Charmaine has the incredible pleasure of being able to work with close friends and family. The six of them, including her brother and husband, came together to start Elementary Co., a company that she describes as “a one-stop shop” that works with clients on every aspect of branding and marketing — from design, photography, and copywriting, to strategising advertising campaigns, launches, and events. After working for five years at a large corporation, Charmaine decided that a change was due. “I very much wanted to be part of an intimate collective, where everybody’s individual voices could be heard and efforts recognised,” she says. “My brother, husband and I had on numerous occasions talked about wanting to start a business together, one that allowed us to pool our different areas of expertise together to work on creative problem solving.” We speak with Charmaine to find out more about why she does what she does, all while waiting to welcome the newest member of her family.
1. Describe a typical day at work.
My work day starts in bed, at around 8.45am which is when I wake up and start replying emails. If I have specific tasks for the team I then send them a list of tasks for the day in our group chat, and I continue answering emails while I get ready and then make my way to the office with my husband. We are out for meetings with clients quite often but if not, you’ll find me at my desk working on proposals and quotes, or walking in and out of the office that our creatives occupy to bounce ideas off them and review the projects they’re working on. I don’t stay in the office past 7pm — even if there’s lots of work to be done, I make it a point to have dinner with my husband, family, or friends, and then continue working at home later at night. I’ve never been one to sleep early and find that I concentrate better late at night anyway, so that’s when I work on larger, more important projects and proposals.
2. What is your favourite part of your job, and your least favourite, and why?
The best part of my job is being able to work with people that I truly love and respect, people who are so passionate about their work and who in turn inspire me to be better at everything that I set out to do. I also love that I am able to directly impact the growth of our client’s businesses with the ideas we come up with collectively — seeing those ideas come to life thrills me every single time. The least favourite part of my job? I honestly cannot list anything I dislike about what I do right now.
3. Can you tell us about one milestone in your company or career? Something that you’re most proud of, perhaps.
We’ve not yet hit the one year mark at Elementary Co., but in the short 11 months that we’ve been open, we managed to win a fairly large account after going up against a number of big boys in the advertising world. We are incredibly humbled that they decided to take a gamble on such a young company, but seeing how my team banded together to work on round after round of presentations, and how they grew through the experience made me incredibly proud of how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time.
4. What drives and inspires you to continue to do what you do, day in and out?
The enthusiasm of my team mates and the shared passion that we have in wanting to help our clients present their brands and engage with their audiences in the best possible way is what keeps me excited and inspired.
5. What challenges do you face at work on a day-to-day basis? What challenges do you foresee in the long run?
We constantly face clients who do not value the creative process and how much time and effort it takes to come up with great designs, a well-functioning website or a proper campaign strategy. Everyone just wants things done fast and for cheap, so we spend a lot of time having to explain the process to them, or justifying timelines and costs. The internet has also allowed clients to crowdsource for the cheapest freelance designers, and there are even apps now that allow you to develop logos and design collaterals for as little as $25!
6. What do you think about entrepreneurship in Singapore? Eg. Are there more opportunities for entrepreneurs? Is it becoming easier or more difficult for people to start their own businesses?
I personally know and work with a lot of people that that are running their own small businesses, and I generally think that starting your own shop isn’t impossible in Singapore. I think there are several things that work in our favour here, such as the large proportion of people connected online (making marketing yourself easier), a very straightforward access to government grants, as well as the things that we tend to take for granted, like our very dependable infrastructure. The things that are not in our favour here however, are rent and increasing labour costs, which are probably the two primary restricting factors or challenges to scaling up.
7. If there’s one piece of advice you would like to give anyone who is just starting his/her career, or his/her own business, what would it be? Or, what is the one most important thing you’ve learnt in your years at work?
Partner with or hire talented people that make up where you are lacking. Ultimately, (almost) nobody knows everything there is to know, nor is able to do everything in the running of a business.
8. Describe your usual workplace style in three words.
Casual but elegant, and comfortable.
9. If you could wear a uniform of sorts to work for the rest of your life, what would that outfit consist of, and why?
A perfectly tailored white shirt ala Jil Sander, black cigarette pants and gold jewellery. It’s appropriate for all occasions — I just need to change up my footwear to make it casual or formal!
10. Do you have any philosophies, mottoes or quotes that you’re living by right now?
“Everything in its own place and time.”