Despite what new entrepreneurs are often told, it is possible to grow your business without social media. I made the decision to quit social media back in 2017 and our latest podcast guest, Sarah Erickson, has done the same.
Sarah is the Creative Director behind Sarah Ann Design, and she had so much wisdom to share on how to market your business without Instagram.
This episode is an honest look behind the highlight reel of two business owners who left social media behind. We talk about all the things — marketing, mental health, and how to prioritize joy in your business.
Press play for the full interview or keep reading below!
After graduating with a degree in creative advertising and graphic design, Sarah worked at several different firms but realized the big agency life in New York or LA wasn’t for her.
“It just didn’t feel fulfilling to me,” she says. “I wanted something that felt more personally rewarding and mission-driven.” So she moved back to a smaller agency, where she quickly found her income maxed out.
“I didn’t intend to start a business. I pictured myself getting a 9-5 with benefits and stability.” But when she ran the numbers, she realized her earning potential would be much higher if she went out on her own.
Sarah launched her wedding stationary business in 2017 with the goal of making one penny in profit. “As long as I wasn’t costing us money, I would be happy.”
Not only did Sarah go on to make a profit that first year, but she replaced her agency salary. Soon she shifted back to brand design, where she found the profits were higher and the stress was lower. Things grew quickly from there.
Aside from producing beautiful work, Sarah also contributes her early growth to her connections.
“A lot of that early networking was from the wedding industry. I had done collaborations with other wedding vendors and those same vendors turned into branding clients.”
One difficult lesson Sarah had to learn was not to overcommit herself. “I was willing at that time to stay up late or work weekends, and now that’s absolutely not the case.”
“It was hard to be prepared for that fast growth. Balancing time management, overextending myself, boundaries – all of that was challenging in those early years.”
Like many new business owners, Sarah underpriced her services in the beginning. “That was one challenging part about growing quickly, is that you don’t really have a lot of time to test things in your business.”
After a few friends lovingly nudged her to raise her rates, Sarah decided to try incremental pricing, where she raised her price by $200 with each new client. “That helped me grow in a way that felt sustainable and didn’t cause sticker shock.”
With her husband in a stable teaching job, Sarah had the financial cushion she needed to feel comfortable starting a business. But when her husband went back to school as a full-time graduate student, she was forced to have a hard look at the numbers.
“I didn’t have any type of natural proclivity for money or business, and I had a lot of hangups around talking about money.”
Although Sarah didn’t grow up in a family that talked about finances, her husband’s parents, both CPAs, offered a different perspective. “They helped me open up and look at the finances without anxiety.”
The biggest shift for Sarah was learning to look at the numbers without judgment. Instead of focusing on what she’d done wrong or what needed to be fixed, she learned to see the growth opportunities.
Despite what we often see on social media, there’s no easy button for business. Taking the time to make informed decisions and gradually increase your prices can help you build a strong foundation for your business and set yourself up for long-term success.
“Growth happens gradually, not all at once at these arbitrary benchmarks that we hear about online.”
That glorification of the next milestone is part of the reason why Sarah decided to leave Instagram. “It’s been a great shift for my mental balance.”
When asked about her decision to quit social media, Sarah says, “I could not recommend it more. For me, stepping away from Instagram has been a beneficial shift in my business.”
If you’re going to use social media in your business, the key is to find a way that works for you. Sarah realized she was investing too much time into a platform that wasn’t converting clients – and that she didn’t necessarily enjoy.
For me, I decided to leave social media because I realized my time could be better spent elsewhere. There are other ways to grow your business and I wanted to explore those options.
When it comes to marketing, it’s important to choose the right platform for you. Social media can be a great way to increase brand awareness and reach potential customers, but it’s not the only way to market your business.
Choose one or two different platforms that work for you. For Sarah’s design business, Pinterest was a natural fit. She also really enjoys email marketing.
When she decided to leave Instagram, she let her followers know where they could find her and those who were loyal to her brand joined her email list to keep in touch.
Referrals also became a great lead source, and Sarah knew she would rather invest time and money into her client experience than posting on Instagram.
If you’re not sure which marketing strategy to use, think about how it makes you feel and what the time trade-off is. For Sarah, quitting Instagram freed up the time and mental space she needed to focus on other areas of growth.
“You don’t even realize how that time adds up. Even if it’s just five minutes scrolling, that often turns into an hour, and those are hours that I would rather spend out in nature with sunshine on my face, not looking at a screen.”
Something else to consider is how many clients you truly need to fill your calendar. As a service provider, Sarah is only able to take on around 10-15 projects per year.
Viewed through that lens, it makes much more sense to nurture a small number of clients and serve them well, rather than invest energy into growing a huge social following.
“I don’t want to look back on my life and describe it as busy,” Sarah says, describing a time someone reached out to her and assumed she wouldn’t have time for them.
“That’s not how I want to be known, as the person who’s always busy. So that made me think about my priorities and what harmony and balance would look like for me.”
As entrepreneurs, we’re balancing a lot. But as Sarah says, “We’re not so busy that we can’t take a few moments to appreciate a cup of tea on the patio or sunshine on a spring afternoon.”
Taking the time to be present in the moment is essential. If you find yourself craving more balance, take a moment to revisit your priorities and evaluate how your day-to-day life aligns with what’s most important to you.
Think about the things that deserve priority in your schedule. Where do you want to invest your time and energy? What are those moments that bring you peace and joy?
Try scheduling more of those moments into your week, rather than more tasks on your to-do list.
Sarah admits she didn’t always have such strong boundaries in her business. But after going through a diffract season of depression and anxiety, she learned to reprioritize.
“By necessity, I needed to take a step back. I wasn’t able to do as much as I previously had at my full capacity. But my business kept running.”
One thing Sarah realized was that four hours of productive work was much better than twelve hours of distracted work. Efficiency become one of her top motivators, and cutting out social media allowed her to keep that focus and stay productive.
Parkinson’s Law is the principle that tasks expand to the time that they’re given. So if you’re struggling to get through all of your tasks in a day, consider adding time constraints.
Could you get your work done in four hours instead of eight? Adding those constraints will force you to get more strategic and more efficient with your time.
One thing Sarah has learned from five years in business is to read the warning signs. “If I start to feel that tightness in my chest or shoulders, those things clue me in that it’s a stressful time.”
Another practice she recommends is to look back at your client list from the last six months. Were they all dream clients? If not, what would have made them more aligned projects?
Make sure you’re working with people who bring you both profit and joy. If your current clients aren’t a great fit, ask yourself how you can start attracting a new type of client.
When asked the most important thing she’s learned about money, Sarah shares, “There’s always more money, but your time is precious. There are always more clients and more income waiting around the corner. But our time is limited.”
It’s a powerful reminder: money flows both ways, both in and out of our lives – but time only flows in one direction.
“Hours are so much more precious than dollars, and we only have a finite number of hours on this earth. We get to choose how we spend those hours, and I want to spend them as wisely as I can.”
If you want help creating a business around the life you want, check out my signature course, The Blueprint Model.
One of the biggest problems with social media is that we’re only seeing the highlight reel. Sarah shared her own story of celebrating her first six figures as an example.
“The first time my business crossed over the six-figure line was definitely a pinch-me moment. But I’ve also had six-figure years that corresponded with some of my lowest personal moments, years that were so difficult and unfulfilling.”
On the other hand, she’s had years where she made less money but felt much happier and more fulfilled. “There is so much more to success than what’s shown on paper.”
Wherever you are on your journey, remember that you don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes in someone else’s business. That person who’s celebrating a $50k launch on Instagram might be going through a difficult personal season.
Your achievements are always worth celebrating, so don’t let comparison turn them into disappointments. “Be patient and allow yourself to discover joy in the process.”
Social media can be a great tool, but it can also be a distraction and comparison trap. Taking a step back from Instagram has helped Sarah create meaningful change in both her business and her personal life.
If you focus on building great connections, serving your clients well, and honing your craft, you’ll be able to grow a successful business – with or without social media.
To hear the rest of the story and what Sarah is up to now, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
Read the full Ira Glass Quote
Leaf by Niggle Short story by J.R.R Tolkien
Sarah Erickson creates intentional brand designs for creative entrepreneurs. As Lead Designer and Creative Director behind Sarah Ann Design, she helps her clients elevate their businesses with powerful and refined brand identities—polished designs supported by thoughtful strategy.
Sarah is passionate about equipping creatives to appeal to their ideal clients, elevate their services, and build lasting legacies for their brands.
April 21, 2023