects of business, from marketing to recruitment to management, which is why I am doing my very best to understand the culture better. I do this by asking a lot of questions and almost being a bit pushy in my learning. I never expected it to play as large a role on life and business as it has.

14. Trust & Business Should Not Mix

This one may cause a little controversy, but I feel it must be said as to it seems to be a harsh business lesson I have learnt. I am by nature a trusting guy, but I have realised there is no place for it in business. The business world is a tough environment you need to be very careful who you trust.

I have already made this mistake several times, it is a sad reality, but some people simply prefer to drag you down rather than lift themselves.

15. Batch Tasks

Batch as much as possible, the more of the same task you do at the same time the faster you get them done. It’s all about getting on a role, like checking email … check it twice a day, instead of every 20 minutes. You would save a lot of time doing it twice and achieve the same end result. Or writing blog posts is another example, I decided to write two blog posts everytime … the hardest part for me is starting the first one. Once I am on a role it’s easy to keep going.

16. Go The Distance

There will always be opportunities. It is important to stick with your idea and see it through until it is a success.

17. Self Discipline Is The Difference

Being consistent, getting up at 5.30am and making sure you are being productive throughout the work day all require self discipline. Self discipline is like a muscle … exercise it often & it will get easier.

18. Don’t Undervalue Yourself & Business

In the beginning we were charging a very low price for what is a great virtual staffing service, I am not really sure why we did this, but it was a rookie mistake. Perhaps I felt the only way to compete was to better the competition on prices, but I am realising that this is a sure way to failure. I would prefer to offer a premium service and give the clients I do have a quality service, while at the same time making a decent profit. Sure beats having lots of clients (and therefore employees) which in turn leads to a lot more headaches / issues, all for a lower profit margin. Pricing plays a big part in the success of a business … get it right from the start, because its hard to change later.

19. Try To Cut The Corporation Crap

I have noticed a lot of “corporate” tasks taking up a lot of my time, which I cannot stand, eg legal documentation. Try to outsource as much of this as possible so you can concentrate on creating value and growing your business. It is easy to get bogged down in the minutia of tasks.

20. Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

This requires a big mental shift. Going from a steady paycheck to not knowing where the next customer will come from and when you will get paid yourself. One day I feel like I am on top of the world and the business is going to work out, and the next I feel like it is time to pack up shop and move to thailand and try something new … get used to the ups and downs that go with business, it’s normal.

21. Automate As Much As Possible

In the past I was focused more on delegating than automating. Automating is always preferred, as it does not require human interference and will work the same every time and cost the company less (in most cases). Automate as much of the repetitve tasks as possible and free up your time.

22. Networking In Person Is Massive

Especially in the Philippines, it’s not what you know, but who you know. If you can get in the right groups here your life will be much easier, trust me on this one … it is essential to have people around you to give you advice. It will save you from making a lot of mistakes that you may have made without that support group around. Do not underestimate this one …I have been fortunate enough to meet some top entrepreneurs since I have been here in the Philippines, who have been generous enough to share their experiences and knowledge with me, just to name a few of the guys that have helped me out along the way … Dan, Chris, Sean, Damien, Dave, David.

23. Learning = Business Growth / Progress

When we got here, I completely stopped learning for some reason, I placed to much importance on “the doing” and not enough on “the learning”. Now normally I would say “doing” is all that matters, but I learnt that it is hard to do the right things without first feeding your mind with the right information. I found myself with little inspiration, but more importantly ideas and ways to progress the business. My productivity levels dropped along with my motivation all because I had stopped feeding my mind. A business will not progress, unless you progress first.

24. Communication Is Motivation

Communicating to your team on a regular basis is essential to keeping the team unified, happy and motivated. Communication is certainly not one of my strengths, so does not come naturally to me. This is something I am constantly working on to improve how and when I communicate with staff.

25. Do What You Love … Delegate The Rest

We have all heard this one before … work on your passions and delegate the rest. If you have a passion for what you are working on, it does not feel like work, you will forget about the time and the end result will mean your business is better for it.

26. People Add A Huge Level Of Complexity

The more staff you have the crazier it gets. Naturally people have issues, problems, sickness, emotions … we are all human, but this means the more people you manage the more difficult it seems to become. This ties in with the “hire slow” concept, try to keep a lean team, people are often cause 80% of business issues.

27. Doing Is The Fastest Way To Learn

Yes you should read books, blogs and everything else, but you will never learn faster than actually doing. I have been in the Philippines 4 months now and feel like I have learnt more in that time than I have in the past 4 years. Get off your arse and jump in the deep end … its scary at first, but it forces you to learn pretty damn fast.

I am sure I have learnt a lot more than that in my time here that I have forgotten to mention. Like I previously mentioned, the majority of the lessons learnt seem to be at a very basic level. I have heard others give this advice a million times before in the past, but I did not listen … I clearly like to learn things the hard way. Don’t do the same as me ;)

 

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  • Justin Miramontes

    Great post man. I just moved here to the Philippines (Bonifacio Global City) to run my business last week and I already find myself going through all the same things you mentioned here. It’s definitely a struggle in the beginning! I had a hard time in this first week to get disciplined enough to put in hard hours every day. Getting here right before a typhoon that knocks out my internet doesn’t help either :) Healthy eating is something I really need to get figured out also. Can a brother get some damn veggies in this **** or what? haha. How much delicious pork, rice, fried eggs, and chicken can one man eat and still expect stay in shape? I definitely need to learn how to cook with the local produce that’s available.  

    Looks like you guys got the ball rolling though, congrats! And cheers to future success. Let’s meet up some time and discuss selling and marketing strategies. I’ll be here in BGC for a couple months so if you’re in the area, hit me up it’s a gorgeous city that you should definitely check out if you have not already. I have room for you guys to crash as well. Happy Monday!

    • http://www.lifestylebusinessdesign.com John Paul Grant

      Hey Justin, thanks for the comment man … I will let you know when I am in that part of the world ;) Thats out Manila way right?

      The veggie issue is a big one … best to get someone to cook for you … its cheap as chips … Although in saying that i eat a lot of rice and chicken, but this is a big improvement for me still compared to what I was eating.

      Same invite applies if you are ever in Davao City ;)

      • Justin Miramontes

        Yep, just 10 minutes or so from Makati. Davao, nice! I definitely can’t wait to explore the Philippines more.

        I love rice, but Tim Ferris says I can’t eat it. haha ;) I do prefer to cook for myself. I need to figure out some kangkong and okra recipes then just pickup a 1/4 chicken from andok’s or something. heh

        • mattjohncanty

          Hey Justin, You still here In Manila? let us know if you are as we are actually living here so might be cool to meet up some time.

          • Justin Miramontes

            Yup, still here! haha :) Cool, I’ll hit you up on twitter @IamJustinM

  • http://ryangoesabroad.com Ryan

    Well done, mate. I can gel with all of these… Totally just getting out there and going after it is the way to go. There’s no other way to learn.

  • http://stankavich.com Mike Stankavich

    John Paul, I’m really glad to hear that you’re raising your prices and repositioning your offering.  Your services have some great value adds, so you should be staying out of the race to the bottom.

    Great observations, and now I’m living them too starting up our Cebu operation.  Hope we get to catch up and hoist some cold ones soon.  By the way I’m also in Global City, same place as Justin.  I commented to him on TMBA that we should meet up.  Hope I get the chance to head down Davao way one of these days, but the money and time are too tight at the moment.  Hopefully things will get better toward the end of the year.

    • http://www.lifestylebusinessdesign.com John Paul Grant

      Name the time and place for a cold one with you Mike and I’m there ;) In regards to pricing, its takes quite a few smart people to tell me to raise prices before I listen ;)

  • http://www.virtualbusinesslifestyle.com/ Chris C. Ducker

    Without a doubt, the BEST post you’ve done. Period.

    #25 is what its all about.

    C

    • http://www.lifestylebusinessdesign.com John Paul Grant

      Thanks buddy, appreciate it

    • http://twitter.com/nichehustle TheNicheHustle.com

      Double down on #25. Yes. I would say that #27 is definetely important. You gotta stop reading and learning and start doing and fucking up. After you fuck up numerous times, you figure out what you are doing wrong and start do it right.

  • http://twitter.com/AdSenseFlippers AdSense Flippers

    Wow, guys…great list.

    I was just wondering how in the hell you guys live in Davao and we’ve never met up, and then I remembered some Australians we met briefly after a few too many beers at the Marco Polo “Eagles Nest” bar a few months ago.  I totally thought you guys were tourists or passing through! lol  You live here, eh?

    We’re in Davao as well, we run a small outsourcing company – TryBPO and have recently started AdSenseFlippers.com.  I see the 4HWW has changed your lives as well!  For the better?

    Anyway, we totally need to meet up with you guys sometime.  My business partner Joe, myself, and another guy named Dan and his friend Jaymie are some of the few younger-ish guys in town.  There’s probably quite a bit we could learn from each other, aside from swapping stories and having a few beers too! hehe

    • http://www.lifestylebusinessdesign.com John Paul Grant

      Hey mate thanks for connecting … Good to here from a fellow dabaeno ;) I will take you up on that beer offer .. Been keeping an eye out for the “younger crowd” … All expats here seem to be 50+ fir some reason.

      I don’t think that was me you meet at Marco polo … Unless you met my buddy Matt & his mate, Shaun.

      Anyway let me know a good time for that beer ;)

      • http://twitter.com/AdSenseFlippers AdSense Flippers

        I think 5-6 of us are going out Saturday night for dinner…would be a good time to meet up, probably eh?  Not sure where we’re going yet, but our usual dinner spots include Claude’s, Spirale’s, Krua Thai, Bangkok Wok, etc.  My skype is justin.cooke2 and Joe’s is joemagnotti or you can email us both at info@trybpo.com.  Look forward to meeting up with you guys!

        • http://www.lifestylebusinessdesign.com John Paul Grant

          Just spoke with Joe on skype … thanks Justin, looking forward to meeting you both

    • Anonymous

      hey buddy, yeah might have been me there in Eagles Nest iv been there in Marco Polo a few times, ill be out of the country for a week on Wednesday going to Malaysia cant wait. John is out of the country for the next 3 weeks so should just wait and all meet together…..hopefully we will be here a long time so plenty of time to meet up.

  • http://gravatar.com/kylemontgomery211 Kyle Montgomery

    Hey there guys, found your blog by accident and pretty much read the whole thing over the past hour, good stuff and hope you keep it up as much as you can!

    I’m in a slightly different position than you two guys, but similar goals. I got into I.M. and niche marketing specifically back in early 2008, quit my job and have worked for myself online since October 2008. 

    Anyway, I’m heading to the Philippines next month, and will most likely set-up base camp in Cebu for a number reasons. But what impresses me most about you two guys is that you two flew off to the Philippines on a wing and a prayer, and your savings! That takes a big pair, you’ll probably do well! I would be way to nervous, I waited until my passive income levels broke the 5 figure mark before planning my move to the PI lol…

    Anyway, nice to read your down to Earth reports from the field, keep it up!

    • http://www.lifestylebusinessdesign.com John Paul Grant

      Thanks for dropping by Kyle, would love to keep in touch and see how your Cebu adventure works out for you.

  • Anonymous

    Fist time visit to The Philippines?  yeah maybe its maybe it wasn’t the best idea coming here on just a wing and a prayer but i would do it all over again lol….. yeah lets meet up mate Cebu and Davao are such a small flight away you gotta check Davao out ;)

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  • Mat

    Hi John, very practical advice. Sometimes after many years of running a business, you feel kind of lost..and that’s how I have been feeling. Couldnt have found a better timing to read your blog
    Mat

  • ITSCEZARP

    GREAT!

  • Steve

    Great to get the feedback with the cultural factor taken into account. Very suitable for this Aussie about to do the same thing….