How I Did It: Sarah Shaw, Founder, Sarah Shaw Handbags &

It all started right after college. I got a job in the film business as a costume supervisor. It had it all: multi-million dollar wardrobe budgets, intensity and hobnobbing with big celebs. But over time, it became a grind. Tight budgets and “tighter” movie stars (I was so tired of caring about “hot movie star’s supposed allergy to cotton”) made the job uninspiring. It took me 11 years to see it, but the lesson I took from my first job was this: Just because your job is “glamorous” and high-powered doesn’t mean it’s fulfilling.

I decided I wanted to be successful and fulfilled at the same time. But other than babysitting, I realized that I’d never had any other kind of “real” job. In the late 90s I was an avid Martha Stewart reader (still am); I always loved her Good Things section with all the clever craft ideas. She did a story I loved about making “little brown lunch bags” out of red felt with pinked edges. While making the bags to wrap my holiday gifts, I thought about changing the size and adding handles to make them into handbags. How cute, right?? Well, I ended up sitting on that idea for about 9 months. Finally, one day my boyfriend dared me to “Make the bag already”…and Sarah Shaw Handbags was born.

  1. Follow your passion: When an idea makes you so excited that you literally leap out of bed each day to pursue it, I call that the “passion to succeed.” It’s this level of passion that will empower you to realize your dream.
  2. Ask for help: There are so many misconceptions about asking for help – that it can make you seem dumb, weak, or even uneducated. Let those negative thoughts go. Ask anyone and everyone who could possibly help get your business going faster and smarter for their input. Getting their feedback will help you avoid wasting time and money.
  3. Crunch those numbers: Know the cost of goods sold, if yours is a product-based company, or if it’s service-based, the associated hard costs. This is the most important part of your business – knowing your true costs. Some of the most commonly overlooked and forgotten items include: packaging, labels, hangtags, poly bags, stuffing paper, freight costs involved in getting the raw materials to you and freight and duty if manufactured overseas. The second part of staying ahead of the red line is knowing how to manage your margins to make sure your company is profitable.
  4. Know when to delegate: Sometimes wearing all the hats can be addictive, but it’s important to delegate. To get ahead here, make a running list – over the course of a week — of all the things you do — big things, small things, emailing, phone calls, posting to Facebook, etc. At the end of the week, divide the list into things you MUST do yourself, and the things you can delegate. Most likely, you will find that there’s very little only you can do. Next, prioritize the list of things you can delegate and find someone (or several virtual assistants) to do the first 3 things as soon as possible to free up your important time.
  5. Trust your instincts: Be firm in your decisions. Know your target market intimately. Stick to your aesthetics – you are the creator of this business. Have confidence in your final choices. Never do what doesn’t feel right in your gut. No one but you can be you.

About the Author

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Having launched her own business, Sarah Shaw Handbags, Sarah Shaw advises other entrepreneurs and business owners.

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