Where Fashion and Community Collide: Say Hello to Sarah Burroughs from Anne B Designs
Between teaching sewing classes and running her own business, Sarah Burroughs of Anne B Designs also manages to give back to her community by hiring refugees. Her beautiful bags and totes have seen a great response so far in Europe and in the US, but she's still growing her business slowly step by step.
We chatted with Sarah about how she got up the courage to quit her day job, what she's learned about work-life balance and what she's hoping to learn next from *you.*
What inspired you to start your own small business?
Anne is my middle name and I loved the thought of calling my fashion design company Anne B ever since high school, when I first started making bags. By the time I went to college, I was making them for friends and getting more and more positive feedback.
After college, I had a marketing job that just wasn’t working for me, so I decided to try taking my business full-time. I ran an Indiegogo fundraising campaign and started taking my products to local markets. I dove into the business side of things, like doing real photo shoots and taking an Instagram class. Things grew from there!
Salt Lake City has one of the highest populations of refugees, so when I started my business, I knew I wanted to do something to support refugee employment organizations. I make it a point to train and hire local refugees as seamstresses and have found real value in connecting with the local community.
Who was your very first customer?
My first actual paying customer was my fashion marketing teacher in high school. I remember she wanted a pastel pink bag, and I sold one to her for $10. It wasn’t much, but it was my first sale, which made it special.
When did you know your business was going to work?
I’m still figuring that out, but there were different points where I started to feel like it was a real possibility.
One of those times was when I was still working at my marketing job, but I was very unhappy. I kept thinking I should quit and do my own thing. That was a real driving force for me.
Another point was when I was driving home one day and listening to the radio. I heard that the local craft market was looking for small businesses to apply as vendors. I knew I had to do it and that it would be a great fit for me and my product.
I also had a great experience on a website calledRAD, which does flash sales. I sold around 150 bags in just a week, which was awesome.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
The positive response I’ve gotten to my products has actually been quite a surprise to me. It’s so exciting and encouraging to see that sort of reaction.
Something else unexpected that I found hard was working with refugees. As a designer and a maker, it was difficult and required a totally different skill set in hiring and figuring out the finances to bring these people on board. I learned the hard way that I needed to set solid expectations right up front, so that was something I had to figure out as I went along.
How do you price your products?
Starting off, I didn’t know what the standard retail markups were, so I was shortchanging myself. Because it was just a side project at first, I didn’t take the finances seriously. I wasn’t keeping track of my actual profit or time.
While it was obvious to me that I needed to price higher than the cost of materials and labor, I eventually learned that it’s important to price my products at the point where I value them. Others will see that and value them as much as I do, even if they’re not ready to pay that day. If I price the product to show it’s meaningful to me, my customers will respect that.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I usually don’t get into my shop until about 10am, which is part of the joy of owning my own business. Usually, I’ll find myself sending emails or posting to Instagram before then, but I don’t actually go in until later in the morning than most jobs.
Once I’m there, I’m either cutting materials, sending out products or catching up on more emails. I do a lot of photo shoots, have meetings with collaboration partners and take time to plan for holidays or events, which are good opportunities to sell products. I’ve also taken on some freelance design work as well, so it’s a mix of all those different tasks throughout the day.
I like that my schedule is flexible enough that I can go out and grab lunch with a friend or take my car in for an oil change when I need to. It was pretty tough when I first quit my job because I didn’t know how to discipline myself and get what I needed done during the day when I was just working out of my home. But having a real workshop helps with that immensely.
If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would do differently when starting your business?
When I quit my marketing job to start my own company, it would have been good to have picked up some other work, maybe on a part-time basis, even if it was just something that allowed me to devote a large amount of my time to running my business. I think I should have been a little bit smarter with my time. Having that added financial security would have been a good thing in the beginning.
What would you like to learn today from a community of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I’d love to hear that I’m not alone in my struggles as a business owner. I think everyone can really benefit from a good support network like that.
Even though I’ve studied marketing and advertising, I also still want to hear about others’ experiences with digital marketing, SEO and using Google AdWords. I want to know what’s really worked for people and why they think it has.
Let's help Sarah out with her questions on digital marketing and getting new customers!
Do *you* have experience with digital marketing and navigating SEO or Google AdWords? What tips or stories do you have that will help Sarah with marketing her business across new channels?