One of the most difficult, yet interesting, interviews I had is the one with VENTEUR. There are several obstacles for an entrepreneur, especially a female entrepreneur, that hold her back from achieving success. When I have a look back at my founder’s journey, they are psychological warfare, mistakes, and learnings. And my most favorite ways to boost your productivity without causing burnout? Delegating, me time, and defining success.
VENTEUR spoke with Dr. Clāra Ly-Le, Founder and Managing Director of EloQ Communications, about her entrepreneurial journey. Ly-Le s on a mission to rewrite the rules of public relations. Ly-Le is eager to bridge the gap between expected and delivered quality and help clients amplify their messages in the Vietnam market. She is the Vice Dean of the Faculty of Public Relations and Communication at Van Lang University, Vietnam, overseeing thousands of PR students. She aims to show the importance of public relations and promote awareness and recognition of the Vietnamese PR industry.
The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?
One of the most valuable discoveries I’ve made as an entrepreneur is the power of synergy and the importance of refining managerial skills to harness the power of teamwork.
Professional skills help me succeed as an individual.
Still, suppose I want to guide the organization to success and realize my dream of leveraging Vietnam’s PR industry. In that case, I cannot do it alone.
There’s a saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
To bring out the team’s synergy, they need a good leader. However, I think many would agree that being an expert in your field does not mean you’re naturally good at managing a business.
When I started my entrepreneurial journey, I faced many challenges due to my lack of management skills. So for our team to “go far together,” I added focus to my daily mission: to polish my managerial skills to keep the unit running.
The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur?
Whether you want it or not, a power distance will always exist between a founder and its employees.
And from an entrepreneur’s perspective, I need to take into account every aspect when making decisions so that it would balance our cash flow and benefit our organization as a whole.
Unfortunately, however, certain decisions sometimes go against what our employees want and grow our distance further.
The power gap associated with this position makes me feel lonely.
It’s a dilemma that many entrepreneurs have to face. At the end of the day, as long as you can see your own decision and understand where you’re heading, you can overcome this loneliness.
The Psychological Warfare
Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur, I have the freedom to control the business.
Still, at the same time, I’m also under more pressure to keep it running. As an employee, you live on a stable salary and have a stable career. Still, if you own the business and are responsible for your employees’ well-being, you’ll have a lot to think about.
Boutique PR agencies like ours often face market uncertainty, so we cannot plan too far ahead. For example, the PR and marketing budget will be cut first if an economic crisis arises, like the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, you can imagine the pressure I’m under. Insecurity is often present, and it affects my self-esteem when I cannot showcase my values. However, I believe there are also opportunities if you can overcome difficulties.
When you feel like you want to quit, remember why you started in the first place.
In my case, my dream is to leverage the PR industry and prove our value to the world. And running my own business gives me more flexibility to pursue that dream.
EloQ Communications results from my passion for this industry, Vietnam, and Southeast Asia (the markets usually viewed as less-developed in marketing communications).
Throughout the years, the EloQ team has proudly become the PR and marketing partner of many renowned overseas and local clients in Vietnam.
Newer entrepreneurs often equate their success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality?
This is primarily true during a business’s launching and growth stage, where it needs a quick boost and establishes credibility as fast as possible.
That’s where the part “if you want to go fast, go alone” applies.
The founder is the most important selling point for smaller agencies. An essential part of their responsibility is to conduct personal branding, making the business an extension of its founder.
Once the founder is well-known and trusted, so is the agency. I also agree with this point of view. Since the early days of EloQ, I have participated in various industry events and global networking sessions to showcase my expertise and slowly bring EloQ’s name to the table.
As a result, EloQ also started to get recognized by international clients and colleagues. At the moment, we’re the first Vietnam agency able to join the prestigious Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA). We’re also a part of the Public Relations Network (PRN), comprising PR agencies worldwide to execute regional PR campaigns.
We also gained the trust of overseas clients to act as their media representatives in Vietnam, including Rakuten Viber, AstraZeneca, Intel, Hong Kong Tourism Board, etc.
It all started with my brand effort, and these efforts continue to have a positive impact on EloQ Communications’ branding. Once we have established EloQ’s credibility, that’s when the EloQ team unites and goes the distance.
What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears?
My biggest concern revolves around human resource management. Human resources is the company’s core, especially when the public relations industry involves more personal communication and consultancy than other industries. If our personnel are unstable, it would directly affect customer service and work quality. Therefore, I sought to hire good people from the start and invest more into building a comfortable and healthy working environment to retain them.
What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid these mistakes?
Not delegating, hiring too many staff, and over-promising with our clients and stakeholders are the three mistakes I made early in my entrepreneurial journey.
Over-hiring and over-promising came from a lack of experience. They were solved when I understood my employee’s capabilities and allocated their workload more logically.
For delegation, agency founders like me have a solid attachment to their agencies. As a result, I am often involved in every business aspect and multitask across functions in the company instead of entrusting those tasks to my subordinates.
But the truth is it wears you out in the long run.
Just like the saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” nowadays, we often work and move forward as a team.
By discussing and delegating the right task to the right person, EloQ Communications has been able to amplify its success and achieve national and regional awards for our well-rounded PR and marketing services.
Last year, we were recognized as the Best PR Agency at the 3rd ASEAN PR Excellence Award by The ASEAN PR Network.
It’s like a dream come true (or at least a part of it).
What are some things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?
SME entrepreneurs often overlook internal communications, staff retention, and staff development. Staff issues were the most common challenge.
After recruitment, retaining the employees over time becomes even more challenging, and you have to forge organizational bonds using internal communications.
For example, public relations practitioners usually work very closely with each other; when they leave, they often leave together, making it even more challenging for the company.
You’ll find that you have minimal turnover at first, and then suddenly, you wake up one day and you have 15 resignations in three months, and everybody’s gone.
That’s what agency heads should be aware of.
What are some seemingly insurmountable obstacles you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?
Lack of managerial skills was my biggest obstacle.
I took the opportunity to become an entrepreneur when it arose. So a business management role was a relatively sudden event for me.
Overseeing daily operations and dealing with multiple HR-related issues were new to me because my original focus was on client service, so it was a little overwhelming.
And I made my way out of it with knowledge, of course!
I did more research and studied effective management models, and found a way to apply them at EloQ to improve our company’s operation.
And most recently, I finished my Master’s in Management at Ryerson University, Canada, to become a better boss, mentor, and director for my team.
I think that having an eager-to-learn attitude would be beneficial for any entrepreneur, even if they become an entrepreneur accidentally or by choice.
What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout?
It helps you save time and grow your team professionally. Instructing your employees might be a handful at first. Once they get used to the task, it significantly boosts the company’s productivity.
2. Me Time
Set a specific time in your calendar and devote that time to yourself. Having quality time for yourself will help you recharge your energy and improve your mental health in the long run.
3. Define Success
Visualize your goal and achievement so you’ll have a clear picture of your dreams, where you are standing, and how to get there.
How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems like an impossible task?
We cannot deny that business owners are devoted to their businesses and often take their work home. But it could easily lead to burnout, which can be dangerous because the founder is the company’s spirit.
How can you motivate others if you’re having trouble balancing your work-life?
So my advice is don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Ask for advice from others if you’re stuck, and delegate to your colleagues because teamwork makes the dream work.
You don’t need to keep everything to yourself or try to show that you can handle everything. After all, you’re also on an entrepreneurial journey.
If you can find solutions to your problem during work hours, you won’t have to ponder it at home. It worked for me, so I hope it’ll work out for you, too.
What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey more manageable, and why?
Working with other people helps you achieve the common goal faster
Passion for what you do will help you overcome challenging time
Balancing opportunities and challenges.
These are the 3Ds that helped me during my career! So, to fellow entrepreneurs, take care of yourself and remember why you started.