Getting To Know: Caitlin Horton of Horton Brand Strategy

Caitlin Horton of Horton Brand Strategy chats with MaggieGentry about how she started her business, how she stays inspired, and gives us a glimpse of how systems and clear communication have helped her to build a business working overseas.

When I started writing this intro, I tried to pinpoint the time when I met Caitlin. Like Jenny, we met online. We were both in the very early edition of the Being Boss Clubhouse 1.0. I remember seeing her in The Gram Gang, too. And naturally, we started hanging out in the same Instagram circles. I am always amazed at her ability to produce, not only in regards to the speed at which she can create a new offering, but also I admire (and highly respect) the quality of the work. It's always super actionable and practical. Read more about me gushing over her Focused Brand Challenge here.

Last fall, I was lucky enough to be included in a mastermind that Misty Bradly of we are the REVELERS started, and Caitlin is one of the members. I remember feeling so intimidated to talk with her at first because her business is so LEGIT, and I'm over here still trying to find my footing. After a few minutes on our first call, any hesitation quickly evaporated when her warm Southern charm completely wooed me. 

Originally from Memphis, Caitlin is currently living in Shanghai with her husband. I am so grateful for all of the wisdom she shares regularly, and I hope you find her branding and business strategies as helpful as I have. She is smart, and kind, and courageous, and I hope everyone has someone like Caitlin in your corner.

 

I know that you are a multi-passionate person who has dabbled in a few projects & businesses. Will you share your origin story with us?

I think it’s always been in me to run my own business one day but I didn’t grow up around entrepreneurs or anything like that. So when I decided the academic path I was on by getting a Masters in French wasn’t for me, I had to figure out what I actually DID want to do. Because of a college sports marketing internship and a lot of self-education, I learned that marketing is actually the core of a business. So when we moved to Memphis for my husband’s job, I spent three months chasing down an entry-level marketing position. Eventually I got hired and moved up quickly… reporting directly to the CEO by the time I left to be the Marketing and Advertising Director for a specialty gift shop. That’s where I started designing all of our direct mail, print ads, etc. And boy, were there a lot of them!

I also started a little business on the side selling art online for Southern artists and doing some freelance design work – just to experiment with my options and see what would stick. The demands of my side hustles prompted me to cut back my hours at the store and eventually leave. I eventually closed the online art gallery to focus on what turned out to be the very beginnings of Horton Brand Strategy.

Looking back, I can see how taking the chance on myself led to so many wonderful things like getting to publish a book and start a coworking space. Plus, I had time to build a strong foundation for a business I would eventually pick up and move overseas… and having the freedom to work anywhere is a key element to my happiness living abroad!

What aspect of your work is the most life-giving for you?

In a way, everything I do is about supporting someone else’s big thing. That’s what I really love about it. Not only does what I do help people, but (selfishly) I get to be a part of something bigger than myself through every project. I couldn’t really say much more than that!

Was there ever a time when you happily ignored external validation or outside advice about your business so that you could follow the True North that you created for yourself? If so, how did making that choice to follow Your Why impact not only you, but your business?

Just going out on your own, I think, ignores much of the outside advice. However, my family and friends have always been really supportive of me working for myself, so I never got a lot of backlash for my choices. I think the real struggle is looking to the wrong things for validation.

For example, I really dislike the phrase “charge what you’re worth” because my worth isn’t tied up in my work… but it’s so hard to remember that each and every day! For me, taking compliments, criticisms, and even money for what it is and not raising it up to the level of validation of me as a person is really important for my psyche as a business owner.

You are currently living in Shanghai since you moved there for your husband’s work last year. How has being overseas impacted your work?

Most folks assume that an overseas move adds a higher level of difficulty to everything about running a business, but for me that wasn’t really the case. I worked with several out-of-town clients before moving… and rarely even saw the local Memphis clients I worked with anyway. So I had good systems in place for communication and project management, which I constantly work to improve. It’s so funny – some of my clients didn’t even realize I had actually made the move until they noticed Shanghai photos showing up on my Instagram a few days after we got here!

The biggest impact living overseas has on my business is the constant influx of new… new ways of thinking, new styles of architecture, new food, and even learning a new language. I think the energy of living in a big city where everything is always changing creates that same sort of energy for me as a business owner. I love when my mind is spinning with fresh ideas for how I can better serve my clients.

 

MaggieGentry interviews Caitlin Horton of Horton Brand Strategy about what it's like to own a brand strategy business and live overseas.

Before moving, you were based in Memphis, and not only did you author Memphis Type History, but you also started a new co-working space. How has this work of pursuing passion projects influenced your client-facing work? And do you have any new projects on the horizon?

The pull passion projects have on me is in taking an idea and making it go… and making things go is what my clients are trying to do as well. So having some endeavors of my own puts me in their shoes – I understand the self-doubt, struggles, and those mountaintop highs that they’re going through.

These two passion projects were collaborations with other creatives. Collaborating requires you to set expectations, communicate kindly but intentionally, and be willing to give and take. Those qualities are also important when I partner up “less officially” with my clients.

Memphis Type History is a project I work on with Memphis artist and art director Rebecca Phillips. We’re extending our project even further later this year but that’s still under wraps... I can’t wait to get it out there though!

In addition to moving overseas last year, you also completed your MBA. I’m curious to know, was there a particular lesson (or class) that has been most beneficial for you as a small business owner? If so, what shifted for you?

I was warned before I started the MBA program that I was going to find out that I already knew a lot of the material… and that turned out to be true. Since I didn’t really study business in college I mostly just wanted to make sure there weren’t a bunch of gaps in my knowledge that I didn’t see clearly. However, I was certainly exposed to some things in much more detail than I would really learn on my own like financial accounting, change management, etc. The best thing about the program was my classmates. They were from so many different backgrounds with a wide variety of goals. I really enjoyed getting to know them and learning from them!

What is your marketing strategy for Horton Brand Strategy? Is there one element that has been most successful for you?

Moving to Shanghai got me working more on the online marketing strategy for my business since I no longer enjoyed the same kind of in-person teaching and collaboration opportunities I had in Memphis. I started hearing from blog readers and people who downloaded my free worksheets that they wished they could invest in working with my one-on-one. That inspired me to go a bit deeper with what my marketing goals were. I began to think through how I could intentionally create content that helps my audience get to a place where they CAN make that investment in growing their business.

So I actually pushed pause on blogging for awhile and started working on the Focused Brand Challenge, a free course to help entrepreneurs tie up the loose ends of their brand so they can prove their value and attract more customers. As my audience starts making more money by using all the tools and resources I provide on the blog, via email, and in my courses, they can then start planning to go further and deeper by working with me one-on-one.

I think of you as the queen of systems & business processes. And I swear by your Notecard Method to organize my biz, as well as your Focused Brand Challenge to help me clarify how I present myself and the next steps I want to take to help me get to where I’m going. What is your secret for consistently putting out incredible products & resources?

To be completely honest, most days I feel like I’m racing the clock! If I could figure out what the secret actually is I’d probably be a millionaire, right?

In all seriousness, having a design and admin assistant has been huge… can’t deny that. I truly wouldn’t have been able to produce so much without her. Not only does she take care of so many things inside the business, but she’s also incredibly generous with sharing her ideas and insights on projects we’re working on, my business goals, etc.

On a more personal level, I try to look at how things fit together in a step-by-step kind of way. I’ll get an idea and before getting too far down the road with it, I examine where it fits in the bigger picture. If it doesn’t actually lead anywhere substantial I store it away – because it could work later on down the road or inspire something even better, who knows! I don’t always get it right but looking at projects like that really helps motivate me because I’m looking at a bigger end result than just the one thing I’m working on at that time.

Living & working overseas has always been a pipe dream of mine. For anyone who longs for that expat life, what advice would you have?

Work on your communication and project management systems now. Your current clients need to know they can trust you even if you’re across the world. And any new clients will feel very reassured when you can show them that you’re organized and on top of it all from the beginning. Other than that I’d say just go for it!

 

Want to know more? Eager to connect with Caitlin? Here's how:

Want to know more about Memphis Type History? 

Work with Caitlin:

The best way to get access to all of Caitlin's genius is through her Landmark Method. You may also snag one of her "Quick Hits": Schedule a Strategy Session with her, or work with her to design your Client Kits (I worked with Caitlin on this, and cannot recommend it enough!).

Fun little extra:

I’ve seen so many business owners delay publishing their website or promoting their brand because they don’t like their About page. But it can actually be an asset for your business rather than a liability!


To help creatives, entrepreneurs, and others overcome the fear of writing their About page in their unique voice and style, I created the Total About Page Makeover. I’d love for your readers to get it for half-off! If they head over to www.totalaboutpagemakeover.com and use the promo code MAGGIE on any of the purchase options, they’ll be on their way to writing a killer About page… and learning a lot more about their business along the way!