Lily Chew always knew that teaching is her passion and that she wants to run a business with her husband, so when the opportunity to combine the two arose after the birth of her first child, she jumped at the opportunity.
“Apart from wanting more time with my kid, I also wanted to teach using a different method. Having my own business would allow me to design the curriculum,” she explains.
In 2015, the couple started Lil’ but Mighty, which provides English tuition to primary and secondary school students. The business started with 10 students in their home but they were able to open a physical outlet a year later, and today serves more than 500 students across four centres.
Not without challenges
But while the 35-year-old managed to combine the two things that give her purpose, her entrepreneurial journey wasn’t always smooth-sailing.
“When we first started, I needed to do everything from answering enquiries to designing the curriculum and of course, teaching and marking. I was unfamiliar with the operational side and thatwas tough,” says Lily. She lets on that running the business with her husband changed the dynamics of their relationship, so much so that the lines between coworker and spouse were blurred.
“I think tensions between us were the highest when we opened our first centre in 2016—when our conversations at home became more about what we needed to do about work. Although I understood that it was for the good of the company that my husband was finding ways to help the business grow, I also felt that there were more and more tasks for me.”
“This initial misalignment in expectations strained our relationship and made us question whether doing a business together is really what we want. It didn’t help that what happens at work continues when we go home because we are together all the time.”
Thankfully, the couple learnt to find an equilibrium over time, a lot of which Lily attributes to acceptance and respect.
“We have come to accept that our lives are this intertwined because we chose to work together, and it is exactly because we are partners on so many levels that we never run out of things to talk or laugh about. We have definitely come to understand each other better over the years and are more aware of each other’s working styles,” she says.
So even though they still have their disagreements, they are now able to resolve conflicts more efficiently.
“This boils down to the trust that we just want the best for each other, our family and our staff at work. We had an epiphany during the circuit breaker last year–it was a period of tremendous stress for us but it helped us to realise how much our relationship has evolved.”
While Lily is living her dream, she admits that it comes at a price.
“I may have some flexibility when it comes to work, but when deadlines are looming, I have to pull myself away from my three sons to make sure they are met. There have been times where I missed school events, and I definitely felt guilty,” she muses.
But tough as the going can get, she has no regrets: “Being able to bring my passion for teaching to another level and having the students enjoy their classes is fulfilling. It also feels good to see that the business is a safe space to our staff, and that as we grow, we continue to establish a familial culture.”
Thinking of starting your own business? Here is Lily’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Know your strengths and what drives you–it is important to be passionate about what you do. Also, find the right people to work alongside you because the right partnerships allow you to be better at what you do. Also, know that it is OK to struggle when out of your comfort zone. When there are struggles, there will be growth.”