What I’ve Learned From Sarah Hanna

It’s rare to find that handful of people in your life and career that have a permanent effect on you. I can probably count on my hand the times I’ve had the honor to sit face-to-face with the lovely Sarah Hanna, master calligrapher and artist extraordinaire (not to mention acclaimed artist for the well-known studios Bella Figura Letterpress Studio and Smock Paper, and the most amazing cook ever). But from those few face-to-face moments and our continued connection, I’ve taken so much from Sarah in the way she runs her business and cultivates her amazing talent. And above all, a beautiful friendship.

I remember the day I met Sarah. I knew there was something different about her. It was in a small bistro in Winter Park, FL. A casual lunch meeting set up by a mutual friend who thought we would be a great match in the world of stationery and design. I was so smitten by her charm and witty comebacks as we shared our experiences in the design world. From that point on, our instant chemistry turned into a beautiful friendship with more visits down south and even attending her mother’s calligraphy classes, which to my dismay, my left handed-ness proved my sad future or lack there of in the art of calligraphy. But that’s ok, I am happy to settle with my skills on paper and computer!

Despite my inability to match up to Sarah’s insane calligraphy skills, I’ve learned so much from her as a business woman. Much more than I think she’s even aware of.  I constantly remember her little tips and her clever ways as she navigates her own business. Here’s a few tips or ‘Sarah Ways’ as I like to call them, I think would help any creative (hopefully as much as they have helped me):

1. Your work is valuable. Some clients value it more than others. The ones that find value in what you do will pay what you’re worth. If they don’t value it, they won’t. And that’s ok. That means, they were not meant to be your client. If a bride values photography, she’ll put a good chunk of her budget towards it. If she doesn’t value it as much as her dress, you’re probably not the vendor for her. Help her find an easy photographer fit and the best bridal shop out there, and move along!
(This was one of Sarah’s first ever little bits of wisdom she gave me. I’ll never forget that tip and I’ve carried it with me ever since that first little lunch date.)

2. Don’t be jealous. Be confident in your product and skill and avoid the industry trap of comparing. Welcome engagement with the people in your industry. Most of the time, the results and connections are good. Share your wisdom and experience. Guard a little, but share a lot. When you are approachable, you are no longer competitors on cold terms, but partners in a sea of clients that fit you or your competitor like a glove. Find them for each other!
(I think Sarah brought me my first ever international client in Europe. She knew it was a great connection for me and instead of taking it on herself, she gifted me with my first international client. She didn’t have to do that. But she did.)

3. Just be honest. Let’s face it, most of the time, your team is either small or a team of one. You are human. If you can’t make that deadline, don’t take on the project. Be honest and admit you can’t and throw in a referral to another great fit. (Sarah is so good at this!) Your honesty will go a long way and you avoid bad reviews by a client you shouldn’t have taken on in the first place. And of course, you’ve guarded your time and can now devote the proper time to your current clients.

4. Interact with poise and finesse. No matter what client you are speaking with, a calm, poise and confident demeanor leaves no room for a flustered client on the other end of the conversation. Sarah always seems to find the sweetest ways to say “No” or even, “that’s a horrible idea”….I don’t know where she pulls the beautiful words from, but they sure sound prettier than the latter, and at the end of the conversation, the person seems to like her more! I mean, really? She’s got powers, I tell ya.

5. Don’t take yourself so seriously…but take yourself seriously. Sarah didn’t need a massive polished studio to win all of the recognition she has gotten or to service high-end clients across the globe. Her work is amazing enough, and she knows it. She’s never felt the need to be like anyone else or be that serious, boring business owner.  In fact, I don’t think she even owns a social media account. Society would say she needs one. She doesn’t think so and that’s that.
Sarah can tell a good joke and give you a killer time, but when it comes down to protecting herself and her business–THAT she takes seriously. She guards her business, takes her client guidelines seriously, guards her time and refuses most rush jobs because in the end, a rush job is a crap job. She respects herself as an artist and doesn’t settle for less.

6. Encourage. If there’s one person I can call when I’ve just received an unhappy client review of their proof, it’s Sarah. She’ll sing your praises in amazement of what you do. BE THAT FOR SOMEONE. If in all of your career, you remind someone of their amazingness and push them to their greatness, you’ve won.

There’s so much more I learn from Sarah all the time, even when she’s thousands of miles away after following her dream of living in the wine country and calligraphing to support her travel habit. She has big dreams, big goals, small dreams and goals for life’s simplicities and no one is going to stop her.  Thank you Sarah, for always being a breath of fresh air. For being amazing and always reminding me that I am amazing too. I’ll be crashing your sweet little studio in the wine valley some day soon!