Award-winning journalist and public relations specialist Sarah Barr has got talent. She was a television news anchor and reporter and held positions as Director of Communications and New Media for the City of Hartford, and Vice President of Corporate and Government Communications at Webster Bank.
In October 2017, Sarah embraced her entrepreneurial spirit and launched Washashore Writing, a speechwriting, media training, and communications company that caters to women leaders in business, community, and government.
Sarah will present at the Power & Progress Business Women’s Symposium on Wednesday, January 24. The event “Shine! Making a Powerful Impression” is hosted by The University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center and Women’s Business Center (EC/WBC). Learn more and register to attend.
ENCOURAGING WOMEN LEADERS
Sarah has had plenty of experience helping boost women leaders. While working at Webster Bank, she formed the Webster Women’s Initiative Network to help support future leaders at the bank through education, training, and networking.
“It was a great opportunity,” she recalls. “It started with a grassroots group of about 20 people and blossomed to well over 300 by the time I left Webster.”
Sarah also played a key role in designing an internship program at Hartford City Hall that paired high school and college students.
“We gave students hands-on experience in the field of communications. The internships benefitted dozens of young people, particularly young women and women of color,” she explains.
“What brings a sparkle to my eye is when I see young women succeed. I’m glad I’ve been able to provide opportunities to young people—and I’m still in touch with many of them, whether it’s writing letters of recommendation or connecting through LinkedIn,” she says. “A lot of the interns have gone on to be successful people and they’re happy. To think that I was even a small part of their experience is pretty cool.”
Whether they’re going off to college, starting their first job, or breaking through the log-jam on the corporate ladder, Sarah hopes her new startup venture can continue to help more women succeed.
“Somebody was there for me and somebody helped me get through the door. The only way I can ever say thank you is to help somebody else,” she emphasizes.
LAUNCHING HER STARTUP
Many of Sarah’s experiences encouraged her to launch her own company and efforts to help women succeed in the workforce. She notes, “It’s not that I don’t work with male clients, it’s just the focus is on female clients and women’s issues.”
Sarah talks about why she decided to start her own company versus continuing to work for someone else:
“I came to a point in my career where I took a step back and I said: What do I want to do? What makes me happy? What is best for me and my family?” she says. “Launching my own company combining my experience in storytelling, speech writing, public relations, and media training was the decision.”
Sarah recalls, “When I told some people who had known me for many years, the reaction was: You should’ve done that years ago.”
“I wasn’t ready,” she admits. “Now my heart is telling me it’s time.”
Sarah’s expertise is what differentiates her.
“Not everyone has walked the walk when it comes to covering a story or being interviewed by someone about a story,” she explains. “I know the tough questions and I know how to answer them. I’m able to develop techniques with clients so they are better prepared, and they can keep calm under pressure when rapid-fire questions come their way. It’s also not only what to say, but it’s where to look and how to look. It’s a more holistic branding to help them stay focused.”
Sarah has been working on building her clientele.
“My business is brand new, so now people are looking at me on my own as opposed to affiliated with someone else. People are excited about the services I offer and they’re trying to find ways to fit me into budgets that may be already established,” she notes.
“My clients can range from somebody who is an associate Vice President or someone who’s making a presentation to a local organization. They have to get over their nerves. We can work on that. And it may be an executive who just doesn’t have time or a routine to write a lot of speeches and make a lot of presentations. I can do that as well,” says Sarah. “I’ve written for CEOs, mayors, and regional vice presidents and presidents. I know their words. I can put it together and shape it for them. Everyone needs a ghost writer.”
FOSTERING STUDENT LEADERS
Sarah also offers mentoring services—and looks forward to working with our young leaders on a number of different fronts.
“Our kids need help. They need to know how to do everything from making eye contact to shaking hands, which is all part of the building and branding of leadership. I want to ensure they have that confidence in their presentation skills,” she says.
“I can help kids who are preparing to present their capstones, getting ready for college, or preparing for job interviews.” She points out, “You can have the greatest capstone project, the best idea, the perfect background for a job, or an amazing PowerPoint presentation, but you have to deliver it the right way.”
Sarah adds, “It’s really great to have some of these techniques instilled in an early age, so they know how to overcome the nerves and how to hold themselves. An interviewer or panelist can say: Wow, that kid really has her act together. She presented herself well and knew what she was talking about.”
Sarah credits networking with helping her build clientele and become recognized as a new startup. “You have to get yourself out there,” she emphasizes.
“Through all my incarnations and all my different jobs, I have built an incredible network of colleagues. It’s all about relationships,” she says.
“As I was creating the website and doing the paperwork to get the business going, I talked to the people I knew and trusted who had launched their own companies. I told them I was thinking of doing this, and I got a lot of feedback. I took all that information from networking initially—it really helped me make my decision to start the company.”
As she was starting out, Sarah says she knew she had to become a MetroHartford Alliance investor.
“I’ve had such a strong association with the MetroHartford Alliance over the years,” she notes. “As a reporter, I covered Oz Griebel when he was first announced as the CEO. So, I had that relationship and reported on what was happening with MetroHartford Alliance as things were growing and changing over the years.”
LOVE OF HARTFORD
Sarah has a lot of pride in Hartford. “I was born in the city and I grew up in Wethersfield, so my heart is here,” she says. “I love the city. Look at the history. Look at the architecture. Look at the arts. There’s so many positives here. There are so many positives not only for Hartford, but the region. I’m one of the ‘yaysayers.’”
In terms of the startup and entrepreneur ecosystems in Greater Hartford, she says, “I think it’s important because it’s more cutting-edge. It’s more innovative.”
“We have to get out of the cookie cutter mentality and think of ways to do things differently. Let’s use that creative energy. I’m a big supporter and of course now being a small business owner, I’m supporting it even more.”
With such a new business, Sarah hasn’t experienced too many startup challenges yet. She notes, “As I talked to colleagues who have made the switch to starting their own business, one of the big things was learning not to expect a paycheck every two weeks—so it’s that kind of balancing things.”
Her advice for others is simply: Be ready.
“Make sure that you’re ready and then don’t quit and keep going no matter how tough it gets. That’s something that people have said to me,” Sarah adds.
“I tell myself to stick to it because, if you really believe in your product, what you offer is going to come from love not fear.”
Find out more about Washashore Writing