Brooklyn based brand strategist and designer Karmen Lizzul grew up in New York City and the surrounding suburbs. NYC was her “second father” and taught her so much as she tells us. “I was born in Koper, Slovenia and the first thing I noticed was that the city I was born in had all this amazing typography everywhere. It seared into my brain a love of type and design and poetic order. Just kidding, I think.” We get chatting to the witty brand strategist and designer about her own journey through self-love, how the media helped to shape her vision today, and why branding really is the key to any successful business.
Hey Karmen, can you introduce yourself to us?
Hi! Thanks so much for this opportunity! I am a brand strategist and designer based in Brooklyn, New York. I am a native New York although I was born in former Yugoslavia in Slovenia. We came to the US when I was 18 months old. As a girl, I was playful, funny and drove my mother crazy as I would hide between the racks in department stores if we went shopping together. My favorite food is pizza.
Can you take us through your journey to where you are now?
I have always been creative. In high school, I painted and drew and played viola and guitar and frankly had no idea what I would do if I did not do something creative professionally. I applied and got accepted into the School of Visual Arts in New York City where I studied painting and drawing and graphic design. I was really into magazines and it was a great time for magazines.
The industry was thriving and I worked at I would say almost every magazine in New York City and a few fashiony type advertising agencies. I bounced around as a freelancer a lot as a freelancer. I always had my own side projects on top of working in-house as a freelancer. It was very exciting and fun and I worked with so many amazing editors and art directors. And there were lots and lots of parties.
All that work with media really taught me about branding and how to reach a targeted audience. Each magazine had a different target and you had always speak to that, and create content that spoke to the reader/user. It also taught me what would catch the attention of a major media magazine. We had certain criteria on whether we would feature a specific product or service. This is an enormous gift to my clients today. They are getting more than an expert brand consultant, but also someone who understands media and what would make someone attractive to be featured in the magazine or site they are aiming for.
Then after that so much had changed and a few years later, I eventually wound up taking a full-time position as creative director at a large women’s magazine with an audience of over 4 million.
And there again creating targeted magazine covers for a few years, I really became an expert at targeting branded content to a specific readership, in this case, it was moms of teens. We have a very precise target market and it really worked. Within a few years, we had hit all top advertising hot lists and our ad pages grew tremendously.
I became more and more interested in crafting a story and writing so in I got my MFA in Creative Writing in 2011 from Vermont College. It was a low residency program so I did that while working full-time
In 2016, after getting laid off and frankly feeling a little depressed and confused about what was next, I decided to go solo again and use my expertise to help businesses grow. I combine all my branding, design and media experience, plus my love for a story to help businesses create a brand that would get the attention they needed, especially from potential customers and clients.
What is a day in the life of you like as a branding consultant and coach?
Well, it took me a while to really figure out my days after working in a sort of corporate environment. I got into a bad habit of waking up and basically working right away, right from my bed, which is so easy to do with the phone as I am sure you know. So now I don’t sleep with my phone and I wake up at 6 am and start my day with a twenty-minute meditation.
This is crucial for me to keep my focus sharp and help me tune in with my intuition. I am highly intuitive and because I have so much media and branding experience, and frankly have also made a ton of mistakes, following my intuition is more than a hunch. I see it like I have all these hours of experience and somewhere my mind has stored all the projects and ideas I ever worked on. If I I am sharp and rested and focused, great ideas are sort of effortless. The key is self-care, so I make that a top priority.
I then brew some strong coffee and take it in a to-go cup and take my Shihtzu Yoshi for a walk. I take my phone and do a quick check my email and see if there are any super urgent emails from my team that I need to address.
After I get dressed and ready and have a bite, I get to work. I have an office in my apartment and while it would be really tempting to just go to work in my pajamas. I like getting dressed every day. Cute outfits are important to me! I guess it’s all those years working in magazines.
I start my day reviewing my schedule and make a list of priorities. My day is a mix of team meetings to address any upcoming marketing or client concerns and of course client meetings. I do all my client meetings over phone or Zoom. I usually wrap up around 3 pm. At that point, I address any pressing issues and by 4:00 PM I am generally done for the day. If I am feeling ambitious I will go to the gym or head out to a gallery or museum. Many times I will meet a good friend for a coffee or dinner. I am also working on a novel so at least three times a week I spend 2-3 hours on my book. Right now I have a deadline coming up for the first draft. So I will be spending more time on that most likely.
How did you launch your business?
I had been thinking about it for so many years. In my last magazine job I was really unhappy in the end, it had become a very corporate environment and getting less and less creative. We also wound up doing the same topics every year. Every magazine has an editorial calendar that helps advertisers know when it is best for them to advertise their product. The obvious ones are holidays like Mothers Day and Christmas, but it is also diabetes month or heart disease awareness etc. So you tended to do the same topics again and again so after a few years it can get really monotonous, but it is also challenging in a good way.
Anyway, I had been thinking about it, and then I got laid off in another massive downsizing. It was happening every year, and that year it was my turn. So the decision was made for me. While I was happy to leave that job, I was unsure of my next steps. It was a difficult time, and I tried a few things, until finally landing on doing what I love and what I do best!
Can you tell us what is the concept behind your brand personality quiz you use to measure your clients?
Oh yeah! well, it is sort of based on fashion in a way. In magazines, we were always putting together outfits as if they were for a specific person. For instance, for an earthy, nature girl we might feature natural tones and more loose flowing look or ripped jeans.
Then for a more posh girl, we might have harder edges and slim lines. I approached my quiz in the same way, you answer the questions and the quiz is designed so that your results tell you whether you are one of four personality archetypes. I have had so many entrepreneurs tell me its right on. Then, when you get your results, you also you get a branding guide based on your results to help you develop your brand including more about the personality archetype you should be speaking to, how to talk to them, and some design ideas on typography and color palettes to get you started.
Who does the team involve behind you?
I have an assistant who does some technical stuff and I also have a designer that helps with client projects and our own marketing.
As you continue to grow, what important factors did you consider when looking at the scalability of your business model?
I believe that branding is the key to a successful business. If you plan your scaling based on your brand, you really are never at loss for creating content or marketing or new products. It’s a secret recipe that only you have that makes the perfect cake every time. Right now I work only one-on-one, but I will develop courses to teach all that I know that is part of the plan to scale.
Where can you see your self within the next 3-5 years?
I have a goal to help 1,000 entrepreneurs in the next couple of years, as clients.
How are you planning to expand your branding and design company?
Right now I work only one-on-one so I can’t really help as many people as I would like. But I know in the next few months that will change. I plan on offering online DIY workshops and retreats to gather like-minded business owners so we can brainstorm together to help grow their businesses.
Can you tell us what areas you have struggled in professionally?
Yes, I absolutely can! Wow–well the design industry has changed so much and at first, I did not think that doing what I am great at, what I do best, as a viable business model. So I went to coaching school to become a certified coach thinking that is what I would do. My first venture was as a book-writing coach. But it just didn’t feel right. SO then I tried being a dating a coach for introverted women and I created an awesome brand: MissIntrovert.com and had a few clients, but then again, it didn’t speak to my artist self. Finally, I realised that I was just not seeing things clearly and am back to doing what I am really good at and what I would do even if I wasn’t getting paid for it. I love design and art. And I love creating a brand and coming up with unique ways to market that idea even more. It feels really good to be back where I belong!
Have you ever had any other mentor? If so how has this benefitted you to grow?
Mentor. Man, when I was just starting in magazines all I wanted was some hot shit, rock’n’roll art director to take me under his or wing and guide me through their world. For most of my career, I would have to say that I have been very much on my own in that regard. I mean I did work with great people and learned a lot from them, but not in a mentor sort of way. I do have a mentor today and it is still in the beginning stages, but I feel like I have finally chosen an amazing mentor who has a huge business and really knows what she is talking about.
I have had some bad coaches and mentors. Finding a mentor is a lot like dating! If you meet someone and you get all these crazy feelings and you obsess about them and whether or not you should date them, or work with them, it’s probably not right. But if there is a calm knowing that this is the right decision and they are not pumping up your ego but rather approaching your business realistically, then you are more on the right track. A good mentor will lovingly call you on your stuff without shaming you.
What outlets do use to market yourself?
I use facebook and live networking right now. I am getting a webinar ready and we will be starting Instagram more intensely soon.
Which methods are you using to build your own support network?
I am in a coaching program with like-minded women who are at the same stage I am and that has been amazing!
What do you believe are the common misconceptions about being a branding consultant and coach?
Well, I have found that sometimes people hire you but they are really close-minded in terms of where they see their business. They have been at it for so long and see their business in a certain way. They think they want someone to tell them what to do, but really not many people can handle advice. So it’s’ important for me to get buy-in from the clients, to lead them to a great idea unless they flat out ask me for ideas or advise. I also find that entrepreneurs sometimes see branding as simply a color palette and a mood board.
The color palette and mood board and logo etc, come out of the branding. Branding is a very intense process and is best when it is done with two or more people throwing out some ideas. I work with my clients to develop there brand essence and story. The logo and color palette come out of that. Also, if you want to get the best out of your designer, give them room to create something amazing. Its good to give them inspiration and swipe of stuff you like, but if you are too directive, you are really shorting yourself.
What would you like to see changed for millennials in business?
I like what Gary V said. He suggested millennials take the time to enjoy life and not be so worried about their career. Travel the world. Life is short, don’t stress. I like that. I went to Bali this year and I will be going to Mexico City in a few weeks. Seeing the world and how other people live really opens your mind and gives you great insight.
What is the best piece of advice you have received to date?
Keep a notebook of all your ideas. I get so many ideas. And sometimes I have them swimming in my head all at once, and then I forget them or feel really bad if I never do anything with them. Some are great, some really are not! When I first think of them I think they are amazing!
Once I write them down I free up some headspace and I can always go back an look over the list and decide if any one of them are really as good as I thought they were at first. If there is an amazing idea, then I can try to implement. Not all of them will be implementable, but it really good to keep a record of them.
What is the number 1 critical lesson you have learned in your career so far?
I am a chronic starter. For me, it’s not the starting that is difficult, it’s more the completion. I love the book ‘Finish: Give Yourself The Gift Of Done,’ by Joe Acuff. It really spoke to me and I am finally making some headway on some long-standing projects which are super-exciting.
How do you create an evenly balanced work and personal life?
I think balance is over-rated. I like to work hard and then relax. I guess that is a balance. Getting the rest I need and daily meditation is what grounds me. It is also important for me to have fun and laugh a lot.
The highlight of your career so far?
This interview! Just kidding–well it might be, right? So far I could say just deciding to finally focus on what I love, own my expertise and finally quiet those horrible self-doubt voices.
What gives you ultimate career satisfaction?
Knowing I have helped someone take their business to the next level. I also LOVE LOVE LOVE brainstorming marketing ideas with a client or colleague.
What barriers have you faced whilst building your business?
Those dang gremlin voices of self-doubt. That is the biggest barrier.
Which other leading entrepreneurs and pioneering game changers do you also admire and why?
Fabianne Fredrickson of Boldheart. She has heart and soul and mega biz smarts. She is also an amazing model for professional relationships among women. She has lovingly groomed her lead coach Kiva Schuler to take over some important roles in her business so she can continue to grow and create. It is so awesome to watch. These two ladies are amazing mentors.
Jenn Scalia is also a great mentor and coach, and she has an inspiring story. A single mom, she was so broke she and her son had to move in with her parents when she started her business. She now has a seven-figure business.
How would you say you are intending to use your voice to educate others in the world of the branding?
We are talking about either starting a YouTube channel for videos or podcast or both! I want to inspire more women to step into their expertise. I also want to do more interviews like this and write a book. I just have to pick on of my many book ideas to start.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
‘Finish: Give Yourself The Gift Of Done’ by Joe Acuff.
Top 5 Podcast channels?
- Amy Porterfield ‘Online Marketing Made Easy’
- ‘I procrastinate Podcast’
- ‘The New Yorker Fiction Podcast’
- ‘Dr. Pat Allen on LA Talk Radio’
- ‘In The Dark’
How do you measure your own terms of success?
For me, it’s if I am completing what I set the intention to accomplish. If not, then I ask myself why and how can I make it happen.
What does #BEYOUROWN mean to you?
#BEYOUROWN means to be your own boss; BE YOUR OWN means do not abandon yourself to someone else’s agenda.
Lastly, what is next for you?
I want to help 1000 female entrepreneurs expand their business through branding.