Write Your Book



a number-one best-selling author, success and book coach, and speaker on a mission to help leaders use the power of writing to uncover their unique stories so they can scale their impact.

I'm Stacy Ennis,

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Episode 127 | How to build a great brand, with Taja Dockendorf

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I'm a number-one best-selling author, success and book coach, and speaker on a mission to help leaders use the power of writing to uncover their unique stories so they can scale their impact.

Hi, I'm Stacy


Branding can feel overwhelming, especially for authors who are new to this whole “personal branding” thing. That’s why I’m so excited this week to welcome Taja Dockendorf, founder and creative director of Pulp + Wire a 100-percent female-founded and run creative agency.

Taja has consulted, created, and grown hundreds of brands while fostering a culture around growth and intuitive leadership for her female-forward team. Taja and her team have directed creatives for both start-up and national brands, such as Petco, Hasbro, Bob’s Red Mill, and more. In this episode, we discuss:

  • Taja’s founding story and why she loves her niche work in consumer packaging branding
  • Tips for building a great brand (these are so good!)
  • Common branding and marketing mistakes and how to avoid them
  • Core leadership lessons that have helped scale a successful creative agency
  • Diversity in the marketing and branding space and how Pulp + Wire is helping influence the industry

Taja is also an active investor in emerging CPG brands, a mentor to other creative founders, creator and host of The Brand Alchemist Podcast, and a contributing writer for both national business and creative publications with a focus on creative leadership. As you listen in, I know you’ll benefit from Taja’s expertise.

Learn more about Taja:

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Transcripts for Episode 127

These transcripts were generated by robots, not writers.

Taja: With social media, and this is for brands or other brands, people who are building brands, you see the best of online and everywhere else, you’re seeing the best of that brand. And we hear this from other brands like, I want to look like this company or that company or this company. Keep in mind, those companies may have gone through twelve rounds of creative and maybe six figures to get to that end result that you’re seeing that you that want. So please give your designers, give yourself again that grace to know that it takes time. It does not happen overnight. So if you need something fast and cheap, but you’re looking at what somebody else has and you want that, just know that’s not always realistic.

Taja: So being mindful of what your needs are, the brands that you admire, and understanding how they got there, and knowing that it’s not always going to land on round one, it might be round ten to get you there. So giving both your team and yourself that space and time to get to that perfect end result, because I will promise you, those brands that you admire took that same time.

Stacy: Welcome. I am really excited about today’s conversation because we get to talk about something that my clients and students ask me about all the time, which is branding. And sometimes even that word can feel really overwhelming to people, like, what even is a brand? And then how do you brand? So it’s like the noun and the verb of branding. And so today we’re going to dig all into branding.

Stacy: We’re going to be talking with a really incredible guest, so I’m going to introduce you to her now. Taja Dawkendorf is the founder and creative director of Pulp and Wire, a 100% female founded and run creative agency that focuses on consumer packaged goods brands, guiding them through strategic brand packaging and social media. In Portland, Maine, Taja has consulted, created and grown hundreds of brands while fostering a culture around growth and intuitive leadership for her female forward team. Taja and her team have directed creative for both startup and national brands such as Petco, Hasbro, Dr. Prager’s Rind, Bob’s Red Mill, Vermont Creamery, Atlantic Sea Farms, and Oligosh Brewing, to name a few.

Stacy: Taja is also an active investor in emerging CPG brands, a mentor to other creative founders, creator and host of the brand Alchemist podcast, and a contributing writer for both national business and creative publications with a focus on creative leadership. Taja, I’m so excited to get to talk to you today.

Taja: Thank you, Stacy. Thrilled to be here. Thank you for the wonderful Intro.

Stacy: When we first met and I was looking at your website and I saw that you had worked with Bob’s treadmill, I was fangirling a little bit because I was like, what that is. So, you know, this little paragraph that I read really doesn’t do justice to the scope of work and the impact that you’ve had in your industry. We’ll get there, but I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got into this creative industry that you’re in and also a little bit more about the work you do, because I imagine that some of the acronyms and terms that I read in your bio might be a little new, like CPG, for example. So give us a little bit of your background and the work that you do today.

Taja: Sure. And I’ll give you a little bit of a soft plug for Bob’s Red Mill. The warm feeling you get with their products and kind of like what you see online and how their values are internally, that’s exactly who they are.

Stacy: Oh, I love that.

Taja: Rarely do brands really are they who you feel they are as a consumer. So many brands try and get you to feel a certain way while they’re doing different practices behind the scene. But all of my working with their team, they are just as warm and lovely and loving as the brand exudes. So just to kind of put that out there, because we’re going to talk about branding and it’s important to walk the walk. Also, when you’re saying that you’re. They are one that definitely does that. So warm, lovely plug for Bob’s Red Mill. So let’s see. I talk a lot with my hands. I’ll be pretty animated through this podcast. So that’s my pre warning. But I started off as an industrial designer.

Taja: We’re going to go way back for a hot second because I loved the feeling of cars, how you feel when you sit in them, the feel, the touch, the smell. It’s a fully immersive experience, and I love that. And I wanted to create that for people. I wanted to create that moment of full, encompassing design. And that’s how I started off with automotive, now automotive Detroit. It was very male dominated world. It ultimately was not where I wanted to be for myself. So I had to do a little bit of soul searching early on. Think, okay, what do I love? But what do I want for me long term? And I ended up changing schools. I finished up school at Adelphi University in New York. They had the most beautiful art facility.

Taja: I actually just did an interview with them on their podcast about that realization and changing, like uplifting your whole life to go from one extreme to the next. And I focused on graphic design. And it was right in 2000 when Adobe Creative suite and the colorful Macs were coming out and it was going from kind of analog to computerized and how graphic design online could be done, and you could do everything that you wanted to do. But on a computer versus hand drawing, I found a love for that. And over time, that’s where I wanted to be, was I wanted design. I didn’t quite know what category or what niche I wanted to be in from a design standpoint, but I knew that creating things was important to me. So over time, I worked on agency side.

Taja: I was designer, senior designer, art director, creative director, and helping brands figure out who they were going to be in the world. And I also learned a lot about who I wanted to be again and who I wanted to be as a company. There was a very old school agency model. It was the designers kind of sit in a corner. You just do creative, pretty things. You don’t talk to the client because you’re too creative. They’ll never understand you. And you were just meant to kind of create and do. And I was like, that’s great, but I come from a family of strategists and creatives, and I wanted more. I was like, I can do more if I can sit at the table with the brand, with the client.

Taja: If I can have a conversation, I can help them figure out how to go from a broad idea and then take all those puzzle pieces and put them back together into a full creative vision that is going to help them move forward faster versus eight different people it needs to go through in an agency to understand who they want to be. So I started as a freelancer, moving into starting my own agency, bringing on interns at first and really slow. I started slow. I didn’t come into it. Guns ablazing, hire five people. I am of the mindset that I need to know how to do everything before I can bring someone else in to do it.

Taja: And that was my, maybe that’s my own work ethic, but that was my business model, was know how to fix everything before you ask somebody else to fix it for you. So it was important to me to grow the company slowly, not fast. But that also meant, again, knowing how to do every piece. So if I was going to add digital, I needed to learn that aspect. If I was going to learn web, I needed to know enough about it. If I was going to just do branding, it was important for me to keep up with trends in growing my company. It’s actually a conversation I had with my son earlier when he was talking about being an entrepreneur.

Taja: And I said, well, if you’re going to do that, make sure you know what it is you’re selling and that you know how to create it yourself, because it’s hard to start a company and hire people who know how to do it if you don’t know how to do it. So maybe that’s another conversation we can come back to. But I started my company. It was a namesake. It was actually TDOc creative partners. Over time, it transitioned to pulp and wire because I didn’t want it to be in my namesake. And ultimately, long story short, I found my way back around to the car design I love so much. But in a different way. Our niche ultimately became packaging design. So the correlation I see between the two is that it is still an experience we’re trying to figure out.

Taja: When you’re grocery shopping and everyone, sadly, is reduced down to a very third grade reading level and two second attention span. When you’re hungry and in the grocery store, how do we grab your attention? How do we get you to want to pick up a certain package, get it in your cart, but also when we’re designing and branding for that package, making sure that it fits your lifestyle and the other brands that you’re buying, so that we can be immersive into your world as well. So when I think about the car. It was all that touch, the feel, the smell, the story. So is CPG packaging. So consumer packaged goods in the lifestyle, beverage, food. It’s what you see in the grocery store when you’re shopping. It’s what you bring home.

Taja: The brands you have a relationship with on social media after the fact, brands that maybe we’ve talked about in this podcast and now you’re going to be served ads for. It is all the world of brand and that is what I loved. And then over time we created these beautiful brands. I have such a soft spot for entrepreneurs and helping them early on figure out who they are, where they’re going to go, how they’re going to get there. But the model I still hold today, which is the one that I started with, is that my creatives all have a seat at the table as a team. And there’s about 1720 of us. We are all involved in the project. It’s not just an account manager and the client. It is the design directors, the creative team, production.

Taja: We are all there listening because everyone has a voice at the table that is imperative to making sure that brand moves forward as effectively as possible.

Stacy: I love how you’ve taken your personal experience and that dissatisfaction that you felt not being involved and really integrated that into your company culture and how you lead your team. I want to go back a little bit to your point about growing slowly and knowing all of the aspects of the business, because it got me thinking. A few years back I joined an entrepreneurial program and I’ve really enjoyed the program. But one thing I did find myself doing early on was comparing my journey to people who were really new and already further along than me and just their business growth. And it was kind of a new experience because I hadn’t been around that many different people at such different business stages and some of whom had started their business like a year before and had already surpassed my revenue.

Stacy: And I really had to go inward and really check in with myself and say, is that actually what I want and how I want to grow my business? And ultimately the answer was no. And through conversations that you and I have had, I’ve really admired your approach to slow sustainable growth and this deep respect that you have for every single role on the team, and a real understanding that when you ask something of somebody, you are asking something, that you understand that you’re making a request of them, that you know what that request is and how much you’re asking of them. I think that is so important. Can you talk a little bit about that experience as a leader, maybe even a little bit about that journey of growing and delegating as well.

Stacy: From being the solopreneur freelancer to now having 17 plus on your team.

Taja: It takes time and it takes being able to trial and error and being kind to yourself and failing and then learning from that to delegate, especially when you know how to do everything. It’s so easy. And I still fall into this, too. And even my design directors, who have been with me for close to 15 years now, they’ve learned some of my traits, too, which is like, oh, I can get this done in five minutes if I just jump in and do it. Or I can take that five minutes and I can explain to somebody else, and I can take what might be 15 minutes or a half hour, so more time.

Taja: It might not be instant gratification or satisfaction, but I’m going to teach someone instead how to do this so that next time I don’t fall into the trap of being like, I’m just going to do it myself. Because everything is a teaching moment and you just have to decide again that white knuckle grip where you’re going to have control of it and where you’re going to let go of control so that you can move faster. Because in the end, when you give your team a chance to succeed, give them the space to do it and give them the time to do it and they will succeed if you are there leading properly, if you just don’t give them clear direction, be like, just do it.

Taja: And then you’re dissatisfied because you didn’t take the time to explain clearly what your expectations were, you’re never going to get that end result. So for me, a lot of that learning, and this is personal learning, too, over the years, you have to be very clear with your expectations because no one can read your mind and no one’s going to do things the same way you do things. So being open to clearly communicating and making sure that they hear what your needs are and what your thoughts are and your creative vision, and then stepping back and being open to seeing how they interpret it’s never going to be a one for one, but it might better than you expected if you give it the space you need.

Taja: So this is why people are like, oh, I want creative yesterday, or we have this instant gratification mentality too. It’s like, oh, I can go on canva and do it, or I can go to fiver and I can get it really quickly or 99 designs, but to do it really well, you need to give creative space and time to fully flourish.

Stacy: I feel like you just coached me on something I needed coaching on, so thank you for that. It’s funny because I had something come up this week and when this situation came up, I instantly went into, let me reorganize my schedule so that I can take care of this thing. And I had to step back and go, wait a second, I have a team, I can involve them in making it happen, but then turn around. I had another little task that I was supposed to train somebody on. I’m just too busy. Let me just take care of it really quickly. And to your point, it’s those little, let me just take care of it really quickly and then you keep owning that task basically forever, right?

Taja: Well, until you’re doing everyone’s job and then why bother having a team, right?

Stacy: Yeah. It’s such an important piece, but it’s so hard to make that mental transition.

Taja: I think it’s trust. It was a big part of know. Prior to jumping on this podcast, Stacy, were talking about like, I was just at a photo shoot for three days and it’s like my first day back in the office after three days and then a weekend and it’s kind of like craziness jumping back into it and everyone has questions for me and everyone’s zooming me. And I said, guys, team, I am. I’m off. I got to go do this podcast. But I know that they’re going to take care of it and I trust them that even though they need me to look at it, I’ve already kind of peeked in the background. I’m aware of everything that’s going on. It’s not like I was completely out of pocket. I still keep a tab on it.

Taja: I can see everything that’s coming through our base camp and files and emails, I’m aware. But I also trust that they’ve got it under control. So by the time that I do give them the time that they need for me from a creative direction standpoint or just a founder standpoint, I’m not going to have to fix the problem. I’m just going to have to be like, that’s a great solution, let’s move forward with it, or this looks great. Here’s a couple of quick tweaks. Let’s keep moving. So it is all about that trust and that delegation and the training that allows you to ultimately up level to run the company versus feeling as though you need to do every task even though you can.

Stacy: It doesn’t mean you should that’s such a great example. And like I said, it just really, for me, hits home in exactly a stage. I have a smaller team than you do, but I have been making that transition myself into really thinking like that. It’s a whole mindset shift. So anybody who’s listening to this that either has that on the horizon or they’re kind of in that journey. I hope that was really helpful. You are a female founder of a design agency in a largely male dominated industry. Like most industries, I will say, can you talk a little bit about what you have seen change in the design industry? Because you even mentioned that when you first got into your program, it was very male dominated.

Stacy: Can you talk about what it’s been like to be a female founder, to navigate an industry that is largely male driven? And how have you also thought about your role in the industry as a female leader?

Taja: So, interestingly enough, and I know we talk a lot about that, there’s very few 100% owned creative agencies that are also female run because a lot of them maybe at one time, were founded by a man and then they brought on their wife or they brought on a female partner and gave them 51%. But to really be fully founded, my husband didn’t start this company with me. He’s a stay at home dad. I did this. That is the rarity. And then to be running it and majority of my team, we have one male employee. But it was, and I say this, that wasn’t on purpose. It was because the right people showed up for the right job. It was not gender specific. It happened to be that was the way that it fell.

Taja: And so much of it happened that way, which I still think is very interesting because there are such male dominated. The industry is male dominated, our consumer is female. So why shouldn’t the team who is building the brand, building the messaging, building that conversation be female? Because we pick up on things very differently than men do. And sometimes we’ll see a campaign that goes out and we’re like, oh, I don’t know if you wanted me to react that way to it, but we see those little details. We’re a mix of mothers, we’re a mix of women who have chosen to not have children. We’re diverse and we can bring that perspective. And I think that has really, what has helped us is the diversity of perspective.

Taja: We can bring very honestly to the conversation, especially with branding or messaging and how we’re talking to our consumer or how we’re branding towards them. We understand what a mother needs when she’s exhausted and her toddler is screaming in the cart. And those value propositions that she’s looking for in a package. But we also understand how men shop too. That’s the beauty of the duality is like, yeah, we can push for this and push for that piece, but I think the percentage is it’s mostly females who are grocery shopping with the exception of my husband. And I use him as the exception to the rule because he shops very differently than I shop. He only looks at the ingredient panel. He does not care what the front looks like.

Taja: He is picking it up to make sure that it has the right ingredients that he wants to bring home to the family. So we’re keeping that in mind too, because that’s where we can help brands be more successful and think about trends and where they’re going to stand out. Better on the shelf is those value propositions of better for you foods. And that is a big part of the CPG category we’re in. Is better for you, better for the world products.

Stacy: It’s so interesting to think about that. This end consumer is largely female, but men have been marketing to her and how you can bring that unique piece. I would love to talk about branding because I know a lot of our listeners tuned in to hear about that. Can you talk about the components of a great brand? When you have somebody come into you and they need support in really resonating with the people that they want to resonate with, getting them to purchase their product and be thrilled with the product and keep buying it, how do you think about that? And how could that also extend to somebody who has a small business? Maybe they don’t have products, physical products, going out into the world.

Taja: So I’d break it into two categories because there is the personal brand owner and then there is the brand itself, which is a little bit different. We’ll talk about the personal brand first. So with a personal brand, say it’s a person writing a book or a consultancy. This is where you need to put yourself out. There you are the brand. You are selling yourself in so many different ways to your consumer. But just like branding on the other side, which we’ll talk about, you need to understand who it is that you’re talking to and who your people are. So just know you’re not going to be everything to everyone and that is okay. But you need to know who your audience is going to be.

Taja: And sometimes that’s a little bit of soul searching and some research, especially on a personal brand side, to be like, all right, this is what my perfect Persona looks like for my audience. Maybe they drive this car, they love these two colors. They have this many kids, this is what their income looks like. They’re into numerology, or they love eating natural, or they’re into healthy beauty. Whatever it is, jot all that down because that is ultimately going to make your ideal consumer, or potentially two different ideal consumers that you can help shape your personal brand. When you’re talking to them, you’re messaging the look and feel look to those people, those avatars almost, and figure out what brands they’re buying, what resonates with them, what sites are they on, because then you can really create something that’s different.

Taja: You don’t want to look like everyone else, but you can still be speaking to them in a way that feels very comfortable and very natural and is probably very honest to you too. Because if that is your audience, then that’s probably also what your belief system is. If your audience is fundamentally different than your belief system from a personal brand standpoint, I would kind of relook at that because it’s not going to come off honestly either. And they’re going to know we live in a world where everyone can suss it out. So we want to be really honest and clear and transparent when we’re pulling together a brand. But that’s on the personal brand side where you can really make it your own. It can be your baby. It can be. I love these colors. This is what I want.

Taja: But I know my audience love these colors and it’s honest to me and this is who I am. When you get into maybe more of a corporate brand and you’ve got a full marketing team and you’ve got ceos who started it shouldn’t be always about what that CEO wants personally because that could be a massive disconnect from the end brand. So if that CEO is like, I love yellow only, and you’re like, ooh, that is not going to work for this brand because everyone else in your space is yellow. You need to take that into consideration and you need to brand again more towards who that consumer is and less about personal feelings. And I talk about this a little bit.

Taja: It’s like your brand isn’t always your baby because you want to make sure you’re speaking to that audience who is ultimately going to buy the product and you want them to be excited.

Stacy: When you think about the interplay of those two things, I think this is a big question that I hear a lot is I’m building maybe this personal thought leadership brand. I also have this business over here. How should people be thinking about those two things and how they interact together?

Taja: It depends on how connected they are. If one is kind of a thought leadership piece and you’re talking about, let’s say, women in leadership and things like that, you get a product which is maybe a book or an online series or some kind of product that supports your personal brand, then they should be connected. They should be consistent with each other. If they’re departed and divergent, then it’s important to understand those two different audiences market to those audiences. But maybe there’s a middle ground in which the two can connect. So I think we get stuck on, oh, it’s me. Can I be two different personalities? Well, yes, if your audiences are two different ways, you can be, but you should always try and find that middle ground also that connects them together.

Stacy: Can you talk about this a little bit from personal experience? Because I know you are a thought leader within your industry as Taja, right? And you are speaking and interviewing and writing, you have all these things that you’re doing to create thought leadership, right? And then you also have pulp and wire, which has its own brand and its own marketing to the level that you’re willing to share. Can you reflect on that a little bit and how you think about it as you’re building your personal thought leadership and also supporting the business as well, but also being separate entities?

Taja: Yeah, no, I’m happy to speak to it, I think. Stacy, you and I have talked about this before. I am naturally an introvert, yet trained extrovert for 20 years and having my company, I spent so much time behind the computer, behind the under the radar. In a lot of cases, 99% of our work is referral and word of mouth. So those big brands, they came to us, which is still very unusual in our space, but it’s because we did good work. We were honest. We were there. I was there. I’m supporting these brands. My team is there. We’re there collectively. However, if we wanted to move forward and again compete with those other agencies and those bigger brands, I had a lot to say, and I work with these smaller brands, and I’m like, oh, I see your struggles.

Taja: I see how other brands are struggling, too. But maybe we’re not in an NDA, and I don’t want to divulge this, but leadership needs to go out there. I need to explain how this works for other brands so that they can hear it. Or I want to interview these brands so they can say it in their words, how they’re excelling or failing or their trials and tribulations. So for me, it was a decision to come up from under the radar. And that looked like thought leadership articles. And it was me that’s now. I’m not pulp and wire, the company in which I had been creative, directing and building. I’m coming out as Taja, the founder, to write those articles. They are from me. They are my thoughts.

Taja: Less the thoughts of the company, but me as the owner, they are definitely connected, but much more honest. And then when I did the podcast, that was about letting brands have their voice also, and me just helping to facilitate those conversations and another chance to get me out from my everyday, peel me out of it and do something a bit more public, which is not always my most comfortable place in doing that. It helped meet so many more people, but that’s more of a personal brand. So when I go to trade shows, they’re like, hi, how are you? I don’t really expect them to know pulp and wire. I expect them to know me, but to have the kind of that same warm and fuzzy feeling we have with our brands.

Taja: That being said, I have a beverage brand also, so my beverage brand looks nothing like my pulp and wire brand. I have two of them. They’re not personal brands, but they’re built specifically for the audience. And there, I’m not trying to be like, oh, I own those brands. Here’s who’s founding them, they’re their own brand, and I’m letting them be what they want to be. But how they’re kind of connected is that my thought leadership? My podcast supports pulp and wire. It supports pulpwire from building the visibility that I knew we wanted for the company. But I’m allowing it to be my own personal one as well to help build visibility overall. I hope that answered your question. I fell into it because I wanted to get out from just doing the work with the clients and share to the world.

Taja: The last 20 years of experience I’ve had failing and coming up with solutions and solving those failures because I just felt like there was so much to share and I wanted to do it in a way that felt honest.

Stacy: Your content is such a gift as well. Like, you’re very vulnerable, you’re very real. One of the things that I have been learning about experimenting with myself is this idea that people often are. They come into your ecosystem because of who you are and how you show up. Then they get curious about what you do. And I always thought it was kind of the other way around. For my own content, I was very rigidly educational. Right? Information, education, value. And once I actually started showing up as myself and sharing thoughts and just being more present, that converted so much better in bringing people in and getting them curious and interested. And I think also to your point, that authenticity and that people are really craving that one of the things that you have created a lot of content around is leadership.

Stacy: And I’d love to hear from you throughout all of this time that you have built pulp and wire. You have these five core leadership lessons that you live and lead by. Can you share those with us?

Taja: Oh, my gosh. You might have to remind me what my five are. I feel like they change regularly.

Stacy: That is like the perfect entrepreneurial answer. Just they could be six, they could be four. How about whatever is resonating with you.

Taja: Today for your perfect as a creative, I’m super flexible in my mindset. I like change and that, I think is what’s helped us grow even with down years through Covid. I took Covid as a challenge. It was an opportunity to change how we do things, which was really in a lot of ways, it was horrible for some people. For me, it was exciting because it was like, all right, I’ve been training for this. Let’s come up with a new way of doing things because we’re going to move forward and we’re going to be successful. I am also, I should have mentioned this before. I am an optimist. And that optimism doesn’t come from thinking that everything’s always rainbows and butterflies. It comes from one of my key leadership terms, solutions.

Taja: I know that at the end of the day, there is a solution for everything. So I’m not going to fear that I don’t have a solution. It’s not going to stop me dead in my tracks. We just need to sometimes slow down for a hot second and figure out how we’re going to solve the problem. But there is always a solve, no matter what, and everything will be fine and nothing will burn to the ground. So solutions is a huge piece for me, culture is another big piece. It’s one thing to have an agency, but you really want to come to work every day. It’s one thing to get a paycheck. It’s another thing to love what you do. So for me, I want my team to love what they do.

Taja: If my team does not love what they do, I will work with them to figure out what they love. And in some cases, can we make that work here, or is that better suited for a job? Elsewhere, and then I will help them find that job, because happiness in your role is the most important piece. That’s fundamentally, if I was ever employed, but that’s how I would want to be treated. And I know that’s a little bit rare from an entrepreneurial standpoint, because you’re all bottom line and revenue, and we’ve got to meet these tactics. Of course we do, but you want to meet those milestones with a team that really wants to be there and a team that you appreciate and love also, that goes a long way.

Taja: So team is a big piece for me, which was also building a culture that we could all stand behind and giving everyone the time that they needed. Families leave, dark weeks, but making sure that everything we give wasn’t a gimme, and it’s not a handout. It’s an opportunity to be a better version of yourself, and when you’re in, you’re on. So that’s always been my thing about culture. It’s not about a race to who can have the most benefits. It’s an opportunity to have this grace within our culture, to give people the time and space that they need so that we can be the most effective we can possibly be. And I think that’s kind of the. You’ve seen all this stuff with culture that’s like. Again, I feel like it’s a race to the benefits, like, who can have more?

Taja: And that’s not the right mindset. The mindset is it should be appreciated, not just expected, and your team should know how to show up so that when they’re off, they can enjoy it, and when they’re on, they can deliver. And I think that’s kind of a different mindset that we’re working towards. So, again, culture is another really big one for me, and working with my team and understanding that and a big piece is, what would I want? How do I want it? What time off do I need to be the best version of myself and then working with my team through that? So, solutions and culture are a very big one. Let’s see, what other keywords are paramount to me running my company?

Stacy: Well, I do have my notes here. I can tell you what you sent. And actually, maybe we could even talk about this first one, because I had a question in mind that’s related to the first one that you sent, and that is that every mistake I make is a lesson to be learned. As I’m listening to you talk so eloquently about all of these things related to culture and team, and it’s very impressive to hear the kind of mature business space that you’re in now and how you think about that. Certainly that has not always been the case.

Taja: Right.

Stacy: You’re learning through it, and I’m curious to hear that. Is there a moment that you can think of where you really had a come to Jesus moment that really helped you orient to the space that you’re in now?

Taja: I’ve had a lot of them, and I wouldn’t trade a single one. The small ones, the big ones, the client issues in which we’re paying a client back for the work because we knew that the relationship wasn’t right. I mean, there’s so many things that go into culture where it’s not just your team, it’s also your clients and how you work with them. And is this the right client for your team, or are they toxic? And some of those decisions we have to make, which can be huge financial burdens, but they’re ones we just have to make in order to be able to move forward in the end, some of my bigger moments around culture, specifically, I mean, I started my company when I was really young. I was, let’s see, 22 when I started my company.

Taja: I have to do the math really quick. I’m 46 men, maybe a little anywhere. Somewhere in between there. And, I mean, yeah, I didn’t have the answers to anything. I had to figure it out. I did not go to business school. I went to art school. Now, granted, I was, like I said before, raised by psychologists and creatives, so I understood management. I understood how I wanted to be treated, which was the early part of my life and especially in my career, working through that with larger agencies and knowing who I wanted to be when I walked into a room, knowing who I wanted to be when I sat at the table, and knowing who I wanted to be with much older people in the room and brands.

Taja: And I realized through time and space that ultimately, it did not matter how old I was, did not matter what gender I was. When I walk into the room, I have the information they need. Just own that. Know that when you walk into the room, if you’ve asked to be there, you have information that everyone in the room is looking for, regardless of how you look, how old you are. So show up with that information and give it and see what happens. So that fear was one that I had to assume. Yeah, fear was a big one. I had to give up. Also in my fear of learning and making mistakes, was that it was okay.

Taja: Even if I fall down in that, I’m going to learn from that moment, and it will help me the next time, even though I might have some bruises and scrapes from it, because I started my company early hiring HR, things like that. That’s always tough to learn when you lose somebody or somebody is upset, but you learn from it. You figure out how to better. You hire the people you need to fill those gaps. And like I said, there are some client issues as well that we’ve learned from it. I know what to look for now. There’s different flags I’m aware of, like, oh, I see that coming, or a spidey sense it’s going off. I’m going to be a little bit intuitive on this one.

Taja: Here’s how we need to address it so that everyone on my team is kind of having that intuitive mindset of like, oh, we’ve been here. Let’s not forget that really uncomfortable situation we had with this client, because we don’t want it to happen again with this client. So we’re going to address things differently. 2020 was a huge learning. I think that was for everyone. I would definitely say I was much more corporate early on with the company and how I managed things and how I expected people to work certain hours. Efficiency, it’s just what I knew. It’s how business was run. There was just different expectations. And then when Covid hit, as I mentioned, I love change.

Taja: It was an opportunity for me to fundamentally change, and I took that as an opportunity to fail and succeed or to fail regardless of what it was. I was going to make those movements forward. And that came down to me lessening that white knuckle corporate grip that I had prior, allowing more time, allowing the grace, allowing things to flow a little bit differently, and allowing that trust and being able to give my team the trust and the space so that we could be stronger and more effective in the end. And of course, there’s been a few mistakes along the way or things that we’ve learned together.

Taja: But fundamentally, Covid was the most magical gift from a business standpoint that I could have been given personally from a growth standpoint, because I got to change who I was and my thought process and truthfully, how I wanted to show up for my kids and my family. As a business owner, you mentioned several.

Stacy: Instances where you had a client issue or you had these learnings. And it made me think about, I’ve had a number of situations throughout my 14 years in business. I was also 23 when I started my business, and so I was learning my skill along with learning how to have a business. I have always embraced the word fail, and the words fail and failure because I see them as actually absolutely critical. If you’re never failing, you’re not reaching for anything. Right. And it’s been interesting along my journey when I will talk to people about, oh, I had this thing happen, and I will use the word failure, but I don’t see it as a bad thing. And I notice that in conversations, people, oh, no, it wasn’t a failure. And they’ll want to kind of make it all seem like it’s okay.

Stacy: And I’m always like, no, it was, I have to understand why. And that’s where I can grow from. Can you talk a little bit about that from your personal experience?

Taja: I think it’s just ego. No one ever wants to feel like they failed or they made a mistake. It hurts. It’s uncomfortable. No one wants to be in that vulnerable state. We want to kind of, like, brush it over and be like, oh, nothing happened. But truthfully, if you just kind of embrace that horrible feeling, you’ll be able to move through it faster next time. And I think that’s what I try and teach my team also, and my kids and everyone else is like, just sit in it for a second. It’s okay. It’s okay to feel bad. Lick your wounds. Give it 24 hours. Don’t respond. We have this business like, oh, I’ve got to respond to that right away.

Taja: And sometimes our knee jerk reaction isn’t the right one, especially if it’s a confrontational moment or there’s something that maybe you said that didn’t hit or a design you did that someone didn’t, like, sit with it for a second, kind of go back, turn the mirror around, and just kind of be mindful of time and space again. Because if you give yourself 1 hour to think about it versus 12 hours to think about it, in 12 hours, you’re going to have a very different mindset. And sometimes the client needs to cool down for a couple of hours, too, and then you can come back to a much easier solution at that time. Yeah. It really is about giving yourself some space to own that failure. And again, I don’t think failure is a bad word at all. I don’t think it’s an uncomfortable word.

Taja: It’s like, no one likes it, but it shouldn’t be scary to you. It should be like, all right, it happened. Now what? Now how am I going to fix this and how am I going to learn from it?

Stacy: I think a really key thing that you said just now. And I want to just really highlight this so that anybody listening or watching this really hears this. You talked about feeling it, and I think that’s where a lot of people miss the mark when they go through something hard. That’s something that I had to learn along my own entrepreneurial journey, that sometimes I just have to fully feel the horribleness of whatever it is. And I give myself wallow time where I just feel really bad for a while. And then somehow I think, because I really let myself feel it fully, and I’m not just trying to put out fires immediately or whatever it is that I’m trying to deal with. It’s amazing if you let yourself process that, actually, how quickly you can come around and go, oh, this isn’t so bad.

Stacy: I actually can problem solve this. Has that been your experience as well?

Taja: Oh, yes. A good night’s sleep solves everything for me.

Stacy: Isn’t that the truth?

Taja: It is clear in the morning. I mean, I could be driving home, or I could jump on a call with my husband or another coworker and be like, oh, my gosh, this is going on. My husband in particular, because he’s known me for so long, is great. He’s like, just come home, take a hot shower, go to bed. I’m like, I know that’s what I need to do. Not overthink it, not over process it, not worry about it, just feel it, and then reset and then be like, okay, I’m ready to tackle this. And somewhere in that process, you are processing it. You are solving it in your mind. You’re giving yourself the time to work through to a solution. So when you’ve given yourself that space, it feels much easier to comprehend and.

Stacy: To tackle when you’re coming from it with a mindset of problem solving rather than scarcity or fear or lack. And I think that mindset of, like, I can solve any problem. Like you said earlier, there is always a solution to a problem, and it’s about centering and finding your way forward.

Taja: Absolutely. And one thing I do, I teach my team, too, and I think this goes a long way in kind of just like life, that if you’re frustrated, chances are the other person’s frustrated, too. It’s never a one sided emotion. So sometimes just being able to call it out and be honest and be like, I feel like we’re not. Let’s level set. Let’s just have a conversation. Let’s get on a call. Let’s talk about what’s not working. And that goes so far. And I think this is with designers. Let’s say you’ve got a design you don’t like. Instead of being like, oh, I’m afraid I’m going to hurt their feelings. So I don’t want to communicate it. I just want to pacify it. But I’m unhappy. That’s not going to move you forward.

Taja: Hopefully you’ve got a good designer who’s got thick enough skin that you can jump on a call and be like, here’s what’s working. Here’s what’s not working. I want to hear your thoughts. What do you think? And you collaborate together and you have a conversation and you move through it. So that’s always been my advice to my team or to clients, that if something’s not perfect, that’s okay. It’s process. We have to remember that nothing is going to be perfect. Round one. That is just part of the process we are going through to get to the final round. That is going to be amazing. So things take time. We have to give things time to be perfect, and we have to be able to communicate collectively.

Taja: We have to be able to take bad feedback when it comes, we have to be able to celebrate good feedback when it comes. And know that if you’re feeling frustrated and you’re not communicating it, then that client or the other side is also feeling frustrated and not communicating it. And that’s where the problem is going to happen. So if you can sense that early on and nip it, have an honest conversation, things will be much smoother through the course of the process.

Stacy: That was such a profound way to put it. I’m like, I want to take that little audio clip and play it at the front of team meetings. Now, just like, as a little reminder, I do think that being direct is respect. I think especially american culture, we tend to be so, like, I don’t want to offend people or hurt their feelings, but it actually feels really bad to not know where somebody stands. I think if you’re kind and gentle, especially considering how the other person receives things, being direct with them, I think, is such a form of respect. Taja, you’re a very fascinating, interesting person doing all kinds of things. I know right before we met today, you were like, in a dog photo shoot, know, always traveling to cool places.

Stacy: Where can people follow you, listen to you, learn more from, oh, well, find.

Taja: Me on LinkedIn just under Taja Dawkendorf. Both very hard to spell, but I’m sure Stacy will have a link on Instagram because I like to learn things before my clients, I was an early adopter there, so my handle is just at Taja. Taja. So nice and easy. is a great place. We are working on a new website which will be maybe live by the time this episode airs. We will see where else to find me. Those are the top ones and is the website I have where I post my articles as well and kind of my own personal branding side outside of pulp and wire. But you see that the two definitely mesh because my company is in a lot of ways my baby.

Taja: And as we create these brands for other people, one leaving thought is that with social media and this is for brands or other brands, people who are building brands, you see the best of online and everywhere else, you’re seeing the best of that brand. And we hear this from other brands, like, I want to look like this company or that company or this company. Keep in mind, those companies may have gone through twelve rounds of creative and maybe six figures to get to that end result that you’re seeing that you now want. So please give your designers, give yourself again that grace to know that it takes time. It does not happen overnight. So if you need something fast and cheap, but you’re looking at what somebody else has and you want that, just know that’s not always realistic.

Taja: So being mindful of what your needs are, the brands that you admire and understanding how they got there, and knowing that it’s not always going to land on round one, it might be round ten to get you there. So giving both your team and yourself that space and time to get to that perfect end result, because I will promise you, those brands that you admire took that same time.

Stacy: I love that message so much and I hope any also aspiring authors hearing this are really listening because a lot of times when people are in the writing process, they get really down on themselves because it doesn’t read like that great novel that they love. And I’m like, wait a second, you have editing, you have all these things to go. You really need to be easier on yourself. So thank you for that closing thought, Taja, and thank you so much for joining me today. This was such a great conversation.

Taja: Thank you, Stacy, it was a pleasure.

Stacy: And thank you to you, the listener, for tuning in with us today. I hope you got as much value out of this as I did. I really loved this conversation and heard some things that I want to go and apply directly to my own work. Thank you as always to Rita Domingues for producing this fine podcast. And to Catherine Fishman for project support. And I will be back with you before you know it.


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