INTERVIEW: KAITLIN MAUD
Kaitlin Maud, Founder of Maud Projects, LLC. Interviewed by Michele Carroll. Photography by Stevie Nelson.
For our readers who don’t know, give us a little rundown of what you do. I’m a Strategist by trade. I have my own consulting business working with brands and ad agencies doing things like trend & consumer research and workshop facilitation. I’m brought in to support strategic planning and creative development on product launches or campaigns.
This year I also started offering 1-on-1 coaching for creative professionals. Most of my clients are either in transition professionally (going freelance, figuring out what they want to do), or are looking to grow their businesses. The strategic processes that so many larger companies invest in have been traditionally inaccessible to individuals and small businesses, so it’s been amazing to start bridging that gap.
In 2013, you decided to leave your advertising job in Boston (where you worked with some of the biggest brands in the world like Lebron James, Adobe, and Chrysler) and start your own business in L.A. How did you come to the conclusion that this was the next step for you? And how did you find the courage to actually make the jump?
I spent most of my 20s doing exactly what I thought I was “supposed” to do: go to college, pick a sensible major, get a corporate job, marry long-time boyfriend, buy a condo… But the more I did “well” (by other people’s standards), the less satisfied I felt. I tried a lot of things to fix it – I took vacations, I got really into fitness… But I was still depressed.
Often in society we treat symptoms of problems, but we never get to the root cause. For me, I had been so focused on what I thought I should do, that I wasn’t doing anything in my life that I really wanted to do. I had always wanted to work for myself and I had always wanted to live in CA, but I never gave myself permission to just go do those things. So I started over. I quit the job, left the marriage… It was crazy, but I felt like I had no other option. And once the plan was in motion, the courage found me. Bold actions have a way of forcing you to rise to the occasion.
Once you were in L.A. and made the decision to start your own business, what was the first specific action step you took?
I totally jumped without a safety net when I moved here, but I also had the mindset that I could and would do anything I had to to make it work. That was crucial. I was not above being a waitress or barista again if it meant not having to retreat back to my old life.
The first action step I took was to get as many meetings with people as I could! I asked friends and friends of friends if they knew people in L.A. they could introduce me to. Not even just for work necessarily, but to make friends too, and to build my tribe here. After those introductions I was super diligent about following-up and keeping in touch. Some of those people I met in my first few weeks are still my closest friends, clients, and collaborators.
What were your biggest insecurities in the beginning? How did you overcome them?
When it came to my business, my biggest fear was that without the weight of a known brand behind me, people wouldn’t respect my work or want to hire me. I didn’t know who “Kaitlin Maud” was without a title and company. I still feel that same insecurity when I launch new products or services. When I signed my first couple of coaching clients I felt like a total fraud. I knew deep down that I knew what I was doing, but I still felt like “who the f*ck am I to coach people?”.
What I realized over time was that those things I worried most about were in fact some of my biggest advantages. A lot of people want to work with me because I am not associated with an agency. Because I offer an outside perspective. To me it’s not about overcoming your insecurities, it’s about working with them.
Can you think back to a particular unexpected setback you had to overcome when starting out? What did you learn from it?
A few years ago a beauty brand brought me in to give a presentation to their team about how to better leverage social media as a sales tool. It went really well and they were excited to engage me in a bigger strategy project. I scoped it out, we agreed on a price… They said they would sign the contract on my first day working with them. Well, a few weeks later that day came and they backed out. I was devastated! I thought it was a sure thing and I had no Plan B.
The lesson: nothing is a “sure thing”. Have a Plan B (and C and D). Make business development an always-on initiative. The timing of something can always be adjusted or you can bring on help if you need to, but putting all of your efforts into one lead and waiting for it to come through is just not sustainable.
Starting over in a new city, how did you get the word out about you and your business?
I help others with marketing, so it feels kind of funny to say that I have done very little marketing for my own business. Instead I’ve focused on doing great work. So far this has been a good strategy for me!
Think about it this way: you don’t usually fall in love with a product because of the commercial you saw. You fall in love with it because it works – it serves a need you have. For me, I’ve focused on over-delivering for my clients and that has helped create a great referral network. Just like they talk about the products they love, people talk about great experiences they have especially in their work-life, where those great experiences are more rare. The majority of my clients have come through word of mouth.
Anybody that runs their own ship is usually constantly pulled in a million different directions with emails, meetings, calls, operation emergencies, etc. What is your method or process for sifting through this throughout your day?
My process is not as glamorous as you’d expect. The real “method” is that I have become diligent about prioritizing. I make lists and deal with what has to be done first. Just like life – stuff is going to come up all the time, but there are certain things that will always take priority. Like my health. If my health is not great, everything else on the list below that is not going to be great. With my work, I have to prioritize according to deadlines. If a task I’m working on doesn’t have a deadline, I will assign it one and stick to it.
What product, program, app, book, etc. can you not live without when it comes to running your business?
Just one!? I have to go with Harvest. I’ve been using it for years to invoice my clients and it has taken a lot of the stress out of that process for me. It offers an option to pay online which my clients love, it auto-reminds clients when invoices are due, and it gives me a great sense of trends related to my income: which clients pay me when, when I tend to be the most busy each year, etc.
What is your least favorite aspect of what you do? How do you get yourself to push through when it comes time to tackle that?
I used to really dislike negotiations and anything related to money. I had to do a lot of work to get over the false assumption that I just wasn’t good at “business stuff”. That I was “too creative” or right-brained. The truth is, creative people are great at things like negotiation, because they think outside of the box and are fantastic problem solvers.
Despite that change in mindset, however, there were a few tactical things I never got good at. So rather than try to “push through”, I opted to invest in people (and tools) that would be much better suited for tasks like bookkeeping. The amount of time I have saved with Quickbooks, a part-time assistant, and a CPA has been so worth it. I can use those hours to focus on the things that I am actually good at – the things that make me happy and make me money.
Katie Dean, of Katie Dean Jewelry, said something very interesting when discussing running one’s own business. She said, “You find out what you’re made of.”. Can you tell us about a time you surprised yourself in finding out what you were made of?
There are a lot of tests you are given as a business owner. A big test for me came just after moving to L.A.- I got offered a job at Weiden + Kennedy in Portland. It would have been hugefor my career and it really made me question my commitment to this new life I was trying to build. But it felt like just another thing I “should” do – the familiar road – and so I respectfully turned it down. That was hard. I found out what I was made of then.
True story: months later, I was working with an agency on the west side and got word that the person who would have been my supervisor at W+K had left to accept a position with my client. It was surreal! I have never been one of those “everything happens for a reason” people, but in this case I felt validated.
Do you have any rituals for getting yourself in boss mode on days you might feel less-than-inspired?
Oh yes, there are times where I need to be in “boss mode” to meet a deadline and I’m just not feeling it. Going for a walk helps a lot. It’s actually a coping strategy I adopted after working behind a desk all day in Boston. There’s a coffee shop that is about 1 mi round trip from my place, so if I’m working from home I’ll take the dog up there and refuel. The fresh air is like hitting a reset button.
That being said, I worry sometimes that we put too much pressure on people to #hustle 24/7. I think it’s totally OK and normal to be less-than-inspired sometimes. I use those days strategically to take care of the things that require no inspiration like going to the bank or catching up on admin work.
What does a typical work day look like for you – morning to night?
I don’t have a “typical” work day! Part of what I love so much about my work is that no two days are the same. That being said, if I am not at a client site or traveling, I usually spend the first few hours of my day playing catch-up to the east coast (emails, social media, etc.). I use the afternoon for meetings and getting more focused work done (research, writing, or operations stuff). I’ll hit the gym early evening before the rush, then power down for QT & dinner with my boyfriend. Sometimes I’ll get back online in the evening, but my work requires me to be culturally tuned in, so I end up going out a lot. Last week, for example, I went to a dinner, a Sofar Sounds show, and a talk put on by The Broad.
What advice do you have for women looking to start their own endeavours for the first time?
Do one thing every day that gets you closer to your dream. Break down goals into smaller parts so they start to feel less overwhelming. Maybe today you post one picture of your work on Instagram. Maybe tomorrow you email one person who you admire professionally. Maybe the next day you spend 30 minutes doing research. Whatever those small things are for you, over time they will add up to a lot of progress. Too many people wait for overnight success, but the real secret to “overnight” success is consistency and commitment.
Also, having an accountability partner or even a coach helps tremendously. Before I ever was a coach, I had a coach and in Boston I was active in a “mastermind group” of people who were launching their own creative endeavors. A support network will motivate you and help you problem solve when things get tough.
L.A. LADY CULTURE
Favorite area of L.A.? West Hollywood! Everything I could need or want is in walking distance.
Favorite eatery in L.A.? The Misfit (reminds me of Boston)
Menu item we must order there? Bacon wrapped dates
Favorite happy hour? Sunny Spot in Venice (Sunny punch!)
Favorite weekend activities in the city? Beach Yoga with Brad, craft & art markets, outdoor movies
Audio of choice when sitting in traffic? Any of the NPR podcasts or my Spotify Discover Weekly
Place or thing you want to do most in L.A., but haven’t yet? Explore the Abandoned Zoo at Griffith Park
Biggest L.A. guilty pleasure? Jumbo’s Clown Room