Shama Hyder is a rockstar female entrepreneur and marketer. Seriously. She’s also the quintessential startup hustler. After graduate school, she discovered that corporations didn’t agree with her take on the future of social media and thought it was just a temporary fad. Most people would throw their hands up and say, “Oh, well.”
Not Shama, though. She decided to go out on her own and follow what her gut was telling her: that social media was and would continue to be extremely important to individuals, companies, and brands. And so, The Marketing Zen Group, a full-service online marketing and digital PR firm, was born. Since then, Shama has written a bestselling book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing. She is also a renowned speaker and TV host.
Technori partnered with the Young Entrepreneur Council to bring you a seven-part Q&A series featuring some of the most successful young female entrepreneurs in the country, including Shama. She shared her thoughts with us on staying focused, the key elements of starting a successful business, and how to scale a startup.
What habits help you stay focused and productive day-to-day?
- I believe a good breakfast fuels the day, so I always take the time to enjoy a full breakfast. I may skip lunch or grab an apple, but I don’t skimp on breakfast.
- I take mini breaks by taking a walk or playing with my dog. It helps re-energize me during the day.
- I keep daily, monthly, and long term to-do lists. Staying organized keeps me on point.
What ignited the spark in you to start a business?
I studied social networking in graduate school, and upon graduation, found that the corporate world didn’t share my take on the future of social media; many thought it was a fad. Rather than settle for a position with a company which didn’t share my passion or vision, I decided to start my own social media consulting company. Eventually, client feedback and demand led to us expanding into a full service online marketing and digital public relations firm. Today, The Marketing Zen Group has 30 full-timers and a global clientele. We grew 425% in our first year alone.
What are the three key elements you’d attribute to starting and running a successful business?
1) Adaptability. You have to be able to change your strategy and go where opportunity leads you. When we first started, we were a social media firm. When we noticed that our clients wanted more from us, we adapted by becoming a full scale agency. Your first idea is rarely your best one—you have to be willing to listen to what your marketplace is telling you and then respond to that.
2) Consistency. While success can be streamlined, there are no shortcuts. If you learn anything in marketing, it’s that consistency is key. You can’t give up after a few months. For example, we blog four times a week on the Marketing Zen blog educating our prospects and clients on the latest trends and topics. I’ve been blogging since 2008.
3) Luck. There is such a thing as right time and right place when it comes to building a successful business. I don’t deny it.
It’s no surprise that startup growth is often where entrepreneurs struggle most. What advice do you have for scaling a business?
You have to be willing to invest in order to scale. When we started, demand for our services exceeded supply. Clients wanted us to serve as their web marketing department. It was great that they trusted us and wanted us to do more, but we also had to amp up our resources to handle the work. We invested in talent and resources for the company right from the beginning. When clients asked us to take on more for them, we didn’t shy away; we embraced it. Today, we work with lots of startups who invest in online marketing because they know they need it in order to scale their own companies. Our best clients understand that scaling requires investing.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a female entrepreneur? The most rewarding?
I think being an entrepreneur is challenging across the board, whether you’re female or male. The toughest aspect for me is that since I can work from any where and at any time, I end up working everywhere and all the time. It can be challenging to leave work at the “office” when there is no office.
The most rewarding aspect of entrepreneurship has certainly been the ability to touch so many lives. It means so much to me that The Marketing Zen Group supports so many people with their livelihoods. Our employees, clients, their families, and businesses are all effected by what we do; I love that!
What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with? What advice would you give to fellow entrepreneurs instead?
This has become a common adage: Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.
I personally think that’s an awful way to look at entrepreneurship. To me, entrepreneurship isn’t about slogging away with some future dream of “cashing out” in mind. It is about the here and now just as much as it is about tomorrow. It is about making a difference, doing what you love and enabling others in a positive way. Life is too short to view entrepreneurship as a jail sentence. In fact, it is the opposite. It is the ultimate freedom to live life on your terms and to build something worthy of your life and legacy.
What mantra do you live by?
What I know about life:
“When you get to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.” – Edward Teller
What I know about education:
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler
What I know about business:
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic,” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910.
What I know for sure:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.