In Conversation with Catherine Hildner of Kitty Meow Boutique

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Describe your business in a few words?

Kitty Meow Boutique is all about creating gorgeous paper & gift goodies that make women feel inspired, feisty, empowered, and super fierce. Kitty Meow products looking and feel like wearing your most badass outfit and feeling the confidence to back it up.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

There were so many things in my life pushing me to make the leap to build something of my own. #1, I simply was flat out miserable working at my current job. I was bored and incredibly under-utilized. #2, my boyfriend at the time (my now husband) had a job in insurance that moved out to a different state every one to two years. I knew in my heart I wasn’t the type of woman to not work. I desire to create something of my own that I could take with me no matter where we lived. We met in Las Vegas, but moved to Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, and now the Chicagoland area. I’ve had children in all different states and have been blessed to take my business with me everywhere we go. Not to mention, Kitty Meow looks dramatically different from state to state!

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

Prior to taking the leap to work for myself I was a graphic designer in the Las Vegas nightlife advertising industry. I hopped around a couple of the main, key players in the Vegas advertising industry. While I learned A LOT about my skills as a designer, I struggled to find confidence in my work and even self worth as an employee. I kept asking myself, “Why are you spending all this time building someone else’s dream… when you could be building your own?”

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

After realizing I didn’t want to spend my life building someone else’s dream, it did take me awhile to even realize what my OWN dream was or looked like. While I always knew I wanted to be a creative person, being an entrepreneur was never on my radar. For a while, there was a huge disconnect for me with thinking that I had what it took to be a successful entrepreneur. Being a creative artist is one thing, but being an entrepreneur is a completely different mindset. Getting past the mental roadblock of accepting I HAD to be a savvy business person to be an overall success in my industry was a challenge, but the biggest learning lesson.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

Unfortunately, in the beginning, the Kitty Meow strategy was the “ly by the seat of my pants” strategy, and the “‘let’s throw something to the wall and see if it sticks” strategy – aka NO Strategy. As you can imagine, it didn’t go very well. I spent my early years catering to friends and family – which in hindsight wasn’t the best use of my time. While I was able to build up solid referrals, I quickly realized friends and family aren’t always my ideal customer. Being confused about who my ideal customer was and who I was trying to speak to held me back for a long time. The quicker you can get crystal clear on your message, the faster you’ll see growth in your business.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

There are absolutely times where I’ve made bad investments in my business that turned out to be learning lessons FOR SURE. It often has to do with me going into a situation where I was trying to force something to work and then had extremely high expectations. In my heart, I likely knew I was making a decision based on vanity metrics and not because I actually thought it was a good fit for me and my business. Vanity metrics might make you look cool, but it doesn’t mean money in the bank. The quicker I learned to be more strategic and intentional with my investments the quicker my business grew. 

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

Mindset is something that is often not measurable, but truly the most important. Changing my mindset in how I see myself and the future of my business has been a game-changer. For so long, I felt incredibly shy about talking about the dreams I had for my business. Honestly, I wasn’t even allowing myself to dream big enough. My limited mindset was holding me back. Fear and insecurity were holding me back. It wasn’t until I got over worrying about what I THOUGHT other people were thinking of me that I let loose a little and just WENT FOR IT. Let’s be real… people are often too busy worrying about themselves to really be focused on what you have going on. Those who ARE passing judgment might be self-reflecting on whatever insecurities they might have within themselves. You can’t worry about being everyone’s cup of tea. Do YOU. Do it WELL. End of story

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

While I understand this isn’t the norm, I’m incredibly grateful and humbled to say that the pandemic has caused my business to blow up and grow in ways I never even imagined possible. The greeting card industry is especially one right now which is being used to offer human connection to people when we feel we’re lacking it the most. Sending a card with a handwritten note is something so simple, but incredibly powerful. The right kind of greeting cards have the ability to say what’s on your mind and your heart when maybe you can’t find the words to express on your own. This time last year Kitty Meow had products in a little over 100 stores. Now you can find Kitty Meow products in almost 400 stores worldwide. Business has been bananas and I’m grateful for it all – including the growing pains that come with it! 

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

Expect to see TONS from Kitty Meow! In addition to creating even more fabulous paper, party, and gift items to share with and bring good vibes to the world I’m also following my next passion of education. Sharing my journey with other women and giving back to the creative community really lights a fire under my butt! I’m currently hosting an intimate mastermind called the KMB Signature Collective where I share my experiences on running a paper goods business with other women who are working on their own dreams. We start with a solid foundation of your business from focusing on building a brand with a clear message, to creating products your customers desire, to developing a strategy in taking your products wholesale and selling them on a variety of different channels + so much more. 

Building a business isn’t black and white, and there isn’t one way to skin a cat. Being transparent, honest, and vulnerable is important in my teaching strategy. My approach is that I’m literally in the trenches WITH my students – building a similar kind of business to what they are envisioning for themselves as well. I don’t claim to have all the answers but share what has worked for me and what has been a total flop.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

Sooooo many lessons, but the biggest takeaway from 2020 is the notion that “what got me here, isn’t going to get me there”. I spent a lot of 2020 getting uncomfortable, trying new things, and facing the mental roadblocks that were holding me back from success in my business. Still so much more to learn though! This is a message I’m always driving home on my podcast, The Dreams to Plans Podcast.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

I wish someone told me sooner that the journey of being an entrepreneur was one where you failed, and failed, and failed some more. For so long, I was always looking for the ONE THING that was going to help take me to the top. Every time I invested in something new, landed a new opportunity, or made new connections I would think “THIS IS IT.” Unfortunately, it’s the failures that really make or break you as an entrepreneur. Everyone fails… but it’s the people who fail but continue to get back up again and again that find success. And that “one thing”??? There is no “one thing” – it’s an accumulation of ALL the things – the good AND the bad. I used to look at failure as defeat – now I look at failure as a learning lesson. If you aren’t failing, it’s almost as if you aren’t trying hard enough. I’m always going to give something my all, no matter the outcome.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Surrounding myself with positive people who have just as much drive and passion as I do is one of the main things that keeps me sane. You need to surround yourself with people who GET YOU. And if you don’t have them in your life, you need to seek them out. I promise you they exist.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

To be honest… I don’t believe in work/life balance, but maybe it’s because it’s something I struggle with. There are times when I have to focus on being more present as a mom and then feel like the tasks in my business fall behind. Then vise versa – I’ll be so focused on my business that I feel like I’m sucking as a mom and wife. When you’re only one person, but you wear a million different hats, it can be difficult to wear all those hats well.

I don’t have any advice for work/life balance, but absolutely welcome any tips for those who claim to have it all figured out! I can say however, there is no shame in asking for help (which I used to think asking for help made me vulnerable and weak), and that you need to cut yourself some slack! The world will not end if you aren’t the perfect mom or business owner for a hot minute. Your kids likely don’t even notice. (My girls still say I’m the best mom ever, even when I feel like the absolute worst!) And your business will not implode if you need to take a moment of silence for yourself or pass a task off to someone else. 

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

You might be surprised to know I played the violin for 11 years of my childhood! I often earned 1st chair, played in “the pit” of musicals, took private lessons, went to orchestra summer camp, and traveled for events and competitions. Unfortunately, I haven’t picked it up since I graduated high school – a total shame because I really was talented! At the time, I didn’t think it was the “cool” thing to do. Now I think there’d be nothing cooler than to be a fierce and ferocious violin player! I guess those vanity metrics got me even at a young age!

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Share what you know & always pay it forward. It’s important to remember we all started somewhere. Be the INSPIRATION for future women entrepreneurs everywhere – don’t think of them as the competition.

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