Shama Kabani: Building A Business On What You Love

Shama Kabani has been dubbed the 'Zen Master of Marketing' by Entrepreneur MagazineShama Kabani is the award winning Founder and CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, a full-service online marketing and digital PR firm dedicated to providing strategy and implementation services for businesses, organisations, and non-profits looking to fully leverage the internet.

Shama is the face of today’s digital world and represents the best her generation has to offer. She has aptly been dubbed the “master millennial of the universe” and “an online marketing shaman” by FastCompany.com. Her most recent honour comes from being named in the Prestigious 30 Under 30 List by Inc. Magazine.

The third edition of her best-selling book, ‘The Zen of Social Media Marketing’, was released in January 2013 and was ranked one of the Top 5 Social Media Books by Social Media Today.

Shama is an often-quoted expert on new media and technology. She has been featured in Business Week, Dallas Morning News, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal and hundreds of other blogs and social media outlets. She is also an accomplished international speaker and hosts her own digital series, Shama.TV. This show addresses new media marketing topics, trends, people and relevant perspectives. She also regularly hosts multiple business and technology segments on TV.

Shama formed The Marketing Zen Group in 2009. Since then, the company has grown to include a team of thirty, and clients that range from publicly held Fortune 500 companies to privately held small businesses and non-profit organizations. The company serves clients worldwide, including companies in Europe, Asia and Central and South America. Since its inception in 2009, average company growth rests at four hundred percent.

When not working directly with her team or shooting her shows, Shama travels the world speaking on business, entrepreneurship and technology. She is passionate about empowering youth, and works closely with the Young Entrepreneur Council in fostering youth entrepreneurship around the world. In 2011, she was the only woman delegate invited by the US State Department to mentor tech entrepreneurs in Cairo as part of President Obama’s initiative in the region.  

Estelle Ah-Kiow spoke to Shama about the inspiration behind The Marketing Zen Group, her passion for social media and what she loves most about her job.                                                

TNW: Where did the idea of creating The Marketing Zen Group originate from?

SK: When I finished graduate school, I was very passionate about social media and where the new world of media and communications was headed. I did my thesis on Twitter when it had a few thousand users.

I soon found that my vision was a bit early for its time. At the corporate level, they just did not see how social media would change the world yet.

At the age of twenty-three, I started The Marketing Zen Group as a social media marketing consulting company, but we quickly grew to a full service web marketing and digital PR firm due to client demand.

TNW: Did you encounter any obstacles when you first got started?

SK: There were obstacles, just like in any business, and for me it meant learning how to run a business, i.e. how to hire the right people, how to manage cash flow, how to manage clients, etcetera. Luckily, the support I had from my family, our clients and community was much greater than any particular obstacle.

TNW: What does a typical day at work look like for you?

SK: I wake up, have breakfast, and immediately start working with the Marketing Zen team on laying out the strategy for our clients, addressing any needs the team may have, and overall be in the mix of running the agency.

Since the digital world changes so quickly, it is an amazingly fast paced company, and I love collaborating with our team!

One day we may be planning a social campaign for a client in the fashion industry, and the next we may be analyzing search patterns for a B2B enterprise website. It is also not rare for me to be called to the studio – whether that is to shoot Shama TV, or report on the latest tech trends for Fox Business.

Much of my time is also devoted to speaking to reporters and writing columns for multiple publications. I am a firm believer in creating compelling content for your audience! And we have quite an audience at large. I usually wrap up in the evenings and make dinner for my family when I am in town. When I am travelling, there is no typical day! And I do travel all over the world, to speak on technology, social media and entrepreneurship. I get to meet fascinating people and see some amazing places.

TNW: What do you love most about your job?

SK: The ability to create jobs and support the livelihoods of others.

TNW: Tell us a bit more about your educational background. What program did you take and how did you find out about it?

SK: I have a Bachelors Degree in Corporate Communication and a Masters Degree in Organizational Communication. I chose these programs because the subject areas appealed to me and I greatly admired the professors. I believe you learn more when you admire your teachers.

TNW: Do you have any advice to give The NextWomen readers who want to work within the field of marketing?

SK: Marketing is a dynamic subject, and a changing one at that. Don’t expect your textbooks to teach you everything. Go out there, get internships, and round out your skill set.

To succeed in marketing, you have to be able to write, analyze, be creative and communicate well.

TNW: Is there anything that you would like to tell female entrepreneurs who want to start their own businesses?

SK: Money is not everything. 

Find something you love and build a business with that. Of course, passion doesn’t always translate into consumer demand. You have to balance what you love with what the market needs.

When I first started listing out things I loved, my list looked something like this: chocolate, reading, playing with my dog. As I delved deeper, I looked at my love of technology, journalism and communication. You will need to dig deep to get to the right idea.            

TNW: What should aspiring businesswomen know about search engine optimization?

SK: Search engine optimization is a complex subject. Here is a simple video on what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84fldPXDhPI

TNW: What gives you your inner strength?

SK: My faith that we live in a loving universe, and my family, which are proof of that faith, are what give me my inner strength.

Born and raised in Mauritius, a small island off the coast of Africa, Estelle Ah-Kiow is currently based in Mississauga, Canada. She is a writer at Swiggtalk.com and a member of PLAN Canada’s Because I am a Girl Speakers Bureau. A student at the University of Toronto, Estelle has been recognized with local, national and international awards for her writing and social justice advocacy. 

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