Selene Vakharia – Founder of SMRT POP UPS

For the most recent edition of FinanciElle “$tatements”, I had the opportunity to interview Selene Vakharia, Founder of SMRT POP UPS and  SMRT Women.

SMRT POP UPS is a marketing and events collective. They help clients dream big, tell their stories, build their customer base, and create conversations that engage. They work with businesses, non-profits and government to help them achieve their sales, marketing, and communications goals. Their approach is collaborative and focuses on using unique and dynamic strategies that bring brands to life and speak directly to your audiences.

SMRT Women is an award-winning community for aspiring and working female entrepreneurs. With programs, events, and workshops SMRT Women is about helping you cultivate the skills, support, and connections you need to build a profitable and successful business that you love.

Selene is passionate about using the power of data and analytics combined with nimble marketing strategies on a variety of digital and traditional platforms.

Paolina:  What has been your hardest experience dealing with your business and money/ finance and what did you learn? What advice do you wish you had gotten about money when you were starting your business?

Selene:

I’ve always been good at budgets and understanding my money. Or, so I thought I was. And then I started my own business. With money not coming in on a regular schedule without me thinking about it, I found it suddenly challenging and intimidating to understand what was going on. I lost track of receipts, I missed bill payments, I never got around to invoicing clients, my cash flow was all over the place, I missed way too many GST payments, and generally I had no idea how much I was – or should be – actually taking home at the end of the day. Although I had always felt comfortable with money, I suddenly found it something that caused me anxiety, and I didn’t want to deal with it.

There was definitely a lot of fear of the unknown. I imagined this very complicated world of business finances and my lack of expert knowledge in it made me anxious and stressed and avoidant.

A lot of this anxiety was creating a loop – because I was scared of it, I wasn’t trying, and because I wasn’t trying, I kept seeing it as this scary thing. Everything changed when I finally sat down one day, said enough is enough, and gave it a go. I realized that it wasn’t actually that hard or complex and that it was ok that I wasn’t an expert. I got QuickBooks and made it a habit to enter every receipt and invoice the minute I got it. The tool made it easy to invoice clients, keep track of my expenses, and even pretty much did my GST return for me.

There are two pieces of money advice I wish I had gotten when I started my business.

One: I wish someone had set me up with QuickBooks right away. It eliminates so much of the human error that can happen when you’re dealing with and tracking a million tiny pieces of paper. It also makes it so much easier to feel in control of your business finances. I love that feeling of control over such an important part of my business.

Two: I wish someone had told me about cash flow management to make sure that you have enough to pay yourself and your bills every single month even when all your clients end up late on paying you all at the same time. While I had been tracking my projected cash flow – or the money I was scheduled to make – for a while, I wasn’t using the full power of that data as a tool to really be in control of my business finances. After a couple of years of not feeling on top of things, and one winter when no one had paid me on time and I had $43 left in my bank account and all my cards were maxed out, I started to use cash flow management as a tool.

I started to hold money in my business bank account and pay myself a salary from it while leaving a good cushion in it to hold me over on months where I was invoicing less or where invoices weren’t being paid as quickly.

Oh, and three: Have a separate bank account for your business. Even if you’re not making very much in the beginning, it makes life so much easier when all of that is separate from your personal finances. This piece of advice would have saved me so much energy and stress in my first year of business.

Paolina: With your accelerator, helping women entrepreneurs build profitable businesses, what has been the most common issue you’ve seen with entrepreneurs and money?

Selene:

I find – much like how I was when I started my business – the most common issue is that people just don’t want to deal with it. They think it’s scary and hard and complicated and feel like they don’t even know where to start – so they just don’t.

But this has such a serious ripple effect. It’s quite challenging to build a profitable and sustainable business when you don’t know how much money you need to be making, when you aren’t planning for consistent cash flow, and when you don’t know what things even cost.

The money anxiety is one of the biggest limiting beliefs keeping entrepreneurs from feeling like they have control of their business and that they can truly have a successful business. It creates a lot of uncertainty that makes it hard to make decisions including knowing what products and services to even offer, how to price them, and even how much to spend on marketing.

Many entrepreneurs I work with don’t even have a business budget and are pricing their services in a way that isn’t profitable or sustainable because they haven’t accounted for the actual costs involved or the actual money they need to bring in.

Paolina: What is the profitable business framework and how does it help women entrepreneurs?

Selene:

The Profitable Business Framework is all about building a business and marketing strategy. Without a strategy, it is considerably more challenging to know where to focus, to be able to make decisions, and to know if you’re actually getting anywhere in your business.

The Profitable Business Framework is a masterclass that walks anyone who is starting or scaling a business through the steps needed to build a strategy that will help them create a sustainable and profitable business that they love. And best of all – it’s free.

Paolina: What are your current FinanciElle Faves?

  • Favourite business/leadership book? Currently reading Think Like a SheEO by Vicki Saunders. I’m only part of the way through and it’s already changing the way I see business and the world around me. My favourite concept so far is the realization that being in a world where so many things feel broken means that we’re living in a world of endless possibilities for how we can effect change and have an impact.
  • Favourite business/productivity tool? Workback schedules and Gantt charts – even though I don’t use them as consistently as I should, they help save so much time and stress when it comes to planning complex projects, keeping everything on track, and making sure my very busy brain doesn’t forget everything. I use them to plan client projects, events, and even my business projects. If you have a goal in mind of where you want to be, a good workback schedule is what you need to get there.
  • Favourite piece of media – TED talk, podcast…? I’m currently really interested in podcasts about Smart Cities and about innovation. I love learning about how we can use data and user-centered thinking to solve problems and make our communities better. I love hearing about how problems were creatively solved and expanding my notion of potential and what is possible. I truly believe that our ability to innovate and create amazing things is limited by our parameters of what is possible.

Photo by Marianne Vander Dussen

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