Fatima Zaidi; Toronto; @zaidiafatima
Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?
I’m currently VP of business development at Eighty Eight, a communications agency based in Toronto. The main objective in my role is to drive increased revenue and handle all inbound and outbound business. I work on increasing our client roster through partnerships, brand-building, speaking at events/conferences, media coverage and a whole lot of networking! On the side, I’m also a commentator for Global News, a content writer for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post and BetaKit, and chair of the DYPB Conference. In addition, I spend my evenings teaching sales classes at local tech schools like Camp Tech and RED Academy.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I was born in Oman, a peaceful and little-known country in the Middle East, to forward-thinking Pakistani parents who invested their life savings so that my sisters and I could benefit from world-class educations at international schools. In 2007, I enrolled at the University of Toronto to study a four-year honours degree in business and human resources. I decided to study in Canada because I believed then, as I still do, that this is an incredible country which rewards its citizens for their hard work without discrimination.
What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)
During university, I worked three part-time jobs to pay my tuition, including at the University of Toronto Career Centre, a call centre, and an HR recruiting firm. After graduation, I worked in the corporate industry for a few years, first at an energy company and then at multinational mass media firm, as a learning specialist.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
I’ve had a pretty interesting career trajectory so far and my background includes diverse roles in business development, marketing, HR and sales. While all my experiences have contributed to my personal growth and development, I think my first big break was taking that (incredibly scary but infinitely worthwhile) leap from the corporate world to the startup world. I’ve thanked my stars may times since then that I made that fateful decision to join the startup retail company, Rent Frock Repeat, as a business development manager in 2014.
Rent Frock Repeat gave me my first full-on exposure to what it takes be an entrepreneur and build a company from the ground up.
After three years at Rent Frock Repeat, I was approached by Erin Bury, managing director of my current firm, who asked me to join her team. I was still very much invested in Rent Frock Repeat, so I decided to get the best of both worlds by bringing them on as one of our clients at Eighty-Eight so that I could continue doing their PR!
Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?
In 2016, I was named as one of Marketing Magazine’s top 30 under 30 marketers and brand developers. During the awards gala, I remember looking around the room and marvelling that I was actually there, surrounded by so many brilliant people! It was around that time that I realized that my success wasn’t a fluke. I had built my personal brand around something I was really passionate about, sales, and what’s more, I was good at it.
What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?
Being in sales is always an emotional rollercoaster, especially within the agency world. There are days when I’ve felt on top of the world, with no holds barred, and others when I’ve hit rock bottom and become convinced I’m a failure. Losing huge client deals to other agencies has hit me pretty hard in the past, especially when I looked back and realized exactly how I had missed sealing the deal, but I’ve learnt over time to deal with these types of setbacks in a more positive and effective way. People often struggle from a fear of rejection and an inability to put themselves back out there after having hit a roadblock. It can become a hard pattern to break, and you end up missing new opportunities over and over again.
So, I trained myself to become a ‘yes’ person and kept putting myself out there even when I would get 100 ‘no’s in a row. I reminded myself not to take rejection personally, and that everyone (apart from the Richard Bransons of this world) will always get more ‘no’s than ‘yes’s. I forced myself to keep being persistent and, eventually, it paid off. My mantra in life is to just say ‘yes’ and figure out how to do it later! One opportunity eventually leads to another, and before you know it, that snowball effect is working in your favour. But you have to give yourself a sense of purpose and set an end goal, and then work persistently to achieve it with great determination.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
“Pick an industry, not a job.” My reasoning is based on pure practicality; after all, if you want to become really good at something, you need to invest years into it. It becomes increasingly difficult to do that if you start hopping from industry to industry and having to start from scratch. So, think hard, pick an industry you love, and start at the bottom. You will find your perfect role eventually, but it’s increasingly more and more difficult to win out over other candidates with industry-specific experience.
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?
I was once told that my dreams were too big, and I was too ambitious for a woman.
Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?
Early on, at the start of my career, I was rather condescendingly informed that sales wouldn’t be a great career path for me because it’s a ruthless industry and, as a woman, it would be hard for me to “keep up”. Naming no names, let me just say that success is the sweetest revenge, and I think I’ve certainly proved just how wrong that particular person was. However, I did make sure to send them a personal invitation to one of my sales classes—purely to be polite, of course!
On a more serious note, I have noticed that women in business generally earn less, are more likely to be passed over for promotion or in hiring decisions and definitely don’t push themselves forward to the degree that I think is necessary to really get ahead. Although the system itself needs considerable adjustment for true equality between the genders, I think we as women can, to a certain extent, fight for what we deserve by putting ourselves forward and learning to become CEOs of our own brands. While it’s difficult at first, I would advise women not to focus on whether what they say comes off as too strong or whether it might hurt someone else’s feelings. Instead, put that same incredible amount of effort you put into your work into your own personal branding and career as well.
Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?
I’m 100 percent making a fair income for my work but, then again, I’ve always set my standards high and maintain that you get what you pay for. That being said, I’m all about side hustles! From teaching classes, to speaking at various events, writing for publications, chairing conferences and doing TV shoots… if I’m interested in the opportunity, I always take it. It’s a great way to learn new skills, meet new people and boost your own enthusiasm.
What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?
That we can’t be homeowners because we eat too much avocado toast! Despite the ridiculous logic behind that statement, this is one millennial who firmly believes that you can both be a homeowner and also have what you want, be it avocado toast or something else. I ignore anyone who says that I can’t have it all. I’ve always believed that you can have everything if you follow your own rules and, obviously, aren’t afraid of putting in the hard work necessary to make your way towards your goal. It helps that I’m surrounded by various role models; like-minded people with inspiring careers who I look up to and who motivate me to say to myself, “That’s where I want to be—now, how do I get there?”