Interview with Kara Stanford, Founder of The Marketing Spaces and KMS Marketing

Find out how Kara Stanford went from corporate marketing to running two marketing businesses and learn from some of the mistakes she made along the way.

Tell us a bit about where you are now as a business person

I currently own and run two businesses. KMS Marketing is a consultancy business offering strategic marketing consultancy and has been running for almost 10 years. In October 2021, I launched The Marketing Spaces, a membership club for people who want to be even more effective marketers.

You run a successful strategic marketing consultancy but decided to set up another business. Why?

Consultancy is a time for money business – my time and expertise for money. It’s one of my passions – I love consultancy work – but it’s limited. For me to grow that business I either have to work more hours, increase my prices, or bring in a team. None of that was palatable to me, so I wanted another option. 

Why weren’t those other options on the table for you?

First, I don’t want to work more hours. We have two children, aged 6 and 10, and I’m the one that does most of the school runs and holiday care. Plus I keep Fridays clear for me to stay healthy and sane – that can be anything from circuits class to healthcare appointments to coffee with friends to getting the laundry done ahead of the weekend. It’s my time, free from work obligations.

Next, I’m happy with my prices for consultancy. I began life as a freelancer 17 years ago on £17.50 per hour and now charge over £100 per hour. I feelmy price is perfect for the value I offer and the clients I want to work with. 

So, why not bring in a team?

No. I tried a model with a team a few years ago. I set it up badly. While my income was at its highest, profit was low. By the time I briefed the team, managed them, and sorted out any issues, it wasn’t worth it. I was working longer hours for less money. 

I also realised: when it comes to consultancy, people want me. So, as a good marketer, I took that client feedback on board. This means KMS Marketing will always be limited in its growth but I’m happy with that. I have a great set of clients and we do interesting work together – and my profit margins are HIGH and all for me!

You began life in corporate marketing. Tell us about your journey

I started my marketing career at LloydsTSB bank. I was fortunate enough to work for some great managers who believed in staff development. Looking back, it was a great place to learn from some amazing marketers and people. My managers would share with me how to actually use marketing tools and frameworks and how to think about and plan marketing, as well as how to do it. Things I learnt there I have applied again and again over the last 23 years as a marketer. 

But… it was at a time when the bank’s mission was, ‘To maximise shareholder value’. I never really got behind that. When I saw a job at Avon Fire and Rescue Service as their first Marketing Manager I went for it.

You did marketing for a fire and rescue service? That’s a change!

Yes. I’d never worked in a not for profit before and in local government. The role was heavily focussed on driving behaviour change in communities through engaging, creative, marketing campaigns e.g. have a working smoke alarm, stop setting fire to wheelie bins etc. 

It was challenging. I went from an environment where I was one of many marketers to being the only marketer. This experience shaped my thoughts around The Marketing Spaces, which I launched in October 2021.

So, The Marketing Spaces is for lonely marketers?

Yes. I also teach professionals getting their marketing qualifications and many of them are lonely marketers. They’re often the only marketer in their business or in a very small team.

Lonely marketers are also the solo founders and CEOs running their own businesses. Wow, that can be lonely. When it’s mainly you having to do the marketing thinking, then implement it and make all the decisions. How do you know you’re right? Who can you bounce ideas off? Where can you get decent learning and development about strategic marketing? 

All the stuff that I got from my managers at LloydsTSB is missing when you run your own business or are the only marketer. That’s why I created The Marketing Spaces. To meet that need for ongoing development and learning in strategic marketing and marketing thinking and approaches.

You mentioned mistakes you have made… can you share some more?

Hah! Where do I start? Seriously, my road hasn’t been straight and at times I’ve plunged so low I thought I’d never get up again.

First, I would say there are times when you need to go for it but… make it easy to backtrack. 

We moved to France and joined a business. It wasn’t great. But we, our baby, and all our stuff, was out there. We stayed in a negative situation longer than I would have liked because of the logistics of physically moving back to the UK. In hindsight, we should have made it easier to return, perhaps putting our stuff in storage and just heading out with suitcases. So, before you take the leap, check your exit strategy!

Any more things you wish you’d done sooner?

Be calmly confident in yourself. It’s easy to say but, looking back, I’ve listened to people who didn’t have my best interests and who were playing out their own negativities. 

I reacted in different ways, mostly from hurt and fear as I wasn’t calmly confident in my value. I’ve had people say things like, ‘You’re not that good, you know’, ‘This was only a success because of us, not you’ and, ‘You’re not worth that much’ despite evidence to the contrary.

While a part of me screamed, ‘I am that good! I am worth it! I did achieve that success!’ I didn’t know how to handle the criticism and nastiness behind it. It floored me. I failed to realise it was about them and not me. And I failed to get out and away from them soon enough. 

Now, I’m calmly confident. If someone lobs a criticism at me questioning my abilities or value, I assess if I think there’s truth in it. Feedback is feedback, so I try not to shy away from it despite the source. If I sense their criticism is coming from a place of unkindness, I move myself away from them. This has taken a lot of practice but I encourage you to develop your version of calm confidence. It makes a huge difference.

Finally, if you could give one strategic marketing tip to our talented ladies, what would it be?

Make time and space to think about and plan your marketing. It is always worthwhile, even if you have to make that space halfway through a marketing campaign, because taking that step back to think about your marketing allows you to figure out how to make it even more effective.

The Marketing Spaces is a membership club that offers dedicated online spaces where business people and marketers can take time to think about marketing, then figure out the best way to apply it to their situation. Sign up for FREE today