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This year marks our 15th year as a company. To be honest, I am amazed that I got here. After all, 60% of Malaysian SMEs fail within five years of establishment. (View source) Bill Gates was right when he said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” So yes, I am completely grateful that I have made it past the five and ten-year mark to be where we are today.

The company is the largest we have ever been in terms of employment. We have different divisions in our business, from personal lifestyle photography to commercial photography, video production, and live streaming. As a tribute to the 15 years of hard work, here are 15 lessons I learned along the way. 

1. Passion will get you started. Purpose will keep you going. It’s not enough to have passion for the work that you do. At some point, there will be moments of boredom and a lack of motivation. Don’t rely on passion for the long run. Remind yourself why you started this business in the first place, and keep your eyes focused on your why. 

2. Surround yourself with giants. Work with people who are smarter than you, and you will go much further. You can only accomplish so much on your own, but a successful team generates tremendous momentum. Instead of trying too hard to fix your weaknesses, outsource work that are not part of your strengths. 

3. Be self-disciplined. Generate the right habits in your life and you’ll start seeing incremental results. The most effective way to be disciplined is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but who you want to become

4. Adopt a learning mindset. Even if you are really skilled at what you do, have an open mind and don’t assume that you know everything. Read more books, attend seminars to learn new things or speak to someone from a different industry. You might be surprised at what you discover. 

5. Redefine what success means to you. If your sole motivation for running a business is to earn profits, you’ll soon burn out. Think about what success truly means and how you are achieving that through your business. 

6. Take frequent breaks. It will help your mental and physical health. When times are stressful, learn how you can release that anxiety building up in your body. Rest is such a crucial part of life, and you must build a rhythm of rest into your routine. 

7. Constantly reflect on your progress. Reflection helps us review what has been going well and what can be improved. It’s helpful to get feedback from your staff or clients so that you can grow from good to great. The secret to progress is frequent little improvements along the way. 

8. Celebrate every win. It’s so important to celebrate small wins and not just the big ones. It keeps your staff and you motivated and creates a culture of appreciation. 

9. Be open and curious. Curiosity leads to creativity and innovation. When new technology appears, instead of being fearful, embrace the change, and think how you can incorporate this discovery into your workflow. Who knows, a new breakthrough may be just around the corner. 

10. Treat everyone with respect and empathy. It doesn’t matter who walks through our doors, whether it’s our client or the cleaner, I believe that everyone is worthy to be acknowledged and respected. Even if you are interacting with the most challenging person, just remember that everyone has a story about how they got there. You’ll find empathy if you go past the issues and dig for gold in the soul of that individual.

11. Systems and processes keep things in order. Every step of your operations should have a process, from pre-consultation to booking, fulfilment and delivery. Once things are in place, you can direct your energy to other aspects of the business. 

12. Be consistent with your brand promise. It pays to be a person of integrity. When you keep delivering on your promises, your brand will grow stronger and become more reputable. It makes it easy for others to refer your service to their friends or family. 

13. Push through the fear. There were many times I wished I had a blueprint for running a business. If only I didn’t have to face my daily fears of failure. At different stages of your business, the fear will always be there, but push through anyway. Face your challenges with courage, and believe that you have it within you to get through this. As a person of faith, my courage comes through prayer. 

14. Communicate your vision. When you keep sharing the company’s vision and values, you’ll attract the right kind of people to work with you and the right kind of clients. Instead of being profit-focused all the time, shift towards being purpose-driven. 

15. Say no so that you can say yes. Not every shiny object is worth pursuing. Sometimes you have to let go of some things so that you can say yes to the right opportunities. 

If you are an entrepreneur yourself, which of these lessons resonate the most with you? For the past two years, in my capacity as a coach, I’ve had the privilege of coaching entrepreneurs in their pursuit of their business and personal goals, gaining clarity about their life purpose as they do so. Running a business is challenging but it doesn’t have to be a lonely journey. I’ll be happy to do a discovery call with you. 

Grace is the founder, senior photographer and coach at Stories Sdn Bhd. Her early work spanned production for award-winning TV programs and full-feature films. She specializes in family and personal portraits and as a renowned photographer for over 15 years, she has worked with a number of high-profile personalities and celebrities. She has spoken to international audiences on the topics of branding, photography & videography. Grace was also named as Canon EOS ambassador between 2020-2021. Her mission is to connect people to their heart, so that they can show up authentically and live a purpose-driven life.