Close Up: The Courage To Grow


Three years ago, a medical scare caused Donna Zahn to rediscover her passion for life and her business, and the experience inspired her to boldly leave her comfort zone.

Zahn introduced her garment embroidery and digitizing business, Sew N Sew, to the promotional products industry, and has seen her business triple, despite the company’s semi-remote location. Sew N Sew is located on Orcas Island, a horseshoe-shaped island that’s the largest of the San Juan Islands, an archipelago off of Washington State. Zahn’s business plays a major role in helping to sustain the island’s local economy and serve its tourism industry during the summer season, from May through September.

“You can only get here by ferry, boat or plane,” says Zahn. “Because of our location on the island, clients can come and get what they are looking for here, so that helps our local economy stay strong, as locals are supporting local businesses.”

Zahn entered the promotional products industry recently—a decision prompted by her clients’ requests for custom hardgoods—but she celebrated 10 years of business this past August. Her custom embroidery and homemade knits shop was formerly Nature’s Art, owned by Linda Hamm, who retired in 2009. When Zahn took over the business, she transformed the store, opening up the workplace environment so prospective customers and visitors could see Zahn at work.

Not only is this milestone an accomplishment she’s proud of, but it’s one she worked extremely hard to achieve. “Many people told me I wouldn’t make it here. Well, I am here to tell you that me, myself and I did not give up when many told me, ‘Stop doing this. You can’t make money at this.’ Recently, I moved into my new shop and living space. It’s my dream space and brand new. (Pinch me!) I’ve been letting go of fear and what does not work and replacing it with what does.”

Zahn’s enthusiasm for her business comes from a place of great change and even greater transformation. “I had a medical scare a few years ago where I almost died, and it made me take a hard look at things and how I was living/working. I met my business coach, completed her bootcamp and came home and left my 10-year relationship. Since then, my business has tripled over the past three years. It was about time to regain my passion for life and work.” She adds, “My clients tell me often I have a glow, and they love that I am smiling again. To me, the best thing I can do is be grateful and thankful for all those in my life and business; to treat everyone the way I want to be treated; to continue to learn, grow and help my clients to the best of their ability; and to smile often and thank all family, friends and clients for being part of my life and success.”

PPB spoke with Zahn to learn more about her plans for the coming year, both in business and in her personal life.

PPB What are your plans/goals for 2020? Are you trying anything new?

Zahn I’m currently working with a CPA and attorney on having my business become a limited liability company (LLC), and I’m looking to organize and automate shop processes and procedures that follow from start to end. Also new is updating existing software, equipment training, promotional site training, website online store training, and improving marketing and Facebook, and how to use these tools to better serve the business, clients and staff. I’ll be attending PPAI’s Women’s Leadership Conference in North Carolina, and Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Center’s training to bid on government contracts as a woman-owned minority business. I am hiring more staff and taking equipment repair-training classes. I am also an embroidery trainer and I travel off the island to train other shop owners on how to embroider and use software to meet their production needs.

PPB What are your biggest challenges and how are you working to solve them?

Zahn Business growth has been fast and keeping up with it, at times, has been hard. Asking for help is a challenge, because I try to be Wonder Woman. Recognizing that I need help because [the business has] grown and I can’t do it alone anymore, and it’s time to hire and train staff for the upcoming season.

PPB What are your tips to achieve a work/life balance?

Zahn Slow down and take the time. Life is too short, remember to enjoy it. Schedule as much of your day-to-day as you can and follow it. Set boundaries at home and work. Eat well and drink water often. Get your rest and sleep eight hours if you can. Practice self-care, exercise and pamper yourself with massages and vacations, get your hair done, go shopping, cook delicious food and explore new hobbies. Journal, meditate and breathe, and spend time with your family, pets, friends and clients. Don’t forget to spend time with yourself doing what you love to do. It’s important to be yourself, do what you love and live the best you can.

PPB What advice or resources do you have for other female business owners or those planning to start their own business?

Zahn Believe in yourself. You can do this! Follow your heart, your passion and your dreams, and don’t let others discourage you, for it’s their fear, not yours. Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. Research, research, research. Learn, get training and go to events for women. Take online classes as often as you can; a lot are free with PPAI membership, just register for them. Check out what you need in your area for licenses, insurances and restrictions if you are operating a home business. Check with a CPA and attorney on business setup information and needs before you go into business. Connect and join your local Chamber of Commerce; they have webinars, seminars, group get-togethers and so many resources. Visit your local farmer’s markets, craft shows and events. Find your local Small Business Development Center, connect with the Women Small Business Administration and Women in Business Center, and SCORE Association; there are endless resources there. Ask your local library if they have classes or upcoming events and talk to other women in business as often as you can. (We love to share and help other women.)  

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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