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Living Islam 2014: Shazia Saleem on Entrepreneurship

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Day two at the Living Islam Festival found us in a flurry activity as the crowds picked up at the bazaar. As lunchtime approached, we were all invited onto the fields for Jummah salat; a beautiful experience, with hundreds of Muslims congregating for universal worship.

Continually impressing us with the large variety of wonderful talks, Living Islam secured an exclusive lecture from Shazia Saleem of Ieat Foods. Entitled How to be an Entrepreneur, Shazia offered her expert tips on venturing into the, sometimes daunting but often rewarding, world of business.

You may have seen or at the very least heard of Shazia’s business venture. Her halal ready meals are available nationally in major retailers such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s. Ieat Foods encompasses a vast range of delicious classics from both British and Italian cuisines. So if you wanted to introduce your mum, dad or even grandma to the yummy world of Shepherd’s Pie, Shazia has made it simple and easy!

It seems that Shazia was born with business in her blood. The business mogul began trading since her schooldays. Starting with Gameboys and toys on the playground, she left primary school with £2,000 profit. By the first year of university, Shazia had four businesses under her belt.

So where did the inspiration for Ieat come from? Well, as Shazia explains, it stemmed from a “generational hunger.” The average British Muslim is well aware of the craving for dishes with non-halal meat. We’re sure that at some point, we’ve all spent some time salivating over a healthy dose of traditional Italian lasagne or a spaghetti Bolognese in the school dinner queue. And who can deny that they haven’t been tempted by the tantalizing aroma of a mouth-wateringly hot chicken pizza, fresh out of the oven?

Well Shazia, like the majority of British Muslims, experienced exactly this. So what do you do when you see a problem like this? For a natural entrepreneur, you fix it. Which brings us nicely onto Shazia’s top ten business tips for the budding entrepreneur:

Observe and ponder

“Entrepreneurs are like comedians,” Shazia says. Both have the natural ability to take a basic and obvious observation and turn it into a big idea – be it a comedy sketch or a multi-million pound business. Observation is key and one of the large factors of the success of Ieat. Shazia observed a problem and from there her idea was born.

Build Solutions

So what do you do once you’ve seen the problem? Well, you fix it. “But don’t just solve it on a basic level,” encourages Shazia, “always think one step ahead and annihilate your competition before they even start” (a piece of advice which we particularly loved). Shazia tells us to think about how you can make your business ethical, philanthropic and different, before you even take it to market.

Build your jigsaw

Treat your business like a jigsaw. Find the four corner pieces, then build the outline, and once you have the main structure, fill in the rest. An interesting but incredibly useful analogy to say the least. It’s easy to go in all guns blazing, but without a stable foundation, your business is likely to fail. Take your time to build your assets and build your jigsaw. Shazia is a big fan of sabr – “have patience,” she says, “it took eight years for iEat to move from idea stage to production!”

Be prepared for a setback

Shazia has been a businesswoman since she was 11 years old. Her stories are inspiring: “one month at university, I had £4,000 in my bank account. The next month I had £1.30. But the month after that I had £60,000.” Again, Shazia teaches us to have sabr and trust that Allah (swt) will always provide. A setback is a set up for a comeback.

Train hard

Entreprenuers are like athletes. An athlete’s routine is to eat, train, sleep and repeat. This is exactly what entrepreneurs do – live their businesses, make them their lives. “Be prepared to have no social life” Shazia warns.

Build a genuine brand story

A simple yet effective piece of advice. People connect with individuals, not large corporate companies. Be genuine in your business and let people be aware of who you, the individual, are – it wins loyalty.

Social Media

So you might not be social media savvy – you can’t condense your thoughts into 140 characters or less and you barely ‘like’ anything on Facebook because, who has the time? Well I’m afraid you have to make the time – for your business pages at least.

Social media is a great tool to start interacting with existing and potential customers. Much of your customer relations can build from simple things like responding to a tweet or a Facebook message. Build your online presence so people can find you and know what you’re about.

Be pitch perfect

“I have about 12 different pitches for iEat which cater for different audiences,” Shazia explains. When pitching, spend time on your presentation. Practise it. Memorise it. Deliver it with confidence. Include market research but use the data – analyse it and use it to your advantage. Shazia advises that you should be able to sum up your business in thirty seconds, and then in one minute, and then in five minutes and so on.

Get into the minds of your consumers

Understanding who your consumers are leads to a better understanding of what their needs are. “Once you get into your consumers’ minds, you get into their hearts” says Shazia. This links back to Shazia’s first tip about observation – always be curious and recognise where people are complaining, and solve that issue.

Stay true to your values

Shazia ended her presentation with a beautiful story about Khadija (RAS). Khadija was known for being a formidable businesswoman. Her riches were so extensive that on her wedding night to the Prophet (SAW), she gifted him a bag of gold equal to his weight. Khadija (RAS) could have been a billionaire however, she gave away the majority of her wealth to support the ummah.

In the final ten days of Ramadan Ieat Foods donated all their profits to Gaza. Shazia reminds us to ensure we maintain halal values because in the long run, that’s what will make the business healthy.

In a world where ruthlessness and callousness is encouraged in business, Shazia’s talk was refreshing. Her perfect amalgamation of Islamic ideals and good business sense was incredibly encouraging for Muslim entrepreneurs. She is a perfect reminder that it is possible to be British, Muslim and a halal businessperson.

For more info on Ieat see here.

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