Q&A with Entrepreneur & Design Expert, Sarah Karakaian
Sarah Karakaian is all about maximizing the design and function of small spaces. It all started on the road as a world-traveling performer in hit Broadway musicals, where the only constant was her thoughtfully compartmentalized suitcase. In 2014, Sarah teamed-up with handy hubby, Nick, to create beautiful spaces full-time as Nestrs, LLC—a professional organizing, design, and real estate company. Now, she coaches clients on organizing/design and transforms forgotten properties into successful long- and short-term rentals. Sarah’s other passions include playing kickball, loving up on her cuddly cockapoo, Hiro, and savoring her daily cold brew with skim milk (Coffee. Demo. Reno. Repeat.)
Can you tell our readers about your background?
Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be an actor. I spent my childhood preparing for a life on the stage. From acting lessons to voice lessons to performing in professional and community theatre, I was laser focused on succeeding. I majored in Musical Theatre at Baldwin-Wallace College and Kent State University. Once I graduated I hightailed it to NYC. I spent 12 years traveling the world performing in hit Broadway musicals, did various on-camera and voice-over work, and worked as a bartender between gigs.
What inspired you to start your business?
In 2012 I started to question my ‘why’. If I was being honest with myself, it was no longer about telling stories and connecting with audiences. I wanted to keep up with my friends who were booking more jobs than I was. I started to say “no” more so I could hold out for bigger and better opportunities. This meant I started to spend more time bartending. I felt stuck and uninspired. I did a lot of soul searching and a lot of sitting back. I was so go-go-go trying to grow my acting career I wasn’t listening to my heart.
Besides acting, I had another passion and skill that I had no idea people would pay me for: organizing homes. I’m an incredibly organized person and I always cared that my spaces be beautiful and functional. I came across a soap opera actor who started a successful Professional Organizing business and I knew starting my own Professional Organizing business was something I had to try.
Turns out, being an actor and promoting yourself and your skills is a lot like entrepreneurship. I was hooked. My first business, We OrgaNYze, LLC gave me a taste of what it was like to truly be in total control of your own destiny. My husband was already in the home improvement industry, so we would partner up a lot of projects. This lead to a TV show opportunity on HGTV – which was a dream come true. I was now on a different kind of stage, but a stage none-the-less.
When we finished the HGTV series, my husband and I decided to go into business together. We started out as a client-based construction, organizing, and design team and while we still do construction and design consulting work, we’re focusing more on purchasing rental properties and transforming them into beautiful long- and short-term rentals.
Where is your business based?
Technically our business is based in NYC but, since May 2017, we decided to look for real estate investment opportunities outside of the crazy expensive metropolis of New York and stretch our dollar in the mid-west. We purchased a 37’ travel trailer so we can remain mobile. We keep our tools in the toy hauler instead of an ATV! We still do virtual design work and take on clients whenever we can and wherever we are. We’re currently on a project in Columbus, Ohio.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
Although I’m very Type-A, I’m also a very visual and creative person. I needed to create the visuals for my business before I could do anything else. I needed a name, a logo, and a mission statement. I know some people like to let that sort of stuff happen organically, but I needed that foundation first.
For me, it was like character development. What’s my character’s name? What is their motivation? Once I had all that in place, I set out to find a great lawyer to help us create our LLC. I wanted to make sure we were doing everything by the book and that we were getting set up for success from the very beginning.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
Being on an HGTV show wasn’t planned. It wasn’t even something I knew was possible. It was an opportunity that kind of found us. However, being involved with such a credible brand has definitely helped us raise awareness for our business. Once we realized having HGTV on our resume would set us ahead we knew we found the secret sauce. We make it a quarterly goal to partner up with at least one other vendor or brand so we can cross-promote our business.
Additionally, we learned that potential clients need to trust us. If we let them in our personal lives just a bit, clients feel like they’re getting involved with friends rather than strangers. With our social media channels, our blog posts, and newsletters, we always add a little about what’s going on behind the scenes – a sneak peek if you will – this makes our brand more relatable and approachable. People are more willing to get behind people they feel like they know rather than this stuffy business that feels cold and unapproachable.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
I care about my clients so much that I’ve taken “put your clients first” to a whole other level. Valuing my time, expertise, and customer service skills have been my biggest challenge. Turns out, if you value your time neither will your clients, no matter how good their intentions are.
To remedy this, I talked to a lot of business owners. Not just in my industry but in general. Anyone who was successful was someone I wanted to talk to and be around. From them, I learned that I can be a much better designer, organizer, and business owner when I’m not running around like a crazy person trying to please everyone.
The phrase “Under promise and over deliver” is written on a sticky note in my office. I’m a people-pleaser so even my “under promising” is still a great value for my clients – when everything goes right and I have a little time left over on a project, wowing them is icing on an already delicious funfetti cake.
How do you stay focused?
Staying focused is something I work on every week. Sundays are my prep days. I’ve already figured out where I want to be 5 and 10 years from now. So, all I have to do is work backward. I know where I want to be in 1 year, 6 months, next month and next week. So, when a new week rolls around I sit down, write down all the things I’d like to get done that week that will keep me on track to hit my weekly goals. Instead of just listing these items, I also plug them into my calendar. I schedule every hour of my day.
Even if it’s 3 hours of fun, it’s scheduled. I schedule my most important tasks first. There are only so many hours in a week so, if I run out of time with tasks that are lower on my priority list I can either decide to outsource those items or continue to put them on the backburner. For me, prioritizing my schedule is how I keep my eye on the prize.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
There is no other person who is exactly like you, right? You always hear that. Well, the same goes for your business. You just have to remember to remain authentic and you have to remember why you’re in business.
If you lose sight of either of those two things you’re going to blend in with the “rest of them”. Try not to compare your business to other businesses. You can be inspired by others but always put your own spin on things. You’ll always be different if you remain true to yourself and your “Why”.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
With blogging, vlogging, and social media, we’re always tweaking our marketing strategy. But, I will say that our emails have the best return on investment. It’s the cheapest and least time-consuming way to communicate with potential and past clients and it continues to be the most direct and impactful form of marketing for us.
In our newsletters, we can share before and after pictures of our latest projects, recent videos we posted on YouTube, and specials we’re running, etc. We always make sure our newsletters feel like they’re coming from a friend – instead of from a corporation. They don’t have too much branding and they’re right to the point. From there, people can visit the many social channels we’re on or reach out to us directly. Whatever works for them.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
You do you. Plain and simple. Also, take a look around you. Who do you hang out with the most? Are they a mover and shaker just like you? Are they motivated and positive? If not, find a new crowd. You are the average of the people with whom you spend the most time. Set your friend standards high.
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
I love my Google Calendar. It’s hands down my favorite app. I mean it when I say I schedule every hour of my day. You can’t be in control of what happens in the end but you can be in control of what you do to get there.
I’ve recently fallen in love with the blog and podcast The Blog Millionaire by Brandon Gaille. Brandon shares easy to consume tips and tricks not only for your blog but also for your social channels, website, and email marketing that you can apply immediately to your own business.
The book that has changed my life is Rich Dad Poor Dad. Although it focuses mostly on real estate investment, it was also a wakeup call for me as an entrepreneur. The book helps you see life, relationships, and business differently. It teaches you what passive income really means and how it can set you free.
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
Podcasts are my favorite business tool. I can learn while I’m at the gym, driving in my car, wherever. If a particular podcast episode has actionable items I want to apply to my own business, I simply have to email the show notes to myself. Also, having a business coach in my corner has been a game changer.
Who is your business role model? Why?
My business role model is also my business coach, Allison Task of Allison Task Career and Life Coaching. She’s been a force in my professional life since I first hired her almost two years ago. Her no-nonsense approach to business has helped me cut the fat and have the confidence to go after what I want. She believes in what we do so much that she’s hired us to transform spaces in her own life!
She’s a mom of three young children plus a teenage step-child, a loving wife, and entrepreneur herself. She doesn’t keep her approach to her own business a secret. She crushes major goals all the time, she surrounds herself with some of the most influential business owners in the country, and she somehow still remains approachable and trustworthy. Remember I said to be selective about who you hang around? If I could have all Allisons for friends I’d be in pretty good shape.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
I just partnered up with the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) and will be hosting their brand new podcast: Stand Out: Growing Your Productivity and Organizing Business.
As a member of NAPO, I’m honored to be filling the role of podcast host. We already have an amazing line-up of featured guests, I know it’s going to be an incredible learning experience for me.
Additionally, my husband and I recently purchased our first fourplex and we’re in the process of renovating it now. We’re ramping up our blog and YouTube channel with progress updates and before and after photos and videos of the renovation. We’ve got our own mini HGTV show going on! By year's end, we plan to purchase another property that we can save, restore and rent out to amazing people. We’re truly living our dream.
How can our readers connect with you?