Twin Raven Marketing co-owners Katherine Frye and Mel Santiago answer some frequently asked questions about the formation of Twin Raven Marketing, the challenges and opportunities of owning a business, and what keeps them passionate about helping small businesses’ marketing efforts across the Pine Belt and DMV areas.

Building a Business – Mel and Katherine Talk About Starting Twin Raven Marketing

For our June blog, Twin Raven Marketing co-owners Katherine Frye and Mel Santiago answer some frequently asked questions about the formation of Twin Raven Marketing, the challenges and opportunities of owning a business, and what keeps them passionate about helping small businesses’ marketing efforts across the Pine Belt and DMV areas. Enjoy getting to know the origin story behind this women-owned marketing agency!

What inspired you to start Twin Raven Marketing?

Kat: It was pretty organic, honestly. We know each other from our time at The University of Southern Mississippi, where we spent many long nights in the art department working on graphic design projects together.

Mel: I used to show up to Katherine’s dorm at 1 a.m. to use her printer. I don’t know if I would have made it through college without her! 

Kat: We stayed friends post-graduation and a few years and jobs later, we both ended up at the same company. While we reconnected at this job, we found that several local contacts required graphic design or web design freelance support, and we figured – what the heck – we work well together and are both interested in building our consulting skills, so it would be cool to combine our efforts.

Mel: We officially formed Twin Raven Marketing toward the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it an interesting time for business-building because remote work was on the rise and it was a time for people to focus efforts on their passions – and here we are!

Two young women smiling in the middle of an art gallery

Mel & Katherine at their Senior Showcase in graphic design at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, MS.

What advice would you give to someone just starting their own business?

Mel: Get a CPA! When starting a business, you’re learning a ton of information at one time while trying to build a steady source of income, so offload what you can afford to. We would have saved so much head and heartache (and probably money) our first couple of years if we prioritized getting tax and finance help. Our CPA Jennifer of Jekale LLC is a total badass in every way, and we consider her one of our greatest teammates.

Kat: Utilize any free learning resources you can. The Small Business Administration has so much value and so many methods to educate on starting and continuing to operate a small business. They even have a newsletter to promote virtual seminars on subjects such as legal rights, cyber security, sales, financing, federal contracts and more. 

What will you never compromise on with your business?

Kat: We continually strive to stand up for, protect and empower our team. For instance, we actively solicit differences of opinion and alternative ideas to design and project approaches. It can be tough to feel safe to speak up against the majority opinion, so we strive to make it safe to do that. New ideas keep things fresh!!

Mel: We also encourage people to be transparent about their burnout throughout projects by sharing our own struggles with projects. Leadership is all about modeling the behaviors you want in your organization, so we make sure our folks know where we’re struggling professionally and voice when we need breaks or help so they know they can too.

Kat: We’ve both worked in multiple environments that don’t prioritize their employees–you just don’t get quality work that way! While going to your job can feel like the ultimate chore at times, the environment doesn’t need to make that feeling worse. Twin Raven does great work by supporting our employees and trusting them to do the good job we know they can, and that’s been a great strategy for us so far. We love being business owners who value their people.

Two young women smiling together toward the camera

We love our team! Even though we're remote, Mel and Madison enjoyed a coffee break together in Denver, CO.

What is the hardest part of being an entrepreneur?

Mel: To me, it’s the grind of getting to your “dream.” I went into entrepreneurship with my dreams for what my ideal business will look like, and that’s important, but it’s equally important to manage your expectations and know that there’s a lot of work to get to that point. Entrepreneurship is a lot of “flying the plane while building it” – especially if you’re the first in your family or starting with no investment – so if you can develop a mindset that everything is a learning opportunity, even if it makes you want to give up, you will have a more fruitful time, I think. Owning a business is a marathon, not a sprint!

Kat: I have to remind myself that nothing happens overnight. Sometimes we face challenges in our business that can’t be solved in a day or even a week. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of thinking we’ve failed if we can’t immediately find a solution. When that frustration hits for either of us, Mel and I work to remind each other to look back on what we’ve done in a small time and that we’re still learning – we’ll always be learning. One of my favorite things I’ve heard about running a small business that I kind of live by is: As a small business owner, the difficult things don’t necessarily get easier. You just get better at doing difficult things. 

What do you look for when hiring?

Mel: Honestly, if someone’s instinct is to look stuff up when they’re not sure, I can help them do the rest. If I interview someone and they’re honest about not knowing everything (because none of us do) AND they work to learn when they hit that bump, I see a person who will not give up constantly when confronted with the unknown. Marketing moves fast, and a lot of our work is trial and error, so if you’re hoping for 100% accuracy before you execute, you’ll be waiting around a long time.

Kat: We also look for people who are unafraid to share their ideas. We’re not hierarchical by nature, so someone with that attitude is typically a pretty good fit for our team.

What do you love about owning your own business?

Kat: I love reflecting on how far we’ve come. I love seeing the growth Mel and I have had individually as business owners and leaders. I love seeing our team grow, tackle challenges, and learn new skills. I love that we’ve been able to hire paid interns or entry-level workers (you know, actual entry-level, not the insane entry-level with 10 years of experience requirement) and help facilitate their growth in their careers. We get to build something we would’ve loved to have when we entered the workforce.

Mel: I’m with Katherine – I love getting to create an environment that I always wanted as an employee. I also love being able to serve small businesses. It’s a special honor to bring their ideas to life and offer consulting to help reach their goals. It’s also really cool when you’re seen as a trusted partner to someone’s business strategy. 

Two women laughing together as they try to figure out a good pose for the camera

While photoshoots aren't Mel & Kat's favorite thing to do, they at least try to have fun with it.

What routines do you follow each day?

Mel: I live by my Google Calendar and everything from sleep to exercise to work goes on it, so I typically wake up and glance at my day’s calendar to mentally prepare and take stock of where I need to be most alert, where I can and should take breaks, etc. I’ve even started putting my meal breaks on my calendar so that I don’t skip them because I am working on being more intentional about how I take care of my body and mind.

I try to get 30 minutes of movement each day, whether that’s with yoga or a walk around the neighborhood (yay for working from home), and I’ve started leaving my yoga mat in my office so I’m more tempted to get a bit of movement when creativity isn’t coming to me.

Kat: I’m also living the Google Calendar life – minus the sleep part because I’ll have bouts of insomnia and end up back at my computer. (The team knows when I have them because they’ll see me assigning tasks at 2 a.m. and scheduling emails to go out right at 8 a.m.) After I’m up and the dogs are taken care of, I usually start my day by reviewing my calendar, email, Wrike and Wave while I caffeinate and eat breakfast. That’ll help me outline my general game plan for the day. The rest is just rolling with the punches – or the nudges from my dogs to take a break and go outside.

How do you deal with fear and doubt?

Mel: First, I remind myself that those feelings are natural, and it’s not productive to beat myself up over it. Second, I get vulnerable with my business partner Kat. My personal mental and spiritual work does wonders, AND sometimes I just need some validation or extra perspective from someone who gets it. I have the privilege of having a business partner with whom I can be honest about things being hard, and that helps me get out of my funk.

Kat: Mel’s mantra on this is pretty much the same as mine. Fear and doubt are natural, but they can be hard to shake. They’re really good at creating a thick level of brain fog, so talking to and confiding in Mel helps me get her clear perspective when my brain is nothing but static noise of fear and doubt. Having a business partner who I can share real and honest thought partnership with is really one of the biggest keys to the successes we’ve had and the true cure for fear and doubt. 

How have you grown personally from becoming an entrepreneur?

Mel: I’ve gotten better at celebrating the little things. Entrepreneurship is extremely volatile: one day you’re over the moon excited and the next you feel like you messed it up for yourself, your partner and your employees. It’s important to get good at taking stock, having gratitude, and moving forward. I’ve gotten better at pointing out the things that go well, and that makes me bounce back faster when things don’t go the way I’d hoped.

Kat: This is a crazy one, but I’ve learned to relax about the cultural norms regarding work. When I made the leap into full-time work on Twin Raven Marketing, it took me a while to shake off the need to work from 8 a.m. to 5 a.m. and the guilt if I didn’t. My weeks aren’t always 40 hours or more – because they don’t always have to be to get the job done.

We hope you enjoyed learning about Twin Raven Marketing’s co-owners Katherine and Mel. See you next time!


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