Yes, exactly two years ago today, Hitch Studio had its ribbon-cutting and opened its doors as a graphic design, website design, wedding invitation design, wedding planner, and card & gift shop. And we’ve come a long way!
Another amazing thing happened this week. Hitch Studio had the honor of speaking at the Women in Leadership & Learning (WILL) luncheon series to an amazing group of women. (A record-breaking attendance we heard!) Carrie Kuhl and I, Renee Halgerson, decided to share a message about “Running Red Lights: What two entrepreneurs learned about life, work, and starting something new”. We thought it was important to share the highs and lows of starting this business and everything we learned along the way.
We’d like to share that message with all of you, so it can live on in all its glory. (Mostly because we spent hours and hours and hours on this presentation, so we wanted to get the most out of it.) 🙂 We also love sharing our story because it involves so many people; from mentors and friends, to family and interns…and most importantly, YOU, our customers and clients. We have so many people to thank for getting us to two years in business!
Renee: What exactly do we mean by “running red lights”? Seems a little illegal. Well, we like to think of it this way…
No matter what you want to start – we chose to start a business—so maybe yours is starting a business, maybe it’s training for a 10K, getting your Master’s degree, joining Toastmasters, asking your boss for the raise you’ve been wanting – whatever your “something new” is, the lights will never ALL be green.
You’re going to have some “red light” reasons like:
- “I’ll start training in the spring when it’s nicer” or
- “I’ll wait until my kids are in school full-time” or “I’ll wait until all my kids are in college” or
- “I’ll wait until I make more money” or
- “I’m not sure I’ll be successful at it and I’m scared I’ll fail”
- “What will my boss think if she/he turns me down for the promotion?”
But if you really want to get where you want to be, you’re going to have to run some of these red lights. And we don’t mean recklessly running red lights in life – or being unprepared (because we both saved our money and timed it right before we started Hitch) but these excuses that we’re all going to make for ourselves, aren’t road blocks, just road bumps.
So, as you know, our goal was to start Hitch Studio. We opened in 2014 in downtown Brookings, South Dakota. What exactly is Hitch Studio? We have five pillars that hold up our business: Website/Logo Design, Wedding Invitations, Wedding Styling, Event Planning, and Retail Card & Gift Boutique.
We had some humble beginnings. It all started with two girls, one drill and a few beers…and Hitch Studio became what it is today, still growing, in fact!
We’re going to be talking about these points today when starting your “something new”:
- Setting Goals
- Redefining Your Normal
- Your “Why”
My story starts at SDSU. Carrie and I both have roots here in Brookings, which is why we chose to start a business in this great community. I graduated in 2005 with a major in advertising, and with minors in graphic design, Spanish and marketing.
My first job out of college was at a telecommunications company in Sioux Falls, working in the marketing department. I got to plan events, design brochures, be a part of several ad campaigns, travel to trainings, and more. If any of you reading this are creatives, you know that designing for an in-house agency with a color palette of only two colors leaves you wanting more – to fill that creative spirit with something else. So I talked to my boss about starting a freelance business on the side.
Freelancing just means I would do contracted graphic design work for people or companies who didn’t want to hire a full-time staff member. I went into his office knowing he would say one of two things: 1. No. It’s a conflict of interest and I need your 100% focus to be on your job; or 2. And this is what he said: “Renee, do whatever it takes to keep sharpening your sword.” Wow. So I did. It was then that my boss taught me what it was to be a leader, not just a manager. A manager is a title on a business card. A leader cares about their people and wants them to succeed in every way possible.
Eagerly, I ran my small freelance business beside my full-time job for nearly 8 years. I worked mornings, noons, and nights, which is an indicator that Carrie and I aren’t strangers to long hours and ALWAYS having two jobs. In fact, Carrie and I also both graduated from SDSU, taught classes at SDSU, and worked at Daktronics. But you might be surprised to know that our paths didn’t cross until later.
Carrie: My story begins with graduating from SDSU with a degree in graphic design and beginning a full-time job at Daktronics where I was working as a student.
My position was in creative services, where I had transferred from marketing a year prior. I grew in this position to a creative director and experienced a team environment that was so supportive, without which I wouldn’t be where I am today. About this same time, I got married to my husband, who is also a graphic designer; and yes, we met at Daktronics. Let’s just say we get very nerdy at our house.
I slowly began dabbling in freelance design and I found myself wanting to get more involved in a design community, so I joined the SD AIGA board of directors, where I started out as the membership director and soon was asked to take on the role of president. I served a total of four years on the board and that’s actually where I met Renee, someone I respected deeply but had no idea would be such a big part of my future.
A couple years later, I received a call from my favorite college professor asking me if I would be willing to come and teach a few design classes at SDSU to help the department out. Naturally I said ‘yes’. I was so honored that he thought of me and it’s only because of the amazing support of my boss at Daktronics that this opportunity became a reality.
I absolutely loved it! Teaching students about something that I was passionate about was so rewarding, and even better, I could see their passion for it as well and that really inspired me. The next year I was asked back to teach again and was expecting my first child. And before I knew it, my son Maxen was here and I was on maternity leave with plenty of time to snuggle my little man and dive into my largest design project to date, Wooden Legs Brewing Company.
Approximately 6 months after returning from maternity leave I decided my desire to pursue my own business was too strong, so with the support of my husband, I decided to go part-time at Daktronics. I started a pop-up shop here in Brookings in a wedding dress store that used to be on Main Street. I had my name on the window and a shelf of my work inside and began drumming up some wedding clients.
I was only there for about four months when I received a very unexpected email from someone I once served on the AIGA board with. Renee! It said, “Hi! I saw you opened a business in Brookings and I would love to talk to you more about that.”
A couple weeks later we met at Wooden Legs for a beer and she shared with me she was thinking of moving back to Brookings. Since we both had similar businesses she asked if I would be interested in joining forces instead of being competitors in a small town like Brookings. Remembering how amazing she was on the AIGA board, I was very excited about this idea. I shared with her that I found a conference happening in Dallas called Stationery Academy and that it would be perfect for us to figure this thing out.
This conference was really meant to be our compass, and on the last day we named Hitch and had plans to begin building our business plan. This photo is a picture of our “graduation night” from Stationery Academy — and all the women who we still keep in touch with!
A few months later, in February we opened our doors and Hitch was in business. I was still working at Daktronics part-time for a little extra security. With a small child, a house and a husband, I had to take some calculated steps towards this goal. Soon, another year passed and I found myself in a position to leave my job at Daktronics and fully commit to Hitch.
Building this business has been a lot of work, and we realize that we would not be standing here today without the support of some very important people. My boss Gina at Daktronics is a big part of my journey here, she was one of my first customers and was truly invested in me as a person first. Mentors like her a big part of our success.
Searching for a mentor is not an easy task and not every mentor will be a good fit for you. We were lucky. Early on, we met with an amazing woman who was just named CEO of the web agency she and her partners started years before. We knew her from serving on the AIGA board with us and we knew she was trustworthy, brilliant and passionate about giving back.
She was also a mom and I knew she had started her business while she had young children at home. I was anxious to chat with her about that because I was having some serious mom guilt. When I was working a lot at Hitch, I felt guilty about not being at home with Maxen. Every missed bedtime broke my heart a little more. And when I was home with him, it was difficult for me to turn off work things in my head and to stop feeling anxious about not getting more done.
I asked her to share with me, if she had any guilt or struggles with starting a business with a small child at home, and how she battled that. What she shared with me is something I will remember forever; something that always brings tears to my eyes.
Here is what she told me:
“My children were also young when we started this business and I can remember the guilt you are experiencing, but let me share the future with you. Soon your kids will grow older, they will understand more about what you are creating and they will be so proud of you. They will see how hard you have worked to build what you have and they will think your job is so cool. Think about the lesson you are teaching them.”
Renee: The story of my mentorship, again, traces back to my boss in Sioux Falls. One day he called me into his office…and I thought, “Oh sh*t”. It’s like the adult version of getting called into the principal’s office.
He asked how many hours I was putting into my freelance business. He said he was noticing how tired and exhausted I looked – and I agreed. Once again, I knew this conversation was going to go one of two ways: 1. He was going to ask me to quit my freelance business because it was too distracting and draining for me; or 2. And he said this: “I’m noticing how exhausted you are. I want you to take a half-day of vacation once a week, whether it be a morning or an afternoon and use that time to focus on you, your freelance business, your health, and getting the rest you need. And to help get you started, I want to gift you with two weeks of vacation.” Tears started welling up. How many bosses are that invested in their employees’ overall well-being? How many bosses would have encouraged my side business instead of telling me that I needed to be more focused at work? Once again, he was indirectly teaching me what it takes to be an exceptional leader. I truly believe it was his way of giving me an unspoken blessing to take my dream to the next level. He believed in me.
Now that we’ve shared our mentorship stories, if you’d like to have a mentor for this new path you’re on, write down one or two people you could ask for coffee this week. Ask a mentor. I promise you, they’ll be honored.
If you’re in a different stage of life, I’d like you to think of one or two people you could offer to be a mentor to – and ask them about their goals. Offer advice as someone who’s been down the road they’re on. Be a mentor.
If you’re in a later stage of life, you might have one or two significant people you can thank. I would encourage you to write a thank you note to the mentors who have touched your life, whether personally or professionally, church, school, work, or other. Thank a mentor.
There is one more group of mentors that Carrie and I both look forward to every week.
We are each part of a group of business-savvy, community-building and forward-thinking women in Masterminds groups. We meet each week and we share our wins, our challenges, and we set personal and professional goals every year – and then we revisit them throughout the year as a nice check-in. We care about each other’s businesses, we don’t gossip, everything is confidential, and most importantly, we hold each other accountable.
Carrie and I are in two different groups, so we can get twice as much feedback on an issue we’re having at work and so we can collaborate with twice as many mentors.
Carrie: One of my favorite Tina Fay quotes is “Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards.” These first couple years of business have been one big ‘yes’ and we will figure it out, but saying ‘yes’ comes with some sacrifices and running red lights may look like what most would say is a non-traditional home life.
What does that mean? I’ve created a true “Mr. Mom” environment. Jason is amazing. He does all the laundry, he picks up Maxen from daycare a majority of the week, he cooks more meals, he gets the groceries, he runs the entire household, all so I can invest longer hours into building this business. I tell him often (and its important that he knows) that this dream I’m living – this business I’m building with Renee – doesn’t exist without him. He gets what I’m trying to accomplish and knows exactly how hard it is.
What this taught me is that it’s okay to not be able to do it all. And its ok to ask for help or lean on someone when you need to. It doesn’t mean you are failing; you are just prioritizing. Because Jason is so helpful, I get to spend a majority of my precious minutes at home as family time.
Renee: Sacrifices look different for everybody. Running red lights for me in this case means HUMILITY.
I’m not married and I don’t have kids, so for me, the sacrifices came more in the “extras” that I couldn’t afford anymore.
I made pretty good money at SDN, so I knew that starting a business would come with a lot less income, no benefits and no 401K. I was ready for that. What I wasn’t ready for was giving up things like upgrading my vehicle. I drove the crappiest little blue car to weddings and took multiple trips because my car didn’t hold enough wedding totes. I would pull up to important client meetings driving ‘old blue’.
I couldn’t afford to go to the mall once a week or once a month for a new outfit like I used to, but I still wanted to look professional in front of brides and clients.
I couldn’t afford my house anymore – so I had to sell it.
But here’s what that taught me: Simplicity and humility. I actually started a journal called, “The grass is greener where you water it.”
Comparing ourselves to others – this thing that women do — can really get the best of us. So, I saved my money – and eventually bought a used SUV! I shop locally for clothes now instead of at the mall like I used to. And I live in a gloriously simplified townhome with no mowing or shoveling.
My sacrifices were not big things—but important things to me at the time.
Our next point is about setting goals. Write them down and check on them often.
When you’re tempted to run a red light, it’s because there’s something really attractive on the other side. I’ll share with you my personal goal and some Hitch goals. We’re really giving you a behind-the-scenes look.
My personal goal is this: to travel the world and leave the country every-other year. I’ve taken an international trip every-other year since 2003. So, ’03, ’05, ’07, ’09, ’11, ’13…
So, here it was, October 2015 and I had no plans to keep my streak alive. Was it really that big of a deal if I didn’t take a trip? To me it was. I don’t spend a lot of money on hobbies, so I consider this is my hobby – one that I can only afford to do every two years. It was really important to me. “So”, I thought, “if I don’t plan this trip, nobody is going to plan it for me.” The next day, I called a travel agent, scraped up my savings and booked a trip to Peru at the end of the year with my cousin, Monica.
It was a glorious 10 days away from phones, email, wifi and messages. I recommend a disconnect to anyone in this room. It doesn’t have to be a foreign country, but a true weekend AWAY. So, I met my goal for 2015 and I need to start saving for 2017!
We took a lot of time writing our goals for Hitch. We truly take the time to write specific 1-year and 5-year goals. Here they are if you’d like to take a peek…
Another of our goals is to be perpetual students of our trade and we encourage you to do the same with whatever you’re starting. Here is a list of our top 10 business books:
Carrie: Hitch has been a goal of mine for a very long time. It first started as a, “Hey, that would be fun”, and evolved into an entire journal full of research and ideas. I wrote down products I would carry, different name ideas and would doodle logos. I would research how to price my products and even wrote down how I wanted to design my store. I couldn’t stop talking about this dream to my husband on date nights. I would bring my journal with me and together we would talk through how this would work and if it could be accomplished. Jason was so supportive and loved talking about this with me, but he didn’t share this passion with me, so it was difficult to really see this coming together until I met Renee. She was the missing piece I needed. She shared my vision. My advice to anyone out there with a dream is to go to Hitch, buy a journal and write it down (yes, shameless plug). But seriously, start writing it down, start building this idea into a reality and soon you will be talking about it out loud. Then see what happens. I give you permission to dream big! Just do it.
Redefine your normal — How to get the most out of whatever you’re working with (well-being, sleep, stress, health, fear, fatigue, etc.).
Running red lights means that sometimes you have to keep your foot on the gas even though you want to slam on the breaks.
Starting a business has been one of the biggest challenges of my life. I’m constantly being pushed-tripped and pulled outside of my comfort zone. Which is great for personal growth but really harsh on your stress and anxiety levels. In fact, I am miles outside my comfort zone right now at this very second because I am paralyzing terrified of speaking in public. Let that sink in a minute. You all terrify me. Let me share with you what I relive when I do this exercise…
I can trace this fear back to my favorite speaking disaster that happened in college. It was speech 101; the final speech of the year. I was almost done. The final assignment was supposed to be a memorized speech that used a visual aid, so I decided to use an overhead. (Wow, I’m really dating myself here.) It was time to show my first image. I turned on the overhead and all of a sudden the lights went out. A very nice student sitting by the light switch turned out the lights…and I blanked. It was all gone. In an effort to jog my memory I repeated the last thing I said and panic set in. From that point forward I have no idea what I said or if I even finished the speech. Somehow I must have finished because the next thing I knew I was sitting back in my seat and soon class was over.
So, right at this moment you are all witnessing me stand in my truth, watching me push outside my comfort zone because 1. Renee made me (what are partners for, right?); and 2. sharing the Hitch story with you all is very important to me.
When we look at someone from the outside-in, your perception is so different isn’t it? As women we constantly compare ourselves to each other. Things go through our heads like “She is so creative – I could never do that,” or “She is so confident – I wish I was more like that,” or “She is so brave – how does she do that?”.
Well I’m going to share a very obvious secret with you. We are really not that different. We all fear, we all excel, we all have self-doubt. I’m here to say, it’s okay if you are not good at everything. You don’t have to be. What is important is standing in your truth, giving yourself credit for what you are good at, and understanding what you are not good at – and then deciding if it’s valuable for you to work on those things or if you are ok with not – and moving on.
Hitch is something that we as business owners take very personally. It’s something that we have built together from what was once a dream. We are constantly pushing forward and sometimes, your body starts pushing you back and your normal doesn’t exist anymore. Exhaustion sets in and you start looking for that normal feeling again. Sometimes, as one of my brilliant Masterminds ladies told me, “You need to take a minute and redefine your normal”.
Renee: Redefining your normal also includes things like health, sleep, stress, fatigue, fears, and more. Now, I’m not good a working out. But if it’s on my calendar, I know I’ll go. So, I’m proud to say, I’ve been in yoga for seven months now and I make sleep more of a priority. I love this quote from a book I read:
So, why are Carrie and I like this? Why have we always had two jobs? We have always wanted more and been thinking about what’s next. We have always wondered, so we did our DISC assessment and we’ve both taken the Strengsfinder test.
Surprising enough, out of 25 strengths you can have, Carrie and I share the same three in our top five.
Taking a look at our DISC results, (DISC is a behavior assessment tool based four different traits), which are measured by: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance, you’ll notice that Carrie and I both land in the bottom one-third of the circle. That leaves a full two-thirds of a circle unaccounted for. So…if we know one thing about our leadership style, it’s that we are really good at avoiding conflict.
Carrie: The most common question we get (the question you are all wondering); not about our success or business advice; not about our failures; but…
Do we have catfights in the office?
The answer is… No. 🙂
There is not an instance I can think of that I couldn’t just talk to Renee about. In fact, I am so committed to this relationship that I wrote Renee some work vows the first year our businesses got hitched! I didn’t even write my own wedding vows, so this was a pretty big deal.
Here’s what some of my vows were – and Renee wrote some back to me.
We don’t always agree on everything but we are good at talking things trough and in most cases we both come together in agreement in the end. We are also good at recognizing each others strengths and will weigh decisions accordingly.
A good friend of mine sent me this chart a few months ago and it is so true. It measures madness vs. stability. Let me tell you, this entrepreneurial chart is not a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s more like cliff-diving. Its like you are standing right at the top of the cliff and you are looking down into the madness and you say to yourself, “Yep, I’m going to jump. Here we go.”
So, why did I choose cliff jumping over a roller coaster? Here is why I chose madness. Here is why I decided to run some red lights. It’s because of my family, this community and because of Renee that I LOVE this business. I want to succeed now. Before I just wanted to do something I was passionate about. Now it’s about showing my son what hard work looks like and making sure my husband knows that Mr. Mom will be worth it. It’s giving this community our version of creativity. It’s about seeing other female business owners (women we call friends) succeed. And lastly, it’s about building something amazing with someone who has become such a dear friend to me.
Renee: As you start following your passion for starting something new, your “why” will start emerging. It’s why you’ll give up your time, it’s why you’ll take a pay cut, it’s why you’ll make sacrifices, it’s why you’ll start saying ‘no’ to some things, so you can say ‘yes’ to other things that get you closer to your goal.
I have always had the the heart of a teacher and a creative. I love helping people get closer to their goals. But what career could possibly fill all these things? When I was working 8-5 p.m. in a cubicle, I taught Junior Achievement for 9 years and I taught at SDSU to fill my heart with teaching. I freelanced to fill that creative calling. I joined Toastmasters to fill that missing piece. And that’s what I did. You kept filling my plate with passions until one evening, I ended up in acute care. I am a very healthy person and don’t go to the doctor until I have to. The only thing my doctor could attribute my pain to was stress. Like Carrie mentioned before, my body started pushing back.
My why is that I am truly meant to do this job. It’s fulfilling to walk into a business that I helped start. I am doing what I love and loving what I do everyday. I still have that heart of a teacher, but now I get to teach the interns that we hire. I get to be creative every day without overextending myself. I get to do all the things that fill me without ending up in acute care.
Oh, it still happens. I take on way too much. But I’ve learned to reign it in and realign it and only run a red light if it truly fills me.
So what’s my why? It’s trying to make a difference in this community. It’s filling a service that wasn’t here before. It’s filling my soul with a job I love. It’s making sure that I love this job even on its worst bad days. I have my friends and family to thank for that. I wouldn’t have been able to start Hitch without the support from my family. You know who you are – the ones who tied chair sashes until 4 a.m. and helped me glue invitations until our shoes were stuck to the floor.)
We hope you were able to take away some inspiration or new ambition from this blog. We challenge you to take these things and put them into action before the end of the month.
On Saturday, February 6 (today!), Hitch has been in business for two years! I don’t know about you, but we think it’s worth celebrating. So, we launched a new website, we’re having an open house on Saturday, and lucky for you, we’re giving everyone 10% off when they stop in that day.
Carrie: We are going to end with a challenge for you all: Let 2016 be the year you stand in your truth, the year you are authentically you, and the year that you run some red lights.
Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts!