Have you heard the phrase “reinvent yourself”? I’ve been connecting with so many women leaders lately exactly about this topic.
I would love for you to both make sure you keep your dreams close to your heart and action game and keep up on dreaming big in order to show up online in a way that will attract the people YOU WANT in your ecosystem.
Salima Valji is an entrepreneur, a Digital Leadership veteran with 20+ years of experience as an executive, consultant, and coach driving leadership, performance, and clarity.
In today’s episode, Salima and I discuss the different layers of actions it requires to find your niche, your platforms and the right fit on the market.
The first step in becoming a great leader is to be the first one to make yourself vulnerable. Whether it’s asking for feedback from your employees, live-streaming working hours with fans or publishing each month’s goals on social media, vulnerability is imperative when you’re seeking consistency as a leader and developing relationships with your team and followers.
It also changes how you feel about the person when they’ve shown that they are open enough to share themselves. You’ll find being more open will create an atmosphere of both intimacy and trust where others can do the same. With ongoing practice, progress builds up – eventually leading to dramatically increased performance levels all across the board!
My guest today will blow your mind. She shares all the things she did to get the life she really wanted as her family immigrated to Canada and settled on a farm in Alberta.
Now, if you’re ready to share more of your story online so that you can showcase the benefits of your programs and services, grab this FREE little guide I created for you: 10 Storytelling Ideas For Women Entrepreneurs
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0:00:00.0 Angélique Benit: We are live. Welcome to The Real Story Behind Our Business, and today we have an amazing guest all the way from Canada, Toronto, is that?
0:00:11.1 Salima Valji: Toronto. Yes, yeah.
0:00:13.4 AB: And we are gonna deep dive into the beautiful story that is behind your lovely smile and I can’t wait, I told… Like when we were preparing, I told Salima, “Don’t tell me, don’t tell me,” because I said, “I love the background with the fashion stuff in the back,” and she says, “That’s what I’m… ” So I’m like, “Shh, I don’t want to know now, keep it juicy for me even during the live.” [laughter]
0:00:33.7 SV: Yeah.
0:00:35.3 AB: So welcome aboard and so the show, as I was telling you in the backroom, backstage, that it’s a show to inspire women entrepreneur to share their story in a way they can showcase and connect with other humans around why they came to build the business that they’ve built, and who they help and how it impacts not only their lives, but also others’ lives. So today, I’m gonna let you introduce yourself and I always ask when you introduce yourself, tell us who you help in that world right now.
0:01:13.4 SV: So hello everybody. My name is Salima Valji. I am the CEO of Unleash Forward. I’m on a mission to get more diverse voices to the leadership table, and I do that by helping leaders build their leadership voice so that they’re able to lead confidently with calm and credibility. And I do this with both coaching, one on one coaching, group coaching and then training and facilitation. And who I typically work with is folks in corporate America, usually the director level and up. I come from a digital and technology background, and so I tend to work with more companies or teams that are in the digital and technology space.
0:01:57.9 AB: Yeah, I saw that you have big names at your… That’s just awesome, I love it because I saw that you were a digital girl, and then we’re like, “Oh, we kind of share the same world.”
0:02:08.2 SV: Yeah. [laughter]
0:02:10.2 SV: Yeah, that’s an interesting part of my story because I used to build and run digital agencies and yeah, and so you’re right. I used to work at Microsoft and now they’re one of the people I serve, one of the companies I serve. I’ve had the pleasure of working with companies like with Google, HP, Accenture, Deloitte, many, many other companies, but it’s been really great.
0:02:38.8 AB: Wow, yeah, and then you went fast from what I understood, so tell me… Let’s start at the beginning.
0:02:45.3 SV: Sure. 07/05/21 Page 2 of 11The Real Story With Salima Valji (1)
0:02:45.4 AB: The little girl, the little Salima, what was she… What did you like to play with or how? So that… In that story, I always trying to find out what was the sign of who you became as a little girl.
0:03:03.4 SV: Oh, I’m not sure if there were any clues from a little girl. I mean, I never really played with dolls, I grew up on a farm just like you, I grew up on an apple plot.
0:03:12.3 AB: Oh my god!
0:03:13.3 SV: Yeah, in Alberta.
0:03:14.3 AB: I’m attracting all the farmer girls. [laughter]
0:03:18.6 SV: So in rural Alberta, I grew up on a rural farm, so my playground was really outside and it was… Playing… I grew up working in the barns picking up eggs, and so just playing outside with the swings, the dogs, the animals, the trees, was really my playground, and then of course, toys. I remember I loved this one train set, there was this one doll, but it was never really a Barbie girl. So yeah, that’s kind of like what my upbringing was.
0:03:52.6 AB: Oh, I love it. Oh yeah, outside, right, in nature, yeah.
0:03:57.4 SV: Yes, very much.
0:03:58.6 AB: Do you still have that connection with nature although you live in Toronto?
0:04:04.1 SV: Actually, I really crave nature and I need to be in it often. Yeah, yeah.
0:04:10.1 AB: Yeah, I love it.
0:04:11.8 SV: I need that for my grounding, I need to connect back with nature often, and I don’t do it enough, so it’s an opportunity for me.
:04:19.1 AB: I hear you. [laughter] Because it feels so good each time we make a decision to take that 40 minutes to go to a field or in a piece of wood, in a place, a trail, it’s always good. There is never any regrets. We just have to do it. [laughter]
0:04:37.8 SV: Yeah.
0:04:37.9 AB: So tell me, you have an amazing career, big companies in the digital world and then now you are your own boss. So what was your most burning desire before you started your business and why? Bring us to the… I don’t want you to go too detailed, but how did you go from one step to another and then what was that burning desire that said, “Okay, that’s it, it’s my turn, on my own term now.”
0:05:10.8 SV: Well, I was kind of forced into it to be honest, I… So well, this is the first time I’m 07/05/21 Page 3 of 11The Real Story With Salima Valji (1) gonna be telling this story live, but I was actually fired from my role. I’d been there for two years, I was exceeding performance in terms of building the practice, the mandate to digitize the capability of the entire office across Canada, I was exceeding my performance metrics. However I was not managing my image or my exposure, and as an Indian woman, I was always taught, “Work hard, perform well and the rest will do work for you.” I didn’t know that I needed to really manage my image, I didn’t know what exposure was, and so I really learned that afterwards. But I found myself fired from a job I worked really hard for, and that was major career trauma for me, like it took me a long, long time to bounce back from that and to reclaim… I had a real crisis in confidence at that time. 0:06:20.1 AB: Oh yeah.
0:06:22.0 SV: And because of that, I was in a position of like, “I’m no longer relying on anybody for my income, I’m not relying on anybody for my job and what I do. Nobody else gets to control this but me.”
0:06:37.2 AB: Salima, we share more than one story. This is my story too. I got fired twice. My job positioning was cut twice, and then that’s the second time, I exactly say what you just said. “Not anymore, someone else gonna decide to turn up or down my money regeneration.”
0:06:58.4 SV: Yeah, yeah. And it wasn’t even just… 0:07:00.0 AB: The trauma, because you give everything, you’re good at what you do, and then “Goodbye.” So it takes time to rebuild that confidence. So how did you… What was the biggest struggle for you at the time to make it happen, to come back on your feet and find that ground again?
0:07:23.2 SV: You know, the biggest struggle for me was really trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was in the business where I was helping to grow other people’s digital footprints online, building social media footprints, and I’d lost my passion in that. I had been doing it at that point for like 15, 17 years, I just lost my passion. And so I saw the firing as an opportunity to allow me to explore and move forward, and I spent a lot of time trying different things, like I went into… One of the things that people used to tell me, was like, “Oh my god, the team that you’ve been brought in into the company has been amazing, amazing talent, it’s made such a big difference,” and I kept being told that the team I was bringing in was just really bar one, and so I thought, “Well, maybe that’s where I need to do, is help others build really strong digital teams.” And so I went into recruiting and I tried that for about eight months, and then I was like, “Okay, recruiting inside an organization, very different than when you were an actual recruiter, recruiting for other firms.”
0:08:29.5 SV: And so I was like, “This is different and this isn’t the right… What I was thinking it would be.” I went into consulting and I was doing digital consulting. I helped other organizations build their capabilities and I said, “I’ll do it as a contract. I’ll come in for six months, a year, year and a half, and come turn things around for you as part of this change management effort.” And I did that for a number of years, but I still didn’t find… I still didn’t find my way, it just didn’t feel like home. And then one day I was speaking at a social media conference for HR professionals, and they 07/05/21 Page 4 of 11The Real Story With Salima Valji (1) had… There was a gentleman in the audience at my table and he’s like, “You know, you’d be really good at this,” and I’m like, “What’s this? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and what he shared was… It was leadership facilitation. He’s like, “You’re really good at speaking, you really connect with the audience, I’ve seen you, and I think you’d be really good at training and facilitation.” And at that time, I was also teaching at George Brown in the marketing program. And so I started doing leadership development training, and I had never done any…
0:09:46.9 SV: I had no background in that other than being a leader as a VP of Digital, as a managing director, as an SVP Digital, that was my training ground for to deliver this leadership team.
0:09:58.5 AB: I love that you gave yourself the space and the time to figure it out. How do you do that? Do you have any tips to share?
0:10:07.6 SV: Yeah, it was a long journey, I would say almost five to 10 years. It was long, and it’s a lot of up and down, up and down, and it’s a lot of… If you put your design thinking hat on, it’s a lot of prototyping. Oftentimes, we spend a lot of time trying to figure it out in our head. But you don’t know until you go out and you get the data. You don’t know until you actually try and you do it and you keep doing, you keep doing, and you keep doing. So if any of you who’s listening, I can see Munerez there and Daniel is there and Jill’s there, and if you’re trying to like, “I need to recreate myself” or it might happen later in your career, it really is… The way to do that is just by prototyping. Getting the education is definitely one way, connecting with people to see if you’re finding your tribe is another way, but it really is a journey of up and down and of trial and error, trial and error, and it’s just like, “I’m just gonna try ’cause I’m gonna collect data and not be attached to the outcome, not be attached to can I make the most money here.”
0:11:12.3 SV: I made that mistake and I was always looking for, “Can I make the same money I was making before? Can I make more money here?” And that’s what was grounding my decisions, and then slowly I learned, no, I’m capping myself off from capturing this data, really valuable data, if I’m attaching it to how much money it’s gonna produce…
0:11:31.3 AB: Oh, wow. I love this. Oh guys, I hope you’re listening because I mean, just do it, basically, and just notice what happens and then move on or amplify it if it’s what you like. So tell me how it felt because that person told you, you were really good at this, and then this was the leadership thing, and then you become a teacher, a professor, but how did it feel when it clicked?
0:12:01.6 SV: There’s a sense of grounding. There’s a sense of peace. You’re no longer asking the question of, “What’s my gift? And what do I need to do?” Then the question becomes, “Okay, how do I apply this gift more?” So your questions change. It’s like, “Well, how do I make this work for me in my schedule or how do I make this work for me and what my financial desires are? How do I make this work so I can connect with more people?” So the questions really change, the feeling within you changes, you’re no longer in this place of questioning but you’re in this place of curiosity. You’re no longer afraid of it.
0:12:43.7 AB: This is a gem. I just love it because this is so true, but it takes time to get to that 07/05/21 Page 5 of 11The Real Story With Salima Valji (1) place, because you think that you’re in a race and it’s an iteration of version of yourself, and then after that tuning in with who you really are, how you wanna feel, how much money you wanna make and stuff I love how you describe it, you described it so well, you make it sound easy. [laughter]
0:13:10.2 SV: Well, it’s total built on hindsight, it’s total hindsight because I did not know this going in, I did not… I think I made it a lot harder journey for myself and that’s why I say it takes me… It took me five to 10 years, and even during COVID, I had to reimagine myself again because my business went away, right away in a span of two days I was down to zero business. And I had to reimagine my business because I was doing all training and I was going to companies, and virtual training wasn’t really big then. Mind you, I was doing virtual training for my students but I wasn’t doing it corporately, and so I had to reimagine what I could do, and that’s how I leaned in even more forward into my coaching. I was doing it, it was probably like 15%, 20% of my business before, and then 80% was the training and now it’s the flip. Now I’m doing only… Majority is coaching, 80% coaching, and then 20% of it is training. 0:14:12.7 AB: Okay, yeah. So tell me, what does it require in terms of the inner work, like how do you… Like for your sanity, to keep believing because you said the ups and down, and then there’s a constant line, which is you the human, right? So how… Do you have any secrets or things you put in place in your life to save that sacred fire that gets you going no matter what, even if you’re up and overwhelmed by success or like, “Oh, what’s next?” What is your thing?
0:14:46.3 SV: Well, for me, there was two things. One was… You know, my parents immigrated to Canada. They had nothing, they worked like dogs on the farm, they did so much, and so when I looked at what I was doing, I’m like, “Did my parents do that sacrifice for me to be doing just okay, for me to be just not happy and fulfilled in life?” and the answer was always, no, they did it so I could have my dream life, that I could create and do what I was meant to do, what my gifts were. And so that was one thing that really drove me was like I need to fulfill… My parents didn’t do a sacrifice for nothing, so that was one of it, and then the other piece was also tapping to know what my… It took me time to also understand what my gift was. And leaning into that as part of the discovery of the prototyping and trying different things was like, I was not born to be married, I wasn’t born to just being alive, I was born for a purpose, and so I was really driven by figuring that out.
0:15:54.9 AB: So nice. So tell me, now you’re clearer on this and I’m sure you’d have more iteration of it, because it seems that it is the name of the game, not to be stuck in one way of doing things. What was the big first payoff for you when you figured it out in terms of financially or even personally or something else? What would you say were the big payoff, and you said this is it?
0:16:22.7 SV: I would say it’s the impact on people’s lives. So when you see… For example, when I’m teaching postgrad students, and I would say half of them are international students, and when you see them come through your door and when you see them leave and you see them really blossom into their potential, you see them really fall in love with marketing for example, and really understand and explore what are all the different ways that they can apply their skillset to marketing, ’cause remember if you’re a student, you’re in a daze and you don’t understand, and so to be able to witness that and to see that transformation is so, so powerful and it’s extremely 07/05/21 Page 6 of 11The Real Story With Salima Valji (1) rewarding. And so that was a really big clue of like, “Oh, I need to follow this. Teaching is definitely my gift and helping others realize their potential is my gift,” and then… So as part of my curiosity, that’s how the leadership training came about because I didn’t have any training. Being in the digital world, I kept being promoted and promoted and promoted without actually the training, and so for me, part of what’s driving me is I wanna help others because I didn’t have that.
0:17:43.6 SV: I didn’t have that support, I didn’t know what to do. And so, it’s the real reward and you know where you’ve landed is just when you’re observing like I am having so much impact. And even in my coaching, when I see that transformation over and over, there’s so much gratitude and there’s so much witnessing of human beings, which you don’t get from a lot of careers, which I think is really fascinating to me.
0:18:10.9 AB: Yeah, I love it. Yeah, it’s so true. Plus we get to work at the very personal level, whether it’s in digital marketing or leadership, it always come back to who you are as a person, your fears and your courage, and that’s a privilege to access that power in our clients. I so agree with you.
0:18:30.2 SV: Yeah.
0:18:31.2 AB: I so agree with you, so now tell me as a woman entrepreneur, what is your biggest fear? 0:18:38.5 SV: Oh gosh. [laughter]
0:18:41.1 SV: I have so many. I think the biggest fear for me has always been putting myself out there, telling my story. In the beginning, it used to be am I gonna be… Are people gonna believe that I’m a really good coach or that I can help them, and now that I’ve done it and done it and done it and done it, like in 2020 I did 600 coaching sessions, and I’m like, so I have 600 proof, stats to show that not only do I enjoy this, but I’m having an impact and I’m good at it.
0:19:21.3 SV: And so, the fears are like, where am I going to find clients? The fears are like, how am I gonna reach my audience? The fears are like, am I good enough? The fears are like, am I gonna make enough? Who knows how this COVID thing is gonna turn out and what’s gonna happen? And so, those are the fears of like… I have a dream of growing my business, I have a dream of having people join and growing the impact, and so my fear is like, will I be able to do this? I’m declaring it more and more now, and I’m like, am I gonna be able to do this? So those are my fears.
0:20:00.3 AB: Okay. And you are doing it by the way. [chuckle] 0:20:04.9 SV: It’s baby steps, I hired my first parttime marketer a couple of weeks ago, which was like a huge step for me, so yeah, slowly but surely.
0:20:15.1 AB: I love the name of your company, Unleash Forward. It just means everything. It’s 07/05/21 Page 7 of 11The Real Story With Salima Valji (1) exactly what it is, I love it.
0:20:22.6 SV: Tell me, what does it mean to you? I’d love to hear that.
0:20:28.4 AB: It’s… For me, it means when you unleash and unlock, for example, on our fears… Not on our fears, but when you recognize the fears and you recognize where they come from, and then you change your way of thinking about them and you start to embrace them and work with them, the only way it can go, it’s forward. There is no other way, and there is no point of return. That’s the scariest part though, because when you unleash, unlock, get to your really full… The mindfulness, the awareness of who you are and how you think and how you… You are your own barrier.
0:21:10.0 SV: Yeah. 0:21:10.1 AB: Even marketing, it’s like, in marketing, it’s key, like this is where you fill it even more, I find. And then once you start working on that, then it projects you through the front, not… You can’t go backward because it’s so liberating, it’s so scary and liberating, I don’t know, that’s how I feel.
0:21:28.8 SV: Yeah. [chuckle] Well, yeah, so you captured it, it is, essentially, unleashing what’s already there, the potential that’s already there, and whether it’s a mind shift shift, whether it’s a belief shift, it’s really exploring the possibilities and then you’re right, it’s about moving forward. Yeah.
0:21:51.1 AB: Yeah, and it has that energy. Unleash forward, it’s double action. [chuckle] I love it. Yeah, yeah. So what’s your relationship… I love asking you this, because I know you’re part of it, your background is in the digital marketing and everything, but what is your relationship currently with social media and how do you use this to amplify your message?
0:22:13.2 SV: Oh okay, so my relationship with social media is not the… I’m not an active social media person, I’m gonna say that. I have chosen my platform of choice to be LinkedIn. It’s so funny, coming from a marketing world, coming from helping build others’ social media platforms, it’s like, “Don’t look at me in what I’m doing, because I’m the shoemaker’s kids, I don’t have good shoes,” right? I have just found that I can’t… That was one of the reasons for me where I lost my passion because it just became so complex, the world. And so, for me, what I have done, what I feel like works and connects well with my clientele, and for me is like I really focus on LinkedIn, it’s my way to tell my story, it’s my way to be visible, as my way to connect. And then I will do these Instagram lives, but I would say primarily, it’s just really just LinkedIn for me right now.
0:23:20.1 AB: Yeah, yeah. And there is nothing wrong. You should be proud to have picked one. It’s cool. It’s cool. And yeah. Okay. Yeah, LinkedIn it is, and then I think we follow each other, but it’s under your name, eh? Salima Valji? 0:23:34.5 SV: Yes, yes. 07/05/21 Page 8 of 11The Real Story With Salima Valji (1)
0:23:35.6 AB: On LinkedIn, right? 0:23:36.9 SV: Yes.
0:23:37.4 AB: So yeah, so thank you so much. I just wanna know, is there anything I should have asked to… Oh yes, I wanna know the background frame? 0:23:48.1 SV: Oh okay, so these fashion figures. Okay, so when I got out of high school, I wanted to go into fashion school and having Indian parents, my parents were like, “No, no, no, you are going to university, you’re gonna get a degree,” and back then you could not get a degree in fashion. And so, I went into… I did a BCom degree and I majored in information systems. And so I ended up landing a job with Deloitte and I was working in consulting, and I was working on projects and technology, ecommerce projects. And then when 9/11 happened, I lost my job, and I was like, “Okay, this is my chance for me to go connect back with my fashion thing,” and so I went to fashion school, and then I was like, “Okay, how do I merge my ecommerce experience with fashion?”
0:24:42.7 SV: Now, this is really like early 2000s, and ecommerce was a not a thing in Canada just yet, and even in the US, it just wasn’t quite there yet, and so it was really hard for me to find and merge fashion and technology. Now it’s everywhere, but I’ve always had this connection to aesthetic and to fashion and designing. Every once in a while I’ll design an outfit.
0:25:07.6 AB: Wow! I love it.
0:25:09.9 SV: So it’s just been an affinity to the fashion world.
0:25:12.9 AB: Yeah, you were a pioneer, because now it’s… As you say like, we mostly buy online our clothes and stuff. That’s funny and at how fast it went.
0:25:22.8 SV: Yeah.
0:25:23.7 AB: Like even less than 25 years, bam! Yeah?
0:25:28.0 SV: Yeah, yeah.
0:25:28.9 AB: So do you have a store, or do you have a place where we can buy from you now? [chuckle]
0:25:34.3 SV: I wish. No, no, maybe a retirement project, but I’m just busy shopping in other people’s places. Yeah.
0:25:47.0 AB: Oh, I love it, I love it. Okay, so that was my curiosity at the very beginning, and we almost forgot to talk about it, so I’m glad we covered that. So is there anything else you’d like to add about the real story behind your business? 07/05/21 Page 9 of 11The Real Story With Salima Valji (1)
0:26:03.1 SV: No, I would just say this to anybody who’s listening, it is not easy to reinvent yourself and so get the support that you need, don’t be stuck in your head, because that’s really the safest place to be, but it’s also when we’re playing it safe, is when we’re really holding ourselves back. So whether, it’s finding mentors, whether it’s connecting with other entrepreneurs or other people in the role, whether it’s getting a coach, whatever it is that you need and in support in order to help you move forward, for you to help you to unleash forward, don’t be shy, go out and grab that support ’cause it’s available for you and you will feel so much more stronger, so much more confident in who you are as a human being when you do that.
0:26:55.2 AB: That was the end, the phone is ringing, anyway. [chuckle] And that was an amazing end by the way. Nice, nice, nice, thank you so much, Salima, and thank you, all of you here in the names I see on Instagram and…
0:27:11.4 SV: Yeah, nice Rahila, thanks for joining, Azran, nice for joining. Zahoor, I see you there, thanks for joining.
0:27:19.7 AB: Yeah, and then if you watch the replay or listen to the podcast and you have questions around the video and around the podcast, there will be the links to Salima, to me. I was mentioning at the beginning that I also have a guide for you if you want to know what stories can I share, if you wanna start sharing a story, so that’s a guide. It’s kind of 10 Ways to Tell Your Story and I put the link around as well, so that you can start playing with your own story, and I promise, it’s really fun. I love when you brought us to the farm with your parents, it just brought me there, I smelled it.
0:27:55.7 AB: And it’s the power of stories is like we’re gonna remember Salima, maybe not even for your key stuff but all the little stories are gonna help us, “Oh, that’s the girl who is specialized in leadership and stuff, like the girl from the farm,” you know, that’s how you kind of showcase your programs and your services in a way that is so personal, and how do you say that in English? Amiable, amiable, loveable, loveable?
0:28:20.9 SV: Yeah, yeah.
0:28:21.3 AB: Like you, get attached to that because it’s reminds you stuff, right? And I can’t believe we have so many comment points with starting with the farm… [laughter] I love it, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you and we’re gonna…
0:28:34.4 SV: Thank you for having me Angélique, really great to be here.
0:28:37.8 AB: You are so welcome. So I’m gonna stop the Instagram here, and I’m gonna stop our stream here. Thank you guys.
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