Meet Sara Connors, the creative force behind H2O Media Inc, a full-service advertising agency in Waconia, MN. Like most entrepreneurs, Sara’s career path had a few unexpected turns before finding her calling in the advertising world. Learn how Sara went from selling post-operative medical devices in California to running a million dollar advertising agency in just 9 years!
Tell us about your business.
H2O Media Inc is a full-service advertising agency. We started as a boutique agency specializing in small space magazine advertising and in the last 9 years have grown to running million dollar national campaigns in print, digital, sponsored content and national TV segments. We also offer brand strategy and design work to our active clients.
The Early Days
Describe your childhood in one word.
Describe your childhood personality in one word.
I had to ask my Mom on this one and she quickly answered driven and stubborn…I’ll go with driven.
When you were a little girl what career did you dream of having “when you grow up?”
I wanted to be a Doctor or Lawyer. I was unsure of which but knew I wanted something challenging and that I could be proud of.
What was your first job?
I worked at a flower shop in Seal Beach, California called Devynn’s Garden.
The Learning Years
Where did you attend college? What’s your degree?
California State University Long Beach. My bachelor’s degree is in Health Science.
What was your first job out of college?
I interned for medical device company in Costa Mesa, California called South Coast Medical, selling post-operative medical devices. I was hired full-time after my internship ended a few months before graduation.
List your jobs until you started your own business.
I worked for South Coast Medical for 2 years. In 2005, I was hired as a sales rep for a small boutique ad agency in Newport Beach, California called Haute Media Inc. I worked my way up to Vice President within two years and then started my own advertising agency in 2009.
The Entrepreneurial Years
What year did you decide to start your own business?
Why did you decide you wanted to start your own business?
I wasn’t happy at the agency I was working at and I had many ideas of my own that I wanted to bring into a new company.
How is your business different today than when you first started?
So different! I started working at home brokering space and putting together advertorial pages with one other sales representative the first year. Our gross sales that first year were around $800,000. Today we have a corporate office location, full-time director of operations, digital department, art director and sales reps scattered throughout the country. In 9 years we grew our gross sales from $800,000 to 3 million.
What three lessons you have you learned running your own business?
- Change is a necessity. Our industry is changing every day and so our company has to, as well.
- When it comes to work hours, quality over quantity. The first few years I was working 80 hour weeks before realizing if I cut back in my hours, my time at work was more productive.
- Never stop learning and going to school. I’ve been back to school for executive education classes at St. Thomas University and continue to take seminars, webinars, conferences and workshops. I’ll always be going to school in some shape or form.
What’s next for your business? Top 3 goals:
- I would like to hit that 4 million sales mark this year and we are on our way there so far.
- I would like to grow our sales team so we can take on more clients.
- We were featured on the Inc 5000 list 2 years in a row for the fastest growing private companies in America and I would like us to get back on the list again.
What’s your strongest skill set that’s helped you succeed?
On this journey, who have been your three most supportive people?
My husband, mom & dad.
The Bumps in the Road
Have you had any hardships or setbacks in your business or personal life?
Absolutely. I’ve made some poor decisions in my business and I have learned from them. The stress of running the business has definitely affected my personal life at times and finding balance is something I still strive for daily.
How did you overcome them – did they make you stronger?
I’ve learned that all hardships and setbacks are temporary. If you show up every day and work through the hard stuff things will improve, ignoring the issues never resolves anything. I’ve learned something new with every mistake I make.
All About You
Did you always dream of owning your own business or was it a surprise on your career path?
It was a surprise, but once I had the idea to start the business I had to do it.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
Hiking, running, working out, and reading. I love doing anything that is with my family.
Tell us about your family.
My husband Ryan has always been my biggest fan and supporter. We have been together 19 years. I have a house full of boys; my stepson Tyler is 22, son, James, is 10 and son, Wyatt, is 8. They are my world.
Describe your career path to-date in one word?
I’m a co-founder of a non-profit called The Give Back Kids, so I have to choose that as my favorite! My friend, Rene Hanssen, and I started it together to create volunteer opportunities for our children to help those in need in the community.
Age you’d like to retire at?
That’s a tough one. It changes depending on what kind of day I’ve had but let’s say 60-65.
Travel location on your bucket list?
Greece, Italy and Ireland.
Introvert or Extrovert?
Both, but mostly extrovert.
Night owl or early bird?
Favorite podcast, YouTube channel, or blog?
I mostly read business magazines and newspaper articles.
Favorite business book?
Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon
Favorite business tool?
I love anything Google. We use Google Drive, Google Analytics and Google Data Studio the most. More favorites are Drip and Lucid Chart.
Three female entrepreneurs you admire:
Like reading career path stories? Sign-up for the Her Own Path Insider below.