Biz Dev, Setting Prices, And Hiring Right – With Sarah Evans

by Tim Jahn on December 3, 2010

Sarah Evans has a unique business. She runs her own new media consultancy with her team of three, and finds herself speaking at conferences, traveling to interview celebrities on red carpets, and getting interviewed in all sorts of major media outlets.

Clients come to Sarah because they know people listen to her and trust her. I interviewed Sarah to discuss how she finds these clients, how she sets her prices, and how she set about forming her team.

Transcript

Tim Jahn: I know you kind of do a mish mash of stuff. But about a little over a year ago. Now you’re traveling to award shows, you’re covering red carpet to celebrities, among many other activities that you’re doing. And like I mentioned, people are paying you to do this because they know that people are listening to you on all sorts of channels. My first question is, how did you get to the point where so many people listen to you?

Sarah Evans: I still don’t know that so many people listen to me. I think it’s nice when you can say that there are x number of people in the community or x number of people participate in something. But really when we start looking at things, I’m very quick to tell clients and potential clients that I can’t necessarily sell anything for them, but what I’m good at is starting a conversation.

So finding a trend or identify an audience where something might resonate with them, and provoking through questions. And letting people kind of fill in the story or create the conversation. And then it’s up to the brand or the client to jump in and take it to the next level. So, I can help create that awareness potentially in a specific group of people and then its still up to the client or brand to do something with it.

Tim Jahn: So when you’re pitching a client or when a client comes to you, you’re totally up front and telling them, “This might work, this might not work. But I’m being up front here, we’re experimenting.”

Sarah Evans: Yeah, I mean it’s almost impossible to fail by asking a question. So I can say 100% of the time I ask a question and get responses. If somebody wants to hard sell or do something like that, I mean, that’s just not going to be effective and frankly not all of my clients, I’m not in front of a community or audience with all of my clients.

We still do a lot of behind the scenes work with both identifying influencers and different bloggers that we want to pitch, and doing a lot behind the scenes. But then I have those few clients where I get to play in front of the camera roll as well.

Tim Jahn: You say “we.” How many people do you have now?

Sarah Evans: We’ve got four.

Tim Jahn: Four? You’re taking over the world at four. How did you — I’m curious because I’m such a, in things I do I’m such a control freak; it’s probably a bad thing. But there’s certain things I do that I can’t imagine turning over to somebody else and I know I will have to one day. How did you — when you realized you needed the first person, how did you go about finding that person? Like finding the right person.

Sarah Evans: Well, the first thing that I wanted to do was hire someone that could help with all the administrative parts of the business. And frankly, you need to be either that are a control freak, you can lose that very quickly when you’re going on no sleep and trying to do it all. And I realized early on that if I focus on the right things and the right details for my strengths, I can do well.

If I bring someone in who has the strength with the details and managing administrative tasks, and helping keep my calendar on track, and helping coordinate client meetings, and doing those day to day touches, it was an investment in the business, in the company, and in my own growth because then it frees up that time to do strategy or do execution or tactical level thought and research.

So I used to say that I hard time getting away from the office because there was no one here to man the phones even though a lot of what we do is virtual. Now there’s always somebody here, which is really nice.

Tim Jahn: So you can in a sense feel comfortable now when you’re out and about when there’s someone kind of at the home base?

Sarah Evans: Exactly.

Tim Jahn: And how did you go about in terms of like I said, I mentioned you want to find someone that’s on your wavelength, that thinks similar to how you think; where did you even start? Was it with friends? I mean, you said, “Hey do you know someone that would be good with this task or?”

Sarah Evans: I’ve hired all of my employees and interns through social media. I try to eat, breathe, and sleep what I preach and talk about. Ironically, our diva of the details Amanda Flahive is somebody that I went to college with but we didn’t necessarily hang around in college, but we knew who the other person was.

And we had a mutual friend who got married and at the engagement party, we reconnected, it was at our home, and we became facebook friends shortly thereafter. And it wasn’t long after that I posted that I was looking for an administrative assistant. She applied for it, was over qualified, was flattered that she wanted to, and we hired her on and at that time it was myself and another employee who really does strategy and media research. And so we hired Amanda on together.

Tim Jahn: That’s awesome, the idea of kind of doing what you do, I mean practicing what you preach.

Sarah Evans: Yeah, always.

Tim Jahn: Which brings me — like I said you’re not running a traditional company in the sense that you’re providing a physical product, “this chair costs $350.00, take it or leave it, there might be a sale. This website costs $1,600.00 because I’m putting in x amount of hours.”

You’re not doing that. How do you go about setting the prices in terms of — and I’m not asking what the prices are. But how do you, you as a business owner, how did you and how do you set the prices for the various services you’re providing?

Sarah Evans: Well, I’ll be very honest. And I don’t know if it’s something that necessarily other women struggle with. But I had a hard time valuing what I did at the very beginning of the business. And frankly as I’ve talked to more entrepreneurs and business owners, I was undervaluing what I did. And also it’s easier to ask for a bit more maybe when you start to bring other people, you have different overhead costs. When it was just me, myself and I, I almost felt bad asking for a certain amount. But I started doing research to see what industry best practices were.

Frankly I came down with an hourly rate for myself. We’ve since setup standardized pricing for different things whether it be a keynote to a monthly retainer for the amount of hours. We’ve kind of structured some of it now and it really has to do with market value, what I think I’m worth and then obviously I have to have enough to pay my team and staff for their work as well.

Tim Jahn: Was a lot of trial and error when you were first starting out?

Sarah Evans: Yes.

Tim Jahn: Like now you’ve gotten to the point where you understand.

Sarah Evans: Yes, yes, yes. More error than anything.

Tim Jahn: I think that’s one of the hardest parts when you’re starting anything that you’re going to eventually want to make money from is how much do I charge?

Sarah Evans: And frankly, I mean, I assume that I’m doing it right now. But it is trial and error always.

Tim Jahn: How do you find clients today? I know like I’ve said, you’ve gotten to a certain popularity in some circles that I’m sure people come knocking down your door. But do you have a sales person that actually seeks out clients, or do you, are you at the point where they all just come knocking down your door?

Sarah Evans: I do 100% of our business development right and we don’t do any traditional marketing, or advertising, or any sales outreach. All of the business that has come in is through referrals through social media, and then we make it a point, my team to help get me sourced in media outlet and I find that I get the majority of business inquiries coming from those hits.

Just this past week, I was on CNN.com for the Eva’s Bridal Story; I created an online document. And by the end of the day, we had four or five new businesses inquiries come in just from that example.

Tim Jahn: And I’ve followed your background a little bit. And I know that’s happened to you more than once where you’ve done something and within hours you’ve gotten major media attention; that’s just awesome.

Sarah Evans: It’s crazy. But honestly most of it’s about doing the right thing at the right time. But its timing and relevancy. And we don’t — especially things like with that Eva’s bridal story, didn’t do it with the intent of getting media coverage. But the media coverage came because it was something, it was just a good resource that was created and they wanted to, people wanted to educate consumers about a place they could go to enter information.

Tim Jahn: I know you said you didn’t do it with the intent. But when you do things like that, and obviously you’re just a good person, I know that. But do you ever think from a business sense like this good thing might also bring in some more business so it’s kind of double positive?

Sarah Evans: Not necessarily like for the Eva’s Bridal example, because some of those things are just serendipitous. It just happened I saw this need and I thought, “Well if they just did this, it could really streamline that process and make things easier.” But we do approach things from a business perspective.

For example right now we’re working on a content strategy for several outlets I’ve been asked for but haven’t necessarily set aside time to develop content for. So that is a very strategic business move as opposed to the serendipitous media story.

Tim Jahn: Gotcha. I mean, in a sense you’re just doing what you do and that’s what people pay you for is the awesome things you do. So you don’t really have to do it for business I guess. So the amount of traveling you have going on, the amount of activity going on.

I know you mentioned you hired Amanda to do administrative tasks. How do you handle the everyday tasks of running a business? I mean the stuff that no one wanted to get into when they started their own business; the accounting, the administrative stuff.

Sarah Evans: Well, I have a good husband for accounting. And so I have a good husband who helps with that. And then we’ve since, we’re in the process of hiring an accountant to help with that. As you might imagine being from the creative side of things, numbers are not my strength. I can push through but I’d rather hire on an expert to take care of that. And as far as other tasks, all of us have to do things that we don’t particularly love or like.

And I think at sometimes I become quite crazy about things that need to get done because there are so many things, its impossible to get them all done. But I want to have the most successful business; I also want to grow the most successful team so that we can keep putting forth a great product.

Tim Jahn: Where do you find time to think about where you’re company’s going five months down the road, ten months down the road? I mean, with all the world wind of current activity that you have, do you set aside some time each week to kind of plan ahead for the next x amount of whatever days, weeks?

Sarah Evans: Yes. Oddly enough what usually happens is in the wee morning hours I’ll come up with an idea and say, “Here’s where I think the business could go.” And then I can’t go back to sleep because I keep thinking about it so I’ll get up and kind of build out a plan then. When I — you know, many times on the airplane I’ll take a nap there but it’s also a great time for me to jot down notes in hotel rooms.

There’s ample time when you’re traveling to kind of take a step back when no ones around you, you’ve got that alone time to really dig in and think about how do I keep the business going, and what’s next. and part of what I’d like to do for the next steps is — and what I’m trying to do now is grow a few people both know what I know and teach me what they know but to create some type of sustainable business models that if I wasn’t available someone else could step in and accomplish the same thing that I could.

Tim Jahn: How — that’s got to be tough though because your type of business is in a sense based on you, and your face, and you knowledge, and your persona. I know you haven’t accomplished it yet, but how tough is that and planning that?

Sarah Evans: Extremely tough. And right now it is somewhat built on me and my persona. But I think over time, perhaps once this phase of social media passes at some point even if it’s not called PR, I want to have a PR consultancy. And it may not always be me as the face, but we can grow this business into still providing really great services in the communications field. So it may move that way.

Tim Jahn: Gotcha. And with creative entrepreneurs have a ton going on whether they’re doing it all themselves, or they’re starting to delegate tasks, there’s so much going on everyday, there’s no five day workweek. Where do you and when do you find time to just relax? I mean, you have a husband, I’m sure he wants to see you once in a while. When do you find time to just kind of sit down and breathe for a moment?

Sarah Evans: You know I think sometimes just the appearance of what I share online it might look like I’m traveling all the time but I do set aside time — I might travel for two weeks straight but then come home and be home for a week. And because I can pick and choose my hours, I might choose to get up early and work and then have time with my husband in the evening — we many times I hate to travel on Sundays, but I do it because Sundays really are our family time, our family day.

And frankly my husband will call me out if I’m spending too much time working, traveling, whatever and say, “Hey remember me.” And he’s so supportive and loving. He does it in a very gentle way and then I know that I need to take a step back.

Tim Jahn: I always say you really can’t do anything as an entrepreneur without the support of your spouse or whoever you’re with. How was that when you were first starting the company? Was your husband really supportive, did it take convincing or did do you guys have that kind of relationship where it’s just you’re both entrepreneurial?

Sarah Evans: Yeah, I think — I’m definitely the entrepreneur and I think sometimes I push not just my husband but people around me out of their comfort zones. And I just ask for his belief. There’s — it’s difficult, you know we’re talking about what I’m doing not technically being a tangible product. So how do you ask your spouse to believe in something that they can’t see, touch, feel. You’re on your computer, what are you doing there? So it’s difficult but I don’t know, he just said, “Well let’s try.”

We saved up a certain amount to know we’d have a mortgage payment covered for x number of months. And we had a promise that if it didn’t work out, I’d go look for employment elsewhere, and knock on wood, thus far, its — haven’t lost the house.

Tim Jahn: It is good to see that you’re in a nice comfortable house and you’re not sitting out in some park in 40 degree weather.

Sarah Evans: I agree.

Tim Jahn: What’s one piece of advice you’d give a fellow entrepreneur who is back where you were a year and a half ago thinking about starting their own company? What’s that once piece of advice?

Sarah Evans: I want to be able to say, “go for it, don’t be scared, do it” because I — it was almost lust like jumping off the high dive. Like I just, I had to do it. but I also didn’t do it recklessly, that there was planning involved, I did get support and buy in from my spouse and we did build up a little nest of savings to make sure everything went smoothly, and if it didn’t that we’d have time to kind of get things back on track.

Tim Jahn: So do it but don’t do it without some sort of plan?

Sarah Evans: Yeah, just don’t do it recklessly. If you have a business plan, even better because you have type of idea of what you’re looking to accomplish. Especially if it’s something where you don’t have a tangible product.

Tim Jahn: Did you have a business plan? It’s always interesting to see who did and who didn’t.

Sarah Evans: Yes, it’s very basic. I don’t think that it’s any — that a business major or someone else would look at and say, “Oh, that’s impressive.” But I knew what my goal was, what I wanted to accomplish, and its something that is continually evolving where I make notes to myself of here’s where we can go, here’s what we can do. Some of it was built around the pricing structure, how I planned to grow, you know its doing well in a down economy, and then how was I going to balance that if the economy sped up and people, or if social media wasn’t the hot buzz word anymore. You know, so I have more planning in there for what to do if something happens.

Tim Jahn: How often do you look at that evolving plan? Do you have something like a piece of paper that you’re constantly looking at to make sure you’re on track towards what you planned out?

Sarah Evans: Paper Tim? It’s all electronic. Its right –

Tim Jahn: What am I thinking?

Sarah Evans: I know what. So I use dropbox so I can access it. I have a private — like we have a company dropbox for one and I have a private one so I have my business plan info in there so I can access it on the plane and the hotel room in the middle of the night, in the early morning just to add notes to it which I constantly do.

Tim Jahn: That’s funny because I’m the most anti-paper person ever so I’m surprised I even brought up the idea that it’s somewhere on paper because I would, I’m the first one to convince you to get rid of paper. Well, thanks so much for sitting down and chatting.

(photo credit)

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