Believe in yourself, and you can do anything, says Ashima Singh, Partner, Legal Associates
How easy or difficult has your journey been as a woman entrepreneur?
It’s been both easy and difficult. It is more about our perspective to look at things.
My journey was a roller coaster, maybe because I’m a lawyer. I studied law at the University of Auckland. When I started my studies, my son was only three months old and by the time I finished, he had turned five. I was studying in New Zealand, where the method of learning is very different from that in India. I was the only Indian originally from India in my course, so it was little difficult for me to cope with the style of studying with my little one. And in the process of getting my qualification I missed out on the crucial years of my son’s upbringing. That was the hardest part for me.
But once I became a lawyer it got easier, because in this profession you learn something new every day. Just last year I completed 10 years of being a lawyer, and during these 10 years we have seen so many ups and downs. We created our own law firm, Legal Associates, and it's been in business for nearly eight years now. My job as a lawyer is problem solving. When clients come to me with problems, and I give the solution to them, the happiness on their faces makes everything rewarding for me. That’s what makes it easy, and gives me satisfaction at the end of the day.
You have taken on a totally unexplored and unconventional professional role for a woman, as a lawyer, what was your driving force?
I come from a business family, no one in my family back home is from a legal background. All the girls of the family have achieved their graduation but eventually ended up working in traditional business environments. For me, it was when I wrote letters to my father-in-law, he would read them and appreciate my drafting skills, and he was the one who asked me to pursue law. My husband Raj is a lawyer, and he was pursing the profession in India too. I had done my masters in IT, but I felt like giving this a shot because I knew I had family support. And by the grace of God, with the full support of my husband, and my in-laws I managed to do it all. Here I am today, with a law practice of 10 years, but my drive comes from my husband and his family, they are my inspiration.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in this industry or just generally as a woman?
In general as women we face a lot of challenges. We wear many hats, and are constantly juggling and switching over to different roles. I believe that is also the strength of a woman, the ability to multitask. As I look back now, for me studying law with a little one was the biggest challenge. After I graduated, getting my first job was a challenge. I worked as a registrar in a court, to gain experience and confidence, and then I got a job at a law firm in the city. I worked there for three years, then opening up our own law firm was a challenge, because at that time, I was pregnant with my second child. I was nine months pregnant and the circumstances were such that we had to open the firm straightaway. Within 15 days, I had gone into labour. The initial few years of your own business are the most crucial so I had to give the firm all my attention. I was on the labour table, talking to a client on the phone who was buying their first home, and I remember the mid-wife kept telling me to end the call, but I just knew how important it was for my client. I was back to work after 15 days of having a C-section delivery. These were all very challenging circumstances, but each of them built more strength and gave more confidence to me. Legal Associates started off with a team of three, and today we are 21 people in the office with different backgrounds and ethnicities, maintaining a team like that is also a challenge. The last 3 years, we have all seen our share of extremely challenging situations due to the pandemic. But we have adapted, and grown stronger, and gained the confidence to face whatever lies ahead.
Balancing work-life has always been hard, and it's perceived to be harder for women, so what is your what is your secret?
My clear mantra is, believe in yourself. If you trust what you are doing, you can do anything. Anyone can do it. If they have the self confidence, self belief, and ‘Yes I can’ attitude. The minute you start doubting yourself, you have actually lost the battle then and there. If your mind tells you that you can do a certain task, then you will, that is the power of positive thinking. As a child I always followed this phrase called ‘go with the flow’. It’s a very simple phrase and I still go by it. Just go with the flow. If life gets us to point or a difficult circumstance, we need to trust ourselves to get through it. Imagining the worst will not help, having a negative attitude will be a huge setback. So I keep a calm and positive mind, and try to stay confident. For example, we once had a wedding in my husband’s family in India, and it was a close relative’s wedding. So we both decided to go, my husband Raj had to stay longer, but I decided to attend the wedding and come back to work. I was in India only for the weekend of the wedding. I slept on the plane journey to and fro, and was awake and participating during the wedding. Some might say that is bizarre, but you have to choose what is important and for me attending the wedding was as important as coming back to work without taking a break.
If you could give any advice to a fellow woman entrepreneur or someone who's just starting out, what would that be?
The first and most important thing is to know your subject. If you want to open and manage a café, you should know how to make coffee, what is the cabinet tray menu, what is the price of raw materials, how to work in a busy kitchen etc. I know the job of a receptionist at a law firm, I know what the office manager does, so it makes it easier for me to manage my team at Legal Associates. If you know your subject, then you won’t let anybody take advantage of you.
The second point is confidence and that is linked to the first point. Unless you know your subject you will not get the confidence. Self-confidence is very important to gain trust, especially when you are becoming an entrepreneur. Because as an entrepreneur, you are dealing in a business environment where you need the clients to come to you, and they will only invest tim
e and energy if they trust you, and they will trust you only when they see your self-confidence.
And, the third point is positive attitude. There’s a simple business rule which my Grandma used to tell me; “the first year for any business is always investing, second year is always breakeven, and the third year is when you think about profit”. When you have that attitude of positivity, then you can continue even when things are not going your way.