In conversation with Smriti Notani, a writer, blogger and podcaster from Mumbai, we uncover what it takes to build highly engaging content across various formats to compete in the digital space of creators.

With her ‘Real Girl’ blog platform, podcast ‘Real Talk With Smriti Notani (70k organic listens)’, and ‘Night Shift With Smriti’ (a talk show style recurring Instagram Live feature), Smriti has built her brand from scratch. 

She’s known for her candid and tell-it-like-it-is style, and her podcasts were even featured in Sunday Midday, Feminism in India, and All About Eve as a fun, uplifting ‘must check out’ podcast for the modern Indian woman. The podcast is available across all major platforms from Spotify to iTunes, is on all Alexa devices, is an app on Amazon Fire-stick, and is on Ola cab screens across the country.

1. What’s your educational and professional background?

I completed my Bachelors in Mass Media with a Major in Advertising from Jai Hind College, Mumbai and then did my Post Graduate Diploma in Ad and Marketing Communications from Xavier’s Institute of Communications (XIC) Mumbai.

After one internship and one traineeship (both in advertising), I started my career as a copywriter with a prestigious mainline ad agency, FCB Ulka. After this, I moved to the world of digital publishing where I was writing for various digital lifestyle magazines and honing my writing skills in the fields of food, fashion, design, culture, beauty, and humour. 

Over the years I’ve written for eminent websites such as IndiaTimes, PopXO, WedMeGood, and Lifestyle Asia India, to name a few. I even did a stint as a Senior Lifestyle Writer with PopXO for a brief while. It was around the same time that I launched Real Girl–An Unfiltered Lifestyle Blog for Indian Women. In 2019, I also launched my own podcast show ‘Real Talk With Smriti Notani’. Through all of this, I also continued taking freelance content projects working with brands and building their stories. 

2. What prompted you to start ‘Real Girl’ and then move to podcasts?

With the advent of digital content in India, there emerged a trend which would lure people to click/follow/subscribe and that trend was perfection. We were being sold an unrealistic standard of life and this bothered me greatly. I’ve always considered myself somewhat of a truth-teller and I found it preposterous that women were being made to feel bad about being real. We were being bombarded with the constant messaging that who we are and what we do is simply not good enough. Since I was at a point where I was confident of my writing, I launched my platform Real Girl, which was meant to act as an antidote to all the fashion blogs out there at that point. 

“I’ve always considered myself somewhat of a truth-teller and I found it preposterous that women were being made to feel bad about being real. We were being bombarded with the constant messaging that who we are and what we do is simply not good enough.”

Podcasting happened to me serendipitously. I already had my blog when a friend recommended I explore podcasts as she was doing an internship with an up-and-coming podcast company. She said she enjoyed my ‘real’ posts and tell-it-like-it-is writing style and pushed me to take the plunge. And I did, on a lark, with no real game plan or end goal in mind. But what a fulfilling experience it has been!

My podcast ‘Real Talk’ is also an extension of the same brand philosophy. 

3. Did you always want to be a content creator?

A decade ago, that term didn’t exist. But, did I always know I wanted a career in media? Yes! 

4. What was your first milestone & how did you get there?

Would you believe me if I told you that my milestone moments are only just arriving now? Sure, I’ve written for some pretty cool websites and brands in the past and that felt really good. But what I truly consider a milestone is when my podcast or my blog is featured as a helpful guide for Indian women because that feels close to my heart; it’s me living out my purpose! 

Podcasting has given me the kind of reach I always yearned for with girls and women (and even men) of all age groups reaching out to me to tell me how much an episode helped them or why they are so relieved to hear me talk about ‘xyz’ topic. Some messages have left me emotional and speechless and filled with gratitude for what I do. There’s something about the audio medium that helps people build a genuine connection with the ‘content creator’. I think that the honesty in a person’s voice shines through. 

To put it simply, I couldn’t have asked for a better medium to convey all the real, honest, awkward, borderline inappropriate thoughts I have on various topics that affect our lives. I may call out a lot of things–our flawed desi conditioning for instance–but I ensure that each episode is uplifting at its very core. 

“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention here that it is extremely hard to monetise content, so the solution for any content creator is to have multiple sources of income. For me, the steady work as a writer has helped me immensely.”

5. How long did it take you to monetise ‘Real Girl’? What was the turning point?

Small brands had started collaborating with me just a few months into starting my blog, which was great! Unfortunately, however, for personal reasons, I had to take a break from blogging and this impacted the monetisation. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention here that it is extremely hard to monetise content, so the solution for any content creator is to have multiple sources of income. For me, the steady work as a writer has helped me immensely. This motivates me to keep growing my blog and brand without worrying too much about the monetisation angle. 

6. What kind of marketing strategies work best for your content? Which has been the most successful platform in terms of ROI?

One can’t deny the role Instagram plays in building community and disseminating content. However, I find it increasingly important for content creators to be on multiple platforms and I have an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn apart from Instagram. Podcasts, participating in print media stories, and regular offline networking has added many more avenues where I can talk about my platform and exchange ideas with real women. 

“I am a big believer in keeping one’s eyes and ears peeled for important courses, webinars, lectures in your field, but I look at that as a lifelong practice rather than something one must do BEFORE they begin.”

7. Do you have any tips for an aspiring content creator who wants to enter this space?

Yes!

  1. Have an alternate source of income.
  2. Take care of your mental health as spending copious amounts of time on the Internet can potentially be damaging.
  3. Understand that it’s a marathon and not a race. Take time to mindfully build your brand and don’t try and take shortcuts to amp up your numbers.

8. Are there any online or offline courses that you would recommend before entering this space?

In this line of work, you can learn best on the job. I am a big believer in keeping one’s eyes and ears peeled for important courses, webinars, lectures in your field, but I look at that as a lifelong practice rather than something one must do BEFORE they begin. 

9. Which networking groups and showcasing events could help an aspirant meet the right people and generate work opportunities in this field?

In the field of content, every person you meet is a potential client. However, it is important to connect with likeminded people and also meet entrepreneurs and self-starters from different backgrounds. There are many cool networking events and groups out there which one shouldn’t be shy of exploring like Networking Now India

10. What are some investments one should be ready to make when entering the influencer/content creator space?

Content is a saturated space in 2020. So it’s important to have a clear vision or plan as to what you are trying to build. There is no end to how much one can monetarily invest in their own business so that would have to be a personal call, but I would tread with caution when it comes to spending too much right at the launch stage. You would incur some basic initial expenses like buying a laptop/camera/microphone/ring light (depending on the field of content). That apart, just like any entrepreneur would tell you, be prepared to give it every waking moment of your life. It’s not going to be easy but it’ll definitely be worth it.  

For more information on Real Girl, find her on Instagram and her podcast Real Talk With Smriti Notani on Spotify

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