Priya Florence Shah is an author, blogger, podcaster and online branding consultant. She spoke to us at the Digital Women Awards 2019, about her big idea, how technology has helped her and how she deals with the various challenges of being a woman entrepreneur. Time for us to take note.

How did your big idea strike you? 

I got into digital publishing in 2001 as I wanted to stay home and raise my child. In 2005, my husband passed away from a sudden heart attack. In the aftermath, when I was grieving and healing from his passing, went through many healing modalities and wanted to share with other women how important it is to heal in order to lead a more empowered life. I started Naaree.com with the aim to provide women with access to  information they need to become financially and emotionally independent and have published a book titled, Devi2Diva, which is getting great reviews. My vision is to help Indian women empower themselves emotionally and financially so they can live their best lives.

How has tech and digital been an enabler in your entrepreneurship journey? 

I would not have managed to stay at home and bring up my child if I didn’t have the option of being able to express myself on my blogs and online magazine. I started my online branding agency thanks to the success of my online publishing ventures, so I consider digital and tech as essential to my success. The Internet opened up so many opportunities for me, helping me learn new things and connect to people and mentors across the globe without having to leave my home. Being able to self-publish on Amazon was a boon, and I would not have done all the things I’ve done today were it not for this medium.

If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that you have to invest in yourself and your learning and be willing to step outside your comfort zone. I’ve had to spend money I didn’t have so that I could learn and grow. I’ve had to learn to delegate and trust other people to do the work as well as I could.

At any point in your journey were you stuck with self-doubt? How did you deal with it?

I think all of us suffer from Imposter Syndrome at some point in our lives. If you’re a person who cares about others, you’ll always have some measure of self-doubt because you want to give your best and be able to serve them in the best way possible. So, yes I doubt myself every day and whenever I have to try something new. But over the years and thanks to the amazing teachers I follow, I have also learned the power of self-acceptance and self-compassion in healing oneself. I have learned not to judge myself harshly. These are some of the practices I teach in my blog, podcast, and books.

What have been your greatest challenges and struggles in your entrepreneurship journey?

If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that you have to invest in yourself and your learning and be willing to step outside your comfort zone. I’ve had to spend money I didn’t have so that I could learn and grow. I’ve had to learn to delegate and trust other people to do the work as well as I could. I would say that my own self-growth, bootstrapping my business and growing a team have been my biggest challenges. As one of my mentors says, your business can only grow to the extent that you do.

As a woman entrepreneur would you say you have faced discrimination in your journey? 

I wouldn’t say I have faced discrimination, but I’ve certainly had my share of #MeToo moments, especially in networking situations. I still don’t feel the start-up ecosystem is safe for women entrepreneurs in that regard. Some Indian men have a hard time thinking of a woman as just a colleague and don’t know how to behave respectfully with their women colleagues. That is why laws against sexual harassment are so essential. Also, I see many “manels” – a term coined by Tie Delhi and Sheroes founder, Sairee Chahal – to represent all-male panels that are so common in every industry. I mean, is it really that hard to find one good woman speaker in your industry? C’mon! I think, in this day and age if you cannot have an inclusive mind-set that is shameful. I see that kind of discrimination in the digital marketing industry too and have decided I will never attend a function that doesn’t have at least one woman speaker present.

What do you think women entrepreneurs need more of, from venture capitalists, government policymakers, start-up support programs, and others? And Why?

We already have a lot of government support and finance in the form of loans for women-owned enterprises is not lacking, but I think the most essential thing is having other women mentors and peers to support and guide you. It would be wonderful to have a community of women entrepreneurs who could meet often in each city and provide guidance, support, and mentorship. There are some organisations that are already doing that, but I think more initiatives are required for different industries.

Get a mentor or a business coach. You might have a passion for your product or service but you need to learn how to run a business or hire someone who does to run it for you.

What would you say have been your greatest learning on the entrepreneurship journey? 

My biggest learning is in the person I’ve become as a result of starting a business. The personal growth I’ve achieved is the biggest reward because it helps me deal with everything else in my life in a much more powerful way. I’ve learned that starting a business takes courage, and hanging in there till it succeeds is even more courageous. Many entrepreneurs give up too early in the journey or don’t take the time to find out what their market needs. Ideas are a dime a dozen, so having a great idea doesn’t mean it will succeed. Entrepreneurship is about providing solutions to problems that people already have. Also, I’ve learned that we women have a lot of power, so instead of wasting our lives, we can start a new venture and contribute to society. Remote work will become the norm and both men and women can use it to create better work-life integration.

What advice would you share with other women looking to become entrepreneurs? 

These are the things you need to do if you want to succeed:

  • Do something you have a passion for and that contributes to society in some way or you won’t find the motivation to go on when things get tough.
  • Solve a problem that people have and need solved. Don’t create something and try to sell it to those who don’t need it.
  • Understand your audience well. Know their pain points and the language they use in expressing it.
  • Build a great brand, both for yourself and your business. Today, brands are more important because trust is at an all-time low. If you can create brand that people trust and recommend, you’ll always have customers.
  • Get a mentor or a business coach. You might have a passion for your product or service but you need to learn how to run a business or hire someone who does to run it for you.
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