Maybe it’s the Libra in her that craves balance: Kristina Shands is providing a balanced process for new product or business launches that is (as she describes it) both “organized and freeing, task-driven and allowing, controlling and surrendering.” For certain it’s her passion for empowering women in pursuing their dreams that has been fueling her business for the past eight years. She continues on her quest to make a change in the world through her writing and coaching, while expanding her knowledge of empowering women not only in business but also in the political arena.
Oana Harrison: What is the definition of success for you?
Kristina Shands: I don’t know that I’ve found what success is. It’s somewhere at the intersection of hard work and making an impact – and that is not a fixed point. I know how others define success and I’m well aware that, as an entrepreneur, there is always the danger of allowing others’ definition of success become your own. This is an especially easy trap to fall into when you are constantly on social media, reading about the monetary equivalent of someone’s success, or the number of followers, etc., which makes us think: “Oh, that’s what I have to do to be successful.” But I had to always tell myself that’s not what I wanted my business to look like.
I know how much work I can do on my own and I don’t want to hire a bunch of people or charge clients too much. Whenever a new entrepreneur tries to fit their business into the idea of others’ success, it’s a trap – it never goes well. For me, I have to be very clear about what I want: I want to write, tell stories to move people and make them take action; I want to have an impact in the world; I want to work with women and help them find their voice, create successful businesses, run for office, share their stories – those things are really really important to me. If I get to do those things and I am happy, and can make some money too, that’s success to me. However, the idea that once you found success you got it, is crazy. Success is not a destination – you have to keep working for it. It’s not like you go to Wal-Mart, go to isle 6, pick up success, and then it’s yours forever. It doesn’t work that way.
OH: Tell me about how you came to be an entrepreneur. How was that process?
KS: I graduated from UT with a degree in Public Relations and I went to work for a non-profit right away. I spent several years doing that, telling someone’s story, sharing it with donors, raising awareness and money for the organization. I loved helping a good cause but I felt that a lot of it was out of my control: I could tell the story but the success was ultimately dependent on the funds available. Unfortunately, when a grant was redirected to a different aspect of the non-profit where I was working, my position was eliminated. It wasn’t because of my performance and I knew then that I didn’t like not having control over my work situation.
I thought I would become a consultant and help with fund raising but I quickly realized that wasn’t what I wanted to pursue long-term. I got into social media marketing and I really liked it. Eight years ago, there was a great need for consulting on the subject, so I invested into further education, and started writing for social media in particular. Soon thereafter, because of my writing background, I found more opportunities for copy writing and product launch specific marketing. For a while, as a new entrepreneur, I went where the opportunities were, with less consideration toward what I actually wanted to pursue. Only later on I focused on creating my business around what I loved to do instead of what someone else thought I should do. I learned about coaching, conversion copy writing, a bit about design, and I came up with a business design for myself that’s unique to me.
OH: What are some lessons you have learned along the way/what do you know now that you wished you knew back when? What do you wish you’d known before you started your own business? What advice would you give to others venturing out on their own?
KS: Even if you run an online business, it’s all about the people you know and the connections you make. I spent a lot of time at home alone but in order for me to grow my business – and not go crazy – I had to talk to people, meet people, go to conferences, meet other people who do what I do, or prospective clients. It’s always about building relationships from scratch. You can find people on social media or you can email someone and set up in person meetings. There is no one to tell you who to believe and whom to trust. Your validation comes from client endorsement – if they are willing to pay you for your services, you must be offering value.
The second thing: I chased a lot of balls at one time – whatever was the next big thing that was in demand, I tried to master it, without stopping to think of how it fit into the bigger picture of my business model. I studied SEO and coding – which I hated, I studied graphic design – which I loved but at which I was no good. These are all things that took money and time away from doing what I really loved. I should have invested more into copy writing coaching or taking creative writing classes. I chased bubbles because I felt I needed to be everything to everyone when really I’m a copy writer and I’m a marketing messaging coach. Those are the things that I love and I know. I can help business with specific things. This is the hardest for entrepreneurs to hear, especially for those who are new in the arena. Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should. Having a niche is good. In my writing, I work with big corporations and SaaS (software as a service) companies. For my coaching, I work with women entrepreneurs, supporting female empowerment, particularly in the arena of public speaking and community building.
OH: What do you think was the most important contributor to your success?
KS: Being OK with not being known for knowing it all. Being OK with saying “no, I don’t do that.” For example, if someone came to me asking for help with their social media, I would say “I can but I don’t do that.” I gave myself permission to only do specific things, like copy writing and marketing messaging coaching. And I might narrow down my scope again because I want to help more people, and now I know that in order to be great, I have to focus, and not spread myself too thin. You can be good at many things but you can’t become great unless you cut out some things. It’s hard because I want to help but people pay me for specific services. The other hard thing was to not do work for free just because I could help out with something outside my scope. That becomes a slippery slope and will take away your focus.
OH: What do you find to be the most fulfilling aspect of your life – business or otherwise?
KS: Definitely working with my coaching clients who are new to their business and helping them find their voice is very rewarding. Seeing their evolution, seeing them follow their passion and becoming heard is so incredibly satisfying, and an amazing experience. I’m here cheering them on, giving them some direction, and I’m so happy to be a small part of their journey.
One of the things I stress with my clients is that when you’re an entrepreneur you are the CEO – you can’t delegate the hard work. You have to take chances, you have to do the cold calling and the paperwork, you have to do it all. There is a discipline to having a business – otherwise it’s called a hobby. The CEO mindset is crucial, especially for women who are new at this.
OH: Not everybody gets dealt the same cards. You have to work with whatever or around whatever life hands you. What hurdles do you feel like you were able to overcome in your journey to success?
KS: Most of those hurdles have been self-inflicted. Overcoming them has much to do with committing to one path and deciding not to be all things to all people, finding my own voice and direction before helping others. There is the story about the cobbler’s kids who had no shoes – for a while, I was helping others market themselves but I didn’t have my own marketing strategy clarified.
The biggest thing I had to overcome, though was when my mom passed away three and a half years ago. The month before she died, I was having my best month ever. I had signed on a ridiculous number of new clients who were getting ready to launch their new products in the following months. This life event really threw me off and I wasn’t able to service all my clients. I ended up having to pay back some of them and focusing on my retainer clients only. Luckily, my clients were nice enough to understand but they also ran businesses and had budgets. That was the start of my transition to a narrower scope for my business because I never wanted to be in that position again. I really want to keep working on my own, without having to hire employees and be able to complete more short-term projects.
Another self-inflicted hurdle was getting distracted by classes I loved instead of taking only those I really needed. Some of my guilty pleasures are two websites I always check out. Creativelive.com that has the most amazing photography classes but also business classes. The classes are taught and broadcasted live for free but you can also buy them. The second site is udemy.com. All of their classes are only $10 and they are very varied and practical. But beware of the rabbit holes…
OH: What’s next for you?
KS: I’m pursuing a strategic communications degree from American University in Washington, DC. In the future, I want to work on political campaigns and advocacy on a national scale. If we’ve learned anything from the past two elections is that it’s all about telling the right story to the right audience at the right time – and now through social media too. The program combines the use of data and storytelling – so, this is combining all that I love into one. The school has so many great graduates, and produces one of the largest number of Peace Corps volunteers.
I want to see more women elected, more scientists elected, I think that having a congress full of white male lawyers is not working very well for us and I want to help change that. More women in all aspects of the government are needed and it’s time for our voice to be heard. More diversity of backgrounds would also help give perspective and a better understanding of our society’s needs.
I believe that this program will help me help others even better and on a larger scale, and I’m looking forward to it.