Bella Khaja, founder and managing director of Nimble Marketing Consultancy and co-founder of FEM Bootcamp, shares her journey from fashion to baking to digital marketing, and how she's empowering the next generation of female entrepreneurs.
At the age of just 25, Bella Khaja had it all.
She was the Asian marketing head of an emerging fashion label, flying to Amsterdam and jet-setting across Asia regularly for her work.
Still, she felt unfulfilled. After less than two years on the job, she quit. That was in 2012.
In the seven years since, Bella has:
- attended the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in London for aspiring chefs
- run a successful cupcake business
- taught herself how to code and design websites
- started a digital marketing agency and female empowerment bootcamp that’s trained over 500 female entrepreneurs
- founded her own digital marketing agency
That, in sum, is the remarkable story of Bella Khaja of Nimble Marketing Consultancy, an all-female digital marketing agency, which she founded with just $1,000 from her own pocket.
But Bella’s path has been far from smooth sailing. Her dad passed away in her final year of university, a week into her convocation. She was only 23 then. She also started her agency as a one-woman show, going door-to-door to pitch to clients, and sometimes even running campaigns for free just to build up her portfolio.
Now 32, and married to a digital sales manager at an international bank, Bella hopes to inspire other females to chase and follow their dreams.
Planting the seeds of her entrepreneurial journey
Right after graduating with a degree in Political Science from the National University of Singapore, Bella’s very first job was actually in fashion. Specifically, she spent a year and four months as a Marketing and Business Development Executive at Dutch fashion label Mexx, an equivalent and direct competitor to Esprit in 2011. This is where she learnt the ropes with regards to putting together a proper business development and marketing plan, and pitching it to countries across Asia including Indonesia and China.
But despite rising through ranks to become the de-facto Asia head of marketing for the entire label, Bella wanted more.
During a trip to Oxford Circus in London one day in 2011, Bella came across a bakery selling extravagantly designed cupcakes and was immediately intrigued. She started baking for fun during her spare time, adapting classic cake and cookie recipes she learnt from her mum and taste-testing them on her colleagues.
The baked goods were well-received.
A good friend who led projects at the community centre approached Bella to ask if she was confident enough to teach a cupcake baking class to a group of 30.
“At that time I thought, if it’s for a good cause, why not?” Bella shared with SingSaver during our one-hour interview at her office in Changi Industrial Park. Little did she know, this experience would spark in her a long-burning passion for teaching.
The popularity and novelty of her baked goods gave Bella the courage to quit the security of her full-time fashion job, study at Le Cordon Bleu in London, and start her own bakery studio, ByBella Cupcakes, in 2012 selling artisanal cupcakes.
However, it was never her goal to profit from selling her baked goods. “I knew right from the start that I didn’t want to sell. I wanted to teach,” says Bella. “ByBella Cupcakes was a showcase of my skills. I was using my baked goods more as a way to publicise my classes.” She was so successful that she ended up teaching most of her baking students how to market their own baked goods business online and on social media as well.
Starting Singapore’s first all-female digital marketing agency
Through running and promoting her own baking studio, Bella found her true calling: digital marketing. She started tinkering with tech early on, building her social media following and setting up her own website – way before sites like Wix and Squarespace were available. She learnt to code, design, and program on her own.
That was when she noticed the lack of female role models in a severely male-dominated digital industry. Aspiring female entrepreneurs and digital marketers told her they felt too intimidated to learn coding, analytics, and technology in general. Most felt these skills would be “too hard” for them and became discouraged to even try.
When someone commented to her, “I wish there was more of you, Bella,” she realised she had to do something. She started building a safe space for more women to access the education, networking, and professional development opportunities they needed to excel.
That’s how Nimble Marketing Consultancy was born in 2016 to help other female entrepreneurs craft immersive and cohesive brand stories to market their business. More importantly, she created a means for open dialogue between women business owners to share about issues faced on their entrepreneurial journey.
Almost 3 years into the business, Bella has built a five-woman-strong team handling a regular folio of long-term clients, and she absolutely loves what she does every single day – even on days when she is bone tired and has to dig deep to keep herself motivated.
Building a strong sisterhood of tech-savvy female entrepreneurs
FEM (Female Entrepreneurs Movement) Bootcamp is another of Bella’s initiatives to empower more women business owners. Co-founded in late 2017 with Nisa Aris, founder and designer at SheCreates.online, the bootcamp has trained over 70 female entrepreneurs from all walks of life on digital and social media marketing. They have held sessions in Singapore and Malaysia so far. Next stop, Indonesia and Hong Kong.
“My aim is to empower business owners with the right skill set so that they realise that they can do all these things on their own – it doesn’t have to cost them too much and they don’t need an agency to do it for them. When I see them implement what they’ve learnt and get good results, that’s the most satisfying of all,” she shares. “That is my drive today, to really help more female business owners get their content seen and heard.”
So what's next for Bella Khaja?
She hopes to launch online courses soon, and is looking to transform Nimble Marketing Consultancy into a think tank for all things social media here in Asia.
As for the next generation of young and aspiring female entrepreneurs? “I want them to know that they can do anything they want. Don’t let parental expectations or society tell you what you can and cannot do. If I can start my own business from scratch – then you can do it too.”
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They say that those who can’t do, teach. That is not at all the case for Bella. If nothing else, being able to do is exactly why she's such a great teacher. Add coder, designer, digital marketer, mentor, and all-round fearless girl boss into the mix, and you've got the makings of a woman to believes she can have it all – and is well on her way to achieving it.
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By Melissa Chua
Melissa never thought she’d end up writing for a living, but is glad that she did. She is an avid consumer of content, coffee, and TV, and wonders what life would be like as a dancing milk carton in a Blur MTV. She loves the Oxford comma and abhors dangling modifiers.