Plan your life, then your business with Jenny Tod

”What do I want out of my life?” Many entrepreneurs ask themselves that question while building their business, but do they let it influence their business in a real way? Tiffany sits down with Element Three’s former art director Jenny Tod as she transitions into building her own business, Jenny Tod Creative.

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”What do I want out of my life?” Many entrepreneurs ask themselves that question while building their business, but do they let it influence their business in a real way? Tiffany sits down with Element Three’s former art director Jenny Tod as she transitions into building her own business, Jenny Tod Creative.

Jenny and Tiffany talk about scaling your agency to fit your life, planning your business around the outcome you want, and family life amidst changes in your business.

Would you like to join Tiffany for a Live Q&A episode? Text Tiffany at 317-350-8921 and let her know you want to chat!

Jenny: I'm running a small design shop, basically creative studio, where we focus really heavily on a specific service. And I feel like I've been in a place where I've always been the creator of that service. And now I'm trying to step into like, what's my role because now I have a team of people. Very small, but I have two full-time employees and we just brought on my husband now works.

Full-time doing operations, but trying to figure out what's my role in what's my place in the business. And I've never quite been the speaker, the like share all of my thoughts and opinions. Cause I've always been the one like behind the screen making and I can talk about my work all day. So I feel like I'm trying to find my way and my voice is.

How do I lead this company and step outside of like being a maker, how do I find who I am as a owner and as a founder that feels authentic to me.

Tiffany: I'm your host, Tiffany Sauder. And this is Scared Confident I'm here with Jenny Tod today, we're doing another coffee over microphones. And these are always prompted when somebody reaches out to me kind of saying like, Hey, I've got some questions for you, Tiffany.

And one of my reasons for doing this podcast is that I, as a young woman, young professional, Trying to imagine what my life was going to look like long to reach out to people who are at a different stage of my life. And so to share these conversations with others, because our questions are not unique ever.

So let's talk orient me, like really practically where the company's at right now. So it's mostly designed to walk me, like, who do you serve? Primarily? What's an ideal customer.

Jenny: So basically three and a half, almost four years ago is when I broke out on my own and started doing my own design and services for clients.

So, and that's evolved. And now we're at a place where I would say we're doing like small to medium sized companies. An ideal client is somebody who probably has a marketing department within their organization, but they don't have a strong design wing. So they understand the value of strong design and what that does for a brand and how it elevates their abilities to market who they are, but they just don't have the services to do that.

So usually we'll come alongside their team. We'll help build a brand on the design side. Like we don't, I'm not a skilled, like brand strategist in terms of like research. So we would partner with people who would do that. We're a little more specialized to like specifically doing design. Branding we'll do website as well, just because it's so strongly tied.

And I feel pretty strongly passionate about like the user experience and the story being told on their site. But we'll partner with the people they have on their team to kind of help execute that. We also kind of have like a large portion of the business that is ongoing work, doing the design side of marketing.

So again, we'll partner with like their internal team to help develop the design side of. Marketing areas, marketing department. So I started doing that when I first broke out on my own, and then it's just taken off so much that I kind of felt like I needed to bring on people to help because like the business going so well and I wanted to have other creative people around me.

So I brought on my full-time designer about a year ago, and then I just brought on another full-time. About four months ago. That's basically our creative team is the three of us. And then we have operations that helps get everything else done around.

Tiffany: What do you want it to be at? Let's answer it in two ways.

One is like what you want the company to be. The other is like what you want your time in life to feel like around that.

Jenny: Those are things I'm trying to start answering. It's been the first time I feel like I've actually been able to answer those questions. I know that I want to find my place where I can be bringing.

The creative direction and like the overall strategy to a project, but not necessarily having to be the one, actually like moving the pixels around. I want to be involved in like helping clients understand their need and why there's value and helping them to see the importance of design in what they do.

I love working with the clients and being a part of that process. But outside of that, I don't feel like I have to all the time be the one making things I want to see. My team be able to take on more ownership of that part of it. But in terms of how I see my life specifically, I know that I want to have flexibility.

That's why I got into doing this and running my own business so that I could work from somewhere for a month in the summer if our family wants to go and do that. And I think I've spent so much time spending so many hours working that I haven't taken very much time off. And that just means time for myself for a time for my family.

So just starting to like develop it to a place where I can feel confident that it's running and I don't have to be in every single piece of it. I think that's about as far as I've gotten.

Tiffany: I'll just like reflect back some scenarios. I think that one is you really deciding whether or not you want to have a big company, because I have seen people and especially people who come at it with like a particular skill.

Like I really don't. Skill as it relates to marketing, I've like developed one because I've been around it a lot, but I didn't come into it as like a skilled person. So what can happen sometimes is that if your goal is to have the organization for flexibility, it grows to a place where you just don't, you can't because it's too big.

So sometimes the demand doesn't have to be the thing that determines how big the company is. Does that make sense? Like, oh yeah, we could have it be 25 people. Cause I've got the demand for it, but that's not what I want for my life. What I want for my life is to make this amount of money so that we can do what we want to, and that allows us to do that.

And once we're there, that's how big the company is going to be. And that's all it is because we want the flexibility. It's going to be a close-knit team. I'm going to do what I can to keep people there for a long time. So I'm not hiring and onboarding, and there's not a lot of change for clients. And, and you really become a, a boutique in its purest form.

And that allows you and Alec to like wrap the life that you want around it. And that is a total noble.

Jenny: Which is refreshing to hear, because I feel like most people like, oh, you're doing well. Like, how are you going to grow? Where are you going to go next? What's going to be the next phase of the business.

And I I've kind of asked myself sometimes like, does there have to be like, you know, like if it's successful and things are going well, like, is that quote unquote enough? Like, but that's kind of refreshing to even think about that as,

Tiffany: as the. Totally. And like, let's say you have way more demand than you can fulfill and you decide this is going to be at there may of two fold designers, time designers.

There's enough complexity that we need Alec to be able to run the business, but not so much that it's a 70 hour job for him. We get to work together that allows us to align our schedules. If that's really the case, then you can just keep raising your prices until the line is shorter. Hey, we used to charge 10 grand for this now.

Oh, half the people dropped out of the line, but there's still a list. Okay. Now it's 25. That's the luxury, your forge yourself of like, yeah. You just keep raising your prices until people, unless until you reach a point where like, oh, we've gotten everybody who will pay this price for it. And we're just going to be really.

People live great lives, doing things like that and have a lot of flexibility. If that's what you guys want in a business like that, generally, I think you have to kind of think through the role you want to play in setting, maybe goals like this. Like let's say for instance, you're actually moving pixels around on six clients right now.

You could say, okay, by June, you know, in six months, I want to get to a place where I'm only moving pixels around for four. I've got two of these and like kind of like wean yourself off of it. And then I think you can decide, do you want to just be the creative director where you're kind of playing translator between the client and the big input calls, you know, like meetings and making sure that your design team is putting together a product and has your inspiration, and how's your touch to.

But you're not doing it. And you could also get to the place where you're like, I don't want to sell, and I don't really want to like, do that. I want to hire somebody who does that part of it so that all I'm doing is making sure the work product is great working with clients so that I know they're really satisfied and you're outsourcing the sales part because you're may or may not want to do that.

So for me, I always knew. That I, I am not a product. Like I only have a job if I have a big team, because I'm just a leader and I could maybe hack together a brand consultancy, you know, like if I really had to pay the bills, good, you could do it, but it would kind of be made up, you know, it's like not really what I am.

And so it became a natural thing for me to build a business because I wanted to own a business. I happened to fall in love with marketing. I happened to meet people who were really great designers and start to understand that, but that wasn't really my like point of origin. And so I only got to the thing if I built a business, so is a different end point.

And I think as I've gotten further into my journey, I've better understood how the things I learned inside of element three can like serve the world around me by helping other young entrepreneurs, by investing in businesses. I'm really passionate about the people by serving on boards that serve missionally in a way that I'll never do because it's not my DNA, but I can like impact those things.

And that's an extension of what I've learned at element three, because I was just born to build a company and that's a different outcome than. What maybe you're pursuing. That's a

Jenny: really good way of looking at it. And I think it's tricky sometimes because it's easy to let the world impact. Like I'm looking at all of these successful business leaders and you're exactly right.

A lot of them probably have similar stories with you in that, like leadership was such a strong skill and they knew they wanted to grow a business. But the specific thing in which the. Resolved around could be anything. And for me, it's such a specific skill and like that's where I started and then it's grown into, well, I also love leading people and really just helping mentor younger designers and helping grow their leadership and their voice and their abilities.

And so it's kind of like, I think trying to find my place in. The world saying, well, you need to go out there and speak and you need to go out there and share all of your knowledge with everybody. And partially me kind of feeling a little bit of like imposter syndrome of like, well, I'm really good at this one skill.

And I'm really good at leading people within that skill. But then once it starts to break out into all these other areas of business and leadership, I feel unequipped because mine's just all been so deeply rooted in that one skill. And so I think even. Like talking about it and knowing that like that's okay.

And that can be the story that I continue to lead and see where that takes me, but not feel the pressure of like, you've got to go and speak and you've got to write a book and you've got to, you know, do all of these things. Cause that probably won't be me. And I think that's a good thing because that won't feel authentic.

Tiffany: Yeah. And I think it's like toys deciding like, do you want to, I guess I feel like that on the speaking side, for me, a huge reason that I started the podcast is because I don't want to be away from my kids at this season in their lives when they were all really young. I did not mind leaving. It's not my favorite.

I've knew their world was really consistent and I was totally fine being gone a lot. And now that my girls and my older girls are in middle school, they need me present in a different way. And I want, I need to work to say no to things so that I can do. But that doesn't mean there's not opportunities that are being presented, that other people want me to say yes to, but that's not right.

For me or for them right now. And so really figuring out like, do I want to, because when you're capable and when you're talented, people bring all kinds of stuff to you and your life becomes this like big amoeba sometimes on accident. It's like, I don't want to do that stuff. Do you want to, if the goal of you and Alec working together was to be together and you end up having a accidental speaking career, when you have to travel 20 times a year, Kind of defeats the purpose.

Does this serve it? And I think that's the question. Maybe you guys say, yeah, it does. And we're going to travel together and Roman's going to be homeschooled or like, but that's okay. You just have to wrap those decisions around the thing. If the outcome was, we want to try to be together as much as possible.

Jenny: And I think for the first time mean we've had some interesting experiences in our, both of our, well, mainly his career. That's kind of led us certain places with the decisions we've made. And so this is like the first time where we actually feel like we can sit down and together determine like, what do we want our life to look like?

And in the past and all of our past jobs, We're not that old. It's not like we've had that many, but we've been more reactionary to like, Hey, we need to take this job for the money. And so we're going to take it and it's going to lead us somewhere. And now we've actually been able to say no, what do we want our life to look like?

And how do we get there? And so like, that's been. A just kind of empowering thing to actually say, like what you're saying, like, what do I want my days and my weeks to look like, and how do I want to be around my family? And what do we want to do as a family? And where does that mean that we live? Or what do we spend our time doing?

And one of those things we've said is like, we really want to travel. And the first thing I saw. Fall into is like, well, that won't work for us because of whatever reason, you know, we, I don't want to homeschool, so we can't make it work. And it's like, well, maybe we can. It's just about thinking about it in a way that works for us.

But yeah, like this feels like the time in my career where I'm actually like, what do I want? It's always just kind of been like, what's made sense and what's worked out and it's kind of just happened that way. So I think it feels a bit daunting, but also really exciting to understand that. We can actually set the trajectory for what we want that to look

Tiffany: like.

I think the journey that you've going on Jenny is like, actually really important for people to understand, like you earn the right to be able to ask yourself the question, what I want to. I really believe that I, I feel like it's a little counter-cultural cause everybody. It kind of feels like once they get pooped out of college, that they should be able to be like, well, what do I want in my life?

And like what it's like, you kind of earn that with experience a network that believes in you opportunities that come your work has be, get more work, which is beget, get more work and having, I mean, you used to work at element three. It's like it's because you left on a really good way that we still can have a really good relationship.

Like all those kinds of things. Stacked itself in such a way where you're like, I just feel like I'm kind of in a really lucky spot. Well, we'll sorta, but also, you know, you showed up in a way that had a lot of character, you did work probably on nights and days when you didn't want to like all of those walking through those gateways, have you at like almost 30?

How old are you? 31, 31 decade into your career saying, wow. I feel really lucky. Well, 10 years is a long time. It's a really long.

Jenny: Well, that's a good point too, because I, I do feel like I'll get asked a lot for design students coming out of school. Like, well, how do you get, like, how do you land your dream job?

And I'm like, well, honestly you just land a job. You land a job that makes sense in your fields. That is interesting that you feel like you can be in and grow and be around a leader who you really look up to and who you can learn from. And just start somewhere. Like, I feel like there is kind of a culture right now that like, Because there are so many people that are able to kind of set their own career paths.

It's kind of like, well, I want to be in my dream job right now. And it's like, really, you just need to be in a job and learn and grow, figure out what you enjoy and what you don't. And I do feel like I've kind of hit, like I've hit, you know, I was able, had the opportunity to work here and learn from you and from so many wonderful people and Darren and everybody.

And then I was able to work in-house with Lessonly and, you know, working at other places. Owning my own business. And that's kind of like allowed me to have the experiences that have left me where I am, but it's sometimes hard to look back and, and not think like, oh, it just kind of happened, you know? But that those things were all conscious decisions that were made.

In order to continue to grow and develop and see what I did want to do and where I wanted to land. And it's finally feeling like now I can actually look at it and see what I want. And yeah, I mean, it's been 10, 11 years of working. So, and

Tiffany: I think like life only makes sense in the rear view mirror it sincerely.

And I heard somebody say recently that as you get older, you get more comfortable in the ground. Because if you understand that life is a lot of that, but it doesn't mean that you suddenly have more clarity about where you're going, but you begin to know, Hey, if I put myself in places where I'm challenged enough, that I know I'm growing.

When I put myself around people that I know generally. Make decisions of high character than not. When I know that I'm putting myself in companies that have inertia, like, Lessonly that I just know I'm probably going to learn something and something's going to happen. And you start to intuition kind of draws you to those moments and opportunities.

But when you show up and like do the hard work and extract all of that, the environment had to offer you that's when you really get this like compounded effect of like life suddenly feels super lucky. And I sometimes get really. Worn down by that question of like, how do I get to it's like, well, it looked for me like four years of taking like the vacations that looked like the three nights, four days, you have to sit through a half day seminar to get into for 4 99.

Like that's how we've occasioned in the early days. Like, you know, and it's like it doesn't get here without sacrifice. And just believing you can make the opportunities into something. So I want you to give yourself the credit of the last 10 years to get to this moment. And I think the freedom to be able to say, like, what are we, what, what unique thing that we want to design for our family?

Jenny: Yeah. And that's an exciting question to ask because we just haven't been able to before now. So it feels good to be, there also feels like a little bit daunting to try to like, determine what we want the next stage of our life to be, and like, Confidence, but I also think it goes right back to what we just said, which is that maybe it's not looking at the next 10 years, it's just looking at the next year or two years, and then that's going to, I'm sure.

Lead to something else that will be where we were supposed to be and where the Lord was going to take us anyways. And it's just the way that we got.

Tiffany: And I think two Roman is how old, he just turned four. There's like a lot. You guys, as I look into the next five years for you guys, going from him, not being in school to being in school.

And if I'm being real honest, like until they're like in fourth grade, you can take them out for a month and not, then let's change it. That's true. I mean, they'll be fine. I remember when our first couple of into kindergarten, we would like. Lee's let these form letters from the office of like, your child has not been in school going on.

And we're just, we know the alphabet. They'll be fine. So you do have some flexibility for a little bit, but then kind of figuring out, yeah, what's his, what's the right school solution for him. What kind of flexibility do you guys want? But you add if you've got a few years, but that will start to change.

And I feel like another level of. Locked down from a scheduling as my girls start to miss out on opportunities because we're not home, you know, things they want to do with their friends or camps they want to go to, and as they start to get like 11, 12, 13, it starts to change again because they start to have a life.

And you want to get that that's important for their development.

Jenny: You want to that within, within the confines of what fits with your family and what makes sense for you

Tiffany: as well. Yes, but it does create some flex in areas that like, if. You know, in the family alone, I would be like, no, we're going to, we're going to, but in that you kind of have to compromise in those ways too.

Jenny: Yeah. Right now, Roman is like anything. I asked him if he wants to do, he's like, yeah, let's do it where I know that's going to change. Eventually. He's going to be like, no, mom, I don't want to

Tiffany: do that. Yeah. It's sweet though. That's really

Jenny: fun. So cool. No, not really.

Tiffany: Yeah. Yeah. That's fun. Super fun. So what else is on your list?

Anything else you want to restart? I

Jenny: think one of the other questions, which is kind of unrelated completely to what we've already talked about is just, I think I'm in this stage where I'm trying to, I mean, I guess it goes hand in hand, I'm trying to understand goals to set for my team and for the business.

And I've felt like, like I've had this interesting thing that I've been thinking through of like goals versus values and like, obviously knowing. Goals are very like, you know, numbers driven or they have a metric tied to them. But also like in a more service-based industry where we're, I think I'm just battling how many specific metrics do I need to give my team versus how many, like strong values and goals within like hitting a certain ideal that we want to

Tiffany: reach this year?

I think about our goals as a company in three pillars. The first is client satisfaction. The second is employee satisfaction, I'll say in no particular order. And the third is the financial performance of the company. Okay. If your clients are really happy, chances are your work. Quality is high, and you're giving a service level.

That's meeting their expectations. If your employees are happy, you probably don't have a bunch of churn. You're probably not dealing with a bunch of drama, probably not spending too much time managing, you know, like deep in the weeds. And if the company's performing financially, then you can afford to keep all those clients because they're paying you enough to keep the company alive and.

The end of the cost, the business, and you can pay your employees well. So those three pillars really serve one another and in probably any business, but the service business is what I know the best. Keeping those in, in a ratio that is within a tolerance. Is really important because if all your employees are really happy, they'll never be unhappy actually, when your clients are not.

Yeah, because they're living in a shit show, we're a value start to come into play. Is it becomes a shared language that to hold both your clients and your employees too. So one of element three's values is look to treat. Which means, like in kindness we say hard things and if something's not performing, we're going to have the courage to say, it's not performing.

If a client isn't holding up their end of the deal, like doing their to-dos and showing up on time, we're going to talk about that. And the same, if the client decides they're not going to tell us that they're frustrated for six months, that is a values misalignment. Like we are not both owning look to truth.

And so we can use that as an anchor. To say to our client, Hey, look, one of our core values is this when we are not both congruently operating in this way. So that's where like the values do serve the goals in that sense. Does that make sense since,

Jenny: so for like, for each of those three areas, do you guys put like very specific numbers and metrics to what your goal is to hit for the year?

Like for client satisfaction, whether it's net promoter score or whatever employee satisfaction and. Yes,

Tiffany: we do. So we do have very specific numbers for those three. And then there's also leading indicator. So we do a client survey formally twice a year. And also we know that we need to put in place probably kind of this like micro pulsing, where at the end of each project, there's three questions that we ask that allows us to kind of say, did the deliverable meet your expectations at the timeline, meet your expectations?

Like, so that we start to get this like micro pulsing, the financial side, right? We have a lot of metrics that we look at there. But the two that I would tell you to look at the most closely is to get to a place where, you know, contribution margin on your clients, just like on each client. Am I making money?

Not every project. Are you going to. On, you know, sometimes you have a rework or a new person who's introduced or something that happens, but to get really, really rigorous about replacing clients that you can't get profitable on, it will suck you dry, especially when you know that you have. Others that can come in and replace them.

And that can get hard. Cause you have a sense of loyalty and you don't know who to give them to. And like they're kinda kind of be screwed and he needed do it in a way that everybody feels like the relationship sort of ended respectfully, but sometimes you just can't get there. They need it for a thousand dollars and you can only do it for three.

And it's just a mismatched. So getting really rigorous about your contribution margin per client. And the third is the overall profitability of the company. It will never serve any party if you are not profitable and running the company in a way that you're, that that is more important probably at your stage than the growth, then your growth.


Jenny: really helpful. Those are all things that I've been thinking through, but just kind of hearing it in the way that you laid it out. It's like, okay. Yes. I'm thinking about the right things. I'm on track with understanding. I mean, that's something we're working really hard this year with Alec coming on and being able to actually, I just haven't had time to even look at the numbers, honestly, like I can tell by the profit growth.

Almost 50% year over year from last year that like, okay, something is working, we're doing something right. But to actually get more granular and look at contribution and profit of a specific project and like even starting to think through like which services that we offer are the most profitable. And does it make sense?

Yes. It's money coming in for those other ones, but if it's sucking us dry and then we can't contribute to the other projects we're doing with the same amount. Energy and purpose, then it might be the time to say, okay, we're not going to offer that anymore. But finally, starting to get to a place where we can actually look back and understand those metrics and start to use them as a guide

Tiffany: really well.

So what else is on your mind? Text me 3, 1 7. 3 5 0 8 9 2 1 3 1 7 3 5 0 8 9 2 1. And be sure to follow along on your favorite podcast app. Thanks for listening today. .

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