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Life & Business

Life & Business: Tabitha Tune

by Annie Werbler

Life & Business: Tabitha Tune, on Design*Sponge

According to Tabitha Tune, founder and chief tactician of À la Mode Media, there are no stupid questions. Fascinated by American culture, Tabitha left Singapore years ago to pursue an education in communications, and discovered her niche helping companies establish themselves on social media upon the 2006 launch of Twitter. When a brand needs help creating an online presence, Tabitha fills them in. She is often present at the beginning stages of a venture, strategically shaping public image to convey forward-thinking missions where social media is a necessity. Tabitha is “normally part of a business from the process of conception through when they open their doors,” and always wants to see her clients succeed. At times, the immersive work she’s done to understand the vision for a brand has caused a project’s scope to creep beyond her comfort zone. From those experiences, Tabitha has learned to set boundaries, and yet does not fear making mistakes. “As long as they don’t hurt anybody, you’ll be able to turn those mistakes into lessons and you end up wiser and more experienced.”

Now crystal-clear about about the services her firm provides, Tabitha encourages new entrepreneurs not to feel obligated to pitch in on projects outside their expert offerings. “Know that in some cases, “no” is a complete sentence. But it’s also the hardest sentence to communicate,” she says. And, as a small business owner, if your gut feels off about something or you feel pressured, it’s usually a good idea to remove yourself from the situation. Though she’s an online communications specialist, Tabitha maintains that her best resource is her network of offline friends and colleagues. They encourage her to “have fun with it!” — the desire for which inspired her passion in the first place.  —Annie

Photography by Will Vastine, except where noted

Why did you decide to start your own business?

While working a day job that was going nowhere and hardly paying the bills, I’d taken on side projects blogging for and managing social media for startups, online magazines, and businesses. I really enjoyed it — I got to be creative and still stay within the realm of marketing — and I knew working with online media was something I wanted to do longterm. With some encouragement from my husband, and after I’d saved enough to tide me over for a bit, I submitted my resignation. Six years later, here we are!

Life & Business: Tabitha Tune, on Design*Sponge

Photo courtesy Tabitha Tune

When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what it would be?

The nice part about owning your own business and creating a career for yourself is that you get to redefine what you do as you grow and as your industry evolves. Before I made the decision to quit my full-time job, all I knew was that I love helping people solve problems. I saw the potential with social media and that I wanted to combine the two.

Life & Business: Tabitha Tune, on Design*Sponge

Photo courtesy Tabitha Tune

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

Don’t ever discount your worth or work for free just to get a job!

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Staying organized with the administrative side of things — contracts, bookkeeping, taxes… It’s the unsexy-but-necessary aspect of starting a business, and it was a challenge to wrap my head around! I tip my hat to the creative person who is also really good at the business side of things!

Life & Business: Tabitha Tune, on Design*Sponge

Photo courtesy Tabitha Tune

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business? 

Set boundaries and know that in some cases, “no” is a complete sentence. But it’s also the hardest sentence to communicate. It goes hand-in-hand with trusting your gut. I’ve learned the hard way that when your gut doesn’t feel right about something and there’s an inclination to decline, it’s best to step away. When you say no to things that you’re not 100% on, the better “yes” opportunities will happen and you’ll be glad you made room for them.

Life & Business: Tabitha Tune, on Design*Sponge

Photo courtesy Tabitha Tune

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience?

Because I’m normally part of a business from the process of conception through when they open their doors, it’s easy to get caught up in a “let’s just do whatever it takes to make things happen” mode. For one particular client, not only was I their social media marketing person, I became their office manager, admin person, customer support rep, and tech support, too — except I was not getting compensated for any of the time spent on those things. The failure here wasn’t that the client took advantage of what I could do, but the fact that I let it happen — I didn’t know how to say no! Since then, I’ve been good about staying in my lane and being very clear about what I can and will not do.

Life & Business: Tabitha Tune, on Design*Sponge

Photo courtesy Tabitha Tune

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?

It’s hard to think of any of my choices as a sacrifice, per se, but if I had to pick something, there are times I miss the stability and benefits a full-time job provides — budgeting was a lot simpler when you knew exactly when and how much you were getting paid! Then there’s taxes — yeesh! So when you can afford it, hire an accountant!

Can you name your greatest success in your business experience?

Every day I get to work with wonderful people who trust me and who value what I do. The fact that I’ve been able to grow as they grow all these years, and to have more and more opportunities and possibilities on the horizon, tells me I’m doing something right!

Life & Business: Tabitha Tune, on Design*Sponge

What business books and resources would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

Design Is a Job by Mike Monteiro is a must-read. It’s catered to designers, but the premise is applicable to any small business or independent business owner. The podcast Back to Work is great for productivity tools and tips. My best resource is my network of friends and colleagues, and I encourage everyone to find people with whom you can relate on personal and career levels, and nurture those relationships. Whatever the moniker, a network of people you trust is the most valuable resource you can have.

Life & Business: Tabitha Tune, on Design*Sponge

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

1. Starting your own business is going to be the hardest work you will ever do. When you’re starting out and it’s just you, you’re 100% accountable 100% of the time and you’re the CEO, CFO, sales rep, and janitor all rolled into one. There will be sleepless nights, long hours, weekends won’t really mean anything anymore, and you might even shed some tears. But at the end of the day, you’re making a living doing what you love, so it’ll be worth it.

2. Be prepared (and don’t be afraid) to make mistakes. As long as they don’t hurt anybody, you’ll be able to turn those mistakes into lessons and you end up wiser and more experienced.

3. If you don’t have a game plan just yet, like if you’re not sure if this is going to be something from which you can immediately make a living, then I recommend staying at your job and doing this on the side. If you’re currently unemployed, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking on a part-time job for income to pay your bills while you figure things out. But have a plan, figure out if what you want to do is sustainable and see if owning your business is for you!

Bonus tip: Have fun with it!

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