Shama is known for helping brands succeed in the digital age. She is the award-winning CEO of Zen Media – a global marketing and digital PR firm, a bestselling author of “The Zen of Social Media Marketing”, and a web and TV personality.
You have achieved so much in your career so far! What’s an accomplishment that helped shape your career?
When I made Bloomberg Businessweek’s 25 Under 25 list, my career blew up. People were coming out of the woodwork and it had a huge impact on the business. For me this was huge because I started Zen Media from nothing but $1500 dollars at 22-23 years old. I didn’t come from money. My family moved here from India when I was nine and I had very humble beginnings. I was an immigrant, both my parents were blue-collar workers and I shared a bedroom with my sister essentially until I went off to college. My journey to my first million dollars wasn’t so much about the money as it was about who I was becoming.
You’ve written 2 best-selling books about how to effectively market your company, what tips can you offer to our readers on marketing themselves? More specifically, how do we build our personal brand online? Would you recommend students up-skill in soft IT skills?
In order to build an awesome personal brand:
- Start thinking of yourself as a brand. What do you want people to associate you with when they think of your brand? This could be a certain subject matter or general traits you want linked to your brand, but this mindset will allow you to be strategic.
- Audit your online presence. You can’t mould perception until you know your current status – so Google yourself!
- Secure a personal website. This is the best way to rank for your own name in the search engines. It doesn’t need to be robust just your resume, links to your social channels and a bio.
- Find ways to produce value. A medium is not a substitute for a message. Find ways to produce value by creating and curating your brand that is in line with what you want to stand for.
- Be purposeful in what you want to share. Every tweet, post, and picture you share contributes to your brand.
- Associate with other strong brands. Find and leverage strong brands. Start with the three C’s: company, college and colleagues.
- Reinvent. A strong personal brand is dependent on a strong narrative.
As for possessing soft IT skills, I believe it is important to have a basic understanding of certain skills. You don’t need to be an expert in IT but a basic understanding can take you far because you can leverage that technology and knowledge to stay competitive.
Following on from personal brand, how do I ‘sell myself’ to a firm?
Be authentic about who you are and what you stand for, but do so in a way where you are conveying your value to the company, their shareholders, and the marketplace. Your value is in direct correlation to the value you bring. Additionally, to successfully market yourself, utilize your social media footprint to tell your story and speak your truth.
What would your tips be for students who are afraid to put themselves out there?
No risk, no reward. Take the leap! You are going to learn so much just by stumbling. Don’t strive to be a perfectionist but allow any mistakes to teach you a valuable lesson and help you hone your skills. If you are passionate about your career or your next venture, it is also imperative to understand your motivations and the parameters that you need in place to take that leap. There is always going to be risk, but have your own back and believe in yourself.
What makes you passionate about your work?
I love what I do and I have always been passionate about marketing. My passion has always been there but now my experience is in line with that passion. Building Zen Media has been very exciting because we started with digital marketing and we quickly stood out because while other traditional organizations had to pivot to learn this new digital language it was already native to us. Cut to 2020 when we are working with B2B clients around the world and combining our passion with execution.
You are obviously a very busy person, what are your productivity secrets?
I have been working remotely for the last 12-13 years (our company is completely remote) and in these times of COVID-19 it is really important to have a routine down. Build a routine that works for your current lifestyle and based on your understanding of how you work best. Test out your ideal workspace and utilize advanced technology to optimize workflows. I recently started using multiple monitors and bigger ones and have found my productivity has increased considerably already.
Finally, what would be your top piece of advice that you would give in hindsight to younger you?
Think bigger! We had a lot of success right out of the gate when I started my business because we were helping people understand social media when it was a relatively new concept. It gave me a lot of credibility within the industry and led to quick successes. For someone who came from very humble beginnings, these wins were huge and I thought “how could I ask for anything more?”. However, there is a balance between being grateful and wanting more and thinking bigger. The work I did impacted tens of thousands of people, but if I had taken the momentum and scaled and brought the right people on board I could have reached millions of people instead. It is important to have a spirit of gratitude AND still strive to make an even greater impact.