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129: How this entrepreneur transformed her struggling business to become a leading online advertising agency with Kristen Brown.

In this week’s episode, we speak with Kristen Brown who is the founder of Hoot Design Co.

An agency that helps entrepreneurs create compelling stories to market their brand.

Listen on to find out how Kristen was able to transform her business from a one-woman sideshow to a woman-led online advertising agency.

Listen Below:

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Show Notes:

Debbie:  

Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us. I’m so excited to be here with Kristen. Hey, how are you?

Kristen: 

Good. How are you?

Debbie: 

Thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit more about you and why you live an offbeat life?

Kristen:

I think probably the way that I live an offbeat life is just by owning my own business and trying to walk that fine line of work-life harmony that we like to say. At our office, you can really enjoy your life but also enjoy your career and feel very dedicated to what you do. So to me, I feel like that’s about as dangerous as I get.

Debbie:  

But you have created this incredible company where you actually help businesses brand themselves. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you started this company?

Kristen: 

Yes. So I was at an ad agency in Chicago and I moved back to my hometown in Missouri where it seemed like a really great place to start a business – very entrepreneurial friendly. And then, of course, great cost of living. I actually started as a paper goods company. I always tell people like the grass is always greener. And so coming from an ad agency, of course, I thought that I would love working with, I don’t the term lay people, in more of a retail space versus B2B. And that proved to be way more challenging than I thought. So, we did a lot of retail paper goods: custom wedding and event paper, custom prints for people, and then, we had always done some branding and marketing, probably just more white labeling for other larger agencies in this area.

Kristen:

And in ’14 we really pivoted to be our own ad agencies. So we stopped doing all the event paper and really focused in on being good and known for one thing, which is kind of also practicing what we preach now, which is having one target market, knowing who you’re talking to, knowing who you are as a brand is just so critical to overall success. And so since then, since ’15, we have had a lot more success and a lot more growth. Now we have 13 employees, most of who are female in an all-female leadership space as well.

Debbie: 

I love that you are practicing what you preach because that can be a really hard thing, right? It’s always easy to give advice to people, but it’s harder to take it yourself.

Kristen:

Oh, for sure. Especially when it comes to marketing ’cause I think people want to be able to be for everybody. And that’s just the first thing I say is that you can not be for everybody, we don’t have the time, the energy, the funds. I think it really waters down any brand and messaging that you have by trying to be for everybody. So yeah, I think it’s a really powerful space to be in, to be able to say like “I don’t think you’re a good fit for us” or to have your potential clients say that as well like “we’re going to go with someone else because they’re a better fit.” I mean that’s a great place to be in and I think a lot of people don’t believe that.

Debbie:

So Kristen, how did you prepare for your journey after you made the huge change of starting your own company?

Kristen:

I would be so curious to say what other entrepreneurs would say because I think it’s very hard to prepare for that. It’s almost, in my experience, like your trial by fire. You have to learn on the job. I always say that cliche; if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. That’s going too far for me. Like that’s too extreme. But I do think that when you own your own business and you’re really driven, it’s very easy to want to absorb as much information as possible. So, like for example, reading business books, listening to business podcasts, management, leadership information – I really enjoy that. When I’m on vacation, those are the types of things I take in. And so that’s how I would say I’ve educated myself. I have a mastermind group too which I highly recommend people use to get themselves in a better place for their business. That’s been totally life-changing for me. But then other than that, I think you’re pretty much learning on the job.

Debbie: 

I can definitely agree with that. I think we can read only so much or watch or listen, but at the end of the day, it’s really about the action that’s going to make that big change for yourself.

Kristen:  

Definitely. Yeah. And putting it into action, it’s sometimes really hard. It’s easy to listen to. I used to take it probably way too much information and then I’ve read once like if you’re not putting it into action, it’s such a waste. I’ve really tried to take that into consideration. Like what can I actually take action on?

Debbie:  

I think there are so many people that buy expensive courses. They buy books, they read everything. But like you said, it doesn’t mean anything. You’re going to be spending all of your money for just entertainment, right? Then, It’s just a hobby.

Kristen:     

Yes. So true.

Debbie: 

Now, you talked a little bit about motivation and reading all of these different things. What have been the biggest tools that have helped you get more motivated when you’re feeling stuck?

Kristen: 

That’s a great question. One thing I would have to say that I’ve invested in which is less known is coaching, but I do a very specific type of coaching called EFT. It’s called emotional freedom technique or tapping is what a lot of people referred to it as. And that has been, I would say, the biggest way that I’ve made a change when I feel really stuck. So, not necessarily creatively stuck because I’m in a really great position now where I’m the executive creative director and I have so many incredibly creative people working here that it’s not really up to me to generate brilliant creative ideas that we’re actually going to use for client work. I’m more reacting and guiding that ship. But I would say my blocks come a lot more around management or leadership or where to take this company kind of thing. And that has been really, really helpful for me to work through with a coach in a very unique way, I would say, which is tapping.

Debbie:

That’s a good one. I don’t think I’ve heard of that. I’m definitely going to research more about it.

Kristen:

I preach about it a lot because I feel like it’s been so transformational for me. It’s kind of this idea that they’re things that happen emotionally are manifested in the physical. So like when you feel really stressed or we feel sick or we can’t find clarity on an issue, there’s a physical component to that as well as kind of the emotional and psychological. And so bringing that all together kind of treating yourself in a very holistic way is what that’s all about. But yeah, I can actually refer you to a website that we built for the person that I work with who I highly recommend her name is Kelly Howe of kellyhowecoaching.com – has a lot of information on her specific philosophy around EFT.

Debbie: 

I’m definitely gonna check that out ’cause that sounds really amazing and incredible. Especially we are stressed so much as entrepreneurs and we definitely need that type of coaching.

Kristen:

I’m really glad… The person who introduced it to me, I never would have thought would have been into that like not as much of a hippie yoga style personality. And so when they recommended it to me, I was like “okay, I’m definitely gonna try this.” At my office, we actually pay for our employees to go to Kelly as well. Because it has been so transformational for me, we pay for any of our employees who want to engage with her, to use her as well.

Debbie:

That’s how you know it works if you’re paying for your employees to go.

Kristen:

Totally. Yeah. If you could really put your money where your mouth is.

Debbie:

Absolutely. So now, Kristen, we all have had that “what now?” moment and I’ve definitely had it, especially when you’re going into a huge transition in your life, whether it’s leaving a nine to five to pursue your business or any other big changes. What was yours like?

Kristen:

I would say my “what now?” moment was certainly more mid business ownership. When I left my nine to five, it was just a really great circumstance for me. We had moved for my husband’s job in Missouri, so it was stable but also a great opportunity to make a change. It wasn’t scary to just walk away from a great job and start working from home or something. Since I was moving. I definitely think I had a “what now moment?” when I was about three years in and I was just so stressed. So, I think I was so stressed and I was still feeling very broke, so it didn’t feel like it was worth it or anything. Another thing that really I think sucks about that is that you don’t have the money to get any resources.

Kristen:  

I mean then I wasn’t working with someone like Kelly and I probably couldn’t have afforded it and I couldn’t get much help with my family life. And so I just felt stressed to the max and I think you make a lot of decisions based out of fear then instead of making really smart decisions. So, it was kind of like a vicious cycle. And honestly at that point, I really was looking for a job, and probably just going to close down. And then I think it was probably just really meant to be that no job came along, like no good opportunities that felt like a good fit came along. And so I just had this epiphany of like it’s time to really do this thing or it’s time to really go get a job. And so I said, “I’m going to try for one year to just really focus on making a change, networking, getting really serious about this”.

Kristen: 

And also I think the self-talk is huge. At that time I had probably been doing a lot of self-talk about “How I can’t do this. I’m not a business owner, I’m a creative, I’m a designer. I’m not good at math. How can I run a business?” And I started really changing my internal dialogue and then also the external dialogue with other people about what I did. I stopped calling it like a little thing or a small business, a side hustle. I started saying “I own a full-service ad agency” even though at that point I think four people worked here.

Debbie:   

Well, that’s a lot. That’s for more than what we all have in the beginning. So that’s a huge thing.

Kristen:

True, true. That’s what I tell people now. Whenever people ask “What’s your one word of advice?” I say, for women especially ’cause I work with a lot of women, I think that we need to not be so humble. I think we’re kind of innately humble or raised or conditioned to be pretty humble. And so I haven’t met a lot of cocky, arrogant women in my life and I do live in the Midwest. So that’s what that says. But I think, for the most part, women are just automatically more humble than necessary. And I think it really does have an effect on our kind of success and outlook overall.

Debbie: 

I really think you’re right on that, Kristen, because even with me, and I know a lot of the women that I look up to, you sometimes feel guilty or you feel like you’re doing something wrong. If you talk about your accomplishments with people, not even bragging, but just kind of stating facts and it sounds really ridiculous when it comes out of your mouth sometimes because you’re right, we’re not programmed to be like that. We’re told we need to be humble. We can’t brag, we can’t talk about any of those things. But yeah, I mean self-talk is so huge. It’s really a huge motivator for us to keep going and to realize that we need to celebrate our wins.

Kristen:

Exactly. Yeah. And I think women helping other women do that is a huge part of what we want to do as a brand too.

Debbie:

Yeah. What would you say is your secret sauce for making your business successful?

Kristen: 

Oh gosh. Well, okay. I think I would say the first thing I would say is just hiring great people. I think that it has become really, really obvious to me that it’s just so much about the people that we can recruit to work here. And that we can hopefully foster an environment that they want to stay in and to be loyal to. And then, when you hire those really great people, my experience has just been that nobody likes to be micromanaged. So the most freedom that you can give people and still be comfortable and successful is what you should strive to do. And I really try as a creative to think about like, “do I need to make this change because I really because it needs to be made or am I overthinking something?” ‘Cause I think, especially a creative environment, people need to have some control of what they’re creating. If you strip all that control away, you’re not going to get them to stick around. That’s really important for us.

Debbie: 

Having the right people around you really will make or break you when it comes to your business because they really are the people that will help you and lift you up when you need them. It’s so true and learning that you have to treat them the right way or else you’re right, they’re going to leave, especially if they have a lot of skills, why should they stay, right?

Kristen: 

Exactly. I think that’s huge for people to understand. I think it’s a very empowering space for employees to be in right now. I think millennials and gen Z has really changed that as far as what they’re willing to stick around for and that they really want flexibility, work-life balance, control, and fulfillment. And so, in my opinion, that’s made the workplace a better place to be, but it certainly changes management.

Debbie:

Yeah. And I think for the better as well. Yes, definitely. I would agree. Now, I know we go through a lot of setbacks during our entrepreneur life. What are you encountering right now as an entrepreneur?

Kristen:

The biggest set back for me is probably dealing with the ebb and flow of client work; trying to manage to have enough clients but not too many, keeping our clients very happy. Diversifying our client list enough is challenging as far as not having too many eggs in one basket, but also, I mean, who doesn’t want that client that has more of an unlimited budget? That’s super fun and exciting for us. So, that’s probably my biggest challenge right now is to just kind of manage the business side, the ebb, and flow, having enough employees but not having too many. I would say it’s probably what I come up against the most.

Debbie:  

Well, that seems like a pretty good problem, I think.

Kristen: 

It can be worse, that’s for sure.

Debbie:

Yes, exactly. Now, let’s fast forward to 50 years from now and you’re looking back at your life. What legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?

Kristen: 

I would love to be remembered for leaving a mark in my community and also to people that have worked here. Of course, I want my kids to be happy and believe that they had a good childhood even though I do work a lot. So, I hope that they appreciate that and don’t resent it. And then, I hope that the people that worked here feel like we left a positive mark on their career like they look back on it fondly or they look back on it as a turning point for themselves or as a place where they were able to have good work-life harmony and to know what it was like to really care about their job, but also care about their life and what they do in their free time that we see that is really important too.

Kristen:

And then, I would love to be well-known here for being kind of a voice for female entrepreneurship or female, even just females in the workplace. I think it’s just really a demanding space to be in as if you want to have a family or you know, even if you don’t, but just to be a woman in the workplace. Nowadays, I think the demands have only gone up. And so I would love to be remembered for being a voice for female-driven workspaces.

Debbie:

Now how are you able to do that right now, Kristen? Balancing everything with life and your business and running all of this stuff and not lose your mind every day yet?

Kristen:

Oh, I love this question because I do get help. And I think that that is life-changing and it’s something that we really believe in as an office and as we grow.

Kristen: 

One of my main goals is to be able to provide help for our senior-level people here. And show everyone that works here that getting help is, to me, the only way to be successful. And I don’t think it’s helpful to act like we can do it all on our own or to show as the perfect Instagram lifestyle of “I have it all” because I think that you can have it all, not all at the same time is really true. And I think being realistic about getting help, so like before I am about to have a baby and we have a nanny who works for us, but even before I was having a baby, we had just home help, we called him like a house manager. So, we did a lot of stuff for us at our house, for my husband and myself and my other two kids that we would love to do but didn’t feel like we had time.

So, like cooking, laundry, cleaning errands, kind of like a personal assistant, the term doesn’t go over very well in the Midwest. So, that’s not what I refer to her as around here ’cause that would be very unheard of. But it was just basically like a Jack of all trades who could assist us with doing the type of thing that you, I think, get forced to do in a very small amount of time on the weekends. And then you’re not really having as great quality time ’cause you’re spending a lot of your time doing chores and errands, running and trying to live that part of your life in a very few amounts of hours.

Debbie: 

It’s definitely knowing where you should spend your money on and what’s valuable to you. And definitely spending that time being with your family rather than cleaning. Especially if you have very little time to do that. It’s just worth it.

Kristen: 

Yeah. And I think understanding that time is that thing you can never get more of. So it’s worth it to me to invest in support like this so, I have more time with my kids and that the time I have is like quality time like not me yelling at them while I try to get laundry in but really being able to enjoy them. And then I think the cool thing too, is someone else gets employed. So, someone else has a job because of, because of that. So that seems like a good thing too.

Debbie:  

I think too, it’s really great that we see someone like you, Kristen who admits to this because I think there is some sort of taboo with women. If we hire someone to help us take care of our kids or help with the cleaning. But you know what? If you’re an entrepreneur, if you’re a boss and you’re doing all of these things, you can’t, like you said, you can’t do it all. And the reason why you’re successful at doing this is that you do have that extra help. And I think we’re so afraid to be more vulnerable and to share our weaknesses sometimes. And one we actually do, people really resonate with that and they say, “Wow, okay, this is how she’s actually able to do it.” It’s not just her being this perfect person like she has her weaknesses too and fears and all of these things and she’s able to do it because of this.

Kristen: 

Totally. I feel when we really believe in being candid and showing the good, the bad, and the ugly of I think business owners and also having a family.

Debbie:   

Yeah. So what are you currently working on right now that is really exciting to you?

Kristen:   

That’s a good question. I would say any time we get the opportunity to work on an actual ad campaign or an awareness campaign that’s really, really exciting for us. And help build a brand or refresh a brand I think is really what makes working here fun and really fulfilling. So, when we come across a client that we all really believe in and can get behind that is, I think, one of the most exciting things. Right now we’re working with investigative reporters and editors, which is the largest worldwide organization for investigative journalists. And that is really a cool opportunity for our team to not only get to do exciting work for people who really appreciate it, but to really believe in their mission too.

Debbie: 

That sounds like a really fun project that you’re going to be doing, so I can’t wait to hear more about that later on.

Kristen: 

Yeah.

Debbie: 

Now if our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?

Kristen:

So, our website is hootdesignco.com. We also have the profreshpodcast.com, you can find us on Instagram @hootdesignco and @profreshpodcast. We’re also on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest and all of that can be located on our website.

Debbie: 

Perfect. Well thank you so much, Kristen for joining us today and of course, you should all tune in for the extended interview because Kristen is going to share with us how to properly brand your business that goes along with your specific niche. That’s going to be really exciting to get all of the tips that you’re going to be giving us.

Kristen:   

Yes, sounds great.

Debbie: 

Thank you, Kristen.

Kristen: 

Thank you.

 

GET THE EXTENDED INTERVIEW WITH KRISTEN BROWN WHERE SHE SHARES HOW TO PROPERLY BRAND YOUR BUSINESS.

 

 


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Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith


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