The Partnership Podcast is all about falling in design together: creativity, business, and makin’ it happen. We’re especially keen on creative teams that do unusual and compelling work. Our latest episode is a conversation with Austin-based designers and twin sisters Erin Pitts and Kristin Waddington about their creative partnership, The Label Collective.

Welcome to the Partnership Podcast! My name is Keir DuBois, designer and co-founder of Tight Ship Design. My partner and co-founder in Tight Ship is designer Julia Sevin. Together we create branding and design for events and conferences.

As event brand designers we’re curious about the unique challenges of professional creativity. We like learning how other partnerships of our size approach unusual creative projects.

Our latest episode is a conversation with Austin-based designers and twin sisters Erin Pitts and Kristin Waddington about their creative partnership, The Label Collective.

We covered challenges and successes, strategic decision-making, balancing work and family, branding a conference, and teaching startups about branding.

Listen in here:

Keir: Today we are talking to twin sisters Erin Pitts and Kristin Waddington from Austin, Texas. And together they are The Label Collective. Thank you both for making time for us today!

 

Erin: Yeah, thank you.

 

Kristin: Absolutely, thank you for having us.

Keir: Usually the first thing we ask is “how did you meet and form your partnership,” but as siblings, I guess that first part’s pretty obvious. I’m sure growing up together as twins was an important factor, but maybe a better way to start is for you to tell us a little bit about both of your creative backgrounds, how and when you started collaborating as designers and how maybe your pre-Label Collective careers informed what you built once you took the plunge.

Erin: So this is Erin by the way. We will probably sound exactly the same on the phone, so just a heads up there. I first initially went to school at the Maryland Institute College of Art, for interior design. At least I thought that’s what I was going to do. And in a master’s of education course, working with students in a kindergarten level all the way up to eighth grade, learning about how the different drawing paths in the stages of drawing came together, part of our assignment was to put together a journal, a live journal, of all the things that we were doing—put together photos, put together write ups, make stories, talk about different experiences—and my journal was probably about an inch and a half thick by the end of the class. It was a normal sketchbook, but had been loaded up with all these pictures and images and different things I collected along the way.

My professor came up to me and she said, “You’re not an interior designer, you’re a graphic designer.” And I said, “Well, what? How do you know that? I mean, how can you get that just from looking at a book? She said, “No, you have the composition skills. You clearly know how to tell a story. You know, this seems like where you should be.” And from my perspective it was just enough for me to kind of reconsider where I was going. And eventually I switched my major over to graphic design my sophomore year of college. But I did end up actually keeping some of the technical skills that I probably would have had. I ended up, you know, now these days I still work in Sketchup when I’m working on, on some of my design work and it’s a little more architectural than some of the other programs. I graduated with an interactive concentration with MICA. So I still had kept the computer skills. I was much more on the digital side of things by the time I left. And so all of those things kind of came together and in indirect ways in my career down the road.

Kristin: Yeah. So I actually knew I wanted to be a graphic designer when I was in my sophomore year of high school and I had really gotten interested into HTML5 code and just the base level of it—coding a website, making up my own web page. I self-taught myself how to code HTML websites on the side. And through my time in doing that, I had an art teacher who would basically tell me, “You know, you can do this as a career, you don’t have to just do this as a side project.”

So,  eventually I said, “You know what, that would be awesome.” Because I did not want a desk job, although it ends up being a desk job at this point. I didn’t want a standard desk job where I felt like I would be kind of confined by the stuff that I was working on. I wanted to have something new and exciting every time that I got behind the computer. So I pursued a graphic design degree at, of course, as she has done in Maryland Institute College of Art as well. And then through my time there, I pretty much stayed on the path of graphic design. I took some interactive courses but never left with a concentration. I started my work more in the print space rather, more than the digital space. But during my time before The Label Collective, I worked at a small ad agency in New Jersey. They had pulled me on as an intern during my junior and senior years of college and they had promised me a job once I graduated, but then once I graduated they realized that didn’t have space for me.

So I ended up having a six month long job search after that and then ended up being offered a position there again six months later. So I ended up about—for five and a half years—working through being a graphic designer to an art director and finally associate creative director with them, managing a team of four designers and developers. And that was, I would say probably my most influential experience in design simply because in a small business, you know, you have to wear many hats, especially when you don’t have the large team that he might have in an ad agency world. I was able to learn everything from resource management to team management to art direction to how to respond to RFPs and write pitch documents and make presentations.

From there I moved into the global ad agency world. I spent about five and a half years there but only moved up to the art director level. In between those years I did everything from broadcast designed to catalogs to paid media and static media to email design—you name it, I probably had my hand on it at one point in time—but then shortly after I was getting there, I was realizing that wasn’t a career trajectory for me. I’ve found myself doing a lot of work that I didn’t want to do. And  back in 2012, Erin and I started floating the idea of The Label Collective around.

Erin: So I think you can probably guess from our conversation how we ended up being complementary to each other. One of us was in the digital space, one was in the print space, and we suddenly had this idea that hey, all of a sudden we can start providing more full service creative offerings to more people. And so I think that’s where a little bit of where the idea started. I had just been laid off at a national ad agency and I had a good jumping off point. So I said, you know, why don’t I go ahead and kick this off. And so I freelanced for about a good six or seven months before we decided to officially put the name to it, and I ended up rolling a lot of our clients just under the name and no one seemed to blink an eye. So we seemed to just kind of roll right into it, and in November of 2012 The Label Collective was born.

Julia: Was there a specific type of project that you hoped you would get more of? When you said that you wanted to do more full service offerings. I was wondering if there were areas that you were really itching to move into and if this facilitated that.

Kristin: For me, I was basically on a lot of digital campaign work at my time in the ad agency world, and I found that I had gotten the hang of it and it wasn’t exciting anymore. I really loved the branding space. So I really wanted to start doing a lot more branding projects or being responsible for the brand. One of my first projects when I got into the ad agency world was handling campaign and branding for the campaign for a small business launch for Dell. That was a lot of exposure and a lot of time just in the war room, you know, brainstorming, concepting, putting out ideas. And that’s what I really loved. Over my time there, I just found that that kind of work just wasn’t at the agency anymore and my role has transitioned more into management than it did creative for some reason. I think they knew secretly that I had some project management skills and they wanted to take advantage of that, especially when they had a really lean team.

Julia: Never show that hand.

Kristin: No, gosh, no.

Julia: Never tell people you run AIGA projects or they’ll think that you want to lead teams all the time!

Kristin: Yeah! So as my role was changing, I realized, you know, slowly that this just wasn’t the right spot for me anymore. And you know, that was one of the main reasons for wanting to do our own thing.

Keir: So then the two of you are unique creative individuals, but what do you consider unique about Label Collective in comparison with other companies of the same size?

Erin: I think when we first started out—it seems to be becoming more commonplace now—but when we first started out as a completely virtual, completely remote company that did creative work, it was kind of timed when people were still kind of picking up from the last recession. There weren’t a lot of full-time hires being put on; they’d rather do contract to hire. It was a really new thing on the scene.

Keir: So then I guess in that environment, in that kind of an economy, what kind of challenges did you guys have when you first started? What kind of like lemonade out of lemons moments did you have?

Erin (to Kristin): You may be thinking the same thing I did. I think one of the biggest challenges of being a full service virtual studio in the time where there was a lot of freelance is that no one made the discerning eye of what was freelance and—

Kristin: No distinction.

Erin: There’s no distinction, yeah, of what was the freelancer versus what was just a, you know, kind of on-call creative studio. And so we had that challenge time and time again where people treated us more like a contractor on a project and didn’t see us as a valuable resource that could provide strategy and expertise beyond the executional. And so we did a lot of internal fighting and, and kind of repositioning ourselves for probably a good two, three years upfront, in trying to help people understand that they didn’t quite get the model that we were going with, which you know, it’s in our name, it’s a collective model, but ours is really working about in different resources across Austin particularly.

We don’t have any other resources outside of Austin. We have one in Dallas now, I take that back. She used to live in Austin. But those resources are all small businesses. They’re all solopreneurs. They’re not the typical recruiting agency, freelance find that you bring in for a project and then they’re gone in three months. Everybody on our team is looking at our clients as clients, and the advantage we wanted to bring to them with someone—and a team, not just someone—that was collaborative, that felt like they were part of their team and that they were just as invested in the work as they were. And so helping to find that distinction was, it was pretty tough on our side for a little while because people were just used to bringing people on for a project to project. They weren’t as used to bringing on a full team for, you know, year long projects.

Kristin: Yeah. And, and not only that, but what we found is that when we were getting referred to projects from people who had worked with us, they were still referring us to freelancer-type projects. We weren’t getting long-term clients, we were getting the per project clients who only had a specific budget and you know, there was those limitations. And when you have those opportunities come your way, you know, of course when you’re a new business you’re like, “Yeah, I’m going to take them.” But there was definitely a tipping point where we had to set some boundaries and say, “You know what, that’s not what we are. That’s not what we do.” And we needed to make that change and start pursuing more longterm clients for growth.

Keir: When we have a chance to talk at length about that particular subject, I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on that because we’re going through that right about now, where we’re still used to that sort of freelancer/taking orders mentality. I mean, just for—I don’t want to speak too much for you Julia on this—but Julia was a freelancer long before I ever was. I worked in agencies for 13 years, so I was also used to that sort of, “This is what you want? Okay, then I’ll do it.” We’ve had a couple relatively huge, long client jobs that are helping us out of that, but it’s still—it’s not going as smoothly as we’d hoped it would. So hearing that it took you guys literally years to do that feels better!

Julia: So how do you create those boundaries and assert that value that you bring?

Kristin: We were about to say the same thing. I really think it’s a mental shift. I think it’s knowing that you want a certain project and being able to be okay with saying no to others. What really comforted us at the time is that we had built a network of people who were literally just freelancing at that time. And if we had a project that had a really low budget or it was just like a one-off that we weren’t sure that we were going to get work from, we would refer other people. And that gave us, you know, a little bit more peace of mind about being able to say no to projects. Being able to say, “Hey, I really can’t take this project on right now, but here’s somebody who can,” also enables the creative community to work together and to, you know, shine that positive light on the design industry as a whole.

But we also, I mean—frankly we had to get down into the numbers and start seeing like what is the impact of bringing on the long-term clients versus the per project clients? Like what if we could get x amount of retainers in place? What does that mean for our company? What are our growth patterns? What do we want to be in one year, two years, five years, ten years? And using that to drive the decisions that we made for who we took on as clients.

Erin: To add onto that, I think you, you kind of hit on it, but I’m going to add to it. It’s a lot of client education. It’s a lot of hand-holding that, so the people that we worked with valued our work, but they didn’t understand how we could help them because they just saw us as a creative execution house, which is not the case.

So we would often just have to put our foot up there and say, “Look, we can provide strategy for you. This is what we’re noticing. Hey, have you ever thought…” It was a lot of putting ideas out there and helping people understand that we can do more than what you’re asking us to do. And Kristin knows this just as well: I am a constant question asker, and I don’t know the right way to say that, but I will ask questions about just about everything. And oftentimes if you get those people in the room and you cause them to rethink what they’re trying to ask you to do, it’ll start to provide that additional value as well. So there was a ton of hand-holding up front with our current client lists.

Kristin is, for lack of a better word, she’s a shiller. She’s, she’s the new business salesperson of the two of us. I’m the nurturer. So I tend to go more down the path of “Let’s keep our clients, let’s retain them.” Continue to grow the relationship with them and see how we can bring them into the, you know, the greater scope. Where Kristin’s like, “We’re gonna go out there and get every client and talk to everyone that comes through!” And I’m like, “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, we got all this business over here.” So it’s kind of a good mix. Like we’re not oil and water in that respect, but we can also collaborate and say, “Look, okay maybe this one’s not worth going for, but if we get growth here…” or “Hey, we might have to hire somebody else, or—we have to make those honest decisions. And, and so it’s partially just based around logistically what we can handle. But also, you know, “What can bring the best opportunity?” “What can grow to be a good client versus what we know is going to just be a quick one and done type project?”

Keir: So in that regard of—the oil and water nature of it, I should say, cause that sounded very familiar to us as well. I mean she tackles a lot of sales, I tackle a lot of admin stuff, but we’re learning that we’re having to merge that. With that kind of a dichotomy, how do you come to agreement between the two of you?

Kristin: A lot of talking. And I guess I’m trying to think of a specific example here. We had an opportunity at one point to win a year long paid media and SEO campaign for one of our largest clients, and it was a 750K contract. So first off, you know Erin’s panicking—

Erin: “Aaaaaaahhhhhh!”

Kristin: Yeah, and I had to be kind of the person to talk her off the ledge, and be like “Wait, so we have SEO partners, we have developer partners, we have all these people who can make it happen. We’re just gonna have to backfill it if this comes in, we’re gonna have to find a way to make it work on the other side, and I know that we can do this and we have the skills and ability.” And we went for the project, we went for the bid, we spent three weeks probably making this whole pitch deck. Long story short, we didn’t know that we were in this RFP with the agency that was doing the existing campaign, and they decided to stick with the other agency.

Keir: Oof.

Erin: Yeah.

Kristin: So be okay with failure, because a failure doesn’t necessarily mean a complete failure. Some of the positives that came out of that where we just, we pushed ourselves enough to figure out what we could exactly do.

Erin: Oh, we learned a lot.

Kristin: We learned a lot out of the experience and also now we have all of this research that we did that we know what our partners do better, we know what we’re capable of doing better, and we don’t get as stressed out when those things come in and we have to figure it out. Or at least I don’t, I don’t know if Erin does still to the same degree, but I certainly don’t. I’m not intimidated by those, those challenges anymore.

Erin: My clients come with different curve balls than yours do.

Keir: You both have families. What’s your work life balance like while running a virtual agency? I mean it must be handy to be in the same city, but how do you avoid bringing work home to the dinner table?

Erin: Tough.

Kristin: Yeah.

Erin: It’s tough. I have two girls. One is almost four and a half. One is 21 months old. So I like to say I’m in the thick of it right now with the child rearing cause they are clearly dependents.  I make sure to have “me and the girls time” by: I see them in the mornings, I take them to school, and then I have a clear stop during the time of the day where I go pick them up. And from that time till the time they go to bed, that’s our time. I’d put the phone down, I put the laptop down and put everything down and I am unplugged until they go to bed. And I feel like that’s really important to do because it’s really the only time you have with them during the day anymore at all. We’re kind of forced these days to be a dual income household in a lot of ways, and I’m not alone in that statement obviously, so having them at school or having them in daycare, you know it, it’s kind of a necessary evil but they get so much out of it. So you can’t really say it’s a negative. It’s actually a positive for everyone.

So you know about what I try and do is keep work off the weekends. I don’t like to work weekends unless I absolutely have to, because that’s when we go out and we have fun things happen and we go to birthday parties and we make dinner or make cookies together and have fun. And as long as I understand that the working hours during the day on a normal part of the week cannot be interrupted with anything else other than work as much as possible. That’s not always convenient. I mean there are things that always come up, but I think it also forces you mentally to really focus and hunker down on what you have to get done because you have a limited space of time. And that window of time is when to close.

Once the clock hits five o’clock or six o’clock and at that point you just, you stop, and it’s like, okay, I’m going to switch gears and now I’m going to be the mom and then I’m not going to be the business owner right now. But it’s also good for them to see us working at the same time because they see that there’s a good sense of value and, and they start to see the balance in it and start to understand better about what we do. So I don’t, I don’t shield them away completely from my working hours, but it’s also good just to kind of recognize and let them know that they, they have some dedicated time as well.

Kristin: I’m kind of on the opposite end of the childhood spectrum. I have a stepdaughter who is almost 14 so we’re in the thick of it in a different way.

Erin: Teenagers!

Kristin: She’s about to enter high school and you know, she’s not as dependent, but there are still a lot of things like she’s at that age where she’s always bored and you know, you have to drive her everywhere still. So you know, there’s a little bit of that balance. But in a lot of ways I’m like Erin where I’ve had to really define my working hours. Whenever she’s home, unless it’s, you know, spring break and she’s home for the entire day. You know, whenever she’s home I’m offline and I make that boundary. And even if I have to work at 9:30 I don’t like to do it. But I’d rather sacrifice that working time to get the time back with my family. I find myself a lot—actually, now I find myself being even more—I have to write down my planner for the week and like I have a dry erase board on my fridge where everything goes and it’s like, here’s what’s happening.

And I find myself being that kind of Scheduling Mom, you know, where I have everything on a list. Um, but I think what was really important, especially with a virtual workspace is I have my own separate room in my office. So I don’t bring my computer into my living room or my bedroom, you know, it doesn’t follow me anywhere.

Erin: Same.

Kristin: I have a laptop but I don’t open it there either. I also make a very conscious effort to think about doing stuff at lunchtime that I normally wouldn’t think about doing during the day. So for example, if there’s laundry sitting around or if the dishes have to be done, I give myself about a 10 to 15 minute break at lunchtime and take care of those things and get them out of my head.

But I think it is a learned habit to work from home. There are definitely pros and cons to a virtual environment versus working in an office, but you know, and it’s also an adjustment. Just learning how to manage your time a lot more because nobody else is setting those boundaries for you. So now the boundaries are kind of infinite. You really do have to make those decisions on what works best for you. And I will say that that part of the virtual agency model is great because we have standard office hours that we expect that people that we work with to be online for. But we obviously understand, hey, if there is a doctor’s appointment or something that they need to do during the day, we’re not going to dock your pay or do anything. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s very much flex time.

Erin: We don’t fault anybody for it because it’s real life. People are human. Things happen. And that’s, that’s the great thing about working in a virtual environment. You have that flexibility. And we also have a lot of people you work with who actually don’t like to work on normal office hours. They’ll probably work from eleven to seven instead of a nine to five, or they’ll work from nine to three and then go work out or you know, do other things with their life, you know, be humans and then come back when they’re ready after dinner or eat dinner late. And work at six. And so we just, we’d like to be flexible with that. And you know, I think we try to be clear to the team that as long as the work gets done, you know, we have no problem with it. We just want to make sure that the clients are happy, that they’re getting what they need out of it and that we’re all honest on our own time of, you know, when people are taking off, when they’re going on vacation, when they need to be with family and, and all of the above really.

Keir: So moving from home to outside a little bit: when we did the initial call with you guys, we were talking about how our work was mostly event-related and then you all said that Label Collective has experience in the event space too. Erin, I know you were just at Personifest in Savannah. Can you tell us about that experience or your work in that particular, like, nonprofit/event space?

Erin: Sure. So I just attended Personifest from Sunday to Wednesday. It’s typically the full time that we’re there. My event experience actually got started with another client and producing Keynote presentations that were going to be on stage. Not the most exciting work, but definitely the most challenging from the storytelling perspective because you gotta make it look good and he also got to make it good for the CEO. So at the same time we ended up realizing that there were opportunities that we could start building more into the event space. The previous keynote presentation client that I just told you about is now my client who brought us on to come into this event space. She was a former client of mine and another company and now she’s at Personify, which is our client and they run a user conference every year called Personifest.

She said, “I know you have event experience. I know you guys are working in the branding space. Could you help us reinvent it?” Their company was going through a transition at the time. It was actually their 19th year of doing the conference, but previous themes had just kind of fallen off the radar and they’ve put it together last minute because they didn’t really have a good team in-house to handle it. It wasn’t the only chance we’ve had to do event creative, but it was the first time we actually got to reinvent the entire show from a creative perspective. We had typically been pulled on to do, you know, maybe a stage design or “Can you do a retractable banner or some kind of trade show banner for this and that?” And it was kind of one offs. But this is the first time where we actually got to go down, present the theme concept, present the look and feel and present the fonts, the colors, everything, all the fun stuff of the event and show them how the thing could come to life. And they loved it last year.

Fast forward to 2018 they just rebranded the company, which we also did the full rebrand of the company because I loved her work from the previous events so much that they wanted us to help with the rebrand. So we got to go in and do a brand audit and redesign the company and the corporate logo, all of the product logos, figure out what the one pagers look like, all the power points, pretty much everything Personify right now we have touched at some point. So that was a really exciting opportunity. And then last October, I believe, they said, “All right, it’s time to bring in Personifest into the new brand.” And we’re like, “Okay, let’s do it!” You know, we were fresh off the heels of the rebrand and we said, “Hey, I’m in, let’s do it.” So their goal this year was actually to take the cues from larger organizations like a Salesforce or a Marketo that had user conferences where the creative looked very synonymous with the corporate brand, but different enough to where they could feel separated, and you didn’t think it was a Personify event necessarily, but you could still see that they were related.

We ended up coming up with a mark that mimicked a little bit of the logo design that we put together for them. It was very clean and minimal. It used the same corporate brand colors, but it didn’t feel like the brand had its own identity. And while they still had a theme, it was really more in the background. There really wasn’t an overarching theme this year, which actually made it a little easier to plan. There was no, you know, kind of lofty goal of working towards a specific style. It was just, “let’s just be us.” So that was actually really refreshing. So this year we ended up working on everything from the, uh, the banners, the PowerPoints…oh gosh, let me see if I can list them all…

Kristin: Directional signage…

Erin: The wayfinding signage, the schedules, the at-a-glance agendas, the happy hour postcards, the hotel drops, the PowerPoint slides, the template for all of the people that we’re speaking,

Kristin: The koozies and the socks and all the tchotchkes.

Erin: The T-shirts. Screen printed the, the table tents that were on the tables at their closing party, all of the sponsor signage, um, I mean we had a laundry list of things to do and it was very sort of what we did last year. So we just got to essentially reskin it all with the new brand and look and feel. One of the biggest compliments I think that we got while we were there is that companies in their space, they’re, they’re essentially a SaaS type solution. They’re software as a service for nonprofits who are looking to manage their members and their volunteers in a different way. They’re not the ones that will work with your local nonprofits, but they’re ones that work with multimillion dollar nonprofits like American Red Cross and, you know, Susan G. Komen Foundation.

These people need to feel like they have a solution that fits their revenue stream, which is like usually in the millions. It’s not a, “Hey, we’re going to scrap and get by’ type organization. They’re ones that have a large donor base, large attendee base. The attendees that come to this conference need to feel like they’re getting a premium solution. And after the event,  our marketing director and our CEO were in the room and they said, “You know, we’ve had these goals of becoming a much, you know, a much larger company by, you know, doubling, tripling wherever we are right now in a couple of years. And in order to make that goal, we needed to look like we were a multimillion dollar company presenting event,” and they said that “your look and feel made this do that this week.” And they were really excited about it. So that was a little, little gold star on, on—

Kristin: Be still my heart!

Erin: Yeah. Yeah.

Kristin: It’s really rewarding when you have clients who appreciate you and respect you. I think that relationship is really key to doing some really great quality design work. Um, allowing a little bit of trust as well, both parties to do the work. But they’ve always been one of our, our proponents and champions for doing design work. And you know, fortunately it’s very lucky they continue to do that.

Erin: Yeah. I mean they, they trusted us behind the scenes. We were with the A-V companies fixing slides last minute working on, you know, you know how that goes.

Keir: Yeah. So does that carry over a little bit from the branding workshops that you told me a little bit about that you guys do? What are those like? What prompted you to start them and how have they been received?

Erin: So when we first started The Label Collective, we had hoped at least to start getting our feet wet into more of the packaging and label design company, hence the name Label Collective. We soon switched directions to more of the startups here in Austin. Startups are a very different culture than where our clients are right now. And they are much more scrappy. The timelines need to either be really, really fast or they take forever. There’s no in between.

Kristin: Which is usually funding-driven.

Erin: Yeah, it’s usually based on funding. You know, my goal personally, after starting The Label Collective was to start showing some of those smaller companies the value of what a creative strategy and design can bring to them. And hope that five years down the road when, if and when they become these larger companies that they appreciate having those people on their team as they move forward. That was one of my personal goals. What we found in the startup space is that everyone knows what they want, but they don’t know how to get it and they to go for the tools like the Fiverrs and the 99 Designs that are readily available, quick turn—and they have their place and time, but what that leads to, in my opinion, is that when you start using those companies, you expect that same kind of expediency and that same kind of quality out of everybody moving forward.

So what we initially tried to do was build these startup packages for like, “okay so for this amount you can get a splash page website, you can get a business card, you can get a starter identity work, we’ll give you a one or two page brand guidelines”—we always include brand guidelines with our logos, by the way, we’d never do just a logo. And we were trying out that model and we had some success with it, we got one or two clients out of it and then, you know, we realize that it just wasn’t the right fit for our company anymore. So what we did is the lemonade out of lemons approach—we took that same thinking and that same mentality and turned it into a workshop for people who are interested in learning about how they could reposition and rebrand their company but didn’t necessarily know where to start.

So our first workshops were actually at co-working spaces here in Austin because there are people who are, you know, one person shops or people that are just starting out or freelancers and they just wanted to kind of get to learn more about where to start. I mean, it’s, it’s probably in hindsight, if I was not in this space or in this industry, I would probably feel a little overwhelmed about where to go to find someone that can make my company look a certain way, feel a certain way. And so we initially started with co-working spaces and have floated around as you know, potential revenue stream for maybe doing this at a corporate level one day.

But you know, at this point we wanted to make sure that people understood the typical process that goes behind a brand. And it’s not just your logo design. That’s scratching the surface. It’s the way your, your employees are dressed if you’re in a retail store, it’s the tone and voice on your website. If you’re a directly digital store, it’s the color and the mood and the pattern that you have in your creative that helps set the tone. The tone of what you say is just as much your brand as anything that we put out there from a creative perspective.

And so our goal was to help people understand that process a little more and see how they weave together to make a larger story about the brand. And so we did have a lot of people come up and say like “Hey, this was really informative. This is really successful.” And you know, “We learned a lot and got a lot out of it.” And you know, hopefully we can continue that down the road and just kind of continue to do education.

Keir: My last question would be what’s next? I assume that more workshops are going to be part of what’s next, but also what’s next for the company as a whole? Expanding beyond the two of you, or finding a premises or something like that. What do you think’s gonna happen?

Erin: How timely!

Kristin: We set pretty aggressive goals for 2019. We actually are trying to hire on three people this year. We currently work with a group of 12. That is one of our goals is to start backfilling some of the work that I know that we’re doing that shouldn’t be done by us. It’s better done by somebody else.

Erin: Instead of seven hats, we wear, like, three.

Kristin: Yeah. Essentially that. Yeah. So that’s part of our growth. We also, of course, in order to support that growth needs to bring on new clients. So we’re definitely in a lot of pitches or have been going after other clients to support that as well. I’m also—this is Kristin—I’m transitioning probably into a little bit more of a new biz and sales role moving forward than just strictly design.

I think both Erin and I will always be, you know, as long as you can be at the CD level overseeing the design, making sure that the product that we’re putting out there is always quality and is great. But there’s obviously a company that you run and uh, we’ve decided, you know, that in order to be the yin and yang and not oil and water, we definitely want to have our focuses outside of the creative space, compliment each other. So I’ll be taking on a lot of the new business where Erin’s going to be taking all of the nurturing of existing business.

Erin: Yep. You can call me client services, account services however you want. We actually—and this is not something that everyone gets to do—but we were fortunate enough to have an acquaintance of ours do a brand audit of our company a couple of years back. What her role was to try to get to the meat of what our company was about and she was looking from a marketing-strategic-operational perspective, not from, “hey, how are we going to be perceived in the marketplace,” but “who are you, what are your goals and how do you all align as partners in the business?”

And it was really telling because as we start answering her questions, we realized that we are—even though we are twins in real life, we are very different people when we run the business. And I think one of the things that came out of that is that we are learning slowly, even three years later to play to our strengths in that respect. And Kristin’s strength at that time was that she wanted to be more on the new biz side of things. I wanted to be more of the client success. I wanted to continue to nurture clients and grow them into bigger clients down the road. So our goal over the next couple of, you know probably a couple of years at this point is to really hit hard on those different roles and make them a reality. The only way we can do that is by delegating other things off of our plate.

So as far as our growth pattern, it’s going be a little bit of both. Kristin’s going to be the new biz, I’ll be the creative director slash nurturer if you will—hey, it’s the maternal aspect, right? And we’re just going to kind of see how it goes. That’s the one thing that we love about this space is that it can be really fluid and the industry changes so rapidly. You just kind of have to be malleable with it. Over the last seven years, we’ve learned that our goals as a business continue to change and our clients are changing with them, if not helping to shape them. And it’s really important to acknowledge that as a company and you know, kind of tell where you want to go and be honest with that and make sure you don’t take the wrong path. And if you do, it’s okay.

Kristin: If you learn from it.

Erin: You learn and you move on. But it’ll be a really exciting year, hopefully.

Kristin: Yeah, I know we are excited.

Julia: I think it’s terrific that you guys have identified that balance between your strengths and that you’re able to build a business directly around it. I mean, that’s certainly what Keir and I have tried to do, so it’s wonderful to see it working out and it’s obviously hilarious to see it working out between twins finding all those differences!

Keir: All right. Kristin Waddington, Erin Pitts of The Label Collective in Austin, Texas. Thank you so much for talking to us today.

Kristin: You’re welcome, thank you!

Erin: Thanks for having us!

That’s all for this episode of the Partnership Podcast. My name is Keir DuBois. My partner Julia Sevin and I will return with another episode soon! Until then, follow our work at tightshipdesign.com or on social media at tightshipdesign. Thanks for listening!