Sarah Tse, publisher, author and small business owner, spoke at the Crowell Distinguished Speaker Series event on January 11. Tse’s new book, 7 Years on the Front Line, outlines her professional journey, including severe business setbacks, personal attacks on her character and the lessons learned from her experiences.

Tse received her master’s in business administration from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, following a bachelor’s degree in art from Biola University. She co-founded TSE Worldwide Press with her late father in 2004 and her second company, United Yearbook Printing, in 2008. She is an MBA mentor and part of the Startup Competition, coaching the 2018-19 winning team, ParaBrands.

Tse shared four main principles with students: 

If you think you know what God is teaching you and how he will use it, you’re in for a surprise.

As a studio art major in the early 1990s, Sarah became interested in learning Photoshop to use on some of her own projects, so she found friends at the campus computer lab who were willing to tutor her and let her practice. After graduation, she got an entry-level job at a publishing company, where unexpectedly her Photoshop skills were in demand.

“When I was hired, I was only making $7 an hour,” said Tse. “But one year later, I was making four times that much. God was so faithful in teaching me things He would use later.”

After three years of doing graphics at that company, Tse was transferred into sales.

“I had no sales skills!” said Tse. “But I thought it was a real opportunity, so I needed to find a way to learn how to sell.”

Tse began to take classes in marketing and sales. Her first three months in sales were not just slow, they were nonexistent — not a single sale. 

“But I learned how to do cold calling,” Tse said. “I used what I learned and taught myself how to close deals. I knew that, if I persevered, all the calls I made and the letters I wrote would eventually pay off. By the fourth month, sales started coming in and I started making a lot of money on commissions. I was able to help the company triple their revenue! So that's how I discovered that I was a very good negotiator and could close deals. Without that experience, I could never have started my own companies.”

Be careful who you partner with and don’t make decisions you already doubt!

Tse realized the importance and significance of partnering with others who value ethics in business.

“I started a new company, a publishing partnership with a man I had worked with before,” Tse said. “He was not a believer, and I knew that when we started. I knew that he would operate with a whole different set of standards. I was skeptical, and I told him I didn’t think it would last. But I was young, and I did it anyway.”

The new company did well, initially, and Tse’s sales skills brought in lots of customers and lots of revenue. But her suspicions were soon shown true.

“After two years in business together, he falsified some invoices,” said Tse. “Some of our revenue was being diverted to another company that he started. I wanted to end things and buy him out, but he made that very difficult. I wanted to fight for it, but one night in my kitchen, God spoke to me for the first time, and he said ‘The biggest asset in this partnership is me giving you the ability to sell and close deals. That goes with you; just leave the rest.’ I remember, it was so clear, so tender and so comforting. And I didn't have any doubt. The next day I gave up my half of the partnership; the only thing I negotiated was that I could compete with him in any new business I started.”

Find a mentor.

Tse’s father retired and moved from Hong Kong to the U.S. to help his daughter. Together they began their own publishing company. At the end of their third year, their revenues topped $5 million.

“My father was my mentor,” said Tse. “That's why having business mentors is very, very important. My father was pretty much the mastermind and I was the one who was doing a lot of the sales and grunt work!”

Protect your reputation.

Starting a new business is hard; so many fail. But it helps to already be known and trusted, Tse shared.

“Most of my business was coming from previous customers with people I already had established relationships,” said Tse. “I already built a reputation during those two years. There were former clients who told me they were searching for me through Google, using my last name. So God gave me the name of the company, TSE Press, because my name is my reputation.”

The Crowell Distinguished Speaker Series brings a selection of accomplished business leaders to campus to share their varied professional and personal insights and provides the opportunity to network with fellow attendees including alumni, MBA mentors, faculty, and current and prospective MBA students. The event is always free and open to all. Future events can be found on the Crowell events calendar.

To learn more about and apply to Crowell’s business program, visit the website.