Sarah Weise is the CEO of award-winning market research firm Bixa, a company that offers a quantitative and qualitative edge for some of the world’s most innovative brands. She is also a keynote speaker and bestselling author of InstaBrain: The New Rules for Marketing to Generation Z, a book packed with stories and insights from dozens of youth research projects teaching new rules for marketing and brand-building for this youth generation.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I spent my 20s in a thankless corporate consulting job because I was too comfortable and too fearful to quit and go out on my own. I was that kid at the top of the water slide, too afraid to jump. I wish I had the confidence 10 years earlier to go out on my own and make it work because I have so much more happiness and financial freedom today.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
In marketing, there are always new trends popping up about where and how a company should advertise. Just recently, a client came to me saying they wanted a TikTok marketing campaign because their competitor was doing it, but that would have been a total waste of money for them because their particular customer is not on TikTok.
Many times, we follow the advice of so-called experts online and launch campaigns without doing our homework, without really knowing who our customers are. If you can’t tell me with precision about each of your customer segments and what emotional drivers move them to action, what each customer care about from your brand, then you shouldn’t be launching an ad. And psst… if you’re not sure where to start to find this, email my team and we’ll point you in the right direction. ☺
I think another mistake people make in their marketing materials and messaging is that they talk about their product or their process, instead of the results it would bring a client. They are obsessed with their product when they should be obsessed with their customer. Remember Garmin’s Tom Tom back in the day? What happened to that? Phones with a maps app made that obsolete. Instead of trying to make Tom Tom work, Garmin obsessed over their customers and pivoted to new products that would continue to resonate.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I went into business with a partner who lied to me and betrayed my trust. I learned a number of key lessons that I carry with me. Here are a few:
- Hire the best lawyers you can afford, and spend the money to get them to review everything.
- When something bad happens, don’t dwell or obsess over it. That obsession takes away from your focus on your business. Understand that it happened, learn from it yet. But swallow that darkness and transform it into something new and beautiful.
- Generosity pays off. I will never forget the people who helped me get my business back and up and running during this time, and I am grateful every day for having such tremendous friends in the industry. These people will have my unending support for their businesses going forward.
- Business is all about mindset. For high achievers, when we say we’re stressed, what that really means is that we are fearful of something. Fear, though, is all in our minds. And if we replace that fear with appreciation instead, we can strip back any self-imposed limitations and start taking massive action on our businesses.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I take an hour a day just for me and my thoughts. I walk in nature, appreciate what’s around me, and listen to any insights that happen come my way. You can’t do this if your to-do list is drowning you. This is meditative time that I block off on my calendar and protect.
What is your morning routine?
For years I was a night person, working until 2 am or 3 am when everyone was asleep and the house was quiet. I recently made the switch to going to sleep early and waking up early and it has been life-changing. I now wake up at 6 am. I spend about 45 minutes meditating, reading, and/or writing while I drink my morning coffee. After that, I work out, shower, and kiss my kids before they leave for school. (I have a wonderful husband who makes sure the kids are up, dressed, and fed in the mornings, which is the only way this works!) I tidy around the house (mess makes me distracted), spend 15 minutes to center myself, then get to work with a 2-hour focused block dedicated to my #1 priority for the week. That means I don’t check email or social or anything else until that 2 hours is up.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I walk in the woods every day. I take my dog, and we go rain or shine or snow. It doesn’t matter. Fresh air and mediation can change your life, get you focused and intentional about what you want to accomplish, and the massive action it’s going to take to get you there.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
It’s not about how much you work. It’s about how focused and present you are when you’re working.
I am highly protective of my time. My daily schedule includes blocks during the day for uninterrupted focus, for client work, for content creation, and for business development. Each of these categories has a prioritized list of actions for me to tackle. My goal is always to be fully present—that means no multitasking. This is even true when spending time with my family. I’m not on my phone. We spend time together in a very present and intentional way. To do this, make a list of everything you do during the day. Now group these tasks into key categories. Mine are: Client Delivery / Weekly Focus Block / Content Creation / Business Development / Planning & Admin (though your groupings can be anything that makes sense to you). Now turn to your schedule and block off time for each of these groupings (at least 2 hours at a time).
My very first hire at my company was not another researcher to deliver on work, but an executive assistant. This was the best decision I ever made. Today I have two assistants who organize and manage all the details of my life. They take care of emails, scheduling, phone calls, speaking inquiries, and so much more. In this way, I can focus on growing my business without killing myself working crazy hours.
For More Tips…
To learn from Sarah Weise about how to grow your business through obsessing over your customers and focusing on what matters most, sign up for her emails. You will also get a free chapter of InstaBrain!
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The year was 2002. I was in college, trying to figure out what to do with my life. Whatever it was, I knew would be with my own company. I had gravitated toward a squad of entrepreneurs and was physically living in an entrepreneurship incubator with other students who wanted to do the same. Tony Casalena, who would become the founder and CEO of Squarespace, lived down the hall. Adam Ostrow, former Chief Strategy Officer at Mashable lived next door.
I was on business #2 at the time, and pitch contests were all the rage. My team competed in one, placed second. Instead of the $5k prize, we ended up winning something that was (in retrospect) of much greater value—a new book that had just come out called Purple Cow by Seth Godin.
Purple Cow changed the way I viewed business. It was because of this book that I majored in Marketing and started my career path as a market researcher. I was enthralled (and still am) at how some companies can stand out in a crowded marketplace, while others get swallowed by the noise. Much of my research has centered around that fascination over the years—and over the past couple of years, it’s been centered around how companies make a splash when they’re targeting a particular audience (particular in more ways than one!): Generation Z.
17 years after I read Purple Cow for the first time, I published my own book InstaBrain: The New Rules for Marketing to Generation Z which would also become a #1 bestseller. Seth Godin was one of my inspirations.
It was, then, so wonderful to meet such a visionary in person at a Digital Summit in 2019. He is as quirky as I expected, joking as we chatted, gazing out the window from Detroit to Canada how we might be able to smuggle people by submarine. “This can be done,” he proclaimed, “There’s a way.”
I know he’s right. Because with an “anything’s possible” mindset like Seth Godin’s, anything IS possible.
Selfie of me and Seth Godin here.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
I absolutely live by the Russian proverb that graces the first page in Gary Keller’s book The One Thing. It reads: “If you chase two rabbits, you’ll never catch one.”
As a society, I believe we need to stop being proud of multitasking. The most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders have something in common that extends well beyond vision: they have extreme focus. A one-track-mind. A stick-to-itiveness. If you can be truly obsessed with just one thing at a time, you will get so much more accomplished in your business and in your life.
This is one of the reasons I run my business using the 12-week-year model. With extreme focus on just a few key goals, we proudly get more done in 12 weeks than most companies our size can get done in a year!