We had the good fortune of connecting with Kathy Lawless and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kathy, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
After 20 years in corporate leadership roles leading teams and projects, I found myself eager to accept the severance package that I had successfully dodged for several years. Not sure why I was dodging it when for the last three years my roles were centered around cost saving projects aka layoffs. While I knew it was time to leave, and was excited about new possibilities, I was also surprised by how sad I was driving away from the building that last time. Course it didn’t help that I walked out alone, pushing a cart with my 4 boxes of stuff. My boss and team were located in different cities, so no good byes, no happy hour with colleagues wishing me well. Just me and my boxes. What pushed me over the edge was Lynard Skynard’s song Free Bird playing on the radio while I was driving away, looking at the building in the rear-view mirror — “if I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?” I burst into tears! 20 years is a long time man? What do I have to show for 20 years of my life? Then of course the verse shifts to…”but I’m as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot chain!” Just like that, the pity party is over! I’m excited to be moving on! At the same time, I couldn’t shake that feeling of how important (and cool!) it would be to find a way to capture and celebrate a 20-year career. After consulting for a few years back in corporate, I took a gig as Interim President/CEO for a non-profit women’s leadership development organization where I had been on the board of directors for the past 8 years. Super fun! I then began toying with the idea of turning my hobby of creating photo books for family and friends into a business but didn’t know how to do it. I was always compelled at the end of projects to capture and celebrate the success of the projects with storytelling, but could I do that for a living? After reading Jen Sincero’s book “You are a badass” I was motivated to just do it! I made the decision, started putting it out in the universe, and then found an amazing business coach who helped me launch it in 90 days! Which was mind blowing to me, as I had in my head it should take a year to launch a business. After all, I had no name, pricing, processes, website, business cards, anything. It’s been four and a half years now, and what a ride it’s been. The super highs and super lows of the first year followed by the panic and fear of the second year — where are my next clients going to come from? With years three and four bringing renewed confidence and a plethora of new product ideas — enter the squirrel factor. But I’m doing it, and most days loving it. I get to help folks capture their career and life stories through photo books, posters and podcasts, typically to celebrate milestone moments like: retirements, graduations, birthdays or anniversaries.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I help people capture their life and career stories in photo books, posters and podcasts. Usually to celebrate a milestone moment like a: retirement, graduation, or big-oh (50, 60, 70, 80, 90, etc.) birthday or anniversary. One of my strengths is arranging complex information into more organized and easier to understand formats. Coupled with my eye for design and art for story telling, I love helping families move their memories from the boxes in the basement (and their phones and computers) to the coffee table. Giving family and friends access to these wonderful memories in a coffee-table photo book that tells a story and is something they’ll want to pick up and flip through. There’s something significant about seeing your loved one’s story in print and being accessible on your coffee table. At the same time, watching a video of your loved one is also really cool. Now you can have both! I incorporate QR codes linked to videos in my photo books — truly bringing the stories to life. Imagine having your loved one’s voice, and maybe even a video of them, talking about photos from their early years growing up, preserving their memories for generations to come! I get that there’s all kinds of self service tools to create photo books. I have used many of them myself and have landed on one I think is the best. But there’s a different skill needed to capture a life story. Knowing what to include, and more importantly what to EXclude. A first step in my process is designing a StoryBoard outlining the chapters of the story. Then diving into the boxes and files of pictures that bring the story to life. It’s a much larger scope than creating a photo book for a trip, event, or even a year in review. Using my communication and project management skills from years leading teams and projects in corporate settings, I break the project into bite-size pieces that folks can get their heads around. And, I keep the project moving forward. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed when going through photos especially if you’ve inherited boxes from family members. So I keep folks focused and motivated to completion. Plus, we can work together remotely, with shared drives and zoom calls.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If you’re visiting Parker, Colorado, where I’ve lived for 15+ years, I would recommend a favorite local restaurant called the Hickory House (awesome ribs & BBQ). Or a new venue that just opened: West End Main street (great draft beers & food). Plus just driving the area, very much a rural community. We frequently see deer, antelope and foxes!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Erica Duran is the business coach who helped me launch my business in just 90 days. She also recommended me for this interview. Mary Gaul is the business coach I’m working with now. She leads a Peer Advisory Board where we work on our business not just in it.
Other: Podcast: Curating Career Life Stories: How Did I Get Here? It is posted on the blog on my website https://lifestorycurator.com/blog/ and available on apple, google and other popular podcast channels
Donna Sweetin, Sweetin Images