Be Inspired | Do Good
Sabrina East needed something new and exciting in her life. Her idea of excitement? Open a murder mystery event planning service. Step Into Mystery now has the hippest and most happening events in town. Step Into Mystery is an event planning service that hosts live action clue games and murder mystery events at public locations such as wineries, breweries, and restaurants and also hosts private events at retirement homes, country clubs and activities for team building.
Initially working in criminal justice, with youth, committed to the state for their juvenile life, Sabrina moved into social work and now transitioned into youth foster care. She has been everything from a case manager, foster care recruiter, trainer, and now has developed the Roanoke Foster Care program for Alliance Human Services. Although her job is more than rewarding, Sabrina needed a “fun outlet from the Monday to Friday foster care gig.” Enter, Step Into Mystery.
Step Into Mystery has a simple mission: plan murder mystery events and live action clue games for businesses. Step Into Mystery appeals to almost anyone, from small companies, wineries and breweries, thriving retirement communities, nonprofits and churches searching for fundraising opportunities, wedding events, school functions and large businesses seeking team-building opportunities. Step Into Mystery had its origins in Charlottesville, and Sabrina saw a clear need in Roanoke for a similar business. She says, “Roanoke is constantly growing. We see a new culture, new businesses, new restaurants […] Roanoke needs as many new forms of culture and entertainment as we can provide.”
The ease of Step Into Mystery’s game makes for a great team building opportunity. The ideal group is for businesses with 15 employees or more. However, the games aren’t only for private functions. They can also be for public events, where the ideal size can be as large as 200 to 250 people. There’s no expected duration. It depends on the needs of each business. For public events, events can vary from 2-3 hours, but for private events such as team building, events can be as short as 1 hour. What makes these events so great is that they’re highly customizable. With whatever timeframe or theme you’re looking for, Sabrina and her team can work with you. Just this past year, the team worked with the Harry Potter festival to create a Harry Potter-themed event. With a simple mission, big time allure, and a large fan base, it’s no wonder that there’s a group of “groupies” following around Step Into Mystery’s events.
For Sabrina, starting her own business was not seamless. Reflecting back, it was immediately challenging, “First [of all], [I had to] get over my self-doubt and fears. I’m still working on it. I had to realize in your own business, you’re going to get a lot of no’s, a few maybes and a rare number of yeses right off the bat.” Her first challenge was to face her fears but her second challenge was to connect with a new community, “[it was challenging] branding a new business in a tight-knit community. People are hesitant to embrace a new business.” Carrying her own doubt, Sabrina also had to learn how to connect with her audience, many of whom were new to the concept of Step Into Mystery, “[it was a challenge] to get people to be open to something new they might not be open to at first or what they quite understand, to [get them to] step outside of their comfort zone.” And at the end of the day, Sabrina has learned she has to “not get frustrated when others don’t care as much as you do about something you’re as passionate about.” She has learned you can overcome the challenge by finding like-minded people and surrounding yourself with them.
Despite her challenges, Sabrina has learned to love the variety in her days, “whether it’s Monday through Friday when I’m meeting new families and children through foster care or on weekends when I’m meeting with new business owners and helping them to help provide entertainment for their patrons or getting new faces in. Every single day is different. I couldn’t be in a job where every day looked the same.”
There is so much opportunity to give back when working in foster care. Typically, the children Sabrina works with are a unique subset of foster care because it is treatment foster care, for children who are referred from the Department of Social Services needing more than traditional foster care. She is thrilled that she has been provided the opportunity to make a difference in other’s lives, “Every day I get to feel like I help the foster youth I work with, and I get to see the hurdles they can overcome and how resilient they are. It’s very inspiring to me. […] even something small can make a huge impact on children at their worst moment.”
As a business owner, employee, mom, partner, daughter and working in a caring profession, it can be difficult to relax. For Sabrina, she offers one piece of advice for how to balance everything that is going on in your life: “Take care of yourself. Anything that you can do to relax and unwind. Hobby or something to take care of yourself away from your family, kids, business, work, all for yourself. Turn everything off and unwind.”
As someone who has gone through the challenges of owning a business, Sabrina offers 3 tips she wishes she had heard when she started:
- Get over yourself: “We can be our own worst enemies. We let our fears and self-doubts get in the way. Be in the moment and be ourselves versus conversations [in your head] that are distracting.”
- Hearing no and learning that hearing no is ok: “The first no I got in the business shocked and hurt me. I took it personally. I [wish I had] realized how many no’s I was going to hear before I’m going to get a yes. Accept the no’s, the maybe’s and work for the yes.”
- It’s ok to fail: “As long as you don’t give up and as long as you try again, we’re all going to fail.”
The most significant takeaway Sabrina has had in business is the importance of building relationships, “Every person you meet is a connection – whether you’re helping them connect to other people or they’re helping to connect you. On the back end of that, never asking for a referral until you’ve built that relationship. Don’t be out there for yourself always asking for favors. Build that relationship. Always think about the other person and how you can help them.” Thankfully she has always had the ongoing support of her family and friends, for which she is eternally grateful. “When I’m down on myself, on my business and ready to give up on myself, and I have heard one too many no’s in a row, I’m thankful for family and friends who support me and encourage me to give it another try.”
Since Sabrina has provided us with so many pearls of wisdom, she would love to receive help from our listeners with one of the most significant issues she is having with Step Into Mystery: How to promote local events and get people to buy tickets ahead of time. To ensure the event will be staffed appropriately, successful and profitable, Sabrina has implemented a 1-week policy that states if enough tickets have not been sold a week before the event, the event is canceled. However, so many potential attendees want to buy tickets the day before or the day of the event, expecting there to be tickets available at the door. She has tried many tactics to drive sales before the event date, including promotions to reduce the ticket price when they go on sale, but nothing seems to work. Sabrina would love any and all ideas on how to combat this behavior and encourage ticket sales ahead of time!
Listen to the full interview for more great advice as Sabrina shares first-hand how she started her own business.
Written by: Emma Shulist