Kathryn Williams of Kathryn’s Mint brings over 25 years experience helping businesses to be successful both in Europe and in Australia.
Kathryn is known as the ‘go to’ person for financial and operational issues facing Marketing Communications Businesses.
Kathryn in one of the industry’s most knowledgeable finance experts. Kathryn works with businesses to improve operational performance, profitability and drive overall commercial success.
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Or you can read the entire transcript of Kathyrn’s interview here:
Ingrid: Hi Kathy, thanks so much for joining us today for our So You Want to Start a Business interview series.
Kathy: Thank you very much Ingrid, pleasure to be here.
Ingrid: Right, let’s start with our first question. Why did you start your business?
Kathy: I was working full time as a finance director in London actually and after about 3 months I moved on. Then I found the next position as a finance director and about the same time frame, about 3 months later, I’d established what the problem was, found a solution for it, put in the systems and then by the third month I was a little bit, ‘what’s next’? I got a bit bored. So I realised that maybe I could do what I was doing in a job but as a consultant and that would give me the variety and the turnaround of being able to do what my particular skills were and then move on to the next opportunity. So that’s really what I decided to do, and start the business which established what the problems were within an agency, particularly working in the marketing communications sector, what are their issues, design the systems and routines, which are all based on best practice on what the agencies would be doing, and then monitor those, set them up, train the staff, and then be there for support but move on to the next one.
Ingrid: And when was this Kathy? Because you’ve been in business a while, haven’t you?
Kathy: It’s 11 years now, started in 2004, so coming up to 11 years in July.
Ingrid: And has that always been in Australia or did you start somewhere else?
Kathy: I started in the U.K. Probably about three months, but it was more like what I would call freelance through an agency, so that was my test to see if there were actually opportunities available and I didn’t have to find them, somebody else, as in the agent, found them as a freelance position. So I did 3 months freelancing for several different agencies, and then as it turned out I was returning to Australia and I thought, you know what, cut out the middle man, I actually don’t need the agencies, and if you’re going to run a business you need to market and sell yourself. So I did that from London to Sydney and pretty much started from there, so I’m now Melbourne based but travel around Australia, I have clients nationally and it will be 11 years come this July.
Ingrid: That’s fantastic, isn’t it? So I was going to ask you a question about when did you realise you were in business but you’ve sort of explained that. So you actually deliberately took your set of skills and created a business with that. I think you’ve just said something really interesting about the middle man did the selling for you, but it’s really important for people to be able to sell themselves. Can you just talk a little bit more about that please?
Kathy: Yes indeed. You know I really believe that if you are going to be running your own business you’ve made that decision, and the main reason will be because you’ve identified or admitted to yourself, or acknowledged or verbalized that you’re good at something. And whatever that particular skill is, and for me it’s finance, selling your ideas and selling your intelligence, so that’s great. I know how to convert intellectual property, what’s between your ears into a business and into a sellable model, so profit for selling your ideas, but if I can’t sell myself, or go out and meet prospective clients, then I’m not going to get very far. So I realised quite early on maybe some of the attributes I had, which is being social and outgoing, that it wasn’t going to be too hard for me to network, which is probably a great topic that you will, if you have not already, talked about, to be able to get out there and meet people, to find out who’s there, and to let them know that you’re there.
Ingrid: Yes, networking is important and being able to talk about what you offer. And that takes me into my next question. What were the sorts of things you did? You said that you went into one company and you tidied up their accounts and their systems and then you went into the next one. And so, were you seeing the same need over and over, the same symptoms?
Kathy: Yes. Absolutely, and you know 11 years later, and probably a few years back I would’ve been able to completely, confidently say, it doesn’t matter what country you’re in, if you’re running a business, you’re running a profit and loss statement and you’re in business, most of us to make a profit, there’s certainly not-for-profit entities, but I work in those enterprises that are seeking to make a profit. And even knowing what that profit should be depending on what sector they’re in. So for the marketing communications, a 20-25 percent net profit margin is a target, and a quite normal achievement. So to know how to get that became really obvious to me as a finance consultant. Firstly to find out why they’re not making their profit, mostly I establish it’s because they didn’t have a budget that allowed them to make that profit, so fundamental, probably one of the things that people, agencies, business heads hate the most is putting that budget together, but really if it doesn’t get put together correctly with the cost to run the business, the cost for the staff, the increases for the staff, you need loans that need to be repaid, you need testers to be made, plus your profit target, plus your new business and marketing costs, if that’s not put together properly, you’ll never have the right target to start from, from a base point of view.
Then putting in the systems to make sure you’re monitoring that and you’re achieving that on a monthly basis. All really really important to get you toward that target throughout the financial year. And I think just probably mentoring the team because it’s not the finance people that go and get the jobs that work the jobs that run the jobs, that look at the profit. It’s the marketing team or the account management or account service teams that do that. So its about mentoring them and showing them how to put in systems and routines to achieve the objectives.
Ingrid: I totally believe in systems, routines, having objectives, if you’re not measuring it, you don’t know what’s happening at all, do you?
Kathy: Yes and it’s the same in every business. So it’s quite early on that I realised, you know what, every business needs this and my sweet spot for, I guess prospects. My target market would be a company that is about 10 in staff, they might have a one day a week bookkeeper and perhaps an external accountant, that never had somebody in this role, so it’s a great space to be in to be able to help them, but larger businesses as well that perhaps just need a bit of an injection of an outsider’s perspective and what’s happening in the rest of the industry, and best practice. So yes I realised that this was something that businesses needed and responded by creating Kathryn’s Mint and the services there, so my business is quite a niche.
Ingrid: Very niched. And Kathy I’ve known you for quite some time, and I’ve always been very much in admiration that you actually have chosen a very small niche, really, because you could be an outsourced CFO, finance director for any business really in Australia, because what you’re saying applies to everybody. But you’ve chosen this very particular niche. Why did you choose a niche so early on?
Kathy: It’s really interesting Ingrid, because I’ve had a lot of objection to that from a few people that have been mentors of mine, and quite close supporters of mine who’ve critiqued my approach by saying it’s too narrow. And I’ve been dogged and steadfast over the years and sticking to my guns on it because I am absolutely passionate about the marketing communications sector and I’ve got deep experience in that sector, and I think that’s very valuable. So yes, as a finance director you can work in pretty much any business because finance is finance, debits and credits and income and expenses, it doesn’t really matter it’s the same, whether you’re landscaping or selling creating ideas. But it’s the benefit of knowing what happens in that sector and who the people are and who the clients are and how they all think that I believe is important. And that’s why I have such a narrow straight down the line approach to what I do. And it satisfies me.
It stimulates me because that’s my world and I think from my clients’ perspective they see that as very valuable because they want to know what other agencies are doing and without divulging confidentiality, it’s a real advantage for them to speak with me to gauge whether they’re within ballpark of what’s the norm. But also to be the advocate and the authority in the sector. So over the years, 11 years now, I would say that I have quite a bit of experience in this sector, and that is not to be dismissed, I don’t want to dilute it. And yes, I’m really proud of what’s been achieved and I think my clients will attest to that as well.
Ingrid: And I think now you are the person people come to, aren’t you? Like if somebody wants to know about finance in the creative space, they come to you because of your area of expertise. So it’s taken a while to build that up but-
Kathy: There’s definitely other consultants around that do I what I do, I realised again, I think fairly early on, and probably if I’d been asked this question right at the beginning, I would have addressed it quicker, but at the end of the day when you’re working for yourself as I do, and some of these other consultants likewise, there’s only you, and you only have the same amount of hours as the next person. So you need to be quite clever about how you spend your time, as we all do in business if we’re selling our time. So I realise perhaps rather than one on one it might be some clear strategies that I can put in play to make sure that I see more opportunities, more prospects rather than just one on one and also be able to provide my services to a wider field. So writing books, putting on webinars or podcasts like you are doing, I’ve not yet done to be honest, but I will do in the future. And workshops would be probably the best way, and as a result, the industry body have picked these workshops up, Show Me the Money, it’s titled, to provide to their members as a financial training across Australia, because it doesn’t exist with such a specific topic. So it’s been very successful and I continue to run that and focusing on different topics, different parts of the year. But we’ve run that workshop of the industry experts and authority at least once a month around Australia.
Ingrid: And that takes you like you said, instead of being one to one, it’s you to many people at a time.
Kathy: That’s right.
Ingrid: Now I have a question here about the early days, so if you can cast your mind back 11 years, but I’m going to roll a couple of questions into one. That idea of how did you fund the early days, how did you fund expansion, and was there anything that you wish you’d known from the start, or anything that you wish you’d done differently. So you’ve just said there that you wish you’ve got that message out clearer earlier on, but just in terms of setting up your business and getting started, being mindful that the people who are probably listening are thinking like you, gosh could I do what I do for myself, what’s some of the early days learning that you could share please, Kathy?
Kathy: Yes, definitely. Look the first thing I did was, I was fortunate that I was able to have some savings behind me, and like many who eventually leave their jobs it’s probably a redundancy or they’ve got some savings. I think in my case I had sufficient funds for about six months, and I hit the ground running a little bit because I’d already had three months in the U.K. freelancing, so I already knew what my service offering was and I was quite specific about it. It was so clear to me what I was offering that I didn’t really have to try hard to deliver the service, it was more the prospecting and the marketing.
So with the savings I had a bit of time up my sleeve to identify who my target market was, and again because I as clear on who that was, they had to be a marketing communications agency with about 10 staff, and I was quite funny, and oh I think it was just realistic, I wanted them to be within that one hour radius of where I lived. I didn’t want them to be too far away because time is money and sitting on a bus or driving in traffic wasn’t my idea of fun. There’s also no real hard costs when you’re a consultant selling your intelligence, so I just, like all of us these days I needed a computer and a phone, which I had, and some nice notepaper, which I had. So I didn’t need a lot to get myself going and the rest of it was literally in my brain. I just had to deliver it and pack it into a nice sellable commodity, which was really through my meeting and explaining what I did. I did build a website quite quickly as my calling card and it helped me to sort my services into a sellable list so that I could, when I was meeting a prospect use that as a Powerpoint presentation more or less.
Then as time grew, had a few clients in the first three months and then I got one fairly large client in the fourth month, and that was a very targeted marketing strategy to pick up that major client, and it was a very healthy income for me and a great project, which I worked on for a year. I realised then to grow the business, because it was a demand and prospects were responding, I increased my prices. So that then divides more profit, which allows me to spend more money on my marketing side more than anything. And I started working nationally then. If I’d done anything different, if I knew what, if I would have done it different or better in the start, I think I would have started writing my e-books earlier and I would have perhaps not expected to create a big 50,000 word book and have that delivered within the month, which is what I did five years ago, I thought that was going to be possible for me.
I think if I’d known then what I know now I would have released one e-book slowly, one at a time, and then over that five years I would have probably have 50 odd small books, each on separate topics, which the user could select which one or which ones were appropriate to them. So perhaps not pushing myself on that passive income, and not income generating initially. Perhaps a little slower and earlier on. And things that are, I’d probably say an assistant and some online help as well, I would have done a lot earlier, helping me with my database, helping me with my marketing to make sure that I had that support a lot earlier on. And the only way to be able to do that is if you get your budget right and you build it in.
And in the early days for me, so probably the first three years, I didn’t even think that I needed an assistant, I just thought, no no, I’ll just do it all, don’t I? That’s what a consultant is, don’t you do it all? But at some point you realise, and maybe at year 10, I realised that I couldn’t do it all myself, but it was just too much. So I think that I definitely would have structured my business right back at the beginning differently, to have my marketing assistant, to have my admin assistant, to have someone that can help me with my web, and just have those people around me as part of my team, be they virtual, online or somebody physically in the next suburb, just offering me freelance support.
Ingrid: Yes. And how do you do it Kathy, like you said you put a website together, so 11 years ago, 10 years ago, that is still very early days for websites, like people did use their websites like a brochure, like a Powerpoint presentation. People listening today who may not realise what it was like 10 years ago, you were quite ahead of your game even having a website, for your sort of industry.
Kathy: I was just going to agree with you. Definitely, from a financial perspective, my peers as finance consultants are probably lagging behind then as they are now, with navy blue websites, and lacking personality. The benefit I had was I was the finance director of a digital web company in the U.K. for two years, so it was easy stuff for me, I understood it very easily and I was able to quite quickly identify somebody who could help me build that site, I’ve also, all the way through, and it’s probably a strong point to mention, never forgotten who my target audience are. They’re all designers, web builders, creative people so whatever I have has to be talking to them in their language and look the part. It had to suit them in the way they expected to be spoken to.
So in the 11 years, the original website has only had one evolution, because it was very good right from the start, and that’s compliments of the designer, as well as the functionality back hand, so it’s just be through a re-vamp of late to cope with a lot more of this technology and the podcasts and the newsletters and hopefully soon some Youtube video. But I think it’s really important to show your market that you know exactly what you’re offering in this day and age and you’re on that world stage.
Ingrid: So no GoDaddy or WordPress templates for you. It was always beautifully- and I think that your brain has always been incredibly contemporary, you know it has evolved, you know those blues and oranges are gone, but that green of yours, apart from the fact that it’s the colour of money, has stayed very contemporary hasn’t it?
Kathy: It was, and it was over a glass of Merlot in the U.K. when I decided that the corporate colour would be green, because of the greenback and because it’s mint, so Kathryn’s Mint, the mint where the money is made, and mint is a relaxant and a calming colour and drink. There was a whole lot of thought process around it. Again I’m getting all of this from my experience working in the sector of marketing communications. So there was definitely a lot of thought process behind it and it’s been an easy colour to use across stationary, the gifting as well, mint pigment teas and it has a whole bunch of benefits. If you get your branding right, and you can enjoy it for very many years.
Ingrid: And it’s such a good point you make, because you’re talking about how your audience are creatives, so it was even more, well it’s important for everybody to get that right, but it’s critical for you if you’re going to attract those people, to actually have something that they can recognise as being well thought through and considered.
Kathy: And look it’s a very subtle thing too, that it shows yourself, your brand through your window and the level of quality and the thought process that’s gone on to it. All of these things, as subtle as they may be, speak volumes when somebody has not yet met you.
Ingrid: It is very much so. And of course the kilometre radius thing is gone now because Skype, I mean you and I are in different cities in Australia making this call, so we have wonderful technology now. Just a couple of other things. Was there any, you can mention the name or not, any one or two people that really made a difference in what did they do? Like you talked about having mentors, but was there anybody in particular?
Kathy: I’ve got two, three actually, though I could easily and happily and with absolute glowing terms recommend and talk about. So my very first one is Paulina. And Paulina is my web master. Now I actually met her as a mentoree through the Women in Business mentoring program in Sydney through the government body there, and she’s gone on to be the epitome of working wherever you are online whilst travelling through the world. So Paulina does travel the world, and she’ll be working on my website while I sleep here in the suburbs in the southern hemisphere because she’s in the northern hemisphere working. She’s been with me all the way and helps me add whistles and bells, update the shopping carts or help me with whatever it is that I need, S.E.O. being the latest thing that I’ve needed to do, and she’s called in her experts to help with S.E.O. which has been amazing.
The others I would say would be mentors. Matt Church, who’s Sydney-based through Thought Leaders has been probably one of the turning points in my career which would be going back 6-7 years ago now, where he really taught me to understand the value of what it is that is being sold and he was actually one that was against me being so narrow on my marketplace, but I think he’s had a change of heart somewhere along the line.
And more recently Trevor Young. So Trevor runs a business about the new media world. He’s written a book about micro domination, it’s about building your business through your personal brand but using blogs, podcasts, and anything else that you can possibly think about. So the social media world. So he has certainly been a great advocate of what I do and quite shocked actually, and said, really? You’re not pushing yourself out as an authority? And I think that’s just, at some point whether it’s male or female there’s a level of arrogance that you need to have to play in that space, and I’m trying to claim that space as the authority, without aggression, but just recognising the skill level that I have, and using the social media platforms to talk about that and provide information to the recipients. So it’s been great working with Trevor to understand and harness that knowledge and distribute it through all sorts of mediums, but predominantly through Twitter and blogging.
Ingrid: So that’s what you’ve chosen Is Twitter and blogging.
Ingrid: Because that’s where your people are.
Kathy: That’s right. They’re there, they’re reading them. And then extending on from that are the e-books, Kindle readers through Amazon and purchase downloads, PDFs, or hard copies through my website. So he’s been instrumental in that. So definitely having mentors, business mentors along the line have been invaluable to me, and great assistance when you’re working as a solo operator. Right from the beginning, I think if I had a mentor just to, as I was saying earlier, yeah, yeah you can do everything, but you shouldn’t actually be doing everything. You might do it because you think you’re saving yourself money, but I can tell you me being in finance, me doing my books on MYOB is not saving money. It’s actually costing me money because it takes me so long to do it.
Ingrid: You’re not a data entry person, are you?
Kathy: Well for years I resisted having a bookkeeper do my books, I mean surely I can do them, but it was much more affordable to do it that way and free myself to actually do the other things that generate more income. So I definitely recommend that, and that was a mentor who basically smacked me on the head and said, make the decision and move on. (laughs)
Ingrid: Sometimes we need somebody to see things from a different perspective. Now Kathy if you were to meet someone, so quite often you probably meet within your community of creatives and with the agencies that you’re working in, or even just socially, if you met someone who was thinking about starting their own business, what’s the one thing you would tell them, or suggest to someone? We’ve got the outsourcing, we’ve got the, don’t do everything yourself, but is there anything else that you would say to somebody about starting their own business?
Kathy: I think if they’re self-driven and motivated, they will be starting off with a really good energy, they will build in their confidence, and I think that’s definitely helped by having some mentors or people around you, a team around you. So I don’t mean a team as in 5 people sitting in paid office space with you. I just mean colleagues that you can call on, freelancers, or people online that will drive you a little bit because you’re asking them to help you with certain parts, whether that be a database and whether that be marketing or your finance or your operations.
So definitely having that motivated, self-driven and having that team around you, and just being sort of social, like you do need to get out there and let people know what you do, but be strategic in where you go and where you spend your time and your money to make sure that you’re not just spending and money in areas that are not going to generate results. So track that perhaps. And give yourself some bite sized milestones. So if you’re looking at a year, then what are you likely to achieve in the first quarter, what are you likely to achieve in the second quarter, and then second half of the year, break those down into two quarters as well.
Ingrid: Great. And I know you’ve had a family since you’ve been running your business, and that wasn’t an opportunity for you to stop being in business, you continued working through that. Do you have an exit strategy? Or do you have, and you don’t have to say specifically, but in terms, of what do you talk to your clients about regarding their exit strategy, or what their next step is? Because so many people are in a business, and they don’t really think about what’s going to happen next.
Kathy: Yes, there’s a couple of things in there and I’m quite open and willing to share. And the first one was about having my son, Bo, who’s now three. I probably knew right from the start the benefits of running your own business. If you got it right, and you set your pricing correctly, it would give you that work-life balance, and allow you to do things that you’ve wanted to do socially, not working the 40 hour week, necessarily, so that was really key for me to be a consultant and destiny master of my own week. Having a child was also part of that plan and knowing also that I could upscale or downscale around the baby being born, and I did work right through, whilst he was born, but on a much much much reduced level, so one retained client instead of 10, so certainly income decreases but that was expected and planned, and then over the last, he’s three now, so the last two years, building that back up to the pinnacle again. So that was a strategic manoeuvre and I kind of had a five year plan, it sounds a bit contrived, but it had to be. And I think if you’re running a business, take it seriously, it wasn’t a hobby for me, it was a good income producer.
I had a policy of retaining 20 percent of my profits, which I invested, so that is part of my exit strategy, knowing that in a service business when you close your website down or you give your keys back to the office, that there is no more income unless you keep working, I needed to have a plan that would continue to generate income from the income that I had generated. So that is part of it. The other part is only starting to evolve now, thinking that I might have another 20, 30 years of working in life, how would I like that to look. And I think over time my exit would be to reduce the number of one on ones, to reduce the number of workshops, which are quite physically intense, to be standing up talking all day, to keynotes and relying on hopefully passive income which I’ve had it on good authority from some other peers of mine who are generating income from their online products and that it could be sufficient. So I’m looking at that. For my clients who have been running agencies of 10 staff, it’s definitely about that profit, getting that 20 to 25 percent net margin right now, so that you can pay off your mortgage, so that you can pay yourself dividend, so that you can invest it in the building that you’re currently renting from someone else. So you’d have some physical, tangible assets, property assets. And maybe looking at a management buy in an M.B.O., a management buyout. Or looking at a sale or a merge of your own business to a larger or same sized entity. So two small businesses joining together can be very profitable if there are assets in one to sell, or at least generating a higher level of profit which you can take your cut out, or selling it to the bigger agencies and that still takes place, maybe not as much as it used to, but it certainly does. Particularly in the digital space. So getting that sort of two year strategy worked out, it’ll take you a couple of years to identify who your targets are and to get your agency in a position that it is attractive to the particular targets that you’re looking at.
Ingrid: That’s an interesting point you make there about a couple of smaller businesses or smaller agencies being about to work together. I’ve just been writing something about bundling about how individuals can actually bundle their services and that’s actually a really good example of partnerships, not partnerships in the legal sense, but actually creating links with other businesses that are not competitors but are complementary in terms of what they offer and then being able to go to another business and say here’s what the three of us can do for you. There must be lots of opportunity for that in the creative spaces.
Kathy: There is and I’m fortunate enough to be involved in the national benchmarking for one of the larger of the marketing communication industry bodies, and one of the questions is about your exit strategy, and it was astounding, the last three years this benchmark survey says that 70 percent of those that participated are looking to sell their business, and that’s very high. I mean 70 people out of 100 that participated want to sell, so who are these 70 and who are the remaining 30? Do they want to buy? But unfortunately the information as to who those agencies are was not available, but also I think as people have been running their businesses now in Australia for a long time, are looking at that exit strategy, it will become more and more a topic on identifying someone that you can merge with, it gets harder before it gets easier when you merge, probably a year of pain. You think it’ll be easy when you share together with someone else, but actually that first year is really intense. But then after that it becomes, the economies of scales really kick and it becomes lucrative and much easier.
Ingrid: Yes, it’s like most relationships isn’t it, those early days it’s either the honeymoon, once the honeymoon’s over it’s over (laughs). Kathy, I think we’re probably going to have to stop there, we could probably go on, like you’re such a wonderful fountain of knowledge, and you’re so generous with your time, and this podcast will be available for everybody to listen to across the Android and the iTunes platforms, but I thank you so much for your time today, and I look forward to continuing to hear about your ongoing success for the next 20 years.
Kathy: Well thank you Ingrid, it’s actually been really enjoyable, great questions, and I hope it has been of use to those that listen on, so thank you very much for the opportunity.
Ingrid: Thank you, bye.
Kathryn Williams of Kathryn’s Mint brings over 25 years experience helping businesses to be successful both in Europe and in Australia.