Being #GirlBoss And Everything That Comes With It

Two and a half years ago, when I decided to quit the corporate world and try my luck at self-employment, little did I know that the path held whirlwind lessons and experiences for me.

One of the brands I’ve had the good fortune of working with, is Arture. The brainchild of two young incredible entrepreneurs Shivani Patel and Keshsa Vasant, Arture designs eco-friendly, vegan, sustainable, fashionable accessories. Think functional yet sexy bags, wallets, laptop and Kindle sleeves – all made from strong cork fabric.

Over the year I’ve known them, we’ve worked out of each other’s homes – writing product descriptions, talking database segmentation, stalking bloggers over raw carrots and filter coffee, walking dogs, and skyping across continents.

I will forever be in awe of their thirst for success, and their determination to uphold the values closest to their hearts – something the big bad corporate world can sometimes severely lack.

Shivani and Keshsa came up with #Collaborate – an idea to bring together their team (designers, writers, photographers, stylists) every few months. For the day, one of us teaches the rest of us something new. So far I’ve learned how to dress to express, and had some solid lessons in home decor.

To mark their second anniversary (Yay Arture!) they put together the 2017 Collaborative: #GirlBoss Edition.

“In the last two years, we’ve worked with a whole range of self-employed professionals and business owners – most of whom happen to be women. We wanted to find a way to celebrate that with #GirlBoss” says Shivani.

Breaking The Ice

That title is a lie, because there was no ice to break. We instantly bonded over the challenges we face as 20-something female professionals and business owners. The team included fashion designers, make-up artists, accessory manufacturers, a fitness instructor, retail store owners, a wedding planner, a chartered accountant, a photographer, an NGO founder, restaurant owners, mums, mums-to-be, writers, and certified scuba instructors.

Our Biggest Challenges

Once introductions were made (and we found out that the doggie-lovers outnumbered the kittie-fans and the sole pig-enthusiast), we jumped straight into talking about the challenges we face.

Gender and Age

Making the choice to be business owners is the easy bit, what comes after needs some navigating.

“I need to keep my store open till about 10pm, so I was looking to hire a male store manager,” said K, who as much as she dislikes it, must think about the safety issues that come with women working late into the night. “When I asked them to come in for interviews, most of them rejected me! They simply could not fathom reporting to a young, female boss.

“Yep! Being a young woman can sometimes be an issue. The male tailors in the factory find it supremely challenging to take instructions from me.”

“There is an expectation that women should be polite and demure, so the moment you are assertive it blows minds.”

“I cannot understand the obsession with marriage and being “settled” in life. What does that even mean, “being settled”?!”

Our Own Worst Enemies

We’ve heard time and again that women are their own worst enemies. We asked what everyone thought of that.

“Can we all just agree that aunts are the worst?

“I was always being told to cover up my belly so people don’t know I’m pregnant. Seriously?!”

“At the end of the day it is down to women – at home and at work – to support other women. We need to stop telling girls that their biological clocks are ticking, that their main goal in life is to procreate, or that they “will change their mind”. It is a personal choice that needs to be respected.

“We couldn’t do what we do without our support systems – parents, partners, spouses, friends. But it irks me when I’m told “you can try, see what happens” I’m here to make a real effort at this, not to simply “try” until I decide to “settle down.””

“It’s most definitely changing though, we’re seeing our own parents opening up their minds to the baffling possibility that girls can be smart, independent business owners too, OMG!

“I want to just chip in here and add some more positivity to the table,” said V, who works with underprivileged women and children through her NGO. “Many people are scared for me, because I work in the slums. But it’s the women I work with who have inspired me the most. They’ve taken me in, and struggle to comprehend why I or someone who cares for me would be afraid. They stand up for and back each other up. Sometimes women can be their own best bets.

Making Compromises To Be Taken Seriously

“I had a store manager once, who was an enthusiastic, fresh-out-of-college designer, with new ideas and infectious energy. She was a fashionable person, and dressed to impress. But she found it so hard to get work out of the tailors because they wouldn’t stop staring at her bare legs. To date it is one of the worst things I’ve had to do – talk to her about making dressing compromises to be taken seriously.”

“I don’t even care anymore. If it means my work gets done, I just wear a salwar or a saree. I have a business to run, and I cannot fight every battle.

“And if you don’t look old enough to have had a few children and greying hair, good luck trying to get anything done.”

“I’ve taken unreasonably low-paid projects because the client wouldn’t take me seriously, and I had to prove myself to them while gaining the gracious “exposure” they were giving me.”

“Don’t ever tell people you work from home if you can help it, they automatically think you’re doing it for time-pass!”

Recognising Privilege & The Option To Fail

The very fact we’re able to chase our dreams and be our own bosses, comes from privilege. We’ve all got the option to fail – we can all go back to a job if it doesn’t work out, or our circumstances change.

“We acknowledge that we’re blessed with a support system where it’s okay to not have an income some months. We understand that we’re part of the very few that have the opportunity to take a shot and explore their strengths.”

“Our challenges as women are many, but we’re not living under a rock about the fact that men aren’t always afforded the same privileges. They continue to carry the pressure of being primary breadwinners, with an expectation to bring in a steady stream of income.”

“We’re seeing everything we’ve discussed changing though. We’re building and running successful businesses, we’re creating jobs, we’re making an impact. And those of us that choose to have children will hopefully be able to foster a respect for gender equality, and entrepreneurship from a young age.”

Meet The Entrepreneurs

Shweta Raman and Saloni Shah – Style Salad

Shweta Raman and Saloni Shah run the Style Salad, a curated gifting website for interesting and customised gift boxes.

Shahin Ansari – Maal Gaadi

Shahin Ansari is the co-founder at Maal Gaadi, a creative concepts store in Besant Nagar that curates accessories, clothes, jewellery and related products.

Lavanya Mohan Suhrit – Chartered Accountant, Writer

Lavanya Mohan is a chartered accountant. She also runs a personal finance blog, and writes for a whole range of media houses.

Shiv Dhanya – The Knottt

Shiv Dhanya is the Managing Partner at The Knottt, an event management firm specialising in weddings.

Indou Theagrajan – Indie Culture

Indou Theagrajan is the Founder and Principal Designer at Indie Culture, a leather apparel and accessories brand.

Roshni Sanghvi – Fitness Coach

Roshni Sanghvi is an online fitness coach, who builds custom fitness regimes to help her clients get in shape.

Shrutilaya Ramanathan – Makeup Artist

Shrutilaya is a make-up artist who works on fashion, bridal, and special effects projects.

Bhumika Bhatia – Portrait Photographer

Bhumika is a portrait photographer and has worked on some incredible projects over the last few years.

Vedika Agarwal – Yein Udaan

Vedika runs Yein Udaan, a non-profit organisation that works towards the holistic development of underprivileged children.

Kshama Adka – Shmoozie’s

Kshama is the Founder at Schmoozie’s handcrafted ice-creams. She runs a store in Chennai and takes online orders as well.

Sruti Ashok – Inai

Sruti owns Inai, a women’s leather bags and accessories brand in Chennai.

Swetha Rengasamy – Mezze

Swetha (second from right) is a partner at Mezze, a cool new Mediterranean restaurant. Special shout-out to Mezze for the finger-licking good food at the event.

Bandana Narula – Fashion Designer

Bandana is the Founder, Director at her label Bandana Narula. She specialises in bridal wear.

And JIC You Don’t Know Me

I’m the nerd making notes and sticking up my paw to ask a million questions.

 

Special thanks to Prachi, the photographer!

Also read: Inside The Entrepreneur’s Head.

Listen: A New Way To See Chennai

Even before we learned about the Partition in history class at school, our grandparents told us tales – tales of heroism and cowardice, of homes left behind and acquaintances lost. They told us of the fear and the resentment, the times they felt their hearts in their throats.

We listened wide eyed and fascinated, to stories etched in their memories from 7 decades ago. These were history lessons sans facts and figures, but they stuck. I will never forget them – they help me see an entire generation of people in a new light.

I understand why they are the way they are. I understand why they hold on to some material possessions and see no value in others. I understand their warrior instinct, I see why they aren’t willing to let go of some prejudices. All thanks to their stories.

Storytrails

When someone asks us – how is work? The answer is usually along- oh it’s all right, you know, my boss is okay and I have a wonderful team. The highlight of my day is lunchtime as this colleague brings hot mum-cooked food and has to bring an extra dabba for the rest of us!

As opposed to – Work is good, my office has a 5 foot long desk and the A/C is not too cold. I do have to climb up 50 steps though, but can’t complain.

We share experiences through stories.

Surely then, every city and its history has fascinating stories too. Some partially true, some cooked up through the ages, some mythological, some factual.

Going strong for 11 years now, Storytrails has regaled thousands of visitors to Chennai with its stories. The company hosts walking tours in Chennai, Madurai and Pondicherry, with ‘storytellers’ who will entertain you with tidbits you can never find in a book or blog, or even from a travel guide looking to make his quick buck and be done with you ASAP.

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Audio Tours

A brand new venture, Storytrails has now forayed into audio tours, offering trails on an app. It has been a truly humbling experience learning about my city, and lending voice to these tales.

Did you know, for example, that Chennai has one of the only 3 churches in the world, built on top of an Apostle’s remains? I sure as hell (sorry St. Thomas, I mean heck) didn’t!

I learned about Cenotaph Road, about King James’ new crown, the sparring sects of Christianity, the thieving British (but also the good ones like Annie Besant), the love-hate relationship between the English and the French that extended to Chennai as well. I learned about the mighty Pallavas and their mightier egos, that the Pancha Pandava Rathas have nothing to do with the Pandavas, and that Ganesha wasn’t part of Shiva’s family in South India for a long time!

If you live in Chennai, these trails are guaranteed to have you look at your own city from a fresh perspective. And if you’re a visitor, there really is no better way to learn!

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Download the app here, to walk (and listen to) the British Blueprints and Mamallapuram trails!

Editing A Book Is Hard Work

For what seems like an eternity, I have been editing a book by Peter Claridge, titled Chennai Expat Guide. The book started out as a blog post that was meant to outline a few things that expats need to know before relocating to Chennai. It soon turned into a mammoth 65,000 words piece of writing and lost the ability to be called a blog post!

Process of editing

Being an “editor” sounds pretty fancy – it is anything but. I’ve read, re-read and re-re-read at least 6 versions of the book printed out on A4 paper and spiral bound. The process involved hand-written notes, SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTER remarks, arguments with the author about including or deleting something, and just a whole lot of patience.

It didn’t just involve trawling for typos and grammar errors, it also included having to figure out flow, order, context of the content. The book is interspersed with illustrations, photographs and true stories, so it wasn’t simply copy-editing. There was plenty of quality checking alongside many tiny decisions – bullets or numbers? Titles or subtitles? Quote or story? Tell the truth as it is or sugarcoat? Throw the book away in frustration or power through? Continue reading Editing A Book Is Hard Work

Want Better Work? Treat Your Vendors Right!

The client-vendor relationship is complex – riddled with negotiations, expectations, and often, judgement errors. Having worked in an agency environment as well as on the client side of business (and now independently), I’ve been on both sides of the table. The very simple truth is that your vendors will perform as well as you let them.

What can we all do to get more and better work from our vendors? Treat them right.

1. Respect Their Time

The number of instances where I’ve arranged for a vendor to meet, and my superiors have insisted on letting them “sit and wait” has been disrespectfully high. When you’ve set a time to meet them, keeping them hanging isn’t going to make you look super busy, it’s just going to make you look unprofessional. Sure, agencies and suppliers need your business for a livelihood – but present an attitude of triviality towards their time, and you’ve got zero respect from them, for yours. Continue reading Want Better Work? Treat Your Vendors Right!

This Thing Called Work-Life Balance

Last April, I quit the corporate world to go down the path of self-employment. One year on, I finally feel brave enough to talk about lessons learnt, skills gained, fears felt, and priorities re-adjusted.

People are often stunned that I made the decision to leave. “You were so close to the mark, why’d you quit?” The reasons were many (and complex), one of them being I wasn’t sure what this magical “mark” was.

But the most pressing element that drove me over the edge is a seldom talked about issue – Burnout. And I was not alone, my colleagues and I danced around with our heads on fire, smoke coming out of our behinds. We all dove headfirst into the blazing corporate volcano, and forgot to take the extinguisher with us. Continue reading This Thing Called Work-Life Balance

Plastic Plastic In Your Trash

I recently anchored a conference on ‘Positive Attributes of Plastics and its Waste Management’ backed by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, Government of India. It sounded technical and when I looked at the programme sheet, I knew I had to pay extra attention to draft notes and comments. To my utter surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed every presentation and learned a few cool things!

The speakers and audience included industrialists, recyclers, educators, NGOs, government officials from the Pollution Control Board and Corporation of Chennai, along with a few students. I was honestly startled at the participation from the audience, having rather ignorantly expected silence and boredom.

In a nutshell, the conference discussed domestic and industrial use of plastics, its manufacturing techniques, technological innovations in the field, and most importantly – managing plastic waste.

I learned about how plastic itself does not pollute, it’s its mismanagement that affects the environment. I learned that most plastic is recyclable and that there are companies in India that are treating and recycling PET bottles and other plastics to produce wires, pillows, clothes, food packaging, zippers, carpets etc. I learned that it takes 6 PET bottles to make a T-shirt. Who knew! Continue reading Plastic Plastic In Your Trash

Copy-Paste Customer Support Must End

People who work in customer support live in purgatory. Their days are shaped by clients that are neighbours of the devil himself. Whiners, liars, freebie hunters, clueless dodos and screamers. It’s as if they are being punished for past sins by being paid for getting yelled at. It’s a tough life.

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My work roles in the past encompassed responding to online rants and the occasional shouty phone call. I once spoke to a guy who claimed to be a journalist (he wasn’t) and yelled into my now partially deaf ear for half an hour, because my colleagues stopped him from entering the nightclub without checking his ID and somehow hurt his fragile ego. I had to convince him they did it only because his handsome wee-boy looks threw them, and they just weren’t sure he was old enough.

Continue reading Copy-Paste Customer Support Must End

How To Create A Comprehensive Content Strategy For Your Brand

If your work revolves around marketing, corporate communications, public relations or social media, one of the most challenging tasks you probably encounter is creating an effective content strategy.

While having to constantly think of new things to write about, you also have to ensure product visibility without bombarding your customer’s senses with promotional content. Whether it’s writing an interesting blog, scheduling social media updates, discussing story ideas with journalists, or figuring out what to put in emails, writer’s block decides to hinder your thought process when you need it most. Let’s not forget the horror of allocating the right amount to spend towards creating and promoting your content.

A simple revenue based model can help provide instant visual clarity, and I have found it to be a good first step. While the example is of a hotel/resort, this can be applied to any industry.


Step 1 – Identify Major Revenue Sources
While developing a “persona” of your target audience is a great way to start speaking to them, this may not be the most effective way to begin if your business has multiple verticals of revenue. In a hotel for example, the major sources of revenue are rooms, food & beverage, banquets and spa/gym/pool/sports facilities. Continue reading How To Create A Comprehensive Content Strategy For Your Brand

Inside The Entrepreneur’s Head

Whenever I hit a wall and don’t want to face Monday, I either sulk the whole week, or look to the internet for some encouragement. As the startup culture only gets bigger, we’ve all read an exhausting number of stories about IITians and IIM(ians?) being excited by something, roping in investors and promising to change the world.

Sure, it’s all very pretty – but I think it would be more inspiring to know what business owners dread and how they overcome inevitable, industry-specific hurdles. What keeps them up at night? What are they most afraid of? I caught up with 6 incredible entrepreneurs – a game designer, a baker, a wedding planner, a photographer, a singer, and a fashion designer for some insight.

They told me about their business mistakes and fears. In what I consider very encouraging, I didn’t have to look beyond my Facebook to find these super inspiring ladies. Continue reading Inside The Entrepreneur’s Head

What a hotel’s Marketing Manager actually does

It is no secret that the hotel industry is one of the most demanding, exhausting, merciless industries ever. The role of the ‘Marcom Managers’ is unique to this field. Very often, they are a one-person team, battling for breathing space among pressing F&B Managers, Banquet Managers, Chefs, Revenue Managers, Sales Managers and General Managers.

They are expected to have magical promotional and PR powers, drive bookings through social media, possess a certain coquettish air, and be able to juggle vendors, printers, designers, agencies, journalists, budgets, returns, and multiple reporting bosses, while keeping their sanity. Continue reading What a hotel’s Marketing Manager actually does