Boss Lady - Zara Abbasi Wilkerson
My team and I are reaching out to all the woman owned businesses that inspire and amaze us on a daily basis. We will start with a brief background, then dive in to the nitty gritty of running a business, what keeps them inspired, and everything else in between.
I was born in NYC, NY and was raised there and in Boston, Mass before moving to Arkansas. I went to UCA for a year before I was in a horrible car accident and had to relearn how to walk. I dropped out of UCA because of my physical therapy schedule and then enrolled at UALR so I could still graduate. After UALR, I attended law school at the Bowen School of Law in Little Rock. So how did I get to where I am today? I believe anything is possible. I wanted to bake and have something joyful in my life, so I pursued it. I've been baking since I was 6 so it wasn't a difficult transition for me. I value my legal education and still use it.
I'm married to John Wilkerson. We've been married for almost 11 years this year. We met close to 20 years ago now. He's my soul mate but more than that he's my family. I don't remember life without him nor do I want to. He's an attorney for the Arkansas Municipal League and is one of the best lawyers/lobbyists this city has ever seen. He's my main support (physically, mentally and emotionally) and any success credited to me is also his success. We have 2 children together (and expecting our 3rd in 2 days): Razik is 8 and Amila is 6. Both are so different but bring so much joy into our lives. We genuinely enjoy their company and consider ourselves so lucky to be blessed with loving and kind children. We have one pet, our beagle George Orwell. My husband was in charge of naming the dog so obviously I took charge of naming our kids! We love life, consider it a gift and try to pass that feeling on to others. We try to lend others a hand if they're encountering rough seasons in their lives. **Update** Since we interviewed Zara, their third child, Merah, was born on July 3 at 8:05am!
- Give us your elevator pitch. Bringing flavorful and imaginative desserts to life.
- What is your business? And how long have you been at it? I've been creating private dessert orders, formerly for restaurants and now just for an eclectic clientele, for approximately 4-5 years.
- When did you start your business? It just grew organically. There was never a start date.
What inspired you to make the leap? I didn't succeed when working for others. I Wanted to pursue my own vision my own way and that has been the key to any success I can claim.
- What helps you get started each morning? Coffee, diet coke, 10 mile jog, meditation?? A cup of tea, silence and reviewing my order book for the day.
- Tell us about a day in the life of running your business. It's become a lot better. I was working 80 hours a week when working for restaurants and desperately needed help but had no time to dedicate to getting help. I was doing purchasing orders, picking up the orders, doing the actual baking and decorating, then doing the massive clean up, then delivering all the baked goods, then keeping up with invoices, taxes, mileage, receipts etc etc etc. I stopped when I realized I hated waking up and had stopped taking care of myself. I'm happier now taking only select orders, saying no when I have to and taking care of myself.
- What keeps you motivated? I have no motivation. That sounds bad but I've never really had any motivation for anything, except being at peace and happy. I genuinely just enjoy what I do because it's captivating. I like being immersed in knowledge and technique. I like opening different parts of my brain to see what comes out. When peace and happiness escape me, I re-evaluate what I'm doing.
Describe your dream day. Dream day = a day without worries. So that to me is a clean house, no problems and I'm shopping for the house, doing some gardening or playing with my kids or watching a movie with the family.
- What is your greatest strength/super power? I can keep going. I don't need pep talks. And, no one influences my opinions much.
- Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat? Instagram; it's been more positive than FB in the social media realm.
- What do you do in your free time? (ha! What is free time?!) I love watching TV and movies. I know that's not an optimal answer but I learn a lot and we've always been a movie watching family. Other than that, I like hanging out with my amazing law school girls.
- If an investor gave you 1 million dollars to use toward your business, how would you spend it? Marketing, branding and hiring help!!! With the right investor, I'm scared of all the things we'd accomplish.
What’s the biggest risk you ever took; how did it go? I think I either take risks all the time or really don't know the definition. I risked a lot by choosing baking as my business as opposed to taking a job as an attorney. I don't have the promise of a paycheck every month, I can't save consistently and I can't rely on a boss to help me work out the kinks. But it's still a better deal than the alternative for now.
- Name something you hate doing but have to do for the good of your business. How do you make it tolerable? I can't respond to messages in a timely manner. Or I type them out hurriedly only to never send them or send them to the wrong person. I have an influx of messages on any given day. Whether it's friends talking about everyday stuff, family members trying to make plans, people seeking some legal help, info about cake orders or Nigerian princes trying to offer me money. Messages have become overwhelming. Close to 30-40 a day if not more. And they pile up quickly. So, I've created a new normal for myself by answering family first, urgent questions next and then dedicating only one day a week to respond to remaining messages. Because otherwise, I'd never look up from my phone.
- How do you handle discouragement? Everyone is different. I like to dissect my discouragement instead of taking anything to heart. I don't like talking to others about problems so I talk to myself. What's making me discouraged? Is it a real/tangible threat or an imagined threat? What do I think it says about me? Do I have extra energy to expend on it? If so, what positives will it bring about? And will those outweigh the negatives? Those are the things I ask myself quickly, absorb the positives, skip over the self loathing and then move on just as quickly.
Which iconic person inspires you? Iconic people get enough followers. I get inspired by ordinary people. I'm drawn to and inspired by people who need no accolades. People immersed in original thinking and their own craft. But if I'm forced to choose someone iconic, I'd choose Eleanor Roosevelt. She has nothing to do with baking but she was a boss. She ran a country when her husband couldn't and she had no one to look to for former experience in that aspect.
- Do you have a favorite, inspiring quote? A couple. "Life's not too short. People just start living it too late" and "I didn't work this hard and come this far to stay the same".
- If you could choose anyone to pick as a mentor, who would you choose? I feel like a jerk if I say I have no mentors nor do I want any. Well, at least in the culinary world. I certainly wholeheartedly admire people for what they do, but I don't want to be someone's protege. My whole business developed because I jumped in and taught myself things I kept failing at without anyone guiding me. It's been very enlightening and has opened up a creative box in my head. The whole point of a creative job is to be on your own journey. Now, if I'm allowed to have a mentor from another field/era, it'd be Aristotle because I'd love to know how he created such original thought so long ago.
- Who are you in your next life? A travel writer for Condé Nast.
- Any secrets on how you balance the ins and outs of running a small business? I think keeping things simple is paramount. Break down key components of what you do, step back, and see how you can attack them in a positive way daily. Figure out your ultimate goal. My goal is to grow; focusing on the components that help the most with growth are the ones I attack fir
- What’s the best advice you have for other women wanting to be entrepreneurs? Go for it. No one will be a better boss to you than you!! And the happiness you receive from seeing your own created success is unexplainable.
Follow Zara on Instagram: @zaramadeit