The journey to entrepreneurship, usually is a long and winding one. The path for Benazir Hussain, is no different whose origin starts over 10,000 kms away. Born in Pakistan and raised in Dubai, Benazir, an avid reader and learner, was limited by the social norms of her home countries. Math came easy to her, always first to finish her assignments, even being called upon by her teachers to show her classmates an easier way to solve the problem.
She wasn’t able to pursue post-secondary education in her country of birth and employment practices that would be illegal here, made it hard for her to work to support her family. That was not the life she envisioned for herself. With dreams of being a business owner, bucking traditional and archaic systems, after a brief stop in Australia to earn her degree, she eventually emigrated and landed in Canada.
Upon arrival, she found herself challenged by a whole new system that proved to be almost as stifling. She was told that the popular Canadian coffee chain was the only source of employment with someone of her background, working in her field would remain a dream only. As with many newcomers, she worked without pay to gain the coveted ‘Canadian’ experience before she was hired in her chosen profession of accounting. Still, there were stark differences: differences in pay, differences in opportunity for advancement.
COVID-19 proved to be the now or never point. Benazir had been thinking about the idea for over two years, and ironically, as a virtual business. Before the pandemic, it was harder to convince people to trust a virtual service provider. She did not want to continue to be passed over for opportunities so in 2020, she took the leap. During a global pandemic, where stability and security was at a premium, Benazir took a chance on herself and launched her bookkeeping and tax preparation firm AZON Bookkeeping Services. She wanted to focus on small business owners, especially parents, like herself who were trying to juggle the multiple hats of entrepreneurship with parenting.
While we are now a year into being comfortable with virtual appointments and the like, in the early days of COVID-19, it was much harder to prove the safety and security. Many still wanted the familiar face-to-face, a shoebox full of receipt handover they were used to. The pandemic also eliminated a key step in launching a new business: the ability to network. She tried to canvas and hand out business cards, but with offices being forced to reduce capacity, she didn’t want to take up space reserved for the clientele. The timing of joining the WEC program couldn't have happened at a better time.
When she joined the fall 2020 cohort, she had her systems all ready to go, it was the marketing piece of the puzzle she was missing. She knew she needed to gain the skills, but mostly the confidence to sell her business services. She found herself and her voice during the program, chiming in when presenters offered participants the chance. Being surrounded by entrepreneurs, meant a built-in network of women that would be in need of her services, so it was a win-win situation.
What sticks out for Benazir is the camaraderie that participants developed, while there were some similarities, their diverse backgrounds in experience and in knowledge, was a testament to how powerful women supporting each other could be. It strengthened her belief that the more you give, the more you get in return. Those are the exact words you’d want to hear from an accountant.
Benazir is looking forward to the future, as her confidence as a business owner grows. She looks to her children for inspiration but also sees herself as a role model for other immigrants and newcomers who might have been told a thousand times in their life to give up, they're not going to be able to achieve anything. She wants to be the face to tell them, "Yes, you can. You will fall down, but you need to get up. And will”.
Tanya Hayles is an award-winning event planner, public speaker, and freelance writer authentically telling stories and creating change. Located in Toronto and can be found tweeting her free time away at twitter.com/tanyahayles or at tanyahayles.com
The Women Entrepreneurship Centre (WEC), as part of the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, is dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs of every age, stage and culture to achieve their business dreams. We believe in fostering leadership. We believe that everyone deserves an equal shot at success. We believe in connecting you with the right people, skills and support to make it happen.
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