When I first met Zafira Rajan, I had just launched Coffee & Smiles to the world (just two weeks prior, in fact!). I attended an event called Assembly Expo, a small business summit hosted by Salt Design Company co-founders Daphne Wong and Lucy Gregory (read their story here).
As a fledgling entrepreneur and side-hustler, I had Googled everything you’re supposed to Google when you first start a business. But no amount of Googling removes the pendulum swings of excitement and fear that come with taking a leap so large and having no idea where you’ll end up.
I started C&S because I wanted to share the stories of other women like myself who chose to become entrepreneurs, despite all the risk and uncertainty. Maybe it was because they had a yearning to live life on their own terms, follow a passion and create their own schedules, or perhaps entrepreneurship found them instead. Whatever the reason, there’s a sense of joy and unity that comes with hearing the stories of other likeminded people all experiencing similar journeys.
I’m so excited for you all to learn more about Zafira, a Vancouver-based copywriter extraordinaire and brand strategist who helps conscious business owners create amazing copy. Below, Zafira shares her entrepreneurship “why”, what inspired her to take the leap, and how she tackles uncertainty and self-doubt as a full-time business owner.
Tell us about your business and how it got started!
Before taking my copywriting business full-time, I worked in marketing at The University of British Columbia. I knew within my first year of 9-5-ing that I would be better suited to a flexible way of working, and after starting and writing two columns for The Daily Hive, I got the freelancing itch.
Over two years, I had clients reach out to support them initially with social media management and blog writing, and I knew I could run my own business eventually. So I switched to a part-time contract position at UBC for one year (so that I would have two days to work with clients) while I built up my network, focused on my branding and by the time the year was up…I was ready to dive in!
Did you always have a love for writing? How did you develop your skills as a writer?
Yes! I used to pen short stories about mermaids as a kid. Too many mermaid stories, actually. I loved writing poetry, too. Creative writing is something that never felt hard ( I routinely failed calculus), and it truly is such a gift to feel like something comes naturally to you.
It took me a long time to realize that writing was it, but even then I didn’t realize it could be my career till much, much later (you’re looking at an Economics Major who had to convince her parents switching to English Literature would be a good idea in her second year of university).
It sounds simple, but the best way to develop your writing skills is to…write. A lot. I don’t do it often enough now for myself! But in the way we market today, it can manifest in so many forms. I recommend picking a platform to write on that you know you can commit to consistently, something that doesn’t feel like a total chore. It could be emails to your list, Instagram posts, blog posts; The more you keep at it with one thing, the easier it will feel eventually. 750 Words is a great way to start, too.
And of course: reading! I literally don’t go anywhere without a book or my Kindle. Knowing me, I’ll probably retire as a librarian one day (pin-drop silence surrounded by books? Yes please!). I don’t think I would have stepped into writing with so much passion or continue to write well if I wasn’t constantly reading three books at a time. It’s a habit that takes time to cultivate if it’s not part of your ritual right now, and for me it’s always been reading before bed, even if it’s just one page.
Going freelance is a huge step! What made you decide to take the leap? Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
The trigger for making the leap was one too many days spent looking at the clock, work completed for the day, but two hours left till I could go home. The agony of that wasted time! I couldn’t take it. I like to maximize every hour of the day productively. Or even if it’s not productive, make decisions on *my* time!
I am the kind of person that needs to be driven and very, very fulfilled by my work. I knew the second I began falling sick often and started dreading coming into an office that working in a space with limited flexibility wouldn’t make me happy in the long run. I don’t believe in “sticking it out”. I jump when I’m too comfortable and learn as I go. Either way, it’s my decision.
Did I always want to be an entrepreneur? Nope. My parents ran a bistro and butchery for my entire life and the stress I saw it inflict on them was something I never wanted. I love being my own boss now, but at the same time I’ve always struggled with my innate need for financial security. I thought a life of working where pension matching, health benefits and paid vacation was going to be dreamy time.
And it was for two years, for those reasons. But ultimately, I knew I’d be sacrificing something either way. I could sacrifice my enthusiasm and creativity in favour of benefits, or I could sacrifice benefits to start building something bigger than myself. I chose the latter, and even though it’s not a perfect world, I genuinely love the work I do and that’s what I need to get through my days.
What were some of the challenges you faced in the early days of your business and how did you deal with them?
Do we have time for a novel? No? Alright, I’ll keep it short (ish). Here were some of my key challenges:
Finding my voice: After years of writing for everyone else, all of a sudden, I had to market ME! And the tangle of voices I was taking on truly messed with my brain. I felt so stuck figuring out how to step into a business-y persona and still stay authentic.
Long story short: I took a risk and went to a summer writing workshop in Italy with a killer copywriter who knows *all* about this. I emerged feeling renewed and confident in who Zafira The Business Owner was and wanted to engage.
Finding aligned clientele: In the beginning, most freelancers are happy to take any work that comes their way. Because, obviously, cool! Someone wants to give me money! Great! But like others, I quickly realized that that wasn’t going to be a sustainable way of working for me. I had taken the intentional step of starting my own business so that I would love everything I would be working on, everyday.
I had accidentally locked myself into retainer agreements that not only limited my capacity to take on new work, but also stunted my creativity over time. It was an important lesson in being open to experimenting with my offers, ways of working and seeking out ideal clients instead of waiting for work to come to me, because that’s not always going to be what’s best for you.
Finding out what I was “worth”: Honestly, I still don’t know. But in the beginning, I charged embarrassingly low rates that I shudder to look at now. I think we’re all being more transparent about money nowadays, but we can do better.
I spent far too much time trying to understand what industry rates were or where I fitted in with my level of experience! Ultimately, joining group masterminds and programs with other copywriters and connecting with mentors helped me gain clarity on confidence to charge what I needed to.
Finding time to work *on* my business: We all start businesses with dreams of waking up late, working the hours we want and taking lots of glamorous remote-work vacations, but that is often very, very far from the truth. My scarcity mindset initially propelled me into working 10-hour days (my partner had to call me out for clacking away at my keyboard in bed at 10:45PM) and feeling guilty for taking time off.
And in the process, I was falling into project upon project, without taking time to not only rest, but to take a step back, reflect and dedicate space to moving myself forward strategically. It’s still a work in progress, but now I make more concerted efforts to travel for conferences, pad my timelines, spend a day every two weeks solely on my business and recognize that while there will *always* be client work, nothing is ever a copy emergency!
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*insert nervous laughter* i did my first ever video interview 🙊 with @sixfigurefreelancers and just like hearing a recording of your voice… it's all kinds of wonderful and weird for me to watch!👩💻⠀ ⠀ if you're curious to know…⠀ ⠀ ✨ how i made six figures in my first year of freelancing⠀ ✨ what it takes to make the leap & find clients⠀ ✨ why i'll never return to the 9-5 grind⠀ ✨ the tools i use to run my copywriting business⠀ ✨ how i balance work, life and wellness⠀ ⠀ … and basically all the details about my freelancing journey so far, you're in for a treat 🍭 i’m a firm believer in being 100% transparent about all things biz, money and wellness, so here goes🤞 tap the link in my bio to watch my convo with coach + @sixfigurefreelancers course creator, @kbagoy! 💕⠀ ⠀ 📸 by the talented @alexamazzarello. ⠀ ⠀ #businessmindset #businesswomenontherise #creativeentrepreneur #freelancelife #freelancewriting #womensupportingeachother #risktakers #entrepreneursofinstagram #wellnessgoals #healthymind #smallbusinesslove #sixfigurefreelancer #copywriters
How do you deal with fear and self-doubt as an entrepreneur?
It’s a constant work in progress! Here are a couple of ways I try to keep my freak-outs to a minimum:
Noticing my high and low seasons. A big contributor to my fear is always “what if I don’t have enough work to get me through this month or the next?” and I’ve learned that my business has cycles. Now, I know what months of the year I’m less likely to receive high volumes of inquiries, and which ones will have me burned out.
It’s part of knowing your audience and trusting that if you’ve been putting in the time to market yourself and do good work consistently, you’ll be fine. And even if you’re not, it’s always useful to build up a strong referral network that you can tap into when your workload is low. There’s always enough work to go around, and someone always needs help (or knows someone else that does!).
Seeing a counsellor. Our mental health as entrepreneurs is so, so important. I started seeing a counsellor last year when I was dealing with sky-high levels of anxiety and waves of depression. There’s so much rattling around in our brains all day, it is ridiculously helpful to offload that and have someone else notice *your* patterns, which can help you figure out coping mechanisms in the process.
Practicing gratitude and daily meditation. I swear by The Five Minute Journal. I use it every morning and evening to help remind me that (a) I am good at what I do (b) even the crappiest days have silver linings and (c) I am incredibly lucky to live the life I lead, on my terms. I also love meditating using Insight Timer or In Bed With Betty. Because yes, there will always be fear. Yes, some days will suck. But it’s part of the lifestyle we’ve chosen, and if we can notice all the good stuff that comes with this crazy ride we’re on and tune into our inner self, we can shift our perspective.
How long has it been since you started freelancing?
I started my business part-time in 2014, but I’ve been working solo full-time since January 2016 and incorporated in 2018. Woohoo!
“I could sacrifice my enthusiasm and creativity in favour of benefits, or I could sacrifice benefits to start building something bigger than myself. I chose the latter, and even though it’s not a perfect world, I genuinely love the work I do and that’s what I need to get through my days.”
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
I want to say yes, but I also know that I wouldn’t have ended up here if I hadn’t been on my unique journey. Just remember to always honour the intentions you started with and that there is always enough work to go around!
What advice do you have for aspiring creatives who want to work for themselves and pursue their passions but are nervous about the uncertainty?
I always ask aspiring entrepreneurs in my circle this key question:
“If you do this, what is the worst thing that can happen?
And then I follow it up by:
“What is the BEST thing that can happen?”
This is how I coached my own brain through my transition from being employed full-time to being my own boss. We have to be both practical and risky, and I get that. Something else that helps is to save up until you a nest egg of six months income tucked away, should you need to dip into it as you start on your entrepreneurial journey. That’s what I did and it helped me get over my initial fear of not having enough money.
Mindset wise, these questions always showed me that nothing has to be permanent. My answer to the first question was always: “I won’t succeed and I’ll have to find a job.” Well, isn’t that where we all begin, anyhow? I knew that if gave up on my dream to work for somebody else one day, I wouldn’t have failed.
I’d be doing what’s best for me (with a whole load of high-level entrepreneurial experience) and just move along, continuing to experiment. We like to lock ourselves into boxes, but I believe that doing good business means constantly experimenting to listen to what we need and what our audience wants.
We live in a world where our options are endless. If we’re smart about it, we can choose what feels aligned and step into that space knowing that there can always be a backup plan, but mostly, that we can choose the real joy of fulfillment–the BEST thing that can happen–first.
What’s next for you and your business?
Lots of exciting things! I’m relaunching my website in January 2020, a fun quiz funnel (the new lead magnet #hotmarketingtip!), a fresh group program in early spring for small business owners and I’ve been experimenting with working 1:1 with clients for a full day, which has been a super fun and rewarding experience for both parties. I’m constantly investing in my business and shaking things up, so I look forward to continuing to do that in 2020 and beyond!