How $33,000 of Debt Taught Sarah Mae Ives That Starting a Passion Business Isn't Enough
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
In this series called Member Showcase, we publish interviews with members of The Oracles. This interview is with Sarah Mae Ives, founder and CEO of digital marketing and training company Sarah Mae Ives Social Media Inc. It was condensed by The Oracles.
Who was your biggest influence growing up?
Sarah Mae Ives: My dad. He grew up in an environment where entrepreneurship was a mandatory survival skill more than a choice. He tried to sway me away from entrepreneurship and encouraged me to go far with my education (which I did — I got a master’s degree).
Every day, he modeled the skills and habits that have served me immensely in business, such as the mindset that “the customer is always right.” He demonstrated the single-minded focus, tenacity, unwavering drive, and dedication required for business success. You need those qualities to stay true to your vision when the going gets tough, and I’m forever grateful to him for teaching them to me.
What is one of your proudest moments?
Sarah Mae Ives: Aside from having two ridiculously cute kids, my proudest moment is when my business exceeded multiple six figures. Nothing beats that feeling of, “Wow, this is working.” This milestone was an incredible taste of victory, especially after failing at business since 2011 and wasting nearly $50,000 on an endless string of certificates and DIY courses.
That success is directly tied to my ability to pivot. When my first business failed, I reimagined my next steps when most people would have packed it in. While single-minded focus is mandatory, you also must marry that with practicality and be able to admit when something isn’t working and tweak it to fill a need.
What excites you the most about your business right now?
Sarah Mae Ives: I’m mentoring an incredible group of smart, kind, and driven women and teaching them the ropes of owning a digital agency. While Facebook advertising has been the bread and butter of my business for years (and will continue to be), I’ve always felt most at home as an educator. I guess I’m just naturally bossy!
When I decided to follow my heart’s call and pursue this passion project, I had no clue how it would go. I couldn’t have imagined that I’d attract so many great women, and I am learning just as much from them as they are from me.
What’s your favorite quote?
Sarah Mae Ives: “Perfect is the enemy of good,” by the French writer Voltaire. Too many budding entrepreneurs get tripped up thinking that things need to be “just right” before they can make a change or start that business. In reality, they just need to press go and start before they’re ready.
While I respect the dedication to mastery, I think what’s often beneath it is the fear of putting yourself out there. The entrepreneurs who get ahead are the ones who aren’t afraid to jump in headfirst and sort the rest out as they go, which has been the case for me. As long as true service is your guiding philosophy, you’ll find your way.
What was your biggest challenge starting up? How did you overcome it?
Sarah Mae Ives: The belief that it needed to be a “passion” business. After several years and getting $33,000 in debt, I realized that you must marry your passion with a need that’s highly valued to be successful. Otherwise, you just have an expensive hobby.
I overcame this by getting real about what I enjoyed: writing, creating, and talking shop with other business owners. I initially offered advertising services out of practicality. I didn’t expect to fall in love with this business and become so passionate about the entrepreneurs I helped. If you follow what you’re good at and spot the market’s needs, your passion will find you in unexpected ways.
Who is the best leader ever and why?
Sarah Mae Ives: Gary Vaynerchuk. He’s incredibly talented at motivating people to think beyond the ordinary and get out of the shackles of the “What will they think?” mentality. This is mandatory when you’re starting a business — because people will call you absurd.
Vaynerchuk is inspiring a new generation to think more carefully about the traditional path of higher education and locking yourself into a nine-to-five job just because you’re “supposed” to. If I had someone like him to inspire me in my 20s, I would have followed my business passions sooner. As the mom of a 10-year-old, it’s incredible to see someone modeling how important it is not to care what others think.
How do you evaluate a good business deal?
Sarah Mae Ives: By asking if it’s a quantifiable “hard skill” that’s highly valued in the marketplace. Too many people start businesses based on “soft skills,” where getting paid depends on the size of your audience and the reach of your brand, which can be costly to establish. Or, they offer hard skills, like social media management or virtual assisting, that don’t pay well for the hours required. With those businesses, it’s much harder to prove a return on investment, but with a skill that has ROI, you’re not selling transformation so much as you’re selling a smart business decision.
Which single habit gives you 80 percent of your results?
Sarah Mae Ives: My unwavering focus, which is necessary to succeed. I routinely turn off my phone, exercise, and eat food that nourishes my body so I can stay focused. There’s never been more temptation to become distracted from our core values and dreams.
Focus is also about tuning out what others are doing and staying in your lane. I’ve found it’s immensely powerful to bask in silence because that’s when my brain gets creative and solves problems. One of my favorite tools is construction worker-style ear protection, so I have total silence. I look ridiculous, but it boosts my creativity and focus.
If you ever start a charity, what would it be called and what would it do?
Sarah Mae Ives: I would create a program that helps fellow entrepreneurs with their mental health. I believe that mental health issues are more prevalent among entrepreneurs than they’re discussed. A recent study found that half of entrepreneurs have suffered from at least one at some point.
Maybe it starts with that feeling of not fitting in and wanting to buck the status quo, which I relate to as someone who loves the underdog mentality. But being “different” can be hard, and we aren’t taught the self-care strategies that we need to survive. I’d like to help change that.
What do you want to be known for, or what do you want your legacy to be?
Sarah Mae Ives: I want to be known for providing crystal-clear direction on what works in business and what doesn’t, because having a successful business dramatically transforms your life. While I love many things about the coaching industry, many would-be entrepreneurs only get half the answers they need to find success.
We are taught that we can buy a $997 DIY program and bank a million bucks, which is far from reality. We’re also confused by the droves of people who say that it takes “seven years to overnight success,” which I don’t believe. I aim to be one of the clearest voices about the fastest way to find success so I can empower a new wave of female entrepreneurs. That’s my ultimate dream.