I’m changing things up on the blog. I still want it to be full of information you can use…but it needs more… people! Why? Because if I’ve learned anything after taking the past year off, it’s how much I love my work. I get to team up with interesting, brave entrepreneurs who are just as excited about what they do as I am about helping them express themselves visually. But entrepreneurs need one another. As brave as we are (because we wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t), we need people who inspire us, guide us, and encourage us along the way. We need to be reminded that we are not alone on this crazy road we’ve chosen for ourselves.
The guests I feature here are people who help light the way, and demystify things about business that can be daunting, confusing, and overwhelming. They are masters of their domains (literally!), cheerleaders, inspirers, and brave action-takers who help remind us of why we started on this journey to begin with. By sharing their brilliance as they so generously do, they help us stay excited and focused on where we want to go and how to get there (and they have to be funny…that’s just my rule).
With that, let me introduce you to Sarah Von Bargen. Sarah is the definition of fearlessness in life and in business. She is a seriously accomplished writer and blogger who is at once generous, approachable, and brimming with joy. She’s also really funny.
Q: Sarah, you are an exceptionally engaging writer. I’m a notorious blog skimmer. Except…when it comes to YOUR blogs. I start reading what you’ve written and suddenly find myself looking for more! When did you know you were a writer? Were you crafting words from the time you were a child, or did it come about later in your life?
Well, that is incredibly kind. I’ve been writing since ever – starting with some very elaborate stories about pioneer families, scribbled into spiral notebooks in third grade. But I’ve been getting paid to write since I was 20 (I interned at the same newspaper as Cheryl Strayed) and I’ve worked my way through lots of word-related jobs – journalism, pr, advertising, English teacher, and now blogger.
Q: You’ve traveled all over the world. Often by yourself. Do you credit your upbringing with your fearlessness? Were you brave and adventurous from childhood?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where travel was the norm and independence was a prized and encouraged character trait. My parents both traveled a lot before they had me and my dad lived in Scotland and Germany for a few years. They’re public school teachers so we’d spend most summers roadtripping and camping. When I was 18 and did an exchange program to Germany they didn’t bat an eye.
I’m not sure that I was ‘adventurous’ in the traditional sense as a kid. I mean, I wasn’t jumping off the roof with umbrellas or running away or anything. But (just like now) I generally figured out what I wanted and then figured out how to get it – whether that was taking the canoe out to the island or riding my bike down miles of dirt road to my friend’s house.
Q: How has your fearlessness helped you in business? Do you think it’s an essential quality for entrepreneurs?
I would say that my travel experiences have helped put business-related fears in perspective and I’d highly recommend traveling through a developing country for others who struggle to ‘get out of their head.’
Once you’ve navigated the Bolivia/Peru border crossing on your own (with not-very-good Spanish) you will quickly realize that your product launch fears are a bit silly. Worst case scenario, you launch something and it doesn’t do as well as you’d hoped. You go back to your day job. Your family still loves you, there’s still food on the table, no small children were harmed.
Q: You were a teacher before you became a full-time blogger. That’s quite a transition…will you share a bit about how that came about?
I taught for ESL for about seven years, spending most of that time in other countries. When I moved back to America I was feeling uninspired and creatively stifled. I’d been reading blogs for a long time and writing on the side for years, so starting one seemed like an a great, and obvious, new hobby.
As my blog began to gather steam, real-life and internet friends started to approach me, asking for help with copy writing, blogging, social media. I started to take on more and more freelance clients till – eventually – the income I made between ad sales, ebook sales, and writing was enough to stay afloat!
Q: You’ve been blogging for over six years. Is there anything you would have done differently starting out if you had known what you know now?
Don’t be a sulky, old-fashioned late adopter like me! I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon pretty early but I skipped Pinterest and I only very recently joined Instagram. I don’t think you need to be on every social media platform ever, but be smarter than me. Don’t blindly dismiss everything new because you’re already super busy and can’t be bothered to at least investigate a new way to connect with your readers.
Q: You could easily choose to simply write and travel for a living. You clearly have a passion for helping small business succeed. When did you decide to create your Solution + Clever Sessions to help your clients be Awesome on the Internet–what inspired them?
As a former teacher and the child of two teachers, I love teaching and helping! Also, I love the freedom that internet-based work has given me. Without exaggeration, it has truly, deeply changed my life. I want to help other people accomplish something similar.
Q: What else do we need to know about working with you?
I’m a Virgo, eldest child of Germanic/Scandinavian heritage. I’m like a perfect storm of punctuality, productivity, and type-A-ness. I will always deliver on time and under budget. I will also (kindly) call you out when you make excuses. We don’t talk like that in this house 😉
Q: You’ve mentioned you get your inspiration for writing everywhere. I feel the same way about design! BUT it can also be a real problem for me because my brain gets overwhelmed. How do you clear through the clutter and consistently come up with successful ideas for your own blogs and those of your clients?
After six years of blogging, I’ve created a framework and editorial schedule I’m really happy with, so that helps a lot. My method for content creation is super simple: I have a document on my desktop called ‘Good ideas.’ Whenever I have one, I put it there. When I need a new blog post, I open it up, comb through it, choose something and then write about it.
Q: Will you share 3 things you would say to busy female entrepreneurs about how to balance what they do professionally with blogging, and its importance to the success of their business?
1. You don’t need to blog every day. Not at all! It’s better to create really high quality content on a set schedule (like, once a week) than a bunch of half-hearted stuff five days a week.
2. Submit and host guest posts. It’s good karma, good networking, and a great way to find new readers and clients.
3. There are lots of ways to create content if you don’t like writing – videos, podcasts, poems, or even hire an editor!
Q: How important a role does social media play in helping your clients with their content strategy? If you could only choose one social media platform (if any), which one would it be and why?
Verrrrry important. If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? The same idea goes for your blog and your offerings. Social media is a free, easy, fun way to introduce yourself and your insights to a larger audience.
I’m very partial to Twitter. Thus far, it hasn’t changed its algorithm (ala Facebook) and it’s useful for just about any business. Instagram is great for visual-based businesses, Pinterest is wonderful for fashion/food/DIY stuff, and Youtube is obviously a great fit for anyone who’s good on video – but Twitter is an incredibly useful platform for just about anyone.
Q: What are your three favorite small business blogs?
- Alex Franzen: Great writing, business, and life advice.
- Quicksprout: Super in-depth, research-backed, techy advice
- Design Sponge Biz Ladies column: Diverse topics, written by ladies who’ve built their own businesses
Q: Describe your ideal, just-right-for-you client.
Driven, organized, self-starter. Great at what she does, just needs a blueprint to point her in the right direction. Smart and thinks cat videos are funny.
Q: Finally, what’s on your Reading List this summer?
I’ve never read any Joan Didion and I’m planning to remedy that. When I find a writer I like, I usually systematically work my way through everything they’ve ever written – so it looks like I’ve got ten books ahead of me. I think I’ll also reread Bird by Bird because it’s just about the loveliest thing ever written.
- Learn more about Sarah’s brilliant Solution + Clever Sessions on her business blog, http://www.sarahvonbargen.com/.
- Follow her on Twitter for tweets involving small business advice (and funny cat videos).
- Be inspired and get your smile on at http://www.yesandyes.org/, Sarah’s lifestyle + travel blog.
Do you have questions for Sarah? Ask in the comments below!