Aparna Vedapuri Singh is the Founder and Editor of Women’s Web, an online magazine for Indian women. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Aparna for years and I write a career column and the occasional book review for Women’s Web.)
Read on for Aparna’s experiences in and tips for entrepreneurship and marketing! (My comments and questions are in bold.)
Tell us about Women’s Web – how did you come up with the idea for the site?
Women’s Web is a product that came about as a result of a need I felt existed in the market – and as with many entrepreneurs, beginning with a need I felt myself!
While women’s magazines are certainly not a new phenomenon in India, increasingly, there is such a sameness to them. Many women are interested in beauty, but why should the pursuit of beauty define us? Really, is better skin and anti-ageing all that there is to our lives? I wanted to read something better! I felt that there is a niche in the market for interesting, useful information and reads, directly relevant to our lives.
Moreover, Indian women are going through a transitional phase – women are moving out of home earlier, living by themselves, focusing on their careers, waiting longer to have children, grappling with the expectations of a traditional society – where is the magazine that covers the challenges of today’s Indian women? I decided that Women’s Web would be THAT magazine, and online is the best way to go.
Women’s Web is over two years old now! How have things changed from the beginning?
Well, for one thing we have a lot more readers! From being a solo operation, we are now a core 2-member team, with a third person joining us just this month as a consultant. We work with a much larger number of writers as well.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a business-owner?
Monetization. How do you monetize in an industry where your product (“Content”) is something that users have grown used to receiving free? That is the biggest challenge for me (as I imagine it is for most web-based magazines.)
What’s the achievement you’re most proud of?
That in the last 2 years we have been a platform for over 1,000 high-quality articles and blog posts, each of them dealing with a topic relevant to women’s lives.
What are your favorite online tools – social media, productivity, or anything else?
To be honest, it is Skype, nothing fancy or unknown. As a remote working team, it’s what allows us to stay in touch, work together, and have the feeling of being connected.
How do you promote Women’s Web? Do you have any marketing tips for our readers?
Right now, we promote Women’s Web through social media (mainly Facebook and Twitter), online contests and other events relevant to our readers as well as through our newsletter, which goes out to those who have registered for it.
My single best marketing tip is: Be respectful of your users. This may not seem like a “marketing” tip per se, but I see too many businesses (and sadly, many of these are Indian) that spam their users. While we certainly want a big bunch of readers coming to visit us, we are clear that we will not spam, mislead or otherwise disrespect our readers. In practical terms, this translates to permission-based marketing. Growth may be a little slower and harder this way, but I feel it is more sustainable.
Thank you – that’s such an obvious point, and it’s sad that it needs to be made. Permission-based marketing is the way to go!
Right now, there are so many social media platforms and tools that ostensibly make things easier, and there is so much expert advice on what marketing activities a small business should be doing. What do you think is the most important marketing activity a small business should focus on?
It’s hard to give one prescription since this would really depend on your business goals for the short and long term. Ultimately, whether small or large, for any business, I guess clarity on business as well as marketing goals is a must. If I must give a specific activity, for a business at our stage, I would say it is user acquisition and retention.
What social media platform do you personally like best?
Facebook. For a magazine like ours, it is one place where we can get a lot of feedback, and also have some very interesting conversations with readers, which can even lay the ground for future content.
Which social media site has been most useful for Women’s Web in terms of business results?
Well, it depends on how you define “results”. Facebook certainly helps us bring a good number of readers to visit the site, but Twitter, while delivering a smaller number of readers, seems to deliver more engaged readers. It is also perhaps because users are more choosy about whom they follow while on Facebook users sometimes tend to “like” brands that they only have a peripheral interest in.
What sites do you recommend for marketing advice?
My favorite is marketingprofs.com although the volume of advice they have can sometimes be overwhelming. And of course, ever since Better Marketing launched, I have been reading your posts and finding them very useful. I also find some useful advice for startups via The Hatch.
You have quite a bit of entrepreneur-focused content on Women’s Web – when you started out, did you think this would be a focus? Were you surprised at the number of entrepreneurs you got to know through the site?
No, when we started out, it wasn’t really a focus. But I was always very clear that one of our key differentiators would a very strong Careers section that was relevant to Indian women. As we grew, we saw the sheer numbers of Indian women turning entrepreneurs, and so we continued covering the subject. Our survey on women and entrepreneurship in India continues to be one of our most read articles, and we have recently launched Women’s Haat, a space for women-owned businesses to be featured on a listing, and get additional visibility.
I believe small businesses can be responsive towards their customers and in their marketing in a way big businesses struggle with. What other advantages do you think small businesses have?
As you said, being nimble is one, but small businesses also have the advantage of fewer resources. I call this an advantage because not having the large budgets of big companies means you are forced to focus on doing the things really critical to your business, and constantly evaluate whether the things you do are making a difference.
As an entrepreneur yourself, what’s the most important piece of advice you’d give a small-business entrepreneur?
Not every hobby or interest can become a business, but also, every business must start from a place of interest. I don’t think starting a business can ever be a 100% rational decision simply based on a need in the market. Sure, a market that exists is a good reason to jump in, but if your heart is not in, can you get through the tough times and work on it everyday? More importantly, will it bring you happiness? That’s something I think every entrepreneur should think about – doing something that is meaningful to you and to your customers, and can also support you and your team in the process.
I’m probably going to sound naïve, but I believe entrepreneurship as a way of making tons of money is vastly overrated! If that is the only goal, a high-paying job is a far safer way of going about it. Be a little irrational.
I love that last bit. All entrepreneurs have to be a little crazy, I think — we get into it because we enjoy the risk and the challenge, while most rational people would run away from them. Thanks for doing this, Aparna!
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