Director and lead actress of Lulu the Movie, which opens on November 24, Michelle Chong shares her money smarts with us.

PHOTOGRAPH: Simply Her Team

Dressed in a plain white T-shirt and a snug pair of jeans, almost subversive of the iconic status she holds as one of Singapore’s most beloved local actresses, it’s hard to tell that Michelle Chong, star of the popular television series The Noose, is extremely money-savvy. We sit down with her to talk about how she handles business so successfully.

 

Do what you know

If you’re toying with the idea of starting a business, Michelle advises: “Always make sure they involve things you know how to do and that you are good at.”

Take, for example, her upcoming and third film, Lulu the Movie, which opens in cinemas on November 24. The consummate multi-hyphenate was involved in everything, from conceptualising to writing, directing, producing and editing.

At the time of our photo call, Michelle was busy putting in the final touches in time for the movie’s release – a long string of post-production matters, from voiceovers and sound effects to graphics and colour grading. Her years in television helped her acquire these skills, she reveals.

And so, just like Michelle, you should choose something you have experience and passion in. Passion was what led to the birth of her production house, Huat Films, in 2011. And as an actress familiar with artiste management, setting up talent management agency Left Profile in 2012 was a no-brainer.

 

Dare to take measured risks

Success is never guaranteed, but if the business idea really matters to you, sometimes you just have to take the plunge.

Michelle recalls the uncertainty she faced when working on her directorial debut, Already Famous, in 2011. “It’s very hard to make money from movies in Singapore,” she confesses. Michelle was also afraid that as it was her first foray into film-making, that she would not be able to convince others to invest in her passion project.

 

 

Read more: Michelle Chong’s top picks for 7 Japanese foods to try in Tokyo

 

So she made the decision to pour her savings, accumulated over her career, into the movie, a six-figure sum. “Thankfully, I was able to get sponsorships that helped me to break even,” she says.

She’s not looked back since Already Famous. Investment for Lulu the Movie came more readily, as she was already more familiar with film-making by then, and had proven her mettle. Time and experience made it easier, says Michelle.

           

Choose your business partners wisely

When you’re presented with a business opportunity that dabbles in a product or service you’re familiar with, partner people whom you trust to know exactly what they are doing. That was how Michelle made her foray into the restaurant business.

“I started the restaurant with Daniel because he is a good friend I trust, and he’s been in the food and beverage line for so long,” Michelle says, referring to Daniel Ong, one of the co-founders of their American restaurant and bar Mischief, who also owns Twelve Cupcakes. The other partner in the business is actress Cynthia Koh. 

Michelle says the three things to look out for when identifying potential business partners is their track record, personality and long-term commitment to the business. Since Daniel’s Twelve Cupcakes has been such a big success, it was easy for Michelle to place her faith in him for their collaboration.

You also need to have a certain chemistry with your business partners, Michelle says. She started her artiste management agency Left Profile with actors Pornsak and Lee Teng because they were “on the same wavelength” as she. The result is telling: they have not had any conflicts or major disagreements since founding the company.

 

And once you start making a profit…

Here’s how to use it wisely, says Michelle.

Continue to live simply.

Michelle’s parents were entrepreneurs who lived simply and rarely spent on material goods – they taught her to live within her means. 

Curb the temptation to splurge.

“Do less shopping so you have more liquidity. You never know when an opportunity might come along and you don’t want to miss the boat,” says Michelle.

But don’t stint on your professional image.

In the corporate world, your bosses and clients are constantly evaluating your worth based on what they can see. In the media industry too, Michelle says companies assess whether an artiste is a good fit with their brand before awarding an endorsement deal. “It’s about how people perceive your value,” says Michelle. So make smart fashion choices that are aligned with your work environment. Expensive buys should be functional, such as a well-tailored work dress, and help you to achieve your larger goals. Even big-ticket items ought to serve a practical purpose, too.