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8 Key Takeaways & Reflections of a Top 100 Female Entrepreneur


This month I was honored with the #55 spot on Canada’s Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs list by Canadian Business, Profit and Chatelaine Magazines. (Before I continue, my sincerest thanks to each of you for this incredible honor!)

As I sit and reflect upon my time as an entrepreneur, I feel overwhelmingly grateful and moved by the opportunities that life has presented me.

Since starting my business in 2009, I have been recognized as a Top 40 Digital Marketing Strategist by the Online Marketing Institude, an Expert in Affiliate Marketing by the New York Times, won multiple awards for our clients and team in business and performance (affiliate) marketing, and most recently, led our team to win Company of the Year in the province of British Columbia through Small Business BC.

Although I believe many of these accolades contributed to the honor of being ranked as a Top 100 Female Entrepreneur in Canada (coupled with our 6000% growth over the past five years), I feel there are deeper, more meaningful pieces that have contributed to my personal success that I’d like to share, and hope will be helpful for you too.

 

1. Deep, Meaningful Relationships (AKA: People First)

To me, people are everything. People in all capacities of our lives. From our children, parents and spouses, to our friends, colleagues, co-workers and strangers we have yet to meet.

How well we treat people, how well we get to know them, how much effort we put into understanding their needs and how to help them, maybe even being the only person who really listened to them that day, is what has made my life more meaningful and rewarding.

Success to me means that when I come into work, I see all the smiling faces of my team around me, hear them laughing together throughout the day, and that there is joy in their hearts despite the fact that we are driving fiscal results and focused on KPI performance for our clients.

This energy comes from genuinely caring about each other, finding like minded people who share in our vision, and are passionate about what they do together. It also means creating a culture where people can be themselves, embrace each other, and become the best versions of themselves while collaborating to the point of empowerment.

I feel fortunate and proud of the fact that when I come to work each day, I get hugs from at least one person on my team. We are a family and we work together as a family would toward a greater goal. We push each other to become better versions of ourselves, and we jump in to help each other whenever needed.  People feel loved and cared for when they are with us, and to me, that is success.

 

2. Behind every strong woman is a strong man (or partner)

When I was growing up, I heard the saying “behind every strong man, there is an even stronger woman.” In this day in-age, and in my case, I had an even stronger man, the unsung hero of my life, pushing me and encouraging me every step along the way. Iain, my husband, best friend, business partner, father of my children, and personal advisor on all things nearest and dearest to me, is just that.

When we were first starting out and I was six months pregnant with our son, Kai, I would work throughout the day (and most nights), and Iain would come home from work and cook and take care of us. He changed all the diapers, rocked our babies back to sleep in the middle of the night so I could rest, and would take care of the finances and operations behind the scenes while still working his full time job in the financial industry.

When the business was 15 months old, we decided to raise our children and run the business together. It was a huge risk and it would be hard, but we would find a way to do it and make it work.

Choosing my husband as my business partner was the best business decision I ever made. We have opposite skill sets and personalities, so there is no crossover or competition between us. Instead, we lean on each other, drive each other, and complete each other while striving for the same goals for our family and our lives.

If you are a business owner who is trying to make your business work, find your “stronger” self. This doesn’t have to be a spouse. It can be a sibling, parent, friend, business mentor, or anyone else who truly knows you, helps you stay focused on what matters most to you, is vested in your well being and whom you can trust with your life.

 

3. Channel your energy into something productive 

As human beings (and especially as women), we are emotional creatures. We are happy, sad, angry, passionate, compassionate, driven, curious, and a plethora of other adjectives that define us.

What I’ve found to be most useful in my life, despite the challenges that have been thrown my way, is to channel my energy and emotions (both good and bad) into something productive that result in a positive, focused outcome.

I have to check myself at times. I get frustrated, angry, impatient and doubtful just like anyone else, but the second I identify it, I shake it off and refocus that energy into something useful and productive.

Growing up, my dad once told me, you can only hold one thought in your head at one time, so when you catch yourself thinking something negative, purposefully chose to focus on something positive instead, until it becomes habit. Rephrase the thought to make it productive instead of destructive. Over time, these thoughts create momentum that manifest into what your life becomes.

If you are a business owner and you can’t seem to break out of your rut, find a way to identify (or listen) to your thoughts, which turn into your actions, which turn into results, which turn into your life.

 

4. The importance of having a clear vision and meaningful purpose

I wake up excited every day. Aside from seeing my children’s beautiful, happy faces, I get to do what I love, with people I love, and for people I love. We have a purpose, both personally and professionally, and that keeps us energized and pushing forward every day.

Our vision as a business is to set the new standard of what is considered exceptional in the digital and performance (affiliate) marketing space. We do this by DIGGing every day. To us, DIGG means: to DELIGHT, to INNOVATE, to GROW and to GIVEBACK.

When you can do these things on a daily basis, and become the best version of yourself (as a company and individual) while solving problems for your clients and/or industry better, faster and higher value than anyone else, it’s exciting and meaningful. Frankly, it’s fun! And the results speak for themselves.

 

5. You’ve got to jump in at some point. So just do it.

There is no perfect time to start. We were about to have a baby and were in debt from travelling when we first started AIM. I was terrified (to start and also to fail), and I had just come out of a bad business relationship with a former partner. I had never run a business by myself before, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing or how I was going to do it yet.

So I jumped. I jumped in and just started working on it. If I had waited, this success wouldn’t have happened. I would have hesitated too long, then found a million other excuses why I wasn’t going to do it.

What I’ve learned is there is no perfect time to start a business. I started mine during a recession and with a new baby on the way. I was scared. We had no money and it could have failed miserably. In order for the business to work, I had to take only three weeks off when my son was born, and five days off when my daughter was born. I worked around the clock, tag-teaming with Iain – nursing, sleeping, eating, working – repeat.

For us, this created a no-failure option. We weren’t going to sacrifice our time with our family, or the struggle it took, to fail. So we made it work, and now that we’re on the other side, it was worth it! I get to spend personal time with my children for the rest of their lives, and be engaged in the livelihoods of those I love. We took the risk and sacrificed short term pain so we could benefit long term.

If you’re not ready to start your business because you have fears to overcome, then practicing overcoming fears is a good first step. I was terrified of the ocean and sharks, so I went Great White shark diving off the coast of South Africa. I was terrified of heights, so I went skydiving (on the second day of our honeymoon) in Fiji. I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough to swim or climb, so I went canyoneering in the Swiss Alps (which is only legal in five places in the world).

These are extreme examples, but the point is, as you become used to breaking the cycle of hesitation, fear and “what if” scenarios, you come to realize you are capable of so much more than you originally gave yourself credit for, and you get to love the feeling of overcoming what you were once afraid of, which is an incredible success in itself.

If this is you, then start small and work your way up. But just start! You won’t become successful by just thinking about it. You have to act and do something about it in order to achieve what you’ve always dreamed of.

 

6. Be the best at what you do

Now, don’t get me wrong – hard work, a vision and feeling good about what you do is absolutely part of the equation. But you also have to be great at what you do. No business owner ever became successful by being mediocre at what they do. Set the standard of something exceptional. Our vision is to set the new standard of what is considered exceptional in the digital and performance (affiliate) marketing space.

Do we have strong competition? Sure we do. Does that stop us from constantly striving for perfection and continuous growth? Absolutely not. Once we set that new standard of excellence against ourselves, we go again, and then again. Growth, both personally and as part of a business, is what drives businesses!

If your business becomes flat, you die out. If you stop learning, you die out. If you’re satisfied with “good” versus “great”, then you will die out. If you feel you’ve gone as far as you can and you’re not motivated to drive more positive change, then you will die out (or you sell).

Strive to become the absolute best at what you do in your industry and then continually set that new standard against yourself. What you will find is there is always room for more growth, more excellence and the ability to solve your customers problems better, faster and with a higher value than before.

 

7. Surround yourself with the right people and team

I was lucky enough to have some inspiring people in my life at a young age. My mom and dad, though not business owners, helped me develop values that supported me throughout my business life. Honesty, having a strong work ethic, putting people first, and having strong communication skills were some of them.

Upon graduating college, I also had the great fortune of having founder and former CEO of Clearly.ca & CoastalContacts.com, Roger Hardy, as my close friend and mentor. As part of his management team, I got to watch him (and participate in) growing an incredible international success story (from 2004-2007). From him, I learned much about how to create a strong culture, how to evolve in a fast paced, hyper competitive environment, and how to surround yourself with the right people to drive positive change and the results you want.

Upon starting my own business as a new mom and a new business owner, I had several people both in my industry and in the Vancouver business community, generously spend time with me to help guide me along the way. I listened intently. I made lots of mistakes and I did my best to learn from them quickly.

Over time, I found that the biggest changes in our business came when I learned to finally let go of full control of the business, and entrust others (the right people), to drive different aspects of the business. I needed help to scale, and I needed the right people, with the right work ethic, value alignment and understanding of our vision to help us get there.

It’s a hard thing to let go of something that means so much to you (especially when you start it from scratch), and to trust others when you feel you have so much on the line. I learned that for a business to scale, this is a necessary step for every business owner to take.

Once we figured out the right people to hire, and the formula to help them thrive internally, we started to see incredible growth. Most importantly, we needed to find the right team leaders who were aligned with our vision, purpose, values and brand promise to oversee each of our divisions and work closely with our team. Today, we have strong leaders who are perfectly aligned with what, and how, we want to accomplish what’s coming next.

I find the saying, “you are the average of the ten people you spend the most time with”, to be true. If you don’t like who you are today, or the results you’re getting, you may be spending time with the wrong ten people. Luckily, business owners today have access to a multitude of support networks, mentors, investors, advisors and people in the industry who are open and willing to help each other. Find those people, and spend lots and lots of time with them.

 

8. Daily gratitude & giving back

Everyday I feel a deep sense of gratitude for my life, including everyone and everything in it. In fact, I make it a morning ritual! I set my alarm clock early, just so I can meditate on this. I think of our good health, our children, family, friends, freedom, prosperity, opportunities, abundance, and what I’m going to accomplish that day.

The successes I’ve had in my life is not a result of me on my own, but rather a result of a collaborative effort of everyone else around me, what we all put in every day, while acting on the right opportunities. People do not become successful alone. There are dozens, if not hundreds of people (and opportunities) that are presented along the way that are all working to create your reality today, and what it will become tomorrow.

Our team, who show up ready to tackle the day with smiles on their faces and a positive, “can do” attitude, contribute to this. The business community in Vancouver and the people in our industry who have meaningful conversations about how to help each other, contributes to this. The love and support of family and friends (and hugs and kisses from my children every day), contribute to this!

Since we can’t do it alone, and since we’ve been given so much help throughout our lives, I strive to give back at every opportunity. Part of my day consists of at least one “give back” moment or random act of kindness. This could be a personal give back (such as helping a stranger carry heavy bags to their car) or a business give back (such as spending an hour with a new business owner who’s just getting started and needs support).

I believe that in order to deserve recognition for excellence, you have to contribute something to others, not just yourself, so I’m grateful for the opportunities to serve others in meaningful ways as well.

 

Final thoughts…

Being awarded the #55 spot on the Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs in Canada is incredible, and I’m extremely grateful for the honor. More importantly, I’m grateful for the people who have spent countless hours helping us become successful together. This award is not just a personal one to me, but a group one that everyone who’s ever contributed to our success, and to me personally, can celebrate.

Thank you, again, Canadian Business, Profit and Chatelaine Magazines for this incredible recognition. I hope more women AND men are inspired to strive for their dreams and just go for it! With the right combination of focus, vision, grit and people, you can make anything possible.


<p>As the visionary leader of AIM, Sarah is a Digital & Performance Marketing Expert with over 18 years of successful sales and marketing experience. She focused on high value new customer acquisition, strategically profitable revenue growth, and incrementality that drives meaningful results. Sarah is rated a Top 100 Female Entrepreneur in Canada, considered an expert in performance (affiliate) marketing by the New York Times, and lives and breath’s her DIGG motto every day: to Delight, Innovate, Grow and Giveback.</p>

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