Client Check-In with Caroline from Coastal Connections Marketing
I am so excited to introduce a new series on the HB Designs Blog called “The Client Check-In”. My goal for this series is to introduce you to a variety of amazing business owners, who also happen to be my past clients. These posts are interview style, so each person was sent a list of questions having to do with running a small business, advice for people just starting out, branding, marketing and more!
I met Caroline through a good friend who matched us up when Caroline was looking for a graphic designer for the rebrand of her business. I was instantly impressed with Caroline after our first conversation. Not only does she have the best southern accent (I secretly wish we would have recorded her answers for you so you could hear it), but she is such a smart business owner and cares deeply for her clients and the high quality work that her team produces. Caroline owns Coastal Connections Marketing, which partners with businesses to create high quality branded items for promotions, events and overall marketing. I can’t wait to dive into her interview!
Tell me a little bit about Coastal Connections Marketing and what led you into promotional marketing.
Coastal Connections Marketing works with clients to meet all kinds of goals using branded merchandise (aka swag). Examples of common situations are employee retention, employee recruitment, student recruitment for multiple universities, customer/client thank you gifts, uniforms/corporate wear, etc. Of course, we also do plenty of projects just for fun! Everyone loves seeing their organization logo in print, so why not put it on something fun and useful?!
Before joining CCM, I really never thought of this type of marketing as being a thing, but it is so fun and rewarding.
What is the story behind how you started?
The business was started in 2002 by the former owner, Debbie Chused, who saw the need in our community. I joined the team in 2006 while finishing up my MBA and bought the business from her in 2013.
I have a BA in Journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill (Go Heels!), and an MBA from East Carolina University. I always struggled reconciling my left brain and right brain. I loved being creative in writing and graphic design classes, but I also loved the rules of AP style and the calculations and logic in business classes. I had no idea what I was going to do with those two degrees (sorry parents!), but I always liked the idea of small business and entrepreneurship.
When I joined CCM, I really thought I would just be "selling stuff", but I was completely wrong (thankfully!). Our goal is to become partners with our clients. We want to know the ins and outs of their organizations, so that we can provide solutions that are on budget, on brand/message, and on time.
What have you loved most about running your own business?
If I had to choose just one, it is being able to mold the business to serve my clients' needs and my needs as time passes, technology changes, etc. Shortly after taking over, I closed our public office to have our staff work from my home, and just over a year ago, we all started working remotely. Both of those decisions allowed me to better "balance" the shift of business-owner and mom of two small kids. We also upgraded our order management system last year, so we work much more efficiently and can give our clients the information they need more quickly. But, there are SO many other things that I love. I love being able to support important causes through financial and in-kind donations, and I love being able to surprise clients with treats and samples.
What have you loved least about running your own business?
Being the IT department! While that's true, in all seriousness, I think decision fatigue is what will wear me down if I'm not careful. I try to keep systems in place so some decisions become no-brainers, but it will sneak up on me in new places if I'm not careful.
What are some things that you learned from being a business owner that you didn’t expect?
This feels really simple, but I didn't expect this level of responsibility. Actually, it wasn't that I didn't expect it, it was that it never even crossed my mind. At any given point in a month, we are managing 30-50 orders, proofs and delivery deadlines, and about 1/3 of them do not have a day to spare to meet an event. There are employees who count on me not only for pay checks but for vision and direction in their roles. There are community organizations that count on our financial support. And, I have an amazing family that counts on me to just be Mom/wife/daughter and not work all of the time. Fortunately, I sincerely love what I do, so none of this feels like "work", but these responsibilities do bring a level of seriousness to the day that I hadn't experienced as an employee.
What keeps you inspired and loving what you do?
It's really all about the people. I LOVE the people I work with. Amy and Laura, my coworkers, may as well be family, and many of our clients are like family. We work with great vendors who always look out for us and help us push projects through in a pinch. We had a recent issue with an order, and while it was a costly and humbling error, the relationships we have with our client and printer allowed the situation to be resolved quickly with the three of us ready to ace the next project we have together. I am so thankful for the relationships we have.
What are a few things about your day to day that may be surprising to others? Any habits or things that you do daily before you can get to work?
It's hard to think of something that is particularly interesting that's for sure, but I definitely have a routine. I try my best to wake up before everyone else for some quiet time. I'll enjoy coffee and start working a little early or read. While everyone is getting ready for the day, I try to breeze through the house to quickly tidy the frequently used spaces. I work from home, and it can be a huge distraction knowing there is clutter everywhere. I tend to do a quick 20 min workout of some sort mid-morning to clear my thoughts (I love the TIU app). I generally eat lunch at my desk, which I hear is terrible, but it works for me.
What advice would you give to people wanting to take the leap into business ownership in your industry?
This is a really fun and rewarding industry. There is infinite room for creativity, which is great, but there is also an infinite number of details to keep straight. You may have awesome ideas, but if you aren't organized enough to execute them, then it's not going to work.
Tell me about your branding and how it’s changed since when you first started?
For years, we used a specific logo and used black and teal as our color palette. It worked well for us for a long time. It was definitely a scary thought to completely change our logo last year, but I'm glad we did it. We now not only have a logo and colors, but we have fonts, tag lines, a consistent tone, patterns, images, etc.
How has having professional branding created changed your business?
We sent really fun swag boxes to clients to celebrate the launch, and received great feedback from our clients on our brand refresh, which was nice for sure. I can't say the new branding has brought significant changes to how we do business or how much business we do (neither of which were our goals for the refresh), but we really love having the consistent imagery and tone to use across all methods of communications. CCM has its own personality and style, which is pretty cool.
What would you tell someone who is looking into working with a designer on their logo or branding?
Other than to call Hayley?! haha Hayley did an amazing job of summarizing our company based on our current website and the questionnaire and turning that into a brand. Ok, so other than call Hayley, I would say to work really hard to communicate likes and dislikes throughout the process. I remember we started down a different design path in the beginning of the process that we agreed didn't feel right. We talked through it over a few days, and Hayley totally nailed it. She was determined to get it right, and I never worried for a second.