Dare to dream

(Left to right) Pat Law, Verleen Goh and Amira Karim.

Pat Law, early 30s, founder of social influence agency Goodstuph

Pat's aim when she started her branding agency in 2010: for the company to be in the black within three months. Turns out, it was never in the red to begin with.

Sure, she saved on rent, thanks to a good pal who had kindly extended her office space in his own agency for free.

But Pat also ran the company single-handedly for six months, doing everything from paperwork, making follow-up calls, networking, graphic design and writing copy for campaigns - no surprise that instant noodles became her best friend.

She stuck it out, only hiring help when she was sure she could pay her staff for at least a year.

Today, she has eight employees - all paid above market rate ("I refuse to run a sweatshop") - who dream up campaigns for big names like Sephora, United Overseas Bank, Ben & Jerry's and Nike.

Pat has even opened an office in Bangkok recently, and is set to open another one in Hong Kong by June.

PAT'S TIPS

- Need help? Ask!

"I'm terrible at numbers, so I hired an accountant on an ad hoc basis. If you've never run your own business before, get advice from someone who has. If you're not a natural salesperson, then don't bother with the cold calls and stick with existing clients."

- Don't behave like a newbie.

"Run your business like you're one of the big boys. Just because you're new doesn't give you an excuse to make mistakes like not replying to an e-mail or not sending out an invoice."

- Learn to say no.

"Don't bite off more than you can chew. In the early days, I had to reject a big bank as a client because I knew I would not be able to deliver the results the bank wanted."

Verleen Goh, 26, co-founder of ice cream company Soyato

A serving of ice cream that has only 100 calories? Verleen sure found a way to have her cake and eat it.

The food science major had always dreamed of having a line of healthy food products, and decided to create waistline-friendly soya milk ice cream after years of settling for boring sorbet.

In late 2009, she and her boyfriend forked out $100,000 (their winnings from business plan competitions) and started Soyato.

It took them half a year just to perfect the ice cream recipe, after which Verleen experimented with over 100 flavours before whittling it down to the four most popular ones for sale in stores.

Their creamy concoctions, sans preservatives, dairy and eggs, are a hit and you can now buy them from 23 NTUC Fairprice supermarkets. The distribution deal broke even within the first month and Soyato now reaps a steady profit.

VERLEEN'S TIPS

- Take things one step at a time.

"Break down a big dream so it seems less daunting. First, I focused on getting a great recipe. Then, I thought about getting the products out to customers and how to nab a distribution deal. Now, I'm hoping to take the brand international!"

- Remember why you're pursuing your dream.

"It helps you to keep going. Whenever I get stressed, I tell myself repeatedly that I'm doing this so people can enjoy guilt-free desserts."

- Keep calm and carry on.

"Lose your cool and you'll lose focus. I was a panicked mess the first time my staff didn't show up for work. When it happened again, I learned to take a deep breath and fi nd someone else to cover the shift - sometimes, I ended up doing it myself."

Amira Karim, 29, first secretary for economics at the Embassy of The Republic of Singapore in Washington, DC

Amira has met Hillary Clinton ("She has a lot of presence and is very charismatic.") and John Kerry, and chatted to members of the US Congress.

She even visits Capitol Hill regularly for work. But ask her what her biggest achievement is, and she excitedly tells you about her work in the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement - a partnership involving the US, Singapore and 10 other nations to create more business opportunities for companies, increase employment and attract investments from other countries.

It's a dream come true for Amira, who pursued her passion for international relations and economics at Singapore Management University.

She always knew she wanted to serve society after watching her grandfather give free tuition and run donation drives for the needy at a community centre.

At work, the gutsy go-getter isn't afraid to speak up and challenge experienced diplomats.

"Once you prove that you know your stuff and can be trusted, people begin to respect you - no matter your age," she says.

AMIRA'S TIPS

- Make friends with the people you look up to.

"I make casual conversation with diplomats and ministers before a meeting, so I form a more personal relationship with them. If I have to counter their points later on, I feel less intimidated."

- Don't be a pleaser.

"There will always be someone who doesn't like your decisions or is jealous of your success. Think about the people supporting you in your journey instead."

- Have work-life balance.

"Having a life outside of work makes me better at my job - when I'm relaxed, I'm more creative and can tackle challenges more effectively.

Even if I'm busy, I'll always squeeze in a quick run, cycle or yoga session. I also throw dinner parties on Saturdays (I love cooking!) and take Spanish language classes on Sundays."

Lily Goh, 34, founder of social enterprise Extraordinary Horizons

Deaf since young, Lily has never heard the powerhouse vocals of her favourite singer Celine Dion - but give her a piano and a mic, and she'll belt out the diva's songs with the help of a hearing aid.

In fact, the plucky lass took part in Singapore Idol, a singing competition, back in 2004 - though she didn't make it to the second round, the judges applauded her courage.

As a young teen, Lily taught herself to sing and took classes to learn the piano, xylophone and marimba (a percussion instrument) - she can "feel" the pitch of the notes when the instruments vibrate.

In 2011, she realised her dream of starting a management agency that helps deaf performers secure gigs with event organisers.

It was tough at first because there wasn't much awareness of deaf performances, but she pressed on, attending networking events and uploading clips of performances on Youtube.

Bookings have since doubled and she's ecstatic about being able to give her performers higher salaries - and perform more herself!

LILY'S TIPS

- Showcase your goods.

"People are more easily convinced when you let them try your product or service. I like to take potential organisers to our performances or let them sit in during rehearsals."

- Get more out of networking events.

"Don't be shy about asking for advice. When I fi rst started out, I didn't know a thing about marketing strategies, so whenever I met a marketing executive, I'd ask about things like how to use social media to promote my business."

- Calculate risks.

"Treat all new ideas as six-month projects and ensure you can cover costs during this period. Once, we wanted to have a regular fundraising event but scraped the idea after we realised that we couldn't sustain it for half a year."

Brenda Liew, 19, professional salsa dancer

At an age where the hardest decision to make is which school to go to after completing the GCE O levels, Brenda already knew she wanted to own the dance floor.

Soon after, she dropped out of polytechnic and spent the next three years working as a freelance dance instructor.

Her earnings went to paying her way to regional salsa events and workshops, which cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000.

She also tirelessly wrote to organisers to convince them to grant her a performing slot, and even sent them videos of her performances. Her effort paid off - she and her dance partner, Wee Tze Yi, 30, are now one of the few fully sponsored salsa artistes in Asia.

They get invited to dance events in the region and are paid to conduct workshops.

Her achievements are all the more impressive considering that she's not yet 20 - most pros are at least 25.

BRENDA'S TIPS:

- No one's too good to learn.

"Always listen to criticism. Even when I became an established dancer two years ago, my mentor told me I still wasn't following my partner well enough. It took a year of constant reminders to engage my body correctly."

- Go out and hobnob.

"I always attend the social dance sessions at salsa congresses and shimmy with as many people as I can to network. I'm not shy to ask more advanced dancers for a round, and I never say no when a less experienced dancer approaches me - it's important to have humility."

- Be proactive.

"In order to learn from the best international dancers, I saved up to go to their performances and workshops overseas. It's better than sitting around waiting for them to come to Singapore."

Siti Khalijah Zainal, 28, theatre actress

She makes the audience keel over in laughter - or tears - with her impeccable performances.

But consider her rags-to-riches rise, and Siti's achievements become more impressive.

The former Institute of Technical Education (ITE) student never attended fancy arts schools or relied on rich parents to bankroll her dreams.

Shy and self-conscious, she fell in love with acting after she pushed herself to take part in a school performance.

Not wanting to burden her folks (her father was a machinist and her mother, a housewife), she applied for funding from the Marine Parade Community Development Council to pay for a year-long training programme by The Necessary Stage.

In between the countless auditions she went for, she performed in plays for primary and secondary schools to gain experience.

As soon as she got her first pay cheque, she not only helped pay for household bills, but also gave her parents money for their expenses.

She slowly gained recognition, working with award-winning local playwright Haresh Sharma, and shared the stage with veterans like Karen Tan.

She finally struck it big when she played a domestic helper in Model Citizens in 2010 - the career-defining role won her the Best Actress Award at The Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards in 2011.

SITI'S TIPS

- Be patient.

"No matter how good you are, it takes awhile for people to notice, so wait it out and keep going."

- Be sure.

"I fell in love with acting the moment I stepped on stage for the first time, in an ITE production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. If you're sure of your dream, nothing else matters. No matter what happens, you know you're doing something you love."

- Be confident.

"I used to be afraid of being on stage - I thought I would be teased because of my size. But I figured that there must've been others who felt the same way, and when I auditioned for my first play, I'd just started ITE and nobody knew me, so I thought, why not? I'm glad I went for it because it paid off."

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