Shabari Saha

Shabari Saha

Founder of the London Vegan Business Network

I started my business venture almost 5 years ago.

Tell us about the venture/ business/ initiative you have started...

It came at exactly the right time. Although, I had studied international business at university, I didn’t have any practical experience of running a business. Therefore, when this opportunity arose, I thought that it would be a great way to learn the practicalities, while at the same time get the support that is needed to run a successful business. There were 3 words that convinced me to join the opportunity Lord Sugar (who is 50% owner of the brand), vegan products, and life coach.

I’ve been vegan for nearly 22 years. Although, there are a lot of vegan skincare brands out there. None of them ticked all the boxes in the same way as this brand in terms of not only being vegan, but also natural, harsh chemical-free, eco-friendly, and cruelty-free.

As a result of running my business, I have had the opportunity to give talks about veganism, chemical-free living and entrepreneurship to a wide range of audiences, including university students.

3 years ago, I also took over running the London Vegan Business Network. We are a network of over 600 vegan business owners, self-employed traders, start-ups, vegan events organisers, and budding entrepreneurs. I organize regular networking meetings.

What is your definition of success? What advice would you give to your younger self about "success"?

My definition of success is reaching a goal or achieving something that you have had to work hard to achieve.

When I was very young, I wanted to become an actress, model and even work for NASA. I never pursued any of those things. The advice I would give to my younger self is don’t let yourself get distracted, focus on one thing at a time, and just go for it. Even if you don’t succeed, at least you won’t regret not trying. It’s the things that we don’t do or don’t try that we end up regretting the most.

What challenges have you encountered on your journey and how have you overcome them? Is this a common challenge in your industry? How can we tackle it?

It hasn’t been a smooth ride at all. A lot of the challenges in running your own business are not taught at university. One of the biggest challenges has been people not valuing what I am offering, or not thinking that I have overheads just like any other business, and asking for discounts and freebies. I try to tackle this by having a no discount policy sign when I am doing events.

There is also the challenge of juggling all the different tasks that need to be done; finding, booking and preparing for events; social media content; marketing, promoting and selling; admin and accounts; recruiting, supporting and mentoring team members. One thing I haven’t tried yet, which should make things easier, is email marketing and sending out regular newsletters.

In regard to doing events, initially the challenge was getting people to try the products, as it was an unknown brand. However, now that the brand is bigger, the challenge is for people to buy from me and not from another distributor or from Head Office.

Since I started the business, a lot of people thought that it’s a pyramid scheme, and it’s been a challenge to convince them to try the products because of that reason. It is a common challenge in the industry. However, most companies are pyramid shaped in that there is a CEO at the top, then a few directors underneath, then a number of managers under them, and lastly mostly employees on the first rung of the ladder. The way that it can be tackled in the industry I am in is to have a fairer system, where it’s not just the executives that get given leads by Head Office. It would also be better if rewards were given in terms of longevity and other achievements, not just on sales and recruitment.

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? If so, are there any examples you can give and tips you can share with other women on how to overcome it?

Whenever I attend business networking events, I often wonder whether I am worthy of being there, as I don’t know if I can really call myself an entrepreneur or am even cut out to be one because I am not earning the big bucks! If you are feeling the same way, the way to overcome that is to think it doesn’t matter what stage you are at, many people attending these networking events will be in the same boat and the purpose of these events are to help and support you.

Are there women you look up to? Who are they and why are they inspirational to you?

Emmeline Pankhurst leader of the suffragette movement. She changed the course of history and because of her; women now have the right to vote, which is a huge step in not only democracy but also equality for both men and women. There is, of course, still a long way to go in terms of equality in the workplace, especially regarding equal pay but having the right the vote would not have happened if it wasn’t for the efforts and sacrifice of the suffragettes. This is an example of how rebelling against what was considered the norm has worked for the greater good.

What are your thoughts on work-life balance? Do you apply any techniques to achieve work-life balance?

I think that it’s very important to achieve a work-life balance. Stress can cause a lot of health problems. It’s easy to become a workaholic whether you work for yourself or for someone else, as you might be thinking that you need to put in all the hours to get your work done. However, you need to think of your health first. In regard to techniques, make sure that each day you give yourself some me time. Do things you love doing, rather than need to do. Whether it’s cooking, writing, reading a book, listening to music, singing, taking a brisk walk, dancing, or making something. Unless, you look after your well-being, which includes eating healthily, taking exercise and getting enough sleep, you won’t be able to function properly and your health will suffer.

How did you know it was the right time to start your own venture/ initiative? How would you advise someone who is just starting out with a project outside of their regular 9-5 job?

At the time, I was thinking of starting my own vegan business but I wasn’t sure what to do or whether I’d be able to do it. I’d only ever worked for other people, so it was a really daunting prospect going it alone. I’ve had so many ideas in the past, which were all pie in the sky. However, I didn’t want to go back into the corporate world where it was full of politics.

I would advise anyone to just keep at it, while doing your regular 9-5 job, until you have reached a point where you can go full-time. It’s a lot of hard work, and there will be days when you’ll feel like it’s such a struggle. What you need to keep in mind is your why did you start your venture/initiative in the first place and use that to motivate you to achieve your goals and vision.

What have you learned about leadership, entrepreneurship and mentoring others?

When I was at school, college and university, I was not a natural leader. Through my business, I’ve learned that leadership is not about whoever shouts the loudest. It’s about working together as a team and knowing and utilizing your own skillset and the skillset of others.

I’ve also learnt that there are skills that you can learn as an entrepreneur, but you also need to listen to your gut instinct. There will be a lot of time wasters, so it’s about spotting them quickly and sifting those out so that you are not wasting hours of your time on activity that is fruitless or unproductive.

In regard to mentoring others, how you can motivate them is key to their and your own success. There is a quote by Joel Osteen, which encapsulates this very well:
“Being successful doesn’t necessarily make you great. What makes you great is when you reach back and help somebody else become great”.

What mistakes do you see people make when they first start their own venture/ intiative/ business and what advice would you give to women so that they can avoid making these mistakes?

A lot of people, including myself, use the scattergun approach targeting anyone and everyone. It’s important that you do your own research into the market. It will save a lot of effort, time and resources in the long run if you focus on your target market.

Ensure that you have done a business plan, even if you are not looking for funding, and look at your business plan on a regular basis to check if you are meeting your goals and targets.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help and support. Don’t feel that you have to do everything yourself. You can outsource a lot of the tasks, which can free up your time. For example, hiring a bookkeeper, virtual assistant or PR/marketing expert.

Are there any resources/ books you would like to recommend for the women who read your #AspiringWomen article?

A while ago I attended an Effective Altruism networking event, and the theme of the event was about personal development. More recently I attended a Simplify Your Life event. There were quite a lot of useful suggestions made, which I would recommend to the readers:

Reading 12 Rules for Life, An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson
Researching Tiny Habits method : www.tinyhabits.com
Utilising the Anki programme (or Evernote/Trello/Pocket apps) for organising and remembering things
Reading the book Getting to Yes – negotiation techniques
Using the Eisenhower technique – time and task management
Reading the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Using the pomodoro technique to make decisions
Reading Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Reading Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy

Is there anything else you would like to share with other women on their journey to success?

Don’t compare yourself to others, who you might think is doing better. Everyone is different and is on a different journey to you. It takes time to build a successful business. Just remember your why to get you through the tough times. There are so many opportunities you can create for yourself, you just need to go out there and be visible. And if you put your mind to it, you can achieve what you want to achieve.

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