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Get networking: tips for starting a business

The founder of the Business Women’s Network, Australian Michelle McFarlene, tells Expat Living what she feels it takes to succeed in business here.

“Moving to Singapore was equally daunting and exciting, but when my husband was offered a role here we decided to take the plunge and embark on a new opportunity with our two children. Once we’d settled into a daily routine, I became a little lost on what to do for myself. I started to explore my old hobbies – drawing and photography – but I knew I needed something more to stimulate my business mind, and decided to keep the hobbies as hobbies.

Michelle McFarelene
Founder of Business Women’s Network Michelle McFarelene

My first business was greeting cards, which are very expensive here, so I started Affordable Cards, an online business that I can manage around the family. This business is still in operation and my cards are now listed on RedMart. At that point, I recognised that I really missed interaction with people – something that helps keep me motivated and inspired. Over the years I have worked in many different industries and places, from a television station to health services, forestry and event management; I even owned and operated a Latin dance school and dance shop!

So, I scanned Facebook for network groups where I could meet other ladies who were operating a business. After attending a few group meetings, it became apparent that there were many ladies in Singapore just like me: looking for opportunities, starting up businesses and with many questions to be answered. That was the inspiration to start a group to share ideas, learn more about different cultures, celebrate and embrace business growth and create a support network and platform. What began as a small meet-up in my apartment in 2014, quickly became the Business Women Network (BWN).

BWN has developed a fantastic culture and brings together women from across the world to share, support, collaborate and succeed. It’s not all business though. In January 2016, the BWN pulled together to assist the elderly community, giving a makeover to an HDB flat and its needy residents. Network members and their families donated their time, clothes, furniture, household items, money and more, to give those less fortunate a chance to live and experience a more comfortable home. I’m organising something similar for 2017.

One of the first ladies to join our group in 2014, Priya Naik-Tailor, already had a job, but wanted to pursue her passion for interior design. With the support of BWN, Priya has made over a dozen business collaborations with ladies within the network, and has been featured in magazines and online. She is now well respected for her exquisite style and interior designs. Priya is just one of the many BWN members who have made connections within BWN and used our network and platform to their advantage.

What have I learned? No matter what network group you are part of, as long as you are connecting, building relationships, learning, continually growing your business and being around positive people, you will achieve and succeed in your field. Operating a business takes hard work with many sacrifices – especially in the initial set-up phase. For me, operating several businesses and managing the family activities can be a challenge at times. I don’t have a full-time helper, so organising my time, prioritising tasks and being productive, rather than busy, is important.

And I have some advice. There are many opportunities out there, but it all comes down to how much you want it, and how hard are you prepared to work for it. Investing time in yourself and implementing what you invest is the key. If you can find the right people or person to help you achieve your result, that’s an added bonus; continue to grow with them and let what they do and teach be a guide to achieve your goals.

Investing in yourself, and allowing yourself the freedom to do so, sends a powerful message and makes a big difference in how you look at things, and how you achieve them. To all the women I say: pursue your passions, be fearless and give it a go.”

How can women use networking to their advantage?

  • To establish, build and develop your career, or test a career change
  • To promote and expand your business
  • To increase your knowledge and awareness, and ensure your skills are relevant
  • To test out concepts when starting up a new business
  • To create a support group, find a mentor or be a mentor
  • To meet people you can build connections and develop stronger relationships with

Networking and business groups for women in Singapore

  • Business Women’s Network | businesswomennetworksg.com
  • Singapore Business and Professional Women Association | sbpwa.org.sg
  • Athena Network | theathenanetwork.com.sg
  • PrimeTime | primetime.org.sg


This article first appeared in the March 2017 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!

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