Interview with Sharn Khaira, founder of the Asian Female Entrepreneur Collective
Find out how Sharn Khaira turned career burnout into the opportunity to launch her own business, Desi Bride Dreams – and how she now supports other Asian female entrepreneurs through the Asian Female Entrepreneur Collective.
What’s your career background?
My career background is online marketing. After university I worked at leading south west marketing agencies and worked with some huge brands helping them with their online marketing strategy!
But I left my corporate job back in 2014 as I was so burnt out and miserable and started my Asian wedding blog.
What drew you to the wedding industry?
From a young age I have always been fascinated with Asian weddings, it’s probably all those Bollywood films I watched as a child! I knew, even back when I was 18 years old, that I wanted to work in the Asian wedding industry, but I was never sure what role I would want to undertake as it is so diverse!
And inspired you to start Desi Bride Dreams?
As I was certain I wanted to work in the Asian wedding industry I started my blog back in 2014 when I quit my corporate job. The blog took off very quickly and before I knew it I had thousands of visitors per month. I launched my business, Desi Bride Dreams, 14 months later and just four months after getting married!
As I enjoyed planning my own wedding so much, I decided to just take the leap and I had clients as soon as I launched in September 2015!
I gave away free valuable content for 14 months before I put a paid offer out, which really helped to build that know, like and trust factor with the brides.
What do you love about the business?
In terms of weddings what I loved most was being creative! We worked on some amazing styled shoots and weddings internationally. Seeing everything come together with beautiful florals, lighting, etc was truly an amazing feeling. Especially with styled shoots, you have free creative reign which is just so much fun!
And what struggles did you have to overcome in building it?
I think the hardest thing in the beginning was taking the no’s when clients would turn you down, or book with someone else. I went through a stage at the beginning of my business where I was attracting non ideal clients, which meant they couldn’t afford me. I would be down for days on end if someone didn’t book with me.
I then really worked on my branding and ideal client profile and did a mini relaunch. Literally overnight I booked my first big London wedding!
Resilience is something I have really had to work on. I don’t think I realised how challenging running a business can be. But over time I have learned to not take things personally and as a result I bounce back quicker.
I see a lot of female entrepreneurs really struggling in this area. Everyone will always make mistakes and there will be nasty people out there but your ability to bounce back is what matters ultimately!
What do you think is the biggest key to your success with the business?
I think from the beginning I have always put my clients at the heart of what I do. For example, with my wedding planning business I didn’t actually put a paid offer out until I was 14 months in!
I regularly blogged three times a week consistently for 14 months, even when I was getting really close to my own wedding. I did a lot of collaborations and that really helped me get in front of a different audience and build up my audience numbers.
I did the same with my Asian Female Entrepreneur Collective brand. I set up a free group for Asian Female Entrepreneurs back in March 2017 and, apart from my London workshops, I didn’t sell anything for a whole year!
I showed up regularly with valuable free content in relation to marketing and mindset via lives and posts for a whole year. I focused on nurturing my audience and building relationships. I also had really good reviews from my workshops so this really helped sell out my programmes last year.
Too many people want to sell without first building any expert status or credibility. It feels spammy and off! In this day and age I really do feel it’s about your clients, and the results you can get them. A lot of my programmes have sold out because of word of mouth referrals which makes me so happy.
It was the same with the wedding brand.We really focused on building an excellent bank of testimonials so the clients would know they could trust us with their big day!
You now support female Asian entrepreneurs. How do you help them?
In terms of the Asian Female Entrepreneur brand, I support Asian female entrepreneurs through mentoring, masterminds and I have my own membership site too. I use a mixture of mindset and strategy, which I really do feel is the winning formula! We also just hosted our live event in London which 50 women attended. Next year we are going bigger which I am super excited about!
Why focus on this niche in particular?
What I have always found in business is that niching down can really create a successful and fulfilling business. I know my audience have specific challenges and barriers relating to the Asian culture. Because I have been where they are this is so connected and aligned to me as a person and a entrepreneur.
I always feel when you can really niche down and understand your client’s problems and pain points you will alwaysresonate and connect with them.
For example I know about the patriarchy, cultural barriers and family limitations and when you understand your audience on that deep level you resonate so much more with them.
Are there any specific barriers or struggles female Asian entrepreneurs face?
Oh gosh so many! Being a woman of colour and in business I feel like this can be a disadvantage sometimes.
For example, I hardly see any Asian women speaking at big events, workshops or even on podcasts. I think because our culture is so closely linked to worrying what people will think, shame and judgement. I have really seen this play out in my own business and for the women I work with.
I know it sounds bizarre but in our Asian culture a lot of importance has always been put on other people’s opinions and how others will perceive you.
So, for example, when I was a child I wasn’t able to cut my hair or socialise with other children outside of school. I wasn’t even allowed to wear makeup. This wasn’t because my parents perhaps didn’t like the above things, it was because they were worried about what other people would think.
My whole thinking whilst growing up was wired towards what will others think. This naturally then plays out in business.
So how this translates into our business practice is that we have some serious visibility blocks and we are scared to fully put ourselves out there because we are worried about what other people think! These “other people” are normally peers, family and friends.
And how can they overcome them?
I think it really comes down to your dreams being bigger than your fear. If you don’t put yourself out there in terms of marketing etc then it will have an impact on your business.
For me it has been really connecting with my why and why it is that I am doing this. For me just earning more money didn’t motivate me. I come from a deprived background and we didn’t have much when I was growing up.
I think being around a supportive environment has helped me a lot. Since I started I always invested in mentors and group programmes and that really helped me.
You also have to LOVE what you do! Because when there are hard days (and there are) your love for what you do will keep you going!
What single quality do you think enables you to be successful?
I think not caring about what others think of me. You will always be judged either way so you might as well put yourself out there and live into your true purpose daily.
This hasn’t been easy for me and I was petrified in the beginning of my business. I was so concerned with what my family and friends would think of me. But the more visible you are the more revenue and success you will have (whatever that looks like for you).
And what quality do you most admire in other entrepreneurs?
Tenacity. Being tenacious in business is an excellent quality to have. And for me tenacity means the absolute drive to keep on going through the challenging and hard times and of course being persistent.
I firmly do believe anything is possible and I think as a female entrepreneur you need to have the ability to pivot and go again when things don’t turn out as expected. There are always learnings and feedback. There is never any failure.
And finally, what are your top three tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?
1) Be passionate
I know this sounds simple but the amount of people I see in the online space aren’t actually passionate about what they do and just are driven by the money. Business is hard and unless you are passionate you can’t keep going.
2) Ask for the sale
Without sales, you don’t have a business, you have a hobby. I think some women come with a lot of money blocks and they don’t charge their worth. That sometimes comes down to how much confidence they have in their product or service.
But if you are passionate, have belief in your product and you know it is good then ask for the sale! There are of course ways to not come across as spammy but if you don’t ask for the sale you will miss out on both revenue and opportunities.
In the beginning this was a struggle area for me as well, but I had to really work on my sales techniques and objection handling. It comes with time and practice, so make sure you are always prepared for clarity calls and consultation meetings.
3) Prioritise your mindset every single day
I firmly believe that becoming a successful entrepreneur is a inner game. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I have seen huge transformation not just in myself but other women I mentor when they master their mindset.
The thing with mindset work it really is never ending. I feel as women we can come with a lot of mindset blocks. I always start my day with gratitude and it gets me into the space of feeling grateful and abundant!
I also always write out my goals every single day. This is so that I am super clear and intentional with my day and what I am working towards. It is very easy to get bogged down and busy. You need to be clear on what the activities and goals are in your business that are moving the needle forward on a daily basis.
You can find out more about Sharn at the Asian Female Entrepreneur Collective.