Terri Sandblom: “Your day is going to fly by”

You need to keep a strict schedule to be more productive. Just because I work from home now, does not mean I can’t not be accountable for my time. As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Terri Sandblom. […]

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You need to keep a strict schedule to be more productive. Just because I work from home now, does not mean I can’t not be accountable for my time.

As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Terri Sandblom. Terri is an enthusiastic marketing professional specializing in cross-channel consumer goods marketing and unique loyalty programs. Prior to opening her own store on Storr, she had a 20-year career developing fully integrated marketing programs for large international brands, re-branding companies for today’s consumer and received a Clio Image Award for her work on an outdoor advertising campaign. Prior to her marketing career, she earned her JD at Boston University School of Law.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Sure! I grew up on the South Shore of Long Island during its heyday. We were 25 minutes outside New York City and I took full advantage of that proximity. When I was in elementary school, my parents took me to a Broadway show and fancy dinner of choice for my birthday every year. My favorite part of these dinners was checking out the Ladies room, to see how it was decorated and report back to my Mom — I guess I always had an interest in design and decor. When I reached junior high, that meant monthly trips to Bloomies on 3rd & 59th, followed by a frozen hot chocolate and a foot-long hot dog at Serendipity.

As I got older, I was obsessed with Fiorucci on 59th Street (I still have a scarf I bought back in the early 80’s) and heading down to the Village for shopping at Unique, Canal St Jeans and Flip. I developed a real sense for standing out in the crowd and mixing high-end and low-end items. It was the age of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, and they really laid the groundwork for creating your own unique style. It was so much fun to stand out and express yourself through your clothing, makeup and hair. Finally, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at college, I landed a job in the Garment District at an upscale Italian shoe brand. Working with those beautiful shoes really taught me the value of quality materials, beautiful design, and superior craftsmanship in fashion.

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah-ha” moment with us?

I guess the catalyst was actually more passive than active. I was a “career girl”–-I liked the security of a corporate gig and the benefits, but it always nagged at me when I thought bad decisions were being made, there was too much red tape to effectively accomplish anything, or, frankly, if I couldn’t get my own way when I knew I was right. I remember being told at the start of my career that I was not diplomatic enough and really needed to learn that skill. I kind of poo pooed that idea, because I didn’t see the value in stroking someone’s ego and “playing nice”. As I progressed in my career, I eventually learned the value of this lesson, but, at the same time, didn’t wholeheartedly jump in with both feet, as it never felt 100% natural. I also didn’t appreciate people trying to tame down what I thought of as one of my strengths: high attention to detail. I was told to let some of that go in order to move forward more quickly. I never bought it and, now that I look back, I know I was right not to let them erase my edge. It’s what makes me who I am and good at what I do.

I then moved for a new opportunity. In addition to the job not being all that was promised, I was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. Not good. I stopped working and concentrated on my health. Chemotherapy left me fatigued and forgetful; I was just not the same person I used to be before my diagnosis and I knew I would never be the same again. Priorities shifted, and I decided that corporate life was no longer for me. However, after a while, I was antsy for my old marketing career and the opportunity to be a creative thinker once again. I started interloping in my husband’s job and telling him what to do from a marketing perspective, offering to help with his Power Points and brainstorming ideas for him to bring to his marketing team. Then I realized: why on earth would I be doing this for another company, and one that I didn’t even work for?? I needed to create my own outlet.

I started brainstorming and came up with the idea to build a cancer-related clothing and accessories brand. I thought all the options already out there for head scarves and other accessories were so lame, so I was going to create something that women like me would like to wear. The timing must have been kismet because, as I was designing my logo and writing my business plan, a dear friend from High School told me about a retail project she was consulting on: Storr. I investigated it, wrote them a haiku, and was up and running with my own store, Cha Cha, almost immediately. I thought it was a perfect fit for my background — I could literally get it set up within 3 clicks and it required no monetary investment on my part. Everyone I ran it by agreed that the concept was great, so I knew Storr was onto something and I was excited to be one of their first store owners.

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

This is definitely something I have personally struggled with over the years because I am the type of person who gets SO excited and SO pumped up about something, that I have about 1,001 ideas at the outset that I want to implement immediately. Usually, as time goes on I start to get bored or another better project comes to the forefront and the first project gets sidelined, but opening a store on Storr was different in that it hit ALL my creative, organizational, entrepreneurial buttons at the same time. I was pretty much 100% in charge of my content and marketing, as well as the amount of time that I spent on it. As I was no longer able to commit to a full time job because of my illness and treatment schedule, I had the time and motivation to really devote myself and stick with it.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

Start small — do a farmer’s market or Etsy, teach a class at a community college on your expertise, or volunteer your skills to a non-profit that would need the help. Take a bite and see how it feels. When I was actively in chemotherapy treatment, I felt like I needed to “do” something, so, I volunteered my marketing services to a dog park that was trying to get funding to be built. It was there that I realized that I could do whatever I wanted to do and no one was going to second guess me — they were just happy to have someone join the group and volunteer to do their marketing, however large or small. I guess this gave me a taste for running my own show.

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

I disagree with that statement! I think we are all looking for something that doesn’t feel like work, because we love doing “it”. It just seems as if many people are never able to make it work for them, whether they are afraid to make the leap or they are uncomfortable with change and just settle. Running my store is fun because it is everything that I like to do: merchandise, write copy and marketing, all on my own time and schedule. It’s fun to check in on my store to see how many new views I have or followers I’ve gotten. It means people are actually out there reading and reacting to my aesthetic. I love putting my marketing hat back on and thinking up new creative ways to drive traffic to my store. It’s also rewarding to build relationships with some of the brands that I stock, to help each other market and sell.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

I love being in charge without anyone telling me what to do or not to do. I’ve always been very independent, and I like to call the shots. While I view that as a strength, it can also be a detriment in that I can take on too much and am then unable to complete everything I set out to do. Similarly, when I actually had a team that reported to me in my “old life”, delegating was one of my biggest challenges. I’ve since learned that no one person “can do it all” and, if you want to truly succeed, you need to let others carry their weight. By setting the bar high for myself, my team, and our work, I was able to get the level of outcome I desired and did not have to worry that it was not being accomplished to my level of expectation.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

At first, I didn’t realize that social media would be such a huge part of my day, as well as how long it actually takes to think of fresh creative ideas and then execute them flawlessly. Plus, the amount of work I put in does not necessarily show on the other end. I’m still in ramp up mode, and that involves a lot of behind the scenes work — everything from researching brands and competitors, to keeping up with styles what’s new on social media.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?

Not yet; this is my “real job” now!

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

My former boss at Swarovski, Kerrie McLellan. She was a great mentor to me and really taught me how to be a leader by pushing me out of my comfort zone, believing in me, and generously sharing her knowledge. I can still hear her in the back of my head when I need to have an uncomfortable conversation or be a cheerleader for someone else. While I think that I always had the natural inclination to be a leader, I would classify myself as a reluctant leader in the workplace. In life, I’ll easily step up in order to get a group organized with specific tasks and goals for each person. However, in the workplace, I didn’t always naturally step up to take charge. I realize now that other people depend on me and look to me for guidance and leadership, so I need to make sure I am fulfilling that role to the best of my ability.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Your day is going to fly by. I get so involved in what I’m doing: taking classes, researching, writing, taking photos and videos that I look up and it’s dinnertime.
  2. You need to keep a strict schedule to be more productive. Just because I work from home now, does not mean I can’t not be accountable for my time.
  3. It’s surprising who of your friends and family actually actively support you in your new venture.
  4. When being introduced to new people, no one considers what I do “work”. I’m no longer, Terri Sandblom — she heads up marketing in the US for Swarovski. It’s now — this is Terri Sandblom. Period. I’m no longer defined by my role, which is good and bad. Good because I am more than my job, but bad because it seems as if what I do is not legitimate “work” in people’s eyes.
  5. You are going to miss office banter. While I love being alone and uninterrupted as I work, it really was fulfilling interacting with my team and my colleagues on a regular basis and forming true friendships and connections.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Trust, but verify”. I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I definitely have trust issues with people until I get to know them, and they have proven themselves. Trusting people shows that you are open to believing in them, but that you are not a pushover and that they are expected to provide what is promised. I think this is especially relevant for women in the workplace, as we have many more hurdles to jump before we get treated as equally as a male leader and are taken as seriously. How this is still a thing in 2019 amazes me, but we are making inroads. Holding people accountable and leading strongly yet thoughtfully are important skills, especially for women, to be able to earn respect from your team, colleagues, bosses and business partners.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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