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Interview with Katie Dooley – Starting a Design & Branding Business – Episode #23

Katie Dooley is the Founder of Paper Lime Creative, a branding and design agency in Edmonton, Alberta. Her love of design and art took shape at a young age, and since then, she’s been soaking in as much knowledge about art, business, and design as she can.


Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:00  

We are now recording and 5432 Hello everyone and welcome to Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. My name is Kenny Soto. And as always, you have come here to learn more about digital marketing, whether it’s design, copywriting, SEO, general career advice, you name it. We are providing experts to help you grow in your career or just grow your business. Today I have a very special guest. She is based in Canada. 


Her name is Katie Dooley, and she is the founder of Piperlime, creative, a branding and design agency in Edmonton, Alberta. Her love of design and art took shape at a young age. And since then she’s been soaking in as much knowledge about art, business and design as much as she can. welcome Katie.


Katie Dooley  0:50  

Thank you, Kenny.


Kenny Soto  0:51  

So I like to start these interviews off with just getting more context for myself and for the listeners. So I want to start off by just getting a general sense of why did you get into branding and design?


Katie Dooley  1:08  

I, it was a natural progression, I think I kind of fell into it I have been designing since I was, I think consciously probably since 13 years old. So when a teacher would assign a social studies project and had to make a brochure, I would make the prettiest brochure in the class. And that was my favorite thing to do is to make posters and booklets and things for school, and it progressed into a career. So I did my design diploma here in Edmonton. And, and worked in the field and then started my own business about four years ago.


Kenny Soto  1:50  

And what what prompted you to start your own business?


Katie Dooley  1:55  

For me, it was really wanting to service the clients in a better way, and really get to know them and their business and their goals. As a junior designer, you don’t somebody often you don’t even get to talk to the clients. I had some production jobs, and it was they would dictate what they wanted, whether it was good or bad or their strategy behind it or not. And I wanted to deliver pieces that worked for people.


Kenny Soto  2:27  

And what would you say is? Or are the main challenges for starting your own business, your OWN DESIGNING business?


Katie Dooley  2:36  

I think the the biggest challenge is the competition, whether that’s locally. It’s there’s a lot there’s a lot of designers in any big city in the world, but also competition from things like Fiverr and 99 designs, and even Canva. 


I was saying to a friend, Sarah, the other day that Canva is actually a bigger competitor, it seems than Fiverr because people feel like they could do it themselves. And they have that control over it that you don’t necessarily get with Fiverr. And so those are our biggest competition is how do you justify hiring a designer when you can get something for $5.


Kenny Soto  3:22  

Now, let’s say I’m a potential client, and I have been prospecting both your business and other direct competitors in your area. And the conversation leads into talking about a tool like Canva, where I then asked you what benefits can you bring as a designer that I can’t get from Canva? How would you answer that?


Katie Dooley  3:51  

Assuming you are a regular business business owner, not a marketing specialist, I would say that I do all that backend research that you probably don’t have time to do and and maybe don’t even know where to look for it. 


So when I develop a brand, I figure out who your dream client is I figure out where they are in both physically and online. I figure out what other brands say like where as a place of inspiration. And I put I do all this groundwork before I even create something visual. And Canva is a great if you have that foundation in place. 


I’ve definitely built Canva templates for clients after they have all that foundational branding work done. But if you’re just going in to make something pretty, there’s there’s no strategy, there’s no research and it might work but it’ll take more effort to get those dream clients that you want to get.


Kenny Soto  4:48  

And if I wanted to learn for like my own benefit, like foundational skills that you think are essential for designing, what would those skills be and what would your process before learning those skills.


Katie Dooley  5:04  

I think that’s kind of a two part question because there’s designers to make really great, beautiful things. And that’s how I started just making really beautiful things. And that would be learning your Adobe Creative Suite. 


So your Illustrator, your Photoshop, and your InDesign, and having some drawing skills, and learning how to do some creative creative thinking and iteration work. Then there’s also the skill set of the strategy and the research. And those are separate things. 


And honestly, they didn’t teach the strategy piece in school. And I’ve, you know, since learned that through colleagues and mentors, and that I began, I, there’s a lot of great books on that. Like I said, I had colleagues and mentors helped me with that. Sometimes it’s just the big Google rabbit hole to, to figure out the strategy behind the design.


Kenny Soto  6:03  

And as far as like keeping up to date with your career and your skills, do you have any favorite designers you follow? Or any resources that you use?


Katie Dooley  6:13  

Yeah, yes, there’s, his name’s Chris doe, I’m sure I feel like I’m sure you’ve heard of him. I follow him on both Instagram and LinkedIn. And he has some really great content on how to run a design business, and as well as how to design and he’s, there’s a really great video he did on how to price yourself. 


He’s one that I follow frequently, and he’s very well known internationally. I always try to keep up on what other people in my area are doing. And I follow all the big agencies like pentagram and see what the movers and shakers are doing. DDP is another big one I follow.


Kenny Soto  6:54  

And going into, like the business side of what you do, what would you say are like the warning signs of a potentially bad client?


Katie Dooley  7:06  

I think that depends on what kind of relationship you want to have with your client. For me, I have to joke if someone comes into a meeting and says, This is what I want that that’s probably going to be a bad client. 


For me. I like clients that come in open minded and know that I am going to do that foundational piece for them. And when you come in with something in mind, you often like you, clients haven’t done the foundational piece generally. 


And so they come in with this preconceived idea of what they want, even though it might not work for their business. And so that’s one red flag I am quite wary of, I think that’s probably the biggest one I try to avoid.


Kenny Soto  7:51  

Are there other red flags that you can think of besides that one?


Katie Dooley  7:57  

I mean, for anyone starting out, people who won’t sign contracts, people who won’t pay deposits, are dragging their feet on deposits.


Kenny Soto  8:06  

Are deposits are essential to like having a good relationship with a client?


Katie Dooley  8:13  

I think they’re good to start relationships with clients, I have some long term clients that I’ve had for multiple years that I honestly just don’t bother with any more, because we’ve worked together for multiple years. And we have really strong relationships. But if a client is hesitant to pay a deposit, they’ll be hesitant to pay their bills.


Kenny Soto  8:32  

Yeah, cuz I used to do freelancing with copywriting specifically. And I was always hesitant for promote, like promoting like a deposit or an upfront fee. Because it was always like, how do I set that conversation up for success? And how do I make it so I don’t seem too pushy. So how do you make it so that the deposit is actually something to be considered? Or if the client is just not going to agree to that? Do you just stop the conversation there?


Katie Dooley  9:04  

I don’t, I have very rarely had people turn, get to the point where we’re talking to pause it and then turn down a deposit. The one time I can think of it was just, you know, I don’t think we’re a good fit. If you’re not willing to put down this, like this is the process. And that’s how I you know, wrap it up for clients is I have a five step process. 


I don’t want it I mean, it’s kind of scripted. I run through the five steps with clients. And we I always do a meet and greet first zoom phone call now, especially where we talk about the process and that they understand the value they’re getting for their dollar. And I say hey, if you want to go forward, I’ll send you a contract and your quote, and I take a 50% deposit from and I kind of just toss it in there with the rest of the spiel. 


And when I send the quote and proposal over, there’s a line in there that says, you know, you can pay your deposit in a multitude of ways.


Kenny Soto  10:09  

And I’m assuming that there’s definitely a whole array of touch points that you go through, before the five step process that you have even begins, what? Or excuse me, how are you promoting your services online to even get those conversations started with potential leads.


Katie Dooley  10:31  

I do a lot of networking. And maybe now it’s all online with COVID. But pre COVID in person, and now a lot of online networking. So I’m in Facebook groups, I’m engaging on LinkedIn. And that’s the big thing for me, like I post on all these things. But I, I personally don’t see a lot of conversion from just posting, it’s actually the engaging with people and starting the conversations. 


And there’s a lot of great, great targeted groups on both LinkedIn and Facebook with people always looking for graphic designers or brand strategists. And that can be a great way to talk to your name and having I have a few friends that are in the groups as well, not in my industry. And that’s can be a great way as well, if they see a post looking for a designer or brand strategist than a recommendation is even more powerful than tossing your own name in the hat.


Kenny Soto  11:23  

And we’re going to diverge just a little bit because I definitely want to get a bigger picture of your overall story. If you could go back in time, and speed up the process of your career to basically get where you are today. But like 10 times faster, what kind of changes would you make knowing what you know now?


Katie Dooley  11:48  

I, I’ve thought about this before, I would go back and tell High School Katie to so at my high school, we had a course called Communication Technology, and it was Photoshop and InDesign and photography and videography and all this stuff that I really love. 


And I did that. You know, I’ll, we have three years of high school, all three years of high school in Canada. But when I got to university, I wish I had taken art classes. I didn’t take our classes. And we also my high school also offered like AutoCAD drafting classes. And I think having those foundations would have made me more successful in university. Not that, you know, not that they did poorly in university, but it really would have set a very strong foundation. 


And then I would tell University, Katie to start networking right away, even though you’re 18, don’t know what you’re doing. Just go out and start networking with people because that makes all the difference.


Kenny Soto  12:47  

And can you dive deeper into how networking would make that difference? Or does make that difference?


Katie Dooley  12:53  

I like 20 year old Katie would have been like, you know, I’m smart. I’m doing well in school, I produce great design work, how come no one’s hiring in and we have three post secondary Institute’s here, all of which have design programs. So about, I see 300 graduates a year from graphic design in the city alone. 


And there’s probably only about 1000 people actively working in design in the city. So they pump out a third of the entire jobs available every year. And it’s really doesn’t so it doesn’t matter if you’re good. Everyone’s quite good at that point. So, you know, I hate to you know, not light, you know, I hate to say it because I think there’s a lot of people who do a lot of great work that just don’t get noticed. But there’s a there’s a hustle behind it.


Kenny Soto  13:48  

And how has your overall career changed and your daily, like your daily work routine changed because of COVID-19? Because I know, across the board internationally across industries, everyone is trying to pivot to this completely remote kind of lifestyle where we still have to pay the bills, we still have to get clients serve the clients and make sure we’re executing on those deliverables. What changes have you seen in your career in particular?


Katie Dooley  14:23  

I think I mean, for me in particular, a lot of people have opened up to this idea of remote work that I can I can I do have clients all over North America, people are more willing to seek out designers that might not be local. 


I mean day to day some of my processes that I and I still do enjoying in person have had to lay now have a zoom alternative, which is great. Yeah, I mean, I work from a computer all day so not too too much. It’s changed by But having that international access and people internationally looking elsewhere? Yeah, I think that’s probably the biggest change.


Kenny Soto  15:11  

And Katie, what kind of clients do you work with?


Katie Dooley  15:15  

I mean, all sorts of clients, that’s one of my favorite parts of my job is the variety I get every single day that no two clients are the same. And my, my current range is baby blankets to auto recycling, and everything in between. 


So baby blankets being the cutest fluffiest things I’ve ever done in auto recycling being one of the rough and tumble industries I’ve worked in, but they’re all, you know, small, medium sized businesses, five to 30 employees, five to 50 employees, looking looking for some strategy as they expand and grow their business?


Kenny Soto  15:53  

And do you find that there are any like commonalities like common threads between those clients where like, if you get certain, like learnings and insights from one, even though it’s baby blankets, it can be tied to the other clients as well.


Katie Dooley  16:07  

Totally. I, and that’s actually part of my process is that I look for inspiration, I will never look for inspiration in someone’s own industry. So if I’m working with a restaurant, I won’t ever look at other restaurants. 


I’ll see what other industries, their dream customer is, is shopping at. And that’s where I like to look for inspiration, because I don’t want you to look like another restaurant. But I want your dream client to, to align with you in the way that something else. So if you’re a restaurant, and maybe all your clients love Jeep, so I’m going to see what Jeep is doing that attracts those clients, and see what we can take inspiration from So absolutely, I will look to other industries and things sort of cross pollinate.


Kenny Soto  16:58  

And that’s like a unique mental framework. I haven’t heard anyone say before, where you’re looking at adjacent areas to make something stand out for your client. Are there any similar techniques that you use to make your services stand out?


Katie Dooley  17:17  

I pride myself and having a collaborative approach. So I don’t know anyone else that does it quite like me. So I will, will do this sort of initial consultation meeting. That’s step one of the process of the five step process. 


And then I’ll do all my research and and foundational study and actually get the client to approve the research and brand positioning before I create anything visual. So that means that they’re on the same page before I deliver them the visuals, they have something, you know, in mind to expect. 


Also, it gives me some insurance that if you know and it happens, they go well, I don’t like that I can go well look at the research. And you can see how your client will like that. And it also just gives them that touch point in what can be quite a long process. To give them that security, that they’re still involved.


Kenny Soto  18:15  

I know for a fact, if I don’t ask this question, the listeners are gonna get mad at me. So I’m definitely going to ask it now. You’ve mentioned it twice already. And you’ve mentioned step one, can you go through the other four steps of your process?


Katie Dooley  18:29  

Totally. So step one is the discovery session. So that depends on how many staff or people you want to bring with you. But it’s about two hours of me digging into an interviewing my clients on their business and who they want to serve. And then step two is research where I, I do a bunch of dig Hagen’s go down that Google rabbit hole and I often interview my clients, ideal clients, if I can find them, to see what actually I can, I can read all day, what they like, but actually call someone or sit down with someone and say, Is this what you like is super valuable. 


I call Step Three collaboration. So where the client actually gets to put in that feedback. Step four, it would be the design part where we do all the visuals and the logo developments. And then step five is revision. So it’s really important to me that my clients leave happy at the end of the day. I am also a firm believer that if you don’t like your logo, you’re not going to use it. 


So as much as I push strategy, and I want to sell the strategy and sell that your clients like it, if you don’t like it, or if it doesn’t resonate with you, you’re not going to use it and honestly, there’s some really great examples of bad logos that have done well just because they’re used a lot.


Kenny Soto  19:56  

And my last question for you Katie is To help or not to start over. My last question for you, Katie is what adjacent skills? are you leveraging and learning to make your design better?


Katie Dooley  20:15  

Oh, that’s a big question. I am I’m personally I’m starting to dabble in public relations. I always lean heavily on copywriters and web designers. So I personally do the brand strategy and, and visual graphics, and then I have a team of people. 


So I always lean very heavily on a copywriter to develop things like brand stories and take clients and brand characteristics. I think that’s like, I would call that like the second pillar of a good brand. So you haven’t Rachel’s any of your messaging. And honestly, if you have that A can go and do your SEO of your website and your social media super easily. Did that answer your question? 


Kenny Soto  21:00  

Yeah, it definitely did. So just to expand on it quickly. It’s not just considering the visual aspect of what you do. But if you have a core and correct me if I’m wrong, if you have a core messaging coupled with the good visuals, everything else where it’s like just the bells and whistles of having good SEO, back end design on the website, etc, that that can be taken care of. The most important thing though, is making sure the visuals and the messaging are solid, correct?


Katie Dooley  21:28  

Absolutely. Because if you have, you know, I mean, things like brand colors, brand fonts, your logo, and then some sort of tagline or at least how your voice should sound you can make make a social media post. You can develop your website you can where you can pass that off to a web developer and know that they will get the same message across. You can create sway, you can get your T-shirts made, you can start a podcast, you can do TV ads and radio ads because you know how you should sound and how you should look.


Kenny Soto  22:07  

Perfect. That’s a great way to end the interview. Katie, if anyone wants to connect with you, where can they find you online.


Katie Dooley  22:15  

I am very active on Instagram at Piperlime creative I am also on Facebook at Piperlime creative and people can feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and my website is


Kenny Soto  22:29  

I will put all that information in the show notes including Chris doe and the future, just so that everyone has another resource for learning about designing and branding. Again, you have just listened to Kenny Soto is Digital Marketing podcast. Thank you so much Katie for your time and thank you to the listener for listening to another episode. As always, my name is Kenny Soto and I wish that you have a great week. Bye.

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