To mark International Women’s Day, we brought together three different women from different backgrounds to share their journeys and life lessons. Read on for our first interview with our very own founder and editor-in-chief of Expat Living, Rebecca Bisset, on building a publishing company from scratch as an expat entrepreneur.
You’ve had quite the expat journey!
Yes, I’ve been a nomad all my life – well, until Singapore, that is. This is my longest spell anywhere (19 years); I was born in Aden, Yemen, to British parents. We went on to live in Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, until an eight-year spell in London.
Where did the idea for Expat Living first spring from?
Among the first proper friends we made in Singapore were a couple who had also grown up as expat kids in various places. The husband was a serial entrepreneur, and the magazine was one of his ideas. Expat Living was created to help people settle in to Singapore life quicker, and to provide choices and recommendations by interviewing others in the same boat. He offered the partnership initially to a lady from New Zealand, but her husband told her it would “never work”, so she declined. I received the offer by default really. When he discussed it with me, I said, “I have no idea what to do, but I can give it a try!” I always knew I needed to work to pay for school fees as we were on a basic package, but later down the line I became the sole breadwinner, so the opportunity turned out to be an amazing gift. I’m very glad I said yes!
How have you handled the company’s growth and success on a personal and emotional level?
Having no management or business training (I did photography at college and then a secretarial diploma so I could travel and temp), it was a struggle. Managing people, hiring and planning, learning about the sales and finance side – all of it was a massive learning curve, and I was pretty much left to do it all. Being fairly independent, I didn’t think about how others could be different to me, and was fairly self-absorbed with what was going on in my life for years, so to others I could often seem a bit “switched off”. Hopefully, I’m a bit better with people now.
What’s your perspective on the digital versus print dilemma?
Whatever medium you choose, I think that people are forgetting the basic principles of marketing: having a regular, informative and on-brand message going out to the right people. I don’t think the issue is the type of platform, as much as how people use it. Interestingly, there’s been a bit of a flip back to print in Australia and the UK, so it may happen here too. All I know is that people still love to sit down with a drink and read our print magazine, but digital is a great way to get news and facts out fast, and mobile browsing is clearly the way forward.
Congratulations on the business’s 15th anniversary this year! How are you reflecting on the journey so far, and what are you looking forward to for the future?
I still find it a bit surreal when I get introduced as the publisher of Expat Living – it seems like they’re talking about someone else! I’m not sure when that will change, but all I know is that I’ve worked with some lovely people, clients, readers and staff. We’ve spent two years setting up systems to cope with the changing landscape, and as an early adopter of digital, I’m confident we’ll manage the ongoing changes in Singapore and the media landscape.
Touching on your personal life, how did going through a divorce affect your outlook?
Never enter into anything lightly, and never leave anything before really thinking things through and giving it time to change. I learnt that what you see as a “definite” in your life for a while can completely change in six months’ time, and there’s no reverse gear in life. I’m not sure if I learnt this all from my divorce, but it’s been a gradual lesson that’s resurfaced from a lot of personal experiences.
How have you handled being a single mum of two girls?
The most challenging aspect of it has been not having the “good cop, bad cop” scenario. You’re always the bad cop, and you can’t say, “Just you wait until your father comes home” like my mother used to! The highs have been many though – they’ve been wonderful companions, and we’ve had lots of adventures together. They help me with all things technical, and I try to teach them life lessons – up until the point when their eyes start to glaze over, anyway!
If you could choose one key learning lesson to pass on to the next generation of entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Attention to detail! It took me a long time to realise how important that is, and it’s just the thing a lot of people don’t want to look at. Stick to the basics on sales and finance, keep your incomings greater than your outgoings. Know your direction, and try not to get distracted by other noise. So many people will give you advice and share ideas with you, and it’s easy to spend a lot of energy on new things before making sure your basics are working first.
What key life lesson would you pass on to your daughters for the future?
Be open to change, and don’t be afraid to change your mind. So many of us do things because we feel we should, or are conditioned to think or be a certain way, and sometimes it doesn’t end up well. Also, I’d tell them never to envy others. No one knows what goes on in others’ lives behind closed doors, and everyone has their special set of lessons in life to work through.
Who, or what, inspires you most?
People who are open to learning, who keep trying, and who think outside the box and take responsibility for their own actions. The one thing I often see all around is people looking to blame others, when usually it’s a 50/50 issue. That’s another message I try to get across to my girls.
This article first appeared in the March 2017 edition of Expat Living. Shop now so you never miss an issue!