Katie Thompson (Modern Darling Media)
Katie Thompson who is a strategic marketing & branding specialist, author, speaker, course creator & podcast host. Katie is the founder of Modern Darling Media, a full-service branding, marketing & design agency for creative entrepreneurs who want to make a bold & meaningful impact. Katie helps build bold brands & craft strategic marketing campaigns that provoke emotion, has personality, and help build your tribe. She also hosts the Hustlenomcis Podcast, where she interviews inspiring female entrepreneurs about their journey to becoming business owners.
Interview with Katie Thompson (Modern Darling Media)
Katerina: Hi, Katie… Thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Katie: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.
Katerina: I did a little intro about you but would you also tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, your background, why did you become an entrepreneur?
Katie: Absolutely. So my name is Katie Thompson. I am the founder of Modern Darling Media and also the host of the Hustlenomics Podcast. I started my kind of entrepreneurial journey probably around 2015, 2016. It started out as a side hustle, which is kind of the route that some, a lot of entrepreneurs take. I was working a full time corporate job and just knew that I was really ready to do something different, something bigger, something I was more passionate about.
So I started a photography business on the side and over the past, gosh, it’s been a couple years now, I went full time in 2018. And then I grew that photography business to a full marketing branding and design company. And so yeah, we’ve just been growing and learning ever since.
Katerina: Yeah. So, what are the benefits of being your own boss?
Katie: Oh gosh, there’s so many. I always kind of had the personality of, not necessarily not loving authority, but I always wanted work to be a collaborative thing. I felt like I had some bosses that were maybe in the mindset of collaboration look weak or something.
I’m not sure exactly what it was but it always kind of felt like I couldn’t be 100% honest with my ideas and all that kind of stuff so just having that creative freedom and having the ability to set my own schedule and work when I feel most creative, all of those are fantastic benefits and just having that confidence in yourself that you’re creating something and building a legacy.
Katerina: Yeah. So you said you’ve started a side hustle whilst you were at the corporate job. How long did you do it before you decided that’s it, that’s it, I’m going to become my own boss?
Katie: So from 2016 to 2018, I was still working full time and part time jobs, and with the side hustle, and then I went full time in October 2018.
Katerina: Yeah. Did you say, because you are a founder of a design marketing and brand agency. And you also mentioned the photography business. Is it because you have a passion in photography or you’re a qualified photographer?
Katie: Yeah, absolutely. So I always loved photography as a hobby. I never really saw iit as something I could do as a business. But I started educating myself and learning more about wedding photography and all that. And so that’s where I started. I absolutely loved it but I soon realised that I missed my weekends. Because wedding photographers work on the weekends a lot of the time.
And also, it was just kind of such a stressful environment so I took all of the skills that I had from building my website, my branding, all that kind of stuff that I’ve already known that I did for myself in my photography business and said well, I could do this for other people. So that’s where I kind of pivoted away from the photography, but still, that was a great place to start.
Katerina: Yeah. So, um, you know, I’ve looked at your website and you do quite a lot. You’ve got, you provide so many services in terms of the branding for creative entrepreneurs, you design your website, you know, design as well. And you also have a number of different courses as well as running your podcast. How do you manage to do so many different activities?
Katie: So, that’s a great question. And I set up my business specifically like that because when I was first starting out, I found it so difficult to have to go to 10 different people to get my business up and running. I really, really was looking for an agency or some kind of branding website situation where I could go to one person and get everything done, whether it’s that one person doing it or their team doing it.
I felt like having to go to so many different people was like playing a game of telephone, I always say. The messaging, the branding gets watered down, it doesn’t always transfer over correctly so I wanted to create that space for mostly solo entrepreneurs to come and get everything really in-house. So that’s why I do offer all the services. I do outsource to some really specific experts but yeah, that’s the kind of idea behind offering all of those different things.
Katerina: Yeah. So, what is the purpose, probably not the right word, why are you doing a podcast? Is it just to put yourself out there to become an expert in your field? What was the purpose of this?
Katie: Originally, I got the idea for starting a business from listening to podcasts when I was working in my corporate job. I was really kind of uninspired and just really wanted to have something to do to keep me active and learning and podcasts were a great thing to tune into.
And so that’s what got me inspired to be a business owner in the first place, and I have a master’s degree but it’s definitely not in business so I really had no expertise in starting a business at all. So it was a great way for me to learn for free, which is amazing, from experts all around the world, which is really incredible.
So I wanted to, not only keep learning from my guests, but also provide a platform to give back to people who are in similar situations like me And what I believe is unique about my podcast is, I try to bring on people from every step of the journey. So people who were six-figure income entrepreneurs, but also people who are still running that side hustle, who are transitioning into being a business owner. Because I think that sometimes if you only show the top top, it can be a little bit hard to connect to. So, I love having different guests, all different types of journeys, so people can find something in there that they can connect to.
Katerina: Yeah, I mean I only listened to the latest one. Well, I think it was the latest one, one of the latest podcasts. Anyway, it was about scientific palm reading and that was something I’ve never heard.
Katie: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I am a little woo-woo. I love having all different perspectives. I’m never, I always like to stay humble and know that there are other things out there that people know about and have expertise in that even if I look at like, oh, I don’t know about that. Who knows, I haven’t tried it. So I always love just bringing all different kinds of perspectives on and it’s been really fun because I’ve learned about things that I never would have before.
Katerina: Yeah. It’s good you mentioned, one of my questions was that overseeing the marketing and design and branding agencies, they’re very common, right? It’s many, many design agencies and marketing agencies. How do you stand out from the crowd? But like you said, you wanted to create this one space for people to go to and make sure they don’t, you know, you don’t water down the branding message. So you do from the start to the…
Katie: Right, right. Absolutely. A big part of what I do is strategy for every single thing that I offer. Strategy is a big part of what I do, so I like to say that I work with other solo entrepreneurs and I’m kind of their right hand man, you know? Like right hand, where they can come to get an overall business strategy and then we start attacking those smaller things like their branding, their website, their social media, with the strategy in mind all the way through everything so that’s kind of exactly, yeah, like you said, that’s kind of how I stand out from everybody.
Katerina: Yeah. So I guess another question I have for you is, given that you are doing so much, how do you ensure that you don’t overwhelm yourself with work? How do you balance work and life?
Katie: Yeah, that is the golden question that we’re all trying to figure it out. You know, it’s been a journey. I think that I’ve gone through periods where I was burnt out. I just recently took a couple months off. We moved, you know, had a family member pass away and I just said, you know what, I’m going to keep working but I’m taking steps back from certain things. And that was huge for me. I don’t think I could have done that two years ago, so it’s been a learning process but what I’ve learned over the past two years is that there’s no right answer to how to be an entrepreneur.
We have all these, well, I mean, there’s amazing people out there giving advice every single day, you know? There’s the podcast, the books, the TV shows, whatever you want to go to. And they’re giving great advice and that advice works for some people. But where I think people get caught, is they think it has to work for them if, even if it’s not. So for example, I am not a morning person. I like to have kind of a morning where it’s a little bit slower. I maybe do some chores and maybe run errands. I am not the entrepreneur that gets up at four in the morning and starts working.
That is not me. And there were so many people out there saying, “This is what you have to do to be successful.” And so, letting go of that and saying, not really. Might work for some people, that’s amazing. But for me, I’m horribly, you know, grumpy in the morning. I’m not creative, I’m not productive. So setting up my day around when I am most creative, that’s what works for me so letting go of those pre preconceptions and just finding what works best for you I think it’s been a huge lesson for me.
Katerina: Yeah. I definitely, definitely agree with you. I don’t go to bed ’til like one.
Katie: I’m a night owl. I’m more creative in the evening.
Katerina: I’m up by six because I have a little one waking me up but yeah, otherwise, I would be up quite late. I am more creative in the evening, I don’t know, something, I just…
Katie: I’m the same way, yeah. I’m the same way.
Katerina: You know, you’ve been doing this, sort of, you know, you’ve been running your own business for a couple of years now, and looking at the small, you know, startups, small business statistics, it’s a very sort of tricky age where most of startups start, kind of, failing and kind of cease to exist. Have you had any, you know, challenges where you thought, well, I just can’t carry on. Or you’ve always found some inner power to keep going?
Katie: Um, that’s, yeah, that’s a great question. I think I’ve gone through both feelings. I always say entrepreneurship is an emotional rollercoaster. Like, one day, you know, you’ll feel on top of the world and then the next day, you’ll feel like you’re the worst person on the planet. Not to discourage anybody from doing it, but it is an emotional roller coaster and there are going to be times, no matter if you’re the most inspired, passionate driven person, where you feel like I just can’t, I have to stop, I’m overwhelmed, I’m, you know, drained, all that kind of stuff.
So, knowing that you’re going to have those times, I always try to set myself up for success by anticipating that. So knowing yeah, there’s going to be a Wednesday when I just am not feeling it and I do not feel like working. So scheduling in time to have that, to where I’m not missing deadlines or I’m not, you know, missing out on client communication. Also setting up systems and automations to where I don’t have to be so present all the time and I can step back if I need to. I’m automating things like email, onboarding clients, things like that. So really anticipating that time where you’re going to feel like you don’t want to do it by setting up those systems beforehand.
Katerina: Yeah. So, are these the strategies to keep you motivated?
Katie: Yeah. Well, I think that’s also, it’s kind of like a branch off of that. You are going to have those downtimes but you can easily come out of them. I always say that a lot of entrepreneurs turn their passion into their work, their job, which is what I did. I turned what I was passionate about into what I did for a career. Sometimes that can get a little heavy because you’re like, where are my hobbies? They’re my job now.
So finding those hobbies outside of work to keep you inspired, keep you motivated and then you never know, it might spark an idea for your job. But like going and watching movies or listening to music, listening to other podcasts, all that kind of stuff keeps me motivated because it gets my mind a little bit out of work mode and gets me refreshed and energised again and then I can come back in and be creative.
Katerina: So, what is the most important skill people have to learn to be entrepreneurs? To be successful?
Katie: I think communication. Good communication skills is probably at the top of that list for me. I think that there’s so many people that I’ve worked with who are so inspiring and motivating and wonderful entrepreneurs, but the one thing that I remembered about them the most was the way they communicated with me as either a client or, you know, or anything like that because I think 80% of the success when it comes to relationships in business do come from communication. If it’s bad, it can ruin something but if it’s good, it can really take off that relationship.
So learning how to communicate, learning how other people communicate, and how that interacts with your style. You know, you might be a texter for example, and that’s how you communicate with your clients and that works great. For some people, they read that text and they completely misinterpret what you’re saying. So understanding different styles and how they work together. And once you master that, you’ll be amazed at how you can start really scaling and building those relationships.
Katerina: Yeah. Also, you offer several marketing and branding, I think one of your courses is something to do with email. You know, writing emails or stuff like that. How did you learn to put together a course? Or to do a podcast? Did you have to go and learn and attend some courses? Or did you just learn by looking at the YouTube videos? Or what was your strategy?
Katie: Yeah, absolutely. So, I am a lifelong learner. I will find a course on something, you know, like every single week just to have something fun to do in my downtime. I do have a background in education so that helped. But a lot of it was just trial and error.
Just trying things out, making a free account and Thinkific which is where I have my courses. Just playing around with different things and learning the system is a good place to start. But also just taking as many courses as you can, listening to my podcast as you can. You start to pick up little tidbits here and there from other people that you can implement and make your own. But yeah, just being a learner yourself really helps and it will grow you into being a teacher, eventually.
Katerina: Yeah. So, you also, because I’ve looked at your ebook and obviously you don’t reveal all the secrets but there was something about having the right mindset.
Katie: Mm hmm.
Katerina: What can you say about having the right mindset and what’s that mindset people shouldn’t try to develop to be more successful?
Katie: I think a growth mindset. I’m sure people listening have heard that term before, but if you haven’t, basically it is the mindset of always moving forward in a positive way. And so, that includes setbacks but taking those setbacks and making them positives. Taking mistakes and learning from them. You know, a negative mindset could knock you off your horse if something bad happens but a growth mindset says, alright, well, if that didn’t work, let’s figure out a way to make it work or figure out how I can learn from this and do something different next time. That is one part of it.
Also, a growth mindset is looking for new opportunities constantly. Whether that’s networking and finding new relationships or branching out into different passive income, adding different services, always constantly looking for new opportunities, and just keeping your head kind of on a swivel.
Katerina: I do agree with you. But obviously, being an intrapreneur is not easy. It may sound like a great thing to do. I mean, research literally suggests that, you know, a lot of entrepreneurs, they suffer from depression, anxiety, you know? Toxic stress and so on. And of course, these problems can become even worse when they run into problems in their business. Have you ever felt, you know, anxious because you didn’t have clients or you were short on cash? How did you overcome these situations?
Katie: Yeah, I struggled with anxiety quite a bit, actually. I had never had anxiety before I started a business. So, learning how to manage and deal with that as an adult has been really interesting because a lot of people like, for example, my husband kind of grew up with anxiety so he had all of these coping mechanisms that he grew up with to put into place when it happens. For me, I was like, I had no toolkit to deal with it. So, that was an interesting experience and I kind of had to learn a skill that my parents taught me actually, which is all about putting things into perspective.
So I, whenever I start feeling a bit anxious about something, you know, whether that’s in life or in business, I go through this little exercise in my head that says, “Okay, well, you care about this, this much next week. We care about this, this much next year.” Depending on those answers, then you can adjust logically how you’re feeling. Because anxiety is not logical. A lot of the time it’s not logical. So doing that exercise where you say, well, you know, I might be a little upset about this next week but I’m definitely not going to be this upset. Then you could say, all right, well, maybe I need to just take a step back, calm down a little bit and it’s not as big of a deal as I’m making it. So putting into perspective exercise has been so helpful for me to really take a step back away from that emotional response and kind of approach things logically.
Katerina: Yeah. ’Cause I mean, when you don’t, because my own business I closed it now and now I’m now working on a new sort of venture. But I remember the times when, you know, you don’t have sales and you kind of start questioning yourself and start thinking, well, what am I doing wrong, you know? How would you do in situations like this? Do you pivot and find new ways or just keep doing what you’re doing? What’s your strategy?
Katie: I think it obviously depends on, you know, each business and each market. It’s different for different markets but if I personally was in that situation, and I actually have been, like I kind of mentioned earlier, always looking for new opportunities. So if you’re dealing with, okay, I don’t have any clients, is it okay or am I doing something wrong? So then maybe you should get some feedback on what you’re doing, whether that’s from other people within your network, and your business. New eyes on something can get you past that kind of stuck place. So that’s one way of doing it.
So for example, I was not getting the clients that I wanted early on with like monthly clients that were hiring me to do websites or whatever so because I was in new business. So I said, “All right, I do have all these skills. I might not have the portfolio yet. How can I use them?” So, I started working as a virtual assistant, so I could still offer those creative skills, build up my portfolio and my experience in just a different way. So, looking for little pivots, like you said. It doesn’t have to be a massive one but something that could be a shift to where a new opportunity might pop up.
Katerina: Yeah. And in terms of, you know, the supportive network, do you have friends or mentors you work with? Or how about your family? Are they supportive for what you do?
Katie: A hundred percent. Yeah, I am so lucky that I have an incredibly supportive family. And actually my dad was a physician for 30, 35 years and just recently, he’s actually started his own business as well. So going through that with him at the same time has been super fun. We get to bounce ideas off each other and kind of be that sounding board. But sometimes going to friends and family for feedback can be a catch-22.
I think it’s great too if you trust, you know, their opinions and all that stuff. Go for it. But if you’re feeling like, well, maybe they won’t be 100% honest with me, they don’t want to hurt my feelings, that kind of stuff which can happen. I always suggest joining some Facebook groups. There’s, oh my gosh, hundreds upon hundreds upon millions of Facebook groups out there. And tons for entrepreneurs and they get really niched down as well. So joining those groups and just asking for feedback sometimes there’s threads, where they say hey post your stuff, give some feedback. Just that is a great way to not only have other people in your field looking at your stuff, but also people who are strangers. They’re not going to care about your feelings like your family do. They’re going to give constructive criticism and corrective feedback in a way that’s actually going to help. Not that your family won’t but, you know what I’m saying so. Those Facebook groups are invaluable and they’re free so you can’t really beat that.
Katerina: Yeah. But what about your husband? Is he also an entrepreneur? Or does he have a nine to five job?
Katie: He does. He is a project manager. We both have been working from home together since 2018 so we had some practice before the quarantine which is good, which is very good. But no, he is a complete opposite. He, it’s all technical, all, you know, all that kind of stuff. I’m the more creative side but he’s been a wonderful kind of yin to my yang when it comes to that.
Katerina: Yeah, because the conversations we’ve had in this program are sometimes, you know, female entrepreneurs, if they don’t have, well if they have partners or, I don’t know, husbands who have nine to five jobs, they don’t necessarily understand what they’re going through.
Katerina: That’s why it’s important to have a supportive network of friends or maybe, you know, mentors who can direct you and kind of understand where you’re at…
Katerina: …physically and, I don’t know, emotionally, whatever.
Katie: Yeah, absolutely. No. I have felt like that in the past and you know, I’ve grappled with that because, um, you know, it is, it can get a little lonely sometimes and you feel like no one understands me, you don’t get what I’m going through, all that kind of stuff which, you know, may be the situation. But I try to, like I mentioned earlier, always shift my mindset to something where’s the positive in this, where can I find good in this?
And I found that thinking, okay, if he’s hearing about my experiences and so, for example, I might be telling him, oh, I have this difficult client, and he gives a suggestion, ugh, you just don’t understand. Yeah, I could do that but then, or I could say well, he’s a project manager. He works with giant clients all the time and they’re difficult and he has to deal with them as well.
So, you know, he might have a different perspective and a different, you know, different advice to offer that would be helpful. It’s unfortunate to discredit him just because he’s not a business owner, you know? I think that everybody could offer some helpful advice. So I always say, keep your mind open. Sometimes people don’t understand what you’re going through and that’s okay. But you never know that that person might have some valuable insights.
Katerina: Yeah. So, what was the age, maybe you haven’t had this in your, you know, entrepreneurial journey but have you had any, have you ever made any mistakes that were really bad mistakes? As a business owner. What did you do to overcome?
Katie: Yeah, I’m going back to that, that kind of perspective thing. They felt huge to me, let’s put it that way. Whether they were huge or not, they really weren’t the end of the world, the, you know? The mistakes didn’t lose money, they didn’t cause a business to shut down, you know, in that kind of perspective. But to me they felt huge because you know I am a people pleaser. I hate to say that but I want my clients to be happy. I want them to be happy with my work. So, yeah, I, you know, the, the only really way to deal with that is it’s gonna suck, it’s gonna feel horrible.
You got to feel those feelings and acknowledge them and understand them because if you push them down, that’s going to be even worse. So feel them, feel them hard and then move on. You know, say, all right, well, this really was not my best day or week or whatever it is, obviously. How do I, would not put myself in that situation again? Because a lot of, I’d say most of the mistakes that happen were not just because I made it. It is because of the situation. But, how do I not put myself in that situation again? And how do I not make that mistake again? What can I do better? And those questions are not something that you’re going to want to ask yourself when you’re feeling sorry for yourself. So that’s why I’m saying like, feel the feelings, feel bad but don’t stew in them. Take an hour, take a day, and then push, push through to what you can do better.
Katerina: Yeah. So, what would be your lesson to starting entrepreneurs if they were to start, say today, a new business? A new venture? What could you teach them? To help them in their journey?
Katie: I would say from the beginning, try your best to get your foundation as strong as possible and I’ll explain what I mean by that. When I started out, I went straight to all the sexy stuff, I say. The website, the fonts, the colours, the fun stuff, right? The social media. That’s what I started with, I hit the ground running with that. I obviously didn’t know any better. But I wish I had stopped and taken a minute and set up my customer management system, created a business credit card, created a business account, you know?
Get all of my legal stuff in place. Make sure that I have all my systems that I need like my email marketing and my social media scheduling. I wish I had started with that foundational stuff before I went to all the fun stuff because the fun stuff can wait. But if you do the first, and you don’t have all that backend stuff set up, you’re gonna make 10 times more work for yourself. So do your research, figure out what will lay that strong foundation first. That would be my advice.
Katerina: Yeah. Do you have anyone helping you? Do you have a virtual assistant?
Katie: You know, I was in the middle of hiring somebody when COVID hit. Like, right, like literally a week before lockdown. So obviously, I’ve had clients that have had to step back because they, they had to shut down their business and all that stuff which I totally understand So I don’t have anyone now. I was kind of waiting to see when the world would stop being on fire. But we’ll see. I mean I would love to get some help, I, it’s been kind of a dream to build a team eventually, but, obviously everything’s a bit up in the air at the moment but hopefully in the future.
Katerina: Yeah. So your business took some heat during COVID, yeah?
Katie: Yeah. And actually it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. You know, I had a couple like maybe one or two clients that had to step back and they were people who had physical businesses that they couldn’t, they literally could not keep open. So they just said, I just can’t afford it. You know, which is fine but I’d say 90, 98% of my clients have stayed on. I had people actually come on since then. And it really has gone to show that having an online presence and having an online source of income is really, really valuable. Even if you do have a brick and mortar store, finding different ways to be online if something like this happens is so valuable.
Katerina: Yeah, I guess it’s it, we’re gonna see more of, you know, the movement towards online presence because, I mean, it’s just a matter of time, I guess. It’s not “if”, it’s “when”, right? When another wave ve of some kind of a disease hits us again. So yeah, it’s important to have an online presence just like to say, Do you have any plans to grow? What is the next step for Katie Thompson?
Katie: Yeah, I think the next step would be hiring a team. Bringing either an assistant on or another designer on, I’m not exactly sure what direction I want to go in. But building a team because I started this business, not only because I love doing it, but I also want to have a family and be a present parent and all that kind of stuff so I want to be able to maybe hand some stuff off to another designer when we do have a family. So that’s kind of where I’m thinking down the road.
Katerina: Yeah. So what advice would you give to intrapreneurs in general?
Katie: I would say always keep learning. I know I’ve said that before but it really, really is a valuable thing. Even that, well, the great thing about podcasts is they’re free. They’re on your phone, you can listen to them anytime, anywhere. You could be doing something else. There’s so much incredible information on podcasts. And so really take advantage of that. If you are not a podcast listener, there’s books out there, there’s online courses. There’s so much information out there for free, if you can’t afford it. So just really try to take advantage of that, make your education a priority because there’s always something new to learn.
Katerina: Yeah. And I guess, also if you have some suggestions for female entrepreneurs because, because this is our audience obviously. Because females have it, I think harder because they have family to look after. Do you have a big family?
Katie: Right, yeah. No, I have one sister. But, you know, I agree with you. I think, I don’t even know if it’s harder, it’s just different.
Katerina: Different, yes, I guess.
Katie: But, um, I would say, my advice is to stick, I’m trying to think of the best way to say this, be confident in your decisions. Because I think that, I don’t know if other people have experienced this, but I’ve had people question my decisions more than I ever anticipated, in a way where I was like, no, I mean, I made that decision. I don’t need to…
Katerina: Is it because you’re female?
Katie: You know, I don’t know if it has to do if I’m a woman or my age or my, what it is, you know. Or my personality, I don’t know. I guess I have no idea why but I think that it does happen. And so if you do make a decision, whether that’s in your business, setting a boundary, you know, whatever it is, stick to it. Be confident in the fact that you made that decision for a reason. Don’t let people make you question yourself or step back down from what you want. So I think that’s a huge one.
Katerina: Yeah. I think you’re not the only one. I have heard this several times from other female entrepreneurs that they are being questioned. I mean, questioned. One girl, she’s running a very successful technology, you know, business technology app, and she has been questioned all the time about her decision. So she’s the boss, right, right.
Katie: Yeah, I know. That’s so frustrating and it happens no matter if you’re young or whatever. But I think that that’s unfortunate but I think it’s slowly getting better but we have to just keep standing up and saying this is what I decided and that’s it.
Katerina: No, no, thank you so much Katie. That was really, that was great talking to you and hearing about your experiences because again, it is very hard to be an entrepreneur and especially if a female entrepreneur. But yeah, there is a hope for everyone. Like you said, we just have to keep learning and there are plenty of resources out there. And I guess the message I get from you is that you have to find your own niche, your own value proposition, like you found in your business, putting it all together as a package and making message consistent businesses.
Katerina: Yeah, thank you so much for coming to the show and I wish your business to prosper in these difficult times and I’m sure we’ll hear more from you.