With almost a decade running marketing programs for small and medium companies under her belt (and a few startups thrown in as well), Vibist Katie Crain of  Urban Sherpa Marketing  understands the unique challenges, strategic concerns, and amazing opportunities of small budget marketing better than most. On her own time, she's an obsessive gardener, slow trail runner, and proud dog mama.

With almost a decade running marketing programs for small and medium companies under her belt (and a few startups thrown in as well), Vibist Katie Crain of Urban Sherpa Marketing understands the unique challenges, strategic concerns, and amazing opportunities of small budget marketing better than most. On her own time, she's an obsessive gardener, slow trail runner, and proud dog mama.

You’re an entrepreneur running a startup or a small business, and you’re on the lookout for marketing that speaks to the fire in your belly, the passion on the table, the innovation you believe in.

You feel like you’re facing challenge upon challenge without that reach and support. Maybe you need some straight-shooting advice on marketing strategy, basic marketing or even coaching, or a mashup of tools and tactics, or a full-service “wowza” campaign that will feed the buzz.  Resources are tight. You don’t have the funding (yet) to fully connect with your audience.

Sound familiar? It might be time to call Vibe member Katie Crain, Managing Director and Cofounder of Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. Based on Bainbridge Island, Urban Sherpa’s mission is to make high-quality marketing possible for every business, no matter the size. 

One of the things I believe firmly about small business, entrepreneurship, and startups is that they are the heartbeat of any community... I would hate to see a world without independently-owned businesses.

Once a professional ballet dancer, Katie is a veteran of strategy, lead generation, branding and event planning. Her career is laced with expertise in digital, social media and content marketing development.

Katie explains that Urban Sherpa designs and implements programs for budget-conscious entrepreneurs and startups.  

“We come from a background of innovation, and we love entrepreneurs,” she says. “They’re so essential for our community. We partner with clients to build efficient marketing programs that help to grow businesses without blowing up their wallets.”

Talking about Katie and the monthly marketing workshops she’s been leading at Vibe since February (check out the calendar of events here), one of her fellow Vibists recently commented: “I so appreciate Katie’s candor.  She’s super smart, clear, credible, responsive—she’s a let’s-get-down-to-business woman.”

Your last workshop at Vibe was titled “Make Your Website Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool”. It focused on how we can optimize our websites to pull in more customers and increase sales. How do you feel the workshop was received?
Katie:
We had an intimate and super-engaged group. They asked some really good questions, and we had some really in-depth discussions on various points of shared interest. We even had a little time at the end to critique a few example websites, and everyone picked up on all the nuances I had hoped they would. A couple of people stopped afterwards to tell me it was very helpful, so I’m going to assume they enjoyed it! I may repeat this workshop later in the year. It provided content and direction people really seem to need (everyone has to have a website), and there’s a lot of really poor information out there.

Katie’s monthly marketing workshops at Vibe are helping members and non-members alike build relationships, and level up their marketing know-how.

Katie’s monthly marketing workshops at Vibe are helping members and non-members alike build relationships, and level up their marketing know-how.

Where did the inspiration come from to target startups?
Katie:
I had a little bit of career midlife crisis in my corporate marketing job. I felt that I was just helping a company get richer and doing nothing for my community. It was getting very tiresome, and I started thinking about how I could give back more.

One of the things I believe firmly about small business, entrepreneurship, and startups is that they are the heartbeat of any community. What’s more, small single-shingle companies and consultants fight against the marketing power of big companies—and they’re not always winning. I would hate to see a world without independently-owned businesses.  And the thing is, they often do everything themselves, whether they are a marketing expert or not, because their new enterprise can’t afford to hire experienced marketing people.

Long story short, I thought I could help, so was I perfectly willing to fill that niche. I quit my job and started the company last year.  Urban Sherpa is a way to provide budget-friendly, scalable marketing, but we call ourselves a “non-agency marketing firm.” We’re not just trying to attract big clients and do these massive award-winning campaigns.  Our recipe for success is helping small businesses to grow their customer base, exercising a little power against the big guys.

Describe the entrepreneur culture of Kitsap and Vibe’s place in it.
Katie:
I admit that before I started meeting more people locally on a professional basis, I didn’t think of this county as an entrepreneurial playground.  But it truly is, and there are a lot of interesting things being done. It’s also not a high ego community, which you can see at Vibe. This coworking space engages everyone, inspiring them to be more interested in learning, which is really nice to see.  

People come here and they’re like “I want to be better at this.” In the seminars I’ve been doing, participants are very engaged and open to sharing their experiences. They’re not afraid to speak up and out, to make their products and services better.  That’s kind of a rarity. I think Vibe represents that culture beautifully.

You were a professional ballet dancer. Tell us more about that.
Katie:
Yes, I’ve already retired once!  It feels like a lifetime ago. That girl was a different person, even though there are still bits of the dancer in me.  I started at the age of five. Even though we lived in the middle of nowhere, my parents (luckily) were extremely devoted to driving the long distances so I could get lessons.  By the time I was a teenager in high school, they were driving me two hours each way to the right training in Sacramento. I don’t know how they did it.

Katie credits her career as a professional dancer with giving her life skills. “My ballet career and training was amazing, providing me with some of the foundational things in my life—working hard, dedication, perseverance, doing what you have to do. Showing up has laid the groundwork for success with Urban Sherpa.”

Katie credits her career as a professional dancer with giving her life skills. “My ballet career and training was amazing, providing me with some of the foundational things in my life—working hard, dedication, perseverance, doing what you have to do. Showing up has laid the groundwork for success with Urban Sherpa.”

Ultimately, I ended up dancing with Ballet West in Salt Lake City and stayed there until 2000.  It’s been 19 years since I last danced professionally. My ballet career and training was amazing, providing me with some of the foundational things in my life—working hard, dedication, perseverance, doing what you have to do.  Showing up has laid the groundwork for success with Urban Sherpa.

What’s something that people wouldn’t necessarily guess about you?
Katie:
When they meet me professionally, they’re surprised to discover that I’m a complete tomboy and avid gardener.  By the end of the weekend, I’m covered in dirt. I grew up in a very rural part of California with a huge love for the woods and the outdoors.  I spent the summers barefoot, and I still climb trees.


Who is your biggest business idol?
Katie:
I don’t really have idols. Still, I know it’s uber corny, but my husband, Alan Crain, definitely inspires me.  He works for Kitsap Bank and has been in community banking for 30-odd years. Alan was the one who introduced me to how important small businesses are to a thriving ecosystem. He is therefore indirectly responsible for my starting Urban Sherpa with the idea of marketing specifically for the community of small businesses.  My husband applies an absolute passion for and a dedication to that sector throughout Kitsap, and it’s inspiring. Alan is also ego-less in his desire is to do whatever’s necessary to help people succeed. Those values have informed my company, and I’m building on them.

What’s that movie?  It’s a Wonderful Life.  James Stewart is a banker who discovers he needs the ecosystem of his community to be successful.  And that one person’s life can have a big impact.

Katie credits her husband, Alan Crain, with introducing her to how important small businesses are to thriving ecosystems.

Katie credits her husband, Alan Crain, with introducing her to how important small businesses are to thriving ecosystems.

What’s your motto for people who want to launch an enterprise?
Katie:
It’s all about the customer.  That’s the biggest thing, which we know instinctively but often don’t act upon.  You discover that it’s all about solutions for a “pain point” or service or need, making sure the customers are there to respond to what you’re offering. I’ve seen a lot of examples of startups that are a solution looking for a problem, and that’s backwards.

No matter how innovative your solution is (or how great your marketing is), if people don’t care about the problem, you’ll never succeed. Marketing is ultimately all about understanding who your customer is and communicating clearly to them. Doing some research and really “getting” your audience targets--and making sure your product resonates with them before you start a business--will take you a long way. It’s about finding a niche or “blue ocean” that no one else is playing in yet.

Where was your very first job?
Katie:
My very first job was working in a dance supply store in exchange for a discount on pointe shoes, but my first marketing job was at an e-commerce company based out of Kirkland. I sold lighting fixtures (and more) online.  I had to jump in with all four feet, having had no clue about plumbing fixtures, rugs, door hardware, you name it. It was super fun. They’d identified one a niche, and we grew really fast, and I learned so much. I had the opportunity to build out new websites, catalogs, etc., in a fast-moving, startup environment.  It was the Wild West of e-commerce.

How do you measure success?
Katie:
Seeing people ultimately attract more customers and grow their revenue.

I’ve seen a lot of examples of startups that are a solution looking for a problem, and that’s backwards.

No matter how innovative your solution is (or how great your marketing is), if people don’t care about the problem, you’ll never succeed.

What are you hoping to accomplish with Vibe?
Katie:
Obviously, there is huge value in finding a community of like-minded people. More specifically, in putting together the marketing workshops for Vibe members, I’m really hoping to be able to help people up-level their marketing a bit. It’s hard to be a small business owner and have nobody to help with or bounce ideas off of. I want to provide that.

I advise my clients—particularly those that have service businesses—on the power of content marketing. It’s vital and involves being your own brand, owning that as a thought leader in Kitsap. Demonstrating such leadership in your field is a way of connecting with, gaining the trust of, and ultimately attracting new business. So, I want to inspire Vibe members and participants to partner their brainpower with the right kind of marketing, and I want to demonstrate my expertise in that field as part of my own marketing program.  It’s a win-win. It’s me, walking the walk.

That said, I really respect the no-sell zone aspect of Vibe.  I’m not necessarily thinking of participants as potential clients. I value the relationships I’m building as part of a holistic community.  Vibe is so good at encouraging those connections. I’m a resource, and this is a very nice place to be that.

What does it take to be a good leader?
Katie:
The ability to listen to people around you instead of having the attitude of “I’m the boss.”  Knowing they’re heard inspires people to want to follow you. You also need to know the direction you’re going with the ability to delegate, which is hard, especially if you’re a small company.  You’ve got to hire the right people and trust that they’ll do their jobs right.

It’s also about the ability to make decisions and to sometimes make the hard decisions, with empathy and compassion.  People struggle when their leader waffles. The buck does have to stop somewhere.

There is huge value in finding a community of like-minded people. More specifically, in putting together the marketing workshops for Vibe members, I’m really hoping to be able to help people up-level their marketing a bit. It’s hard to be a small business owner and have nobody to help with or bounce ideas off of. I want to provide that.

Still, it’s ultimately the magic fairy dust that makes some people really great leaders.

Any books or shows that you’re crazy about?
Katie:
I read incessantly.  I’m obsessed about it.  I can’t not have a book, but I’m also really picky about what I read. I really prefer things that are beautifully written and made, so the books that have touched me the most are sometimes quite simple. I love Willa Cather (Song of the Lark is one of my favorites) and the work of Rumer Godden. Her book, China Court, is about family and aging and gardening, all told like slowly turning the pages on a life.  

I just started watching Killing Eve.  Wow. It’s really well done, strangely so in this day and age.  I’m not a Game of Thrones fan, and I don’t plan on becoming one.  The series is too violent for me, too depressing, winding down a dark path.  I don’t like things that are dark or violent; I like to be reminded of the good side of humanity, not the bad. I like my escapism to be escapism.

What’s your favorite saying?
Katie:
It just popped into my head.  There’s a retired professional road-racing cyclist from Germany named Jens Voigt. He was famous for basically saying, “Shut up, legs. Legs, shut up!”  We’re going—just shut up, legs. I was thinking of that yesterday on a run.

Do what you have to do, even when it’s really hard. You can achieve amazing things if you focus on the goal and not the other stuff that gets in the way. That’s how I try to live my life.
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Meet the author: Vibist Susan O'Meara is a Poulsbo-based freelance writer, editor and journalist with global experience. Back in the day, Susan did event marketing for the electrified Don King, boxing’s bad-boy biz whiz. Then she got roped into writing and producing TV spots for Love Boat: The Next Wave, the ‘90s reboot, and nonfiction programming for Showtime (e.g., Roswell: The Real Story). She's not sure which was more surreal—going with the flow of those Hollywood highs, so to speak, or navigating Nairobi’s magazine scene. Susan has worked in the US and abroad for the likes of Bloomberg Media, Deloitte, Discovery Communications, and the United Nations. She's obsessed with wrangling language and messaging that helps brands, businesses, and individuals to grow and shine. Except when it comes to Don King's hair.