Sarah Walsh is the Brand Strategist of Branch & Bramble.
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
My career in marketing started because of a deep love for social media. In college, I routinely studied how we represent ourselves online using social media platforms and even held personal branding workshops for students through my college’s career development center.
After I graduated, I wanted to dive into the world of marketing beyond social media and spent the next several years at different marketing agencies building up my skill sets across content, SEO, influencers, and more.
In 2019, the stars aligned and I went to work at Branch & Bramble and got to play a role in building it into the amazing lifestyle brand agency it is today. I’ve had the good fortune to work with major, purpose-driven brands I admire and help them tell their stories online in meaningful ways.
Was any one person who was instrumental in helping you get from where you started out, to where you are now?
I’ve said this many times at this point, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Branch & Bramble’s CEO, Emily Lyman. Not only has Emily been a good friend to me for many years, but she’s also given me the space to grow and try new things in my work at Branch & Bramble. She’s helped me build my confidence, and I’ll always be immensely grateful for that.
Is there a particular piece of advice you were given in the early days of your business journey that you still benefit from today?
I actually received a piece of advice that was so unhelpful that I actually ended up benefiting from it. In one of my first jobs in college, I received anonymous feedback from a group of advisors on a piece of paper. In addition to the ever-so original feedback of “smile more,” I was told that I had “inappropriate levels of self-confidence.” This absolutely floored me. If anything, I was a very anxious person trying to do their best and be as kind as possible.
I couldn’t wrap my head around this feedback and was really upset about it. I wracked my brain trying to figure out what I could have done that made someone think I had inappropriate levels of self-confidence. But after weeks of beating myself up about it, I started laughing. I knew in my bones that this feedback wasn’t true (not to mention how unhelpful anonymous performance reviews are in general). Instead, I started wearing it as a badge of pride, telling myself that I was doing such a good job at projecting confidence that I had fooled someone who apparently hadn’t taken the time to really get to know me.
Today whenever I think of this feedback, it makes me feel powerful and reminds me that the opinions of anonymous others don’t matter in the slightest.
What is the most important lesson you've learned about leadership in your business journey so far?
The most important lesson I’ve learned so far is letting your team know you’re open to questions and suggestions. I’ve found that teams work so much better when members know they can come to you with questions that might feel “dumb” but know that you won’t judge them for it. Similarly, trust is not only built when you encourage team members to offer you alternative suggestions, but you’re also giving them the confidence in their own skills and ability to take charge in the future.
What are the top three things you wish you'd known when you were just starting out?
These are the three items that come to mind for those just starting out:
People aren’t paying that close attention to your every word - I’ve experienced a lot of anxiety around giving presentations because I fear tripping over my words and embarrassing myself. But the more times I present, the more I realize that people really aren’t listening for that one time your voice cracks or if you say a word a little funny.
Imposter syndrome is a result of the patriarchy - For a while, I really bought into the idea that feeling inadequate at work was my own fault and something I had to work to overcome. But the more research I did, particularly learning from Ruchika Tulshyan’s work, the more I realized that the problem is systemic, not rooted in my insecurities. We need to work on improving work culture, not trying to fix ourselves.
Show up as your most authentic self - In my experience, a key component to feeling good about your career is working at a company where you can be true to yourself. This isn’t realistic for all careers or all life stages, but when I’m able to show up wearing the clothes I like, sharing my vulnerabilities, and just feeling comfortable in my own skin, I’m able to do my best work.
In your experience, what is the most effective way to build a strong network of mentors and advisors to guide you in your business endeavors?
The best piece of advice I received early on in my career was from a mentor who told me to always be “pleasantly persistent.” Her name was Natonia Samchuck and she was the first person to really get me interested in marketing agencies, but I was struggling to find the right job post graduation. Natonia’s advice to me was to reach out to people, but don’t stop there. I needed to be pleasantly persistent to let people know I was interested in opportunities and prevent them from forgetting about me. You never wanted to be forceful about it, just kind and friendly reminders. I use this advice still today to connect with mentors and reach out to people who I want to make part of my network.
How do you determine when it's time to pivot, and what factors should you consider in making that decision?
I’m a big believer in following your intuition. When there is something in your heart, soul, gut, what have you that’s telling you it’s time for a change, I tend to listen. But I also follow the data, so I’ll pair those feelings with research and data points to see if whatever pivot I’m looking to make is worthwhile and in my best interest.
How do you stay motivated and inspired during the business cycle of ups and downs?
My biggest motivation is knowing that I’ve seen some big down turns but have managed to survive them successfully. Branch & Bramble took off right before the pandemic hit, and it was a little terrifying hoping that this new business would stay afloat during such a downturn in the economy. But in the end, we came out stronger and more resilient for it. Now whenever things are too much of a roller coaster, I remind myself that we made it through the pandemic and things seem much less bleak.
Looking back, what one thing would you do differently if you could start your journey over again?
If I could change one thing, I would have advocated for myself a lot more earlier in my career. In my eagerness to succeed, I think managers took advantage of my people-pleaser nature. I’d love to go back in time and give younger me the confidence and self-worth I have today…but I also know that journey is what got me to where I am today.