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Females & Finances: Sarah Van Dyke

Sarah Van Dyke | Females & Finances with Summit Credit Union

In our Females & Finances series, inspirational women leaders from Madison and Milwaukee share their words of wisdom for women who are trying to manage their finances and own it in their everyday lives. Know someone who has a great story to share? Send nominations to

This month, see how Sarah Van Dyke found a way to bring more joy, color and inspiration to her life with Revel Madison – her business specializing in DIY craft experiences.

What does “owning it” mean to you? 

To me, "owning it" means having the confidence and conviction to make decisions (in life or business) and then taking responsibility for the outcomes that result from those decisions, whether good or bad.

One of the best parts of being a small business owner and working for myself is that I'm the boss – no one is telling me what to do (!) And one of the hardest parts of being a small business owner and working for myself is that … no one is telling me what to do! There are hundreds of decisions from small to large that I make in a week or month – and it wouldn't serve the business or my mental state to agonize over each and every one. I've gotten lots of practice in gathering the facts, seeking advice when/where it makes sense, making the decision, and then moving on.

Tell us about your personal and professional journey and how you got where you are today.

Like many business owners, it was a bit of a winding path that brought me to entrepreneurship! I graduated college with a music education degree and then worked briefly in hospitality management before landing in healthcare IT (somewhat by accident!). I spent 11 years in that industry, working for multiple companies and gaining experience in project management, sales, client/account management, recruiting/hiring, team leadership, and much more. During the last four years of that time, my husband and I owned and operated a mobile flipbook studio, Antics Flipbooks, as a side business. All those experiences – from working in the corporate world to starting a tiny business operation – really gave me the confidence to open Revel. A day doesn’t go by where I’m not thankful for something I learned or experienced in a previous role! 

In 2015 I made a New Year’s resolution to find my new career. I knew that healthcare IT wasn’t my forever industry, and I really felt a longing to do something more social…fun…colorful…inspiring…joyful with my life. You’ve likely heard the phrase, “Create the things you wish existed” – and that’s what I did! The initial vision was for a fun, social space where there was always something fresh and new going on. Over time and many iterations of the business plan, I decided to focus on the DIY aspect and came up with the idea for the Craft Bar. Today Revel has three main facets: the Craft Bar, our series of creative/lifestyle workshops, and private events.

I stayed at my day job for over a year while starting Revel, which was challenging (there were LOTS of late nights and weekends spent working!) but was also a smart move financially because it helped me build up more savings for when I first opened Revel and wasn’t getting any salary.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned about finances?

Where to start? Here are a few that I have learned and am currently working on!  

  1. Have a rainy-day fund. We allocate a small percentage of each month’s revenue to a fund that’s there for emergencies and also helps us weather the ebbs and flows in our business/revenue. Knowing that we have this cushion allows us to use our slow times to catch up, plan, and create meaningful change in the business – rather than worrying about paying that month’s bills.
  2. Diversify Revenue Streams. It can be dangerous to put all of your financial eggs in one basket! We currently diversify among the Craft Bar, workshops, and private events and are actively exploring a few other areas we could expand into for additional revenue streams.
  3. Bigger is not Better. BETTER is Better. Growth and expansion can be a great thing, but they aren’t the only path to profitability. If you’re only focusing on sales/revenue, and not managing your operations/staff levels/expenses well, your financial position can actually get WORSE as your sales increase.  

​What resources/strategies help you manage your money?

  • “Profit First” by Mike Michalowicz – This book/method was recommended to me by two fellow business owners and has proved to be invaluable. It's a simple accounting method that ensures you are getting paid (even just a little bit!) for the hard work you put in to your business and forces you to get creative with the money you have left over and allocated for expenses.
  • Data Is a Girl’s Best Friend – My team and I use Google spreadsheets to document everything from supply costs and procurement details to Craft Bar attendance. We use our POS system and website to track event sign-ups, item quantities sold and more. Being organized with the information and taking time to dig into these details ensures that we’re making decisions on ordering, pricing, and overall business direction based on margins and actual history/experience, rather than just a whim or a gut feeling.
  • Hire an Expert – Bookkeeping and accounting are definitely outside my core skill set and are things I don’t particularly enjoy doing. Hiring a qualified bookkeeper was one of my first priorities, and I’ve learned a lot (and gained so much peace of mind!) from the two I’ve worked with so far.

What’s your favorite quote from an inspirational woman?

Ali Webb, founder of DryBar, spoke at a conference I attended recently and said, "There's a reason horses race with blinders on.” Powerful, huh? In the social media-fueled world we live in, it is easy to have imposter syndrome and feel like we aren’t doing enough – even when things are going well in our business. This quote encourages me to get rid of that comparison and instead put my energy into improving myself and my business – on my own terms. Authenticity and hard work really do pay off!

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