As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Hunt of Proof to Product.
Katie Hunt is the founder of Proof to Product (formerly known as Tradeshow Bootcamp), a business strategist, and mentor to product-based entrepreneurs. She’s worked with thousands of entrepreneurs through her in-person conferences, online courses, and group coaching she offers.
Katie is also the host of the popular podcast, Proof to Product, where she takes listeners behind the scenes of growing a product-based business. Guests share their successes, struggles and how they’ve made difficult but important transitions in their business to continue growing.
Katie has taught classes for CreativeLive, The National Stationery Show, The Savvy Experience, Be Sage, Seanwes Conference and Unique Camp. She’s been featured on Forbes, BuzzFeed, Brit & Co, ABC Chicago and VoyageLA and also interviewed on a variety of popular podcasts.
Katie has a passion for creating, a mind for business and a strong desire to help others succeed. When she’s not cheering on her clients or dreaming up new workshops, you can find her spending time with her husband and four young children, hosting friends for dinner, or surfing Instagram.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Istarted my first business in 2008 as a side hustle while working in the corporate world. I spent nights and weekends manufacturing greeting cards and stationery products and selling them to the wholesale market. As I immersed myself further in the industry, I realized that my colleagues were talented artists who struggled with the business side of their business (an area that I excelled in), while I struggled with the creative side of my business. I knew that if we pooled our resources, experiences and knowledge, we could collectively grow our businesses faster — which is how Proof to Product was born.
Since 2011, we’ve coached thousands of product based business owners through our Proof to Product conferences, online courses and coaching programs. We teach them how to develop their product line, streamline their business operations and strengthen their sales & marketing strategies. Our clients sell their products to Target, Anthropologie, Nordstrom and independent boutiques around the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Oh gosh, I made so many mistakes when I was starting out. With my product based business, I was purchasing my envelopes and other supplies at retail pricing. I had NO idea that I could get access to wholesale prices at a fraction of the cost. I instantly reduced my expenses and increased my profit margins. But, you don’t know what you don’t know!
With Proof to Product, I waited too long to hire help which slowed down our growth and personally drained me. I also should have let go of my product based business sooner. For a while I was juggling both, and it was just too difficult having two businesses, a day job and lots of kids. Ha!
While it’s never fun to make mistakes — especially costly ones — I do think that each of these “failures” are extremely valuable teaching lessons for any business owners out there. Each “mistake” I’ve made in my business has taught me something that I’ve learned and grown from. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for all of the successes and mistakes that I’ve made.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I’m a huge fan of Paul Jarvis’ Company of One and Derek Siver’s Anything You Want. Both are great reminders that we set the rules for our business. We get to decide whether to grow an empire or intentionally keep things small and nimble. Jarvis and Sivers remind us that we can still do important and impactful work through a small business.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My vision and purpose for Proof to Product has remained the same since I founded the company in 2011.
I want to provide community, collaboration and coaching to creative entrepreneurs who sell physical products. These entrepreneurs are talented artists, designers and innovative product creators but many struggle with managing the day to day operations of their businesses; things like marketing, sales and managing teams. We help them navigate these areas so they can build profitable, sustainable companies.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I love to remind myself and my clients that “slow, steady growth is how strong businesses are built.” Running a business can feel like a roller coaster at times, but if we continue to make intentional, thoughtful decisions we will move the business forward in a sustainable way.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
On the personal side, we’re very lucky in that our family has remained healthy through Covid-19. Yet, like everyone else around the world, it has shifted our day to day lives in many ways.
We’re currently homeschooling our four children (under the age of 10) while my husband and I work at home full time. It’s been challenging to juggle classwork from different grade levels, different abilities to work independently and also the social and emotional toll that isolation brings for all of us. We’re doing our best to ensure that our children are staying connected with their peers and teachers as much as possible. I’ve also had to drastically reduce my expectations about how much work I do, as well as when I get the work done. I’m learning that our best is all we can do.
Within my business, the majority of my clients sell consumer goods through retail and wholesale channels. Our industry has been hit particularly hard due to brick & mortar locations having to close for stay at home orders.
With orders slowing down, my clients are looking to other revenue streams and therefore they need more guidance from me. Since the beginning of Covid, I’ve greatly increased the amount of content Proof to Product is publishing — we’ve been releasing extra videos, podcast episodes and I’ve been doing additional online trainings — all focused on timely and urgent priorities that business owners need to navigate during this pandemic. My community and coaching clients look to me for leadership and advice — and I want them to know they have my support as they work through tough decisions right now.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We’ve had to make some adjustments to how we’re running our programs. For example, I host an in-person retreat every 6 months for my high end mastermind clients. They fly into Southern California from all over the United States to attend the retreat and some have compromised immune systems. We were scheduled to meet in mid-April, but in early March I pushed back our dates to October and moved things to a virtual retreat format. We added some surprises for our clients — sending them gifts in the mail and bringing in some special guests to speak. I look forward to getting back to our in-person retreats as soon as we are able.
My team and I also had to take a look at our sales schedule. In late 2019, we had planned to launch a new membership program at the end of April called Proof to Product Labs. In early March as Covid concerns were ramping up, we took a hard look at whether to proceed or postpone the launch. Ultimately, we decided to move forward with the launch because we knew the program would help a lot of business owners when they needed it most. But we strategically changed our sales messaging, lowered the price and increased the benefits to make it as impactful as possible for the people who enrolled. I’m really proud of Proof to Product Labs, I’m proud of how our team adapted and I’m pleased that we’re able to help so many business owners through this new coaching program.
Logistically, finding alone time and quiet space to work in our crazy household has also been challenging. But, my minivan has made for a decent podcasting studio. Ha!
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
This is definitely a challenging time. The advice I’d give to family and friends is similar to what I’d tell the business owners that I coach. First and foremost, we need to lower our expectations of ourselves. And, then lower them again. Much of our stress and anxiety right now stems from things we don’t have control over. Yet, there are a number of things we DO control.
We can choose to move our bodies more, to get more sleep, connect with friends or shut off our computer and take a break. It is up to us, individually, to intentionally block off white space in our days to reduce overwhelm — go for walks, take breaks, read books and intentionally find time to play. When we prioritize the things that matter most to us, we are happier, less stressed and more focused.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I’m really looking forward to the innovation that we’ll see Post-Covid, particularly from small businesses. We’ll see new products, new services, new business models, new solutions and hopefully stronger relationships with our customers and colleagues…I think that Covid is going to help us get back to basics in a lot of ways. We’ll recenter our focus on the things that matter most within our lives and therefore our businesses.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
My hope is that we’ll have stronger human connections post-Covid. I hope that we’ll be kinder, more empathetic and understanding of each other’s experiences. This pandemic is a traumatic experience — so we’ll have some work to do individually as well as collectively to heal from this.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Proof to Product has experienced a lot of growth during Covid. Our membership launch exceeded our sales expectations and we’ve hired new team members. I will continue to prioritize my coaching clients and community members — listening to their needs and doing my best to advise and support them. We’ll maintain our weekly podcast to provide free business advice to those who need it.
I’m fairly conservative in my business, which has served me well during Covid. Over the last few years I have built a cash cushion for emergencies in the business. This enabled me to offer scholarships to our educational programs and support my team.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I’m encouraging others to begin now. Remind people that you’re open for business. Tell customers how they can purchase your products or services and support your business. Use this time to connect with customers on a human level. Ask them how they are doing, if they need help and check in on them in an appropriate way.
If you’re experiencing a decline in work right now — use this time to strengthen your business foundations. Refine your processes & systems; review your financials and cut any unnecessary expenses; take a strategic look at your offerings and your marketing; refine your marketing messaging and methods to connect with your customers.
Now is the perfect time to do anything imperfectly. But, you have to get started!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Anything you can imagine, you can create.” — Oprah Winfrey
Perhaps it’s optimistic, but I believe that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. I love this quote from Oprah Winfrey because it reminds us that we have the power to choose our future path.
It won’t necessarily be easy or without bumps in the road — but success is possible with hard work, passion and fortitude. This is something I try to instill in myself and my children.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Proof to Product Labs: http://prooftoproduct.com/labs