Find a bookkeeper that values your business’ core values as much as you do. I am so blessed to have found a bookkeeper who not only helps keep my records clean and orderly but also deeply respects and aligns with my core values. She isn’t just a trusted team member with whom I discuss business matters; her advice is invaluable to me.
In today’s competitive business landscape, the race for profits often takes center stage. However, there are some leaders who also prioritize a mission-driven purpose. They use their business to make a positive social impact and recognize that success isn’t only about making money. In this interview series, we are talking with some of these distinct leaders and I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Smetherman.
Katie is the Founder and CEO of Brand Studio Creative, with a Master’s in Brand Management and communication, BFA in Graphic Communications and Design. She’s also an award-winning graphic designer with 9+ years of experience in brand marketing, helping businesses and clients develop their complete brand systems and advertising pieces. Katie is confident, curious, and passionate. She is also an international bestselling author in the compilation book, Ignite Your Wisdom, where she talks about what and who inspired her to start her own business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I had a pretty conventional upbringing. My family, consisting of my parents, who were head over heels in love, and one older brother. Originally from Houston, Texas, which is locally known as H-town, still holds a dear place in my heart. I make a point of visiting regularly, given that most of my family still calls it home.
While Houston will forever hold a special place in my heart, I have gone on adventures that have taken me to many places around the world. I guess you can blame it on my mother, who instilled in me a profound love for traveling from a very young age. She used to constantly tell me about her incredible experiences while backpacking through Europe, hauling nothing more than a camera bag as her luggage. I may have not wanted to use a camera bag as my suitcase, considering the amount of camera gear I own, but the thirst for traveling has always been there.
I have traveled the diverse landscapes of various U.S. states, as well as savored the rich cultures of France and Italy, I have even ventured out as far as the vibrant streets of Singapore and Indonesia, and the dreamy shores of Mauritius.
You could say that I have embraced the world with open arms, capturing its beauty through the lens of my camera, all while having my very own adventures along the way!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
It was always my dream to own my own business. Something innate in my core is that I always knew that I wanted to own my own business and serve people with hope and kindness. The journey to discovering my true calling was a captivating one in itself. At first, I envisioned myself owning a bakery, but I then realized that I was meant to establish a design agency.
I worked in a variety of design agencies after graduating from my undergrad and noticed how each one of them ran their own business to understand how I wanted to shape my own business. In one particular company, I found myself working closely with the 2 owners and was able to engage with clients from the beginning of their marketing journey. It was during these interactions that I realized that I loved being able to hear why people were starting their businesses, and their dreams and aspirations, needless to say, by then it had become a calling. I could listen to their dreams and my work as a designer was able to help bring life to their visions! After that, I was certain that I wanted to open my own design agency and help other entrepreneurs build the business of their dreams.
We often learn the most from our mistakes. Can you share one that you made that turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?
Starting a business is incredibly hard work, it takes an astronomical level of commitment and dedication, even on the toughest days, to really make it as a successful business owner. One invaluable lesson that I have learned along the way is having a ‘no a*hole’ policy. When you are first starting out, it’s very tempting to accept any client that women your way, this is understandable especially when you are trying to build your clientele, your portfolio, and your finances. However, it’s easy to fall into a trap with clients taking advantage of your work, your ethics, and your value.
I recall having one client who was taking complete advantage of me. My health was beginning to falter, I was constantly stressed, and the money wasn’t enough to cover my bills, so I decided to let the client go. It was a very tough decision but in the end, it was the right decision. Shortly thereafter, I was able to find 2 clients that easily replaced that one. And not only replaced the financial void, but they were enthusiastic to work with me and collaborate together. This shift improved my health and overall well-being drastically.
So my advice, especially for those designers who are starting out, implement a ‘no a*hole’ policy. New clients will always come.
As a successful leader, it’s clear that you uphold strong core values. I’m curious what are the most important principles you firmly stand by and refuse to compromise on. Can you share a few of them and explain why they hold such significance for you in your work and life?
Absolutely. Cultivating strong core values within your brand is crucial for the success of your business. These values not only help define who you are as a brand but also what is important to you. Some of mine are:
What inspired you to start a purpose-driven business rather than a traditional for-profit enterprise? Can you share a personal story or experience that led you to prioritize social impact in your business?
Growing up, my mother taught me to help those who are less fortunate than myself, which is a lesson that has stuck with me over the years. Over time, I realized that it wasn’t just those who were less fortunate, but everyone around me. I believe that If you have the capability to help others, you have the power to improve their life. When I started my own business, I wanted to uphold this value and honor my mother the best way I could. I knew I wanted to help business owners who were just starting out as well as those who have been in the game for many years. If I could help make their lives a little easier or provide clarity on their business challenges, I knew I was making a positive impact on the world.
Can you help articulate a few of the benefits of leading a purpose-driven business rather than a standard “plain vanilla” business?
Certainly! For me, one of the most significant benefits is meeting like-minded people who share your values in your day-to-day life. By adhering to my ‘no a*hole’ policy and prioritizing kindness as a core value, I have been able to attract and collaborate with some of the most interesting people in the world! I believe that setting myself up for this kind of network leads to incredibly valuable partnerships and a supportive community that is crucial for long-term success.
On top of that, a purpose-driven business allows you to interact with a wide range of businesses. I’m such a curious person by nature so being able to not only help various industries but learn about them is fascinating. I think this exposure not only expands your knowledge but also has the potential to enhance your adaptability and problem-solving skills.
I wholeheartedly believe that ultimately, leading a purpose-driven business is not just about financial success; it’s also about personal growth, meaningful connections, and making a positive impact on the world.
How has your company’s mission or purpose affected its overall success? Can you explain the methods or metrics you use to evaluate the impact of this purpose-driven strategy on your organization?
My mission is to create real, authentic brands and websites that not only look great but are driven by heart, purpose, and strategy has profoundly shaped my company’s success. My company, Brand Studio Creative, is led by heart for a very specific reason. As a designer, one of my main tasks throughout the day is listening. By prioritizing listening, I run into so many business owners who are frustrated and confused with not only their branding but also understanding all the pieces it takes to run a successful business.
One big factor is the rise of technology and the speed at which it is constantly evolving. So many clients get hung up and stuck on one piece and fail to move forward. That is where I come in. I don’t know all the answers but I love to research and learn. I love being able to provide easy-to-understand answers as well as training in areas that my client is interested in learning. This ability to listen and provide helpful feedback in a tangible way has helped set me apart and attract many clients all over the world.
Can you share a pivotal moment when you realized that leading your purpose-driven company was actually making a significant impact? Can you share a specific example or story that deeply resonated with you personally?
Absolutely! There have been countless moments throughout my journey, but one recent experience stands out vividly, filling me with pride. I was collaborating on a client’s new brand for a mini golf course they were opening up in Texas. It went through a few rounds of revisions to get the logo and branding perfectly aligned with my client’s vision. When my client saw the final version of their logo, they were so blown away that they started crying. When I asked what was wrong, they answered “It’s just so exciting seeing our family’s dream come to life, and you have done just that. You have brought our family’s vision to fruition and when I see it I can’t help but tear up”.
This is the essence of what I do, and why I wholeheartedly do what I do. It’s the profound satisfaction of being able to help others achieve their dreams, no matter how small or big.
Have you ever faced a situation where your commitment to your purpose and creating a positive social impact clashed with the profitability in your business? Have you ever been challenged by anyone on your team or have to make a tough decision that had a significant impact on finances? If so, how did you address and reconcile this conflict?
A pivotal moment in my entrepreneurial journey happened before I instilled my “No a*hole’ policy, during a time when I felt my work was being undervalued, the client was getting a significantly discounted price and started taking advantage of my work. This experience forced me to evaluate the state of my mental well-being and reevaluate where my heart really was. The toll of being taken advantage of is more profound and weighs heavily on your mental health than a lot of people realize.
This is when I had to take a step back, say thank you to the client for their time, and go in a different direction so that I could ensure my business aligned with people who were driven with heart. Letting go of a client is never an easy or simple decision, both financially and mentally, but I was able to find new clients within a couple of months that perfectly aligned with my business’ core values. This transformation not only strengthened my business but also revitalized my passion and sense of purpose.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who wish to start a purpose-driven business? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know I Order To Create A Highly Successful Purpose-Driven Business.”
1 . Implement a ‘No a*hole’ policy. It costs nothing to be kind and working with those who align with your core values does wonders for your business financially and mentally.
2 . Find a bookkeeper that values your business’ core values as much as you do. I am so blessed to have found a bookkeeper who not only helps keep my records clean and orderly but also deeply respects and aligns with my core values. She isn’t just a trusted team member with whom I discuss business matters; her advice is invaluable to me.
3 . Work with clients that bring you joy and teach you and not with just anyone who pays. This principle can be a hard one to swallow, especially when you are just starting out and trying to find clients. I refuse to work with anyone who disrespects me or my team no matter how large or small their invoices are. Building a portfolio is crucial, but there are countless ways to do so without subjecting yourself to the toxicity of rude people. By following this rule, you will find the way to your dream clients, the ones who will not only respect you but also inspire your growth journey.
4 . Equal trust is non-negotiable. Trust is such an important value to uphold in any business, but especially in those that are more purpose-driven. The key is to actively seek and find work with clients who value your knowledge and trust your expertise. This deliberate choice will ensure that you are working with clients who prioritize collaboration and shared purpose over the mere pursuit of profit.
5 . Respect each other. Respect each other and the project. This ties into the ‘no a*hole’ policy but takes it a step further. Every day is not going to be a picnic or walk in the park. Life, as well as projects, have an ebb and flow throughout the process. Respect should be consistent throughout the highs and lows. When the days are harder or you and your client are not exactly seeing eye to eye, you should never be disrespectful or demeaning to each other. This goes both ways, both as a business owner and as a client. When there is a baseline of respect, then even on hard days or issues that arise, it becomes you vs. the challenge compared to you vs. them.
I’m interested in how you instill a strong sense of connection with your team. How do you nurture a culture where everyone feels connected to your mission? Could you share an example or story that showcases how your purpose has positively influenced or motivated people on your team to contribute?
I love working in small teams. I always have enjoyed the intimacy of smaller groups of people rather than large groups. Within my select team, I value each one of my team members, I recognize their unique strengths and love that they have knowledge in areas that I do not. When engaging in discussions with my team in regard to business, I actively listen to their expertise and what they have to share. By actively listening and allowing them to explore new areas in their field, I encourage them to grow not only within themselves but also within the business, sparking exciting possibilities. Many times a team member has found something new in their field that they would love to test out or explore in my business. I weigh the options and how they align with my business goals, more often than not, they align beautifully and I allow them to use my business as a guinea pig for their new venture.
Not every experiment results in success, but that is part of the journey. We embrace the philosophy of “You never know unless you try”. Affording my team members the space and support to venture into new territory gives them the opportunity to grow and try new things and it strengthens the bond that propels us forward.
Imagine we’re sitting down together two years from now, looking back at your company’s last 24 months. What specific accomplishments would have to happen for you to be happy with your progress?
Steady growth. That would be ideal. My vision includes not only growing as a business but also helping others achieve their business dreams. If everyone was able to achieve their dreams and find joy in their everyday life, then the world would be a better, more exciting place. And if I’m able to help them, then my day-to-day will be filled with more joy and more purpose.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
It’s never too late to start and it’s never too early to make a change. This could be within your business, within your dreams/passions, or even just within your life. You can do anything you set your mind to. And with the right help, anything is possible. There is no shame in asking for help and when you help others, it will always start a chain reaction. The more you help others, the more, in turn, they want to help others and then the dominos keep falling (in a good way).
How can our readers further follow your work or your company online?
On my website https://www.brandstudiocreative.com/, I have set aside a section to share my insights on branding, website development, and other everyday queries. Additionally, on my Instagram account https://www.instagram.com/brandstudiocreative/, I have dedicated a space to provide useful tips and tricks on branding and web design. I have even created a series called “Branding for Dummies,” where I answer various questions that people outside the industry might find helpful. I encourage your readers to take a look!
This was great. Thanks for taking time for us to learn more about you and your business. We wish you continued success!
Photo Credit: Ashley Edwards, Founder and CEO of The Awe Studio, theawestudio.com
About the Interviewer: Chad Silverstein is an accomplished entrepreneur and visionary leader. He started his first company, Choice Recovery, Inc., while attending Ohio State University and grew it to become an industry outlier before selling the business after 25 successful years. With the launch of his second venture, [re]start, a career development platform, Chad aimed to help people find meaningful career opportunities. Under his leadership, his team was recognized as a “Top Workplace” award winner for over a decade, twice being ranked the #1 small and medium-sized business to work for in Central Ohio. Chad sold [re]start in 2023, enabling him to focus on building an online community of high-performing leaders and continuing to make a positive impact in people’s lives.