Women in Business – Surviving the First Two Years: “Don’t neglect opportunities for ‘intrapreneurship.’”Interview with Kristina Ross

Interview with Kristina Ross, founder of Kristina Makes Content, on her experiences being a woman entrepreneur.

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Please tell us a bit about yourself, and describe your company.

My name is Kristina, otherwise known as Kristina Makes Content. I’m a Creative Director and Social Media Strategist!

I run a social media studio called Sweet, Sweet #Content. We create social media campaigns for brands and businesses who need help getting started on the world wide web! We help anyone from top 10 wellness apps to sloth conservations in Costa Rica to woman-owned coffee roasters in New York City to National Geographic commissioned documentary makers in Antarctica. It’s never a dull day! And we’re all women!

Aside from SSC, I am a public speaker in the world of content strategy. I have given multiple talks at Harvard Business School about Instagram and TikTok and work closely alongside TikTok to present at conferences for agencies and those in our industry.

What has been the most challenging thing you have faced in the first two years of operating your business? How did you overcome it?

The most challenging thing was having enough confidence in what I do and charging a lot less than what I was due. I’ve definitely said yes to a lot of clients who I should have said no to. And with social media work it’s very difficult because most of the work is on retainer, so it’s not easy to get out of an agreement with someone without it being a little bit awkward haha.

I always create a period of time in my retainers, because of this. Whether its 3 months, 6 months. It’s just as important for you to enjoy working with your client as it is for them to enjoy working with you. They get a service from you, that’s their win. Besides money, what are you getting from them? A good connection? Experience? Great addition to the portfolio? If you’re not paid properly and you dread speaking to them, that’s a sign to nip things in the bud. And if they aren’t grateful for your significant discounts, that’s another big no no.

Another challenge of mine was, giving away so much of my services. “Social Media” is such a loose job term these days but in reality, there are at least 12 different roles within the Social Media space. Some people are better at community management, content creation, strategy, brand awareness, partnerships, building following… there’s so much. And though we can wear many hats, wearing all of them can be a cause for disaster. I would blindly agree to “social media management” without establishing goals with the client first, or outlining our responsibilities. There were a lot of jobs where we were expected to strategise, manage comments, design, present insights, have 2 calls a week, and plan partnerships all for the most minimum rate you could imagine.

But you live and learn! Now, I know to begin each working relationship with a written foundation. An outline of what they need, the work we’ll do, and how much time this will be from us weekly. 

What are some of the biggest digital marketing challenges you have faced to date? How have you overcome them?

With social media strategy, you have to be very reactive. When the world changes, you have to adapt quickly to stay topical – especially with content creation. Even with memes! 

Prior to 2020, being reactive to world events and adapting our strategies was normal. But in 2020, we saw waves of world events so overwhelming, it made our reactiveness very urgent. 

This brought on a whole new set of challenges. It meant sending a message at 10pm because big news hit and our content the next day should reflect that, acknowledge it or be pulled altogether. There were other occasions when some events were so overpowering on social media that we shouldn’t be posting at all, as it’s a delicate time and not the place for self promotion. 

But in overcoming these challenges? The key has been empathy and understanding. We change and react with the world not because it’s trendy, but because it’s what people needed. We provided content which helped with distributing the right information at the right time. Or knowing when to say nothing. And much like being in a tense board room, you use your human intuition to act or speak up when it’s beneficial. The biggest lesson for me was, it’s ok to not post for the sake of it.

My biggest digital marketing challenge is doing it for myself! When it comes to self-marketing, I can’t say that’s something that has ever come naturally to me. I’ve spent the last 5 years of my life specialising in marketing everyone else – but when it comes to me, it’s not been as easy!

I think one reason digital marketing became a challenge for me was due to imposter syndrome. Before I was a freelancer, I worked in a lot of environments where I was underpaid, was the least experienced or treated unfairly but worked late nights and over weekends. I spent a long time believing in my own glass ceiling that it took me a while to push myself to break through and confidently market myself and what I had to offer. 

The way I began to overcome imposter syndrome was by reading about it and familiarising myself with what it meant. And having the desire to move past it. I began to grow my own confidence in my skills through my consultancy. I gave free advice, sessions and strategies to friends and family (I’m not suggesting everyone do this, but for me I was in the position to do so and it was more of a confidence builder) – when I started to see physical results from my consultancy within my circle, I had a new level of confidence in what I was offering. Because then I knew that my skills could have an impact and help businesses, which has always been my drive. 

So now, when I think about digital marketing – I don’t look at it as a way to market me or my business. I look at it as a way to market help to those who really need it. 

 Please tell us what led you to the path of entrepreneurship.

After a year at art school, I decided traditional learning wasn’t for me. So I started working in a tiny Hugo Boss store in an airport terminal to give myself time to figure out what I wanted to do. Working at the airport was a funny experience. I’d start my shift at 4.30 am (I was always late) and I was the only one working! So it would just be me, alone, listening to my music on the speakers and being a little bit bored behind the counter. But weirdly, I loved it. I liked spending time watching people travel to exciting places. Because I was working in a luxury menswear shop, almost all of my customers were business owners.

I fell in love with the idea of working anywhere. At that time, I’d only heard of remote work but never actually seen it until I saw all these laptops in the middle of the terminal. On my ‘lunch break’ (which was at 8 am), I would sit in the terminal and observe all the kinds of people who were working and traveling. What did they have in common? How could I do that too? Over time, I gathered insights on different kinds of business through small talk and cards handed to me at the end of a sale. I even had some nice chats with celebrities, CEOs, and more just by sitting in the right place at the right time.

But I wasn’t a business person (yet) – I was a creative. A creative who could barely afford her bus ticket to work. I eventually realized that the one creative thing I could do and bring with me anywhere was write. So I started writing. I wrote blogs about men’s fashion trends for women, I did a LOT of free writing work for music magazines and online platforms. I would start writing behind the cash desk at 5 am when nobody was around, and fit in small articles on my break. The minute I started to treat myself like I was another important business person in the airport, was the minute I started to open up the right opportunities.

From there, I just told everyone I met during work that I was a writer. Within enough time, I met Editors and Photographers and found commissions in line while I waited for coffee. I spoke to everyone. I pitched to anyone. There’s nothing better than the hunger you experience for a creative opportunity.

I got to a point where I’d written enough for free. I wanted to get paid to write. I wanted to leave my day job and travel and write forever. But I couldn’t get a paid gig. I was so frustrated one morning when I picked up a free magazine in the terminal that I realized, “Why don’t I just write my own magazine?” I realized I could set up my own interviews, photograph the ads, write the articles, get all the features.. I mean, how hard could it be? So that’s what I did. I started a free magazine around local businesses in Edinburgh and trending music. I distributed them all around the airport terminal before I started my shift. But the main thing I did was launch a social media account to really get the word out there. It was then that I learned I had a knack for social media.

Within weeks, I got a call from a guy who owned a creative agency. He loved the magazine and wanted to hire me as a copywriter and Producer for their production company. There, I wrote and produced ads for the likes of Mercedes, Cancer Research, French Kiss Records… After a couple of years, I noticed we were getting fewer requests for TV ads and more requests for social media content. That’s when I turned everything I knew about writing, copy, advertising, and campaigns into this big bad world of social media. I went freelance in 2018 when I landed my first client and began my business just a month later.

To me, entrepreneurship was an exciting escape into a world where I can control my work, my hours, and my future. It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone. But for the right people, it’s the only kind of work you’ll ever want to do. I now get to be one of those people at airports who work from their laptops while they wait for their flight!

What are the three most important things every woman entrepreneur should do, when first thinking about starting a business?

Think about the life you want to live. I started out by framing my future around a lifestyle and business I could fit in a laptop so I could travel anywhere in the world. What does your dream lifestyle look like? Being on a movie set each day? Having a spot to call your own? Being a digital nomad? Build your foundation for entrepreneurship based on this.

Don’t neglect opportunities for ‘intrapreneurship’. No, that’s not a typo. Intrapreneurship is when you get to exercise all the responsibilities of an entrepreneur but in a company that doesn’t belong to you. So that could be a significant role in a startup, or a role that lets you make company decisions or spend the company budget. Intrapreneurship is really important because it lets you exercise these entrepreneur muscles without the same levels of risk you would experience with your own time and money. You learn a lot in these roles and they only strengthen you when you become an entrepreneur.

Honestly ask if you have the entrepreneur spirit. The idea of entrepreneurship is definitely romanticized in a lot of cases. Some people are better suited are ‘intrapreneurs’ – I mean, technically Elon Musk could be labeled as an intrapreneur for his work in Tesla. Tesla was founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Elon Musk made it what it is today, even if he didn’t found it.

Being an entrepreneur means sacrifices. It means being responsible for your own success, sometimes it means doing jobs you don’t really want to do, it means that you can’t take 2 weeks off without checking in daily. It means being responsible for your finances and those you hire. It means letting go of people who aren’t doing the work, having difficult conversations about money, hiring an accountant, doing paperwork, always thinking about work-related stuff at the back of your mind even when you don’t want to, it means panicking when slack is down, it means losing money, it means gaining money and giving it away to something boring like taxes.

It means asking yourself if you enjoy the late nights if the hard times feel like they’re worth it. If you’re the kind of person who invests money in your skills and loves to learn from courses and talks which you can apply to your every day.

Being an entrepreneur is more than just its title. It’s a passion for growing your projects independently. Are you the kind of person who starts your own thing for no reason, whether its an IG account or a blog or a book club or just anything at all which you began because you love to set things up… or is that just too much responsibility for you/sounds pointless? Neither answer is bad, but honestly asking yourself this before starting a business could save you a lot of time and money.

Are there actionable steps a woman in business should take to ensure that her company is successful in two years?

1) I’d start with not spending money on ‘traditionals’ if you don’t need it. I don’t have an office. My team works remotely – Even before the pandemic! I read an article years ago about how someday cafes will be the new office and it always stuck with me. I saved a lot of money over the years by never investing in an office, and it gave us a new style of flexibility to travel and work across multiple time zones. The travel alone helped me meet and secure new clients.

2) Another thing I’d suggest is, talk to everyone and build your relationships. Attend things. Go to bars with friends. The number of jobs I’ve gotten from conferences: 0. The number of jobs I’ve gotten from a Thursday night at the bar: countless. People don’t want to feel like they’re being sold to. Organically realizing you both can help each other out is a way of building a really strong relationship with a client. In the pandemic, I took this energy and applied it to following new people on Instagram – over time I secured a lot of work through relationships I built in a casual environment. Way better than LinkedIn!

3) Spend time and value on your team. Anyone can build a team. But building loyalty? That takes real work. Loyalty in your team isn’t just about paying them, it means making them feel appreciated (GENUINELY) and acknowledging their hard work. Giving them credit publicly. Doing 1:1s regularly. Asking them what they want to do more of, what they’re less interested in. Trusting them, listening to them, not giving them the cold shoulder because you disagree but honestly leveling with them on how their actions have affected your work. It means connecting with them on a human level. And if they don’t respond well to this genuine relationship building then find a team member who will.

4) Lastly, I’d suggest becoming a figure in your industry where possible. Speak on panels, write articles about your industry, legitimize yourself in what you do. This gets your business out there in a new way, through media. People will then come to you for your business. 

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