Intrepid Insights: Sarah Best, CEO & Chief Strategist, of Sarah Best Strategy
Sarah Best, CEO & Chief Strategist, of Sarah Best Strategy
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Full transcript from video/podcast below:
Derek: Sarah, thank you for joining us today. I really appreciate you taking the time. To get
things started, please tell us a little bit more about who you are and what your business
is all about.
Sarah: My name is Sarah, and my company is about three years old. We are a digital marketing
agency and we focus on social media strategy, on search engine optimization, so that's
making websites work in Google search. And then also on content marketing. And
outside of running my business, I'm also a writer and an artist. I grew up in Pennsylvania
in a small town, college town like Madison.
Sarah: Not too far from Penn State.
Sarah: And went to school in New York and London, and then moved to Chicago. Stayed in
Chicago for 12 years, and then found myself here three years ago when I started my
Derek: That's a diverse background. Why did you end up in Madison?
Sarah: My brother worked for Epic for five years, and then went back to school here. And when
I was in Chicago, I would come and visit him a lot. And when I decided a few years ago
that I needed a change of scenery, I was like, you know what, Madison's a really fun
town. Not only are there more trees, which is what I was looking for, it's also been a
really great place to start a business. There's a ton of resources for, for starting a
business and getting a lot of help and mentoring.
Derek: So talking more about your business, Sarah, obviously there was a problem and a need I
guess you could say that you saw. Why was it important to you to, to solve that need
both on a business level and a personal level?
Sarah: I think at this point in time a lot of companies are on board with social media. And I
think also a lot of companies know that having a strategy behind that social media
channel is really important. The thing that I found through working with a lot of
companies was that sometimes even having a strategy was hard to implement. So a lot
of the things people will people talk to me about are "I don't have enough staff," "I don't
have enough time." So, a lot of the problem that I'm trying to solve is actually work flow
and knowledge. So, my goal is to give all companies the tools that they need to actually
do social media really well, or content marketing really well, within their unique context,
vision, and constraints. And that means figuring out implementation plans that actually
work with their unique teams. And that's true for both large and small businesses. So
I've worked with airlines that I've had to coordinate customer service on social media
across different countries where they needed to have a tool that could accommodate
different languages and different work flows. But that's also true for resource-strapped
small businesses and nonprofits as well. So I ask the people, "What are you hoping to do
as the result of running the social media program?" And, "What's getting in the way of
Sarah: So, I don't think strategy is meaningful unless it can actually be implemented.
Derek: Sarah, as your businesses continue to grow, you've been doing this for a little over three
years now, how has it impacted your personal life?
Sarah: I think that there's a lot of pressure when you start a company to not pay yourself. To
keep as much money in the business as possible. And so I made the choice early in
running my business that my financial needs were important. That I wasn't gonna delay
putting money into retirement funds. That I wasn't gonna delay paying down debts or
saving money. So that has meant making some choices about my business in terms of
how fast we go. I have chosen to grow sustainably instead of growing very explosively.
But of course there's still a lot of challenges and questions that come along with that.
Like at one point I invested some money from my Roth IRA into my business. So, I think
that if you have really clear priorities about what's important to you, like for me, I feel
like you only get one life, and so you need to really live it. And so I think that having
clear priorities really makes it easier to make those decisions, both on a personal level
and on a business level.
Derek: What unique challenged have you faced as a female-owned business? And as a subset of
that, share with us some of the dark days you've had as a business owner over the last
Sarah: I've been really lucky because I've gotten to work for really strong leaders, both men
and women who have really empowered me to take some risks and do really innovative
things with social media. I've also been in some environments that were really toxic.
And where the culture was built in such a way that it didn't look anything like me. I
didn't relate to it. I felt alienated. And actually, sometimes when I would come to the
table with ideas, they just wouldn't be heard at all. And I remember going home some
nights and thinking, I'm really smart. I'm successful. I've won a bunch of awards. And,
and I work really hard. I have great relationships with my clients but I'm not making any
headway here. Why, why is this happening? And you start to blame yourself a little bit
even though it's totally not you. So, one of the great things about starting your own
business is that you get to set the vision for the company and also define, to some
extent, what the culture is gonna be like. One thing you learn from having those types of
experiences is that you're not the only person in the room. Sometimes sexism manifests
itself in ways that you don't expect. It's pretty well documented that, that women owned
businesses tend to get less funding than male-owned businesses. I got by most
of the first three years of my business funding myself. It was all money I had made that I
just kind of built up a little pot to pull from. And there are times when things are either a
little slower or your team's growing and the piecing isn't quite right that cash flow can
be a challenge sometimes. It took me about three years to get to the point where I felt
comfortable enough to go to a bank and ask for a basic line of credit.
Derek: Oh, wow. Okay.
Sarah: Yeah, and some of that's just feeling kind of intimidated by the process.
Derek: Yeah, no I can understand that. So what was the catalyst for you to start thinking about
your personal finances a bit more while you'd been building your business?
Sarah: I have never had the luxury of not thinking about my personal finances. I had no money
when I was in college and when I was in my 20s. Like none. I've had asthma since I was a
little kid and, and for most, up until recently what that's meant is that I've had to
maintain continuous health insurance. That’s meant that I've had to make certain
choices and take on some debt, quite frankly. Again, that's kind of what led me to
decide to choose sustainability as the growth path for my business.
Derek: It sounds like it's more, been more in the forefront of your mind maybe compared to
most entrepreneurs. 'Cause it's really easy to put the blinders on, eat some ramen
noodles and just go. But if you don't have that luxury, if you don't have, if you need that
health insurance, you don't have a choice.
Sarah: Right, and it's one thing to buy ramen but inhalers are expensive.
Derek: Right. Right. So given your experience, what insights can you share, tips, suggestions,
can you share for other founders out there for their personal financial situations as
they're building their business?
Sarah: I would say that, that you should think carefully about what you need in order live. And
that doesn't necessarily have to mean living on ramen noodles for a few years. If you
can do that, that's fine, but there has to be a little bit of balance and you really have to
start thinking about yourself early rather than waiting until there is some kind of pay-off
with your business.
Derek: As hard as it may be for you to take yourself away from your business for an hour or a
couple hours, whatever, it sounds like what you're saying is, take that time and actually
think about the bigger picture a bit.
Derek: And, and how to fit your business into that instead of the other way around?
Sarah: Oh yeah. The bigger picture is so important. If your life is work, and that's what you
want it to be, that's fine. But I think for a lot of us, there's a lot of things outside of work
that are more meaningful to us, like our families, and pursuing our hobbies and creative
interests. And so, you, as an entrepreneur, you have a finite amount of resources, both
in terms of money and time.
Sarah: Sometimes that means making some sacrifices. It might mean turning a client down
Sarah: It might mean people getting a little ticked off if you're, if you're really unplugging and
taking a vacation. But at the end of the day, that's, you only get one life and, and you
have to spend it the way that you feel is important.
Derek: Are there any resources that you benefited from or that you would suggest to others
that they should think about tapping into, from a personal standpoint, while they're
building their company?
Sarah: Yeah. I think that getting the perspective of a financial planner can be valuable. I think
with my clients, I give them an independent perspective on their work and, and how
they're doing. And it doesn't mean that, that they're not doing it well or that I'm not
doing my personal finances well, it's just sometimes good to have an objective, objective
third party look at how things are going. And the other thing about that is that a good
financial planner might know how you can get more out of the resources that you do
Derek: Wow, sure.
Sarah: And might know about things that maybe you haven't thought about, like re-,
renegotiating your credit card rates or just things like that, that maybe you haven't
thought about in a while.
Derek: Sarah, the, the lines between you as a person and your business are easily blurred. How
has being a founder of a company and, and you're, you're doing sustainable growth here
but there's still some stressful days, right?
Sarah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Derek: How is being the CEO, being the chief strategist, how has that helped you on a personal
Sarah: Being a CEO is a lot of fun. Like, I came into my job being kind of an expert in my field. I
didn't really know that much about being, running a business at all.
Sarah: And so I really like having these new things to tackle and these new things to learn, and
I've really loved the mentoring relationships that I've developed. I've been lucky to have
a few different mentors who have helped me learn some of those skills. And there's no
better feeling than getting to a place that the client where they, they come to me and
they say, "That was really helpful. I didn't realize I could do it like that. I didn't know that
we could accomplish this on my team." So that, that just makes me feel really, really
Derek: Yeah, so it's, it's not just business anymore. You're actually, positively impacting
people's lives, and that's got a ton of benefits.
Sarah: Yeah, I like to work with companies and with nonprofits who are making a difference in
their customers' lives. It's really great when I'm able to help them be, be more efficient
and effective and maximize the impact of what they're doing.
Derek: Sarah, what advice do you have for other founders out there on how they can still
maintain their personal identity as their business is growing?
Sarah: Again, I think it comes down to having some priorities about what are important to you.
And for me, giving back has always been really important to me. It's something that I've
done even when I haven't had any money at all. I, I've always ... When I haven't had
money I would volunteered my time. And that is actually how I got a lot of the
experience that I have in my career-
Sarah: ... too,-
Derek: That's cool.
Sarah: ... was through volunteering.
Derek: So the mindset of just giving back one way or another is, is really important to you on a
personal side, and that seems to be impacting your business as well, in a positive way.
Sarah: Yeah, I think that's how I was raised. My parents really instilled that value in me, and
also I think again, both experiencing some injustices and also just being around people
more, more often just being around people who have really, who have really
experienced things that are truly unfair. On the south side of Chicago, I ... Also when I
was in college, I volunteered at a lower-income school. So I think once see those things,
when your eyes are really open, you just wanna do what you can. If you're not the
person that's solving those problems, to support the people who are solving those
problems and who are doing that really important work.
Derek: That's a really good point that you're, you just made there. Whether you can do it
yourself or support those that are. I think that's huge. How do you balance the
commitment you've made to your company, your employees, your customers? How do
balance that with your personal life, right? What are some things that you do or some
insights you can share with others to help do that so that you don't get burned out?
Sarah: Yeah. So I think it's really important to unplug sometimes. And I feel really guilty saying
that because I'm basically telling people to be on Facebook all the time. But it's true. I
think that it's really important to totally unplug, to not check your work emails, to get
outside. Be in nature. Be with the people that you care about. And I find those times to
be so refreshing. Like they recharge me. They're really good for my relationship. They're
good for myself. And I, I think it, it reminds you of who you are and why are you doing
this in the first place. 'Cause it's so easy to be caught up in the grind. It's so easy-
Sarah: ... to just think day to day and just be on this constant hamster wheel. That, again, you
have to ... And it's good for your business to step away from your computer too.
Because, again, you have to focus on that longer-term vision and not just be constantly
in "I can solve anything-
Sarah: ... mode." I love three-day weekends. I love three-day weekends because it usually
takes me until Saturday night to start feeling like I'm really relaxing. And so, the threeday
weekend is pretty awesome because by Sunday I feel really great. One other thing
that I try to really do is to have fun while I'm on business trips. So I work in Chicago a lot.
I actually have an office down there.
Sarah: I lived there for 12 years. A lot of my network is based in Chicago. But I tell you, every
time I'm off the bus at Union Station heading to, after I've checked into my hotel, I head
straight to Frontera Grill before whatever else I'm working on that day. It's good for the
Derek: So I mean, that just goes back again though, like you said, prioritize what's important to
you on a personal level and do some of that, and try to blend it in with your work. Sarah,
it's been great chatting with you today. Please leave us with one additional insight that
you think people would appreciate knowing it more about you, your business, or being
Sarah: Yeah, well I think that one thing is that anything worth doing is gonna make you feel like
you have to puke at some point in time. Usually when I get that feeling I know that I'm
on the right track. To do something that could be really great. And I think if, you
shouldn't ever be afraid of taking risks. The other thing I would say is that there's gonna
be some stuff starting a business, whether it's financials or social media or other kinds
of technology, that seem really mysterious and intimidating. But you should never feel
afraid to ask questions. I think that being an entrepreneur is a process of continually
learning. And that's part of what's fun about being an entrepreneur too. My advice to
people would be to just keep asking questions, keep meeting more people who are
different than you, that different perspectives, who can help you navigate some of
those things that seem a little scary at first.
Derek: Sarah, thank you again for joining us for this edition of Intrepid Insights. To all our
viewers, please make sure to follow us social, so you don't miss our next episode of
Intrepid Insights. Thanks again for watching.
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