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  • Rebekah Barnett

20 Years in Business, Interview with Owner of PromoSpark

PromoSpark has provided business solutions in customized merchandise since 2001. We sat down with owner, Sarah Johnston, to ask her some questions about her experience in 20 years of entrepreneurship.


What are 3 words to describe your company, PromoSpark?

Passionate

Proactive

Relationship building


Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit?

My parents, they were each business owners.

My college experience.

My husband, Mark.


How did you know when you had the right idea for a business?

The idea started brewing my senior year of college when I worked at a collegiate Greek store designing and my boyfriend (future husband) did sales in the industry. I liked designing and helping a vision become a reality. He loved sales. Ultimately, we said, “we are young and have nothing to lose. If this doesn’t work, we’ll go get a ‘real’ job.” 20 years later…lol.


What was your mission at the outset?

To make the experience better and more accurate than the current standards within the industry. I had been a purchaser in college for my organization and I hated the process. No proofs, no samples, long production, and always late. We changed that and one of the first in the industry to set the new standards.


Outline the schedule of one of your typical workdays

6:30 am – Days starts. Get organized for home & work. Kids off to school.

Morning – Work on projects that require more attention to detail.

Afternoon – Meetings and emails.

Late evening (2-3x’s per week) – Answer emails if they spilled over from the day and/or work on projects that need zero distractions or interruptions.


If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting their own business, what would it be?

Do it when you are young. Don’t wait until you are 40+. You are mentally and physically at your peak in your mid-twenties. Trying to start a business after you have a house, kids, family obligations, etc. would be even more challenging.


How did you build your team? And how did that transition over the past 20 years?

It started with a graphic designer. I was doing it originally, but it became too much to run the business on a day-to-day basis and also design. Over time we hired support staff and salespeople to grow the business. We couldn’t afford a lot in the beginning, so we hired based on budget. As time went on, we were able to invest more and hire based on qualifications and need verses just a budget. I think we have the most talented and hard-working team we have ever had now. It is awesome watching it all come together.


Did you experience failures? What did you learn from them?

Yes…order failure, investment failure, employee failure, marketing failure, etc. In every area I have learned you have to have procedures, checks and balances, and procrastination isn’t good. You have to have a Plan A, B, and C. Constantly analyzing every aspect of the business…all the time. Owning a business is a 24-hour job.


What are the main principles you follow to build successful customer relations?

People should always hear a smile in my voice. Be authentic. Be relatable. Ask questions. Do what’s right for the client and put yourself in their shoes.


Have you ever turned down a client?

Not directly. We have offered alternative suggestions and if the fit was not right, that’s ok.


What is the most important innovation you have witnessed in the past 20 years related to your business?

Technology. Client stores, order management software, CRMs, virtual proofs, automation, integration, and online shopping carts. Ironically, the way printing is done has not changed much.


How do you handle adversity and doubt?

Talk to my inner circle of business advisors. If possible, I always try to sleep on it for 24 hours. Reflect on past situation and how those played out too.


What is your proudest moment at PromoSpark?

Growing the business from a two-bedroom apartment to a full production/fulfillment business with a team that has shared values and vision. In addition, I am very proud to support a group of strong career women who are the bread winners in their family.


What is on your wish list for the next 10 years with PromoSpark?

Double revenue. Let the next generation of leaders move up within the company.


What does true leadership mean to you?

Listening, being kind, emotional intelligence, versatile, passionate, relentless, and very resourceful.


PromoSpark is a Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) certified company. Located in Fairfield, Ohio outside of Cincinnati – PromoSpark offers solutions in customized apparel, promotional products, company webstores, and more. www.PromoSpark.com