Listen to your gut. There is always lots of “chatter,” and everyone is always full of advice. I have found that when you can listen to your gut, you’re always making the best decision for you.
Sarah Barrett is a former teacher with a Masters in Education from Pepperdine University. She has been fundraising for schools since 2008. She is the author of A Mom’s Guide to School Fundraising and has consulted for several schools, both public and private as well as sports teams and clubs. She has been featured on RetailMeNot.com, Scholastic: Parent & Child and The New York Times. She thinks all kids should be able to have a well-rounded education, team uniforms, instruments and support. Don’t you? In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Andrew, her daughters, Emily and Charlotte, and their puppy, Toffee.
Where did the idea for A Mom’s Guide to School Fundraising come from?
I had been fundraising for my kids’ school for several years and one day I was talking to my air conditioning company – asking for a donation for our yearly auction, when the owner of the company asked me how I do all of this. Apparently, his kids’ local public school didn’t know how to fundraise the way our school did. I decided he couldn’t be alone in that frustration, so I wrote the book. After that, school organizations and teams starting asking me to consult for them and show them how to do it, so I started consulting for groups as well as small businesses that wanted to get their fundraising programs into schools.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My schedule varies from day to day. I work with clients, write my weekly blog post, research fundraising programs that work (and don’t), find innovative and new programs to share with my clients and followers and still juggle the responsibilities of being a mom (pick up, carpool, swim team, gymnastics, etc)
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m a big believer in trying things out and going for it. A few years ago, I had an idea for a fundraiser that was challenging. It was a great idea, but it needed a lot of guidance and support for proper execution. I was able to bring a group of people together to make the fundraiser a reality! It was a spectacular event that was talked about for the rest of the year (and into the following year)! Another parent tried to repeat the event, but not with the same success. I find that passion is a huge part of my success with fundraising.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m a HUGE fan of a program called Party Book. This is a fundraiser that has parents hosting parties and others paying to attend each party. 100% of the money collected goes to the organization and it is totally social. From the buyer perspective, you are paying to do something you’d likely do anyway (cooking class, wine tasting, dance class for your kid), but all of the money goes to your chosen organization and you can meet new people who are part of your community. From the host perspective, you are throwing a party and getting to know people and it’s tax deductible!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Hmmm. That’s a tough question. I like to cross stuff off my list. Always have. As an entrepreneur, I’m able to cross stuff off my list, but I can be more flexible about when it gets done. I don’t have pressure from a boss to do the work between 9-5. If I would rather watch my daughter at a gymnastics meet, or go to a PTA meeting, I can do that, and make sure my work is done at a different time.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
A long time ago, I worked in the entertainment industry. I saw bosses who would treat their assistants like crap – handcuffing them to desks, cutting off their neckties because they didn’t like them, making them separate blue m&ms, hitting on them and threatening to fire them – the stories are true and horrible. I think I learned that humiliation and being a horrible boss may get you success (and have other bosses think you’re cool), but ultimately, I learned that it wasn’t for me and I preferred being a kind person who cared about people and treated them with respect. I don’t care who you are and how much money you have – being kind and respectful is the most important thing.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I don’t know that I would choose a different road. I learned so much from the road travelled. That’s like wishing I’d chosen chocolate instead of vanilla. We make the choices that are right for us in that moment. Maybe I would have skipped working in entertainment, but then there would not only be people I never would have met, there would have been lessons I might never have learned. I’m happy with the choices I’ve made. No regrets.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Listen to your gut. There is always lots of “chatter,” and everyone is always full of advice. I have found that when you can listen to your gut, you’re always making the best decision for you. And, if it turns out it wasn’t the best decision, it was the decision you needed to make at that time to learn something else. Take responsibility for what you do – don’t leave it up to someone else.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Slow and steady wins the race. I know a lot of people who grew their businesses quickly. For them, it may work, but for me, I prefer doing what I’m doing. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love John Stewart to interview me or have Oprah mention my book as a Favorite Thing. That would be awesome! I’m not paying a ton of people to market my business and advertise it everywhere. I am growing my business organically. That feels good to me.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve created some events that haven’t worked. I have created events that created too much controversy so they had to be pulled. When you take risks with anything, there is a chance for failure. It’s how you handle that failure that makes all the difference. When you fall off a horse, you have to get back on. That’s sometimes hard for me because I am not thick-skinned. When I get knocked down, it hurts. Then I get mad, and then I know I’m well on my way to recovery. Every event can’t hit it out of the park, but I have had a lot of success for others, and I count those wins as mine too.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
As a child, I was taught to have a “love of knowing,” but when I went to graduate school, I discovered the “love of learning,” and that has shaped my career and informed so many decisions I make, both in my home life as well as my business.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
When I built my very first website, I used a company called iPower for webhosting. They were great and even though newer and bigger companies (and maybe more flashy companies have come along), I’ve stuck by them. I believe strongly in loyalty. If they don’t let me down, I don’t leave!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m a big fan of Marcus Buckingham’s Now, Discover Your Strengths. I think it’s so important to know what your strengths are and always play to them. Sure, there are those that will tell you to work on your weaknesses, but that isn’t where your passion lies. Stay focused on building up your strengths and you’ll always move forward!
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I think the biggest influencer in business has been Marie Forleo. She has helped me to learn so much about myself – both personally and professionally. She encourages me to be the best entrepreneur I can be. My family also teaches me so much every day. Without their support and encouragement, I don’t know that I would have gone on this adventure of being an entrepreneur. I learn something from every person I meet and connect with. Everyone has something to give and share with us – we just have to open our eyes and ears and be ready to hear it.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.