Posted: Tue 11th Jan 2022
Aarti Parmar has been on quite the journey - both in the spiritual and literal sense.
Now an Enterprise Nation adviser and award-winner, Aarti's learning endeavours took her from Singapore to St Albans, book-ending an eye-opening experience with Tibetan monks.
Sitting down with Enterprise Nation's content manager Ryan Elliott, Aarti chats through her life and career, as well as her imminent appearance at StartUp 2022 on Friday 21 January.
Much of the Enterprise Nation community will know about your incredible work in recent years, so I’d love to know your journey to get to this stage
“So, at university I did visual communication design, which specialised in graphic design. It was something I was always interested in, and when I finished, I had the ambition to work and travel abroad.
“My first choice was New York, and I was really excited to go there. But at that time, only 22 years ago, we didn't have Airbnb where you can just go and stay somewhere. I applied to hundreds of agencies in New York and eventually I got one. Amazing!
“However, I was going through a programme and I needed to get my accommodation sorted before they gave me the work visa, but I couldn't get it done in time. So it didn’t happen.
“I was just ‘okay never mind I’ll work in London’. I worked with a publishing house and I was doing all the graphic design for the books. I still had this ambition to work and travel abroad, and I ended up getting an opportunity to go out to Far East Asia.
“Three weeks before I left, I said to my parents ‘right, I'm going, I've got this opportunity. I'm going to go for about six months to a year, do a bit of travel and work ‘- I was 22 at that point. So, I went out to Singapore and from Singapore I got into Malaysia and started working with an ad agency there.
“One day, one of the partners was like ‘why don't we start a one-stop shop, you do graphic design, this person does colour separation, this person does printing’. I thought ‘why would I do that? I've got zero experience of running a business and I was still quite green in graphic design’.
“Basically, this guy’s view was there's a dime a dozen graphic designers out there. If it didn’t work out with me, he’ll get somebody else in. I had nothing to lose, right? So, I said yes, I’ll give it a go.
“And I gave it a go, and we grew very quickly and I swiftly went from doing graphic design to going out and doing networking, business development, marketing and being client-facing, and this was all very new to me.
“Long story short, I ended up being in Malaysia for 10 years. I was meant to be there for six months, but it was the most eye-opening, mind-opening experience that I’ve had in my whole life - moving to a new country, learning culture and learning new ethics and meeting a whole array of different mindsets from around the world from different sized companies that we started working with.
“Every day there was something new and you didn’t know what to expect. I also met something of a spiritual mentor, and I used to attend these seminars and workshops on the philosophy of life and mind-to-mind communication, and just found it really fascinating. I thought, this whole personal development thing was just amazing. He would have his own mentors, who were monks coming from Tibet and Thailand, and that was my first real experience of mindfulness and meditation.
“This journey started the whole mindfulness side of things and I'm telling you this because there is a link in a little while. I ended up being there for 10 years until deciding to return to the UK as all my friends and family were here - I started to get a bit lonely, actually.
"So, I came back to the UK, and it was at this point that I really got to understand the power of networking. When I returned, I had zero contacts, nobody knew me. I therefore just went to every single networking event you can imagine, in Harpenden and St Albans, building relationships and undertaking different initiatives to bring in footfall and just get more awareness for our store (by dad had a Bang and Olufsen TV and audio store).
“Though it’s a global brand, it was very much treated like an independent, family-run business in that sense - I was just doing the branding and marketing communication side of things, and my dad and his team were doing the execution, so I didn't have to get involved in all of the different aspects in that sense. I could just concentrate on this part.
“I was then approached by a bigger TV audio company who wanted to expand into Harpenden. This was actually a great exit strategy because I didn't want to take over a TV audio store, and my dad was ready to retire. However, this also left me at a bit of a crossroads - do I start my own agency, potentially work with a London agency?
“I actually really wanted to work with a London agency, but what happened was I'd go for interviews, and I kept getting rejected, where I was told 'you've got all this experience, but you've never worked with a London agency’. I just kept getting rejected.
“Eventually, I thought to myself I need to make a decision and know what it is that I want to do. I was already doing a bit of graphic design branding work on the side and one day, I just shifted my focus and decided I’d start my own business. And that's what I did – I got my website done, went networking as Aarti Parmar doing branding and communications.
“I also came across coaching. Somebody told me about coaching and after doing a free two-day thing with a coaching academy I quickly decided this needs to be part of my life. It was one of those moments: this is what I am, what I should be doing in my life.
“The more I was doing it, the more I believed I could help my clients take ownership and have alignment with their own brand before even thinking about any kind of logo and branding.
“I was now on my journey. I'd started my business and I also started a qualification in becoming a qualified personal performance coach. I did that, qualified and got a distinction which I was very happy about. And then I refined, positioned and fine-tuned my own business as I want to be known for these brand discovery workshops.
“I created a 10-step brand framework that I take clients through to help them take ownership of their own brand. I felt I can help other businesses fast-track and not faff around like I did for a couple of years. I helped to put more structure in their mind and give them clarity, focus and direction, and then bringing it into the space of creating brand identity that does align with their brand.
“A lot of business owners get this mistaken - they don't differentiate between brand, branding and marketing, so they don't take a sequential approach. What I do is help them to understand it’s brand first, understanding your identity as a brand, and then it goes into the branding, so then you can create what your brand stands for visually through messaging, through words, through imagery.
“And then that goes into the marketing. It's such a better flow because now you know what you're marketing and you're doing it with so much more intention and with a more mindful approach. This is what links back now to the Malaysia story of the spiritual mentor and the monks that I got to meet and learn from because when you're doing things in a more conscious, mindful, intentional way, you're in a much better flow yourself as well.
“I say my purpose is to educate and empower small business owners to mindfully define their brand so they can use it with intense joy and impact. When business owners are using their brand with intent, and creating a positive ripple effect, we just start to live in a better world. They're getting fulfilment and the people who are receiving their products and services are also getting joy and fulfilment.”
You are now an Enterprise Nation award-winner, of course, taking home silverware as a Branding & Design adviser. What does it mean to be recognised in this way?
“I was initially a little uncomfortable to ask people to vote for me! But then it became a little inward journey, going back into my heart and soul.
"I asked my community if they had found value in what I've shared, whether it's been through my bite sized brand tips, weekly newsletter, weekly brand challenges for business owners to help them get their brand out there or through social media posts.
“So that’s how it initially came about, but no way did I think I would be winning because I saw all these amazing people shortlisted.
“It was quite an honour actually. I wasn't expecting it, and even when I announced just being in the top 50 shows how many people actually do want to celebrate your wins, which became apparent when I was sending out newsletters and social posts - you realise the kind of relationships that you've built and the number of people who do want to genuinely champion you.
“The fact the award was also with Enterprise Nation was massive as well because I've always admired Emma Jones and what she's doing. I always say your brand is a vehicle to serve, grow and impact, and I think she's doing a fantastic job of having this platform available for businesses to serve, grow and impact.”
Finally, you’re speaking at StartUp 2022 on Friday 21 January. Can you give attendees a taste of what to expect?
“So, my session is called ‘The foundations of an authentic and meaningful brand’.
"I’ll be covering what some of those foundations are and the importance of going inwardly first, so then people can go out with clarity, confidence, conviction, consistency and certainty.
“If you’re building a house, you need a strong foundation. So similarly, when you want to build a business, you need a strong brand foundation. I’ll also talk about the importance of authenticity and meaningfulness because there's so much noise out there. How do you actually stand out through that noise, rather than copying, imitating or following the next trend? Are really coming from a place of authenticity and intention?”
You can connect with Aarti today if you're interested in benefitting from her superb business support.
If you're a budding adviser yourself, you can become one today!