In this week’s episode, Anna speaks to Karla Pamanes in the latest in her interview series.
Karla Pamanes grew up in Mexico with parents who were working multiple jobs, and she always had that expectation of having a side hustle to get the extra income. Starting to freelance after being made redundant, she soon realised that this effectively meant running a full-time business. Although the initial focus was on making money, over time, she discovered the benefit of having the freedom to work when, where, and how she wanted.
Today, Karla is an award-winning designer, branding expert, and mentor based out of San Antonio, Texas. Her focus is on building branding that tells a story and reflects the core values of a company. Her motto is to “be the person you needed when you were younger.” She created “The Brand Design Academy” to share the knowledge and experience she has learned over her 15 years working with corporate brands and small businesses.
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
The Outsiders Business Incubator – A year-long business incubator for experienced corporate professionals who want to translate their skills and passions into a profitable and fulfilling business. onestepoutside.com/9to5
Brand Design Academy
Okay, hello, everybody. Welcome back to this month interview. And this month I’m here with Karla Pamanes. Thank you so much Karla for your time, I’m looking forward as ever to hearing your story as much as I am to sharing it with the audience. So I’d love to start just very briefly with hearing what were you doing before? And then what are you doing today, and then we’ll dig in a little bit more to the detail in a moment.
But it’s Hi, Anna, thank you so much for having me here. So as far as what I was doing before being going on my own, I went to school for graphic design. So I graduated with a degree in graphic design. And that’s what I did for a little bit over, what would it be like, maybe 12 years, I did 10 years in court in the corporate world, I was a graphic designer for a media networks company. So it was a parent company for a handful of cable network channels like HGTV the Food Network, travel channel, and many, many, many other channels as they kept acquiring that even the company even acquire a European station. The oh my goodness, I now it’s gone in my head. And if it comes back to me, I’ll share. So I was there. When I graduated, I I had had an internship with them. Someone came into the into my University I studied in the University of Texas at El Paso, and someone came to talk about this company, and I was only wanting to reach out to the woman who gave the presentation. And I asked for an internship opportunity. And they gave it to me. And after falling in love with Tennessee because the company was in Tennessee. I was like I really love it here, I would love to come back. And as I was about to finish my last semester in school, I emailed the department where I interned at and I asked to see if they had a position for me. And they made a position for me. And I was like, Okay, this is just amazing to have a job right out of college. But if something I ever I learned from that time was that the opportunities that I had was because I asked for them. thing that was like key, just in general my career as an employee and also being on my own as an entrepreneur. And I was like, Okay, I’ll do a couple of years of experience. Long story short, the the two year wish, the couple years of experience turned to be 10 years with the company until discovery, communications. So the parent company of Discovery Channel and other channels acquired the company, and I was like go with pretty much my whole department. And, and that’s where the seed of entrepreneurship started. I think like I had always had it in my mind, like it had always been there. But in my mind, it was always like the side hustling, it was never like you go all in with intrapreneurship because I didn’t see that growing up. Like what I would see. Growing up. My dad had two jobs. I’m originally from Mexico. So I grew up in Mexico, until I went to Texas for my university. I would always see my dad having like two jobs. And then my mom had a she was a teacher, both were teachers. And my mom is the one who would would do the side hustle. So it would always for me, it’s like if you want to make extra money, well, you side hustle, and it was something on the side. And she did to tutoring she handcraft she did like all these creative things. And I think like that’s where I get part of like my creativity. So I kind of said to myself, I will maybe I’ll learn how to freelance. We moved to Connecticut. And that’s where my ex husband got an opportunity after Tennessee. And as I was trying to just figure out how to actually freelance because, you know, it’s I don’t know, you’ll see people like others freelance designers, but like, nobody tells you actually how that works. And little did I know that freelancing actually means like running a business. So it’s not just like picking a couple gigs. It’s like you’re running a legit business. And as I was trying to figure out this freelancing thing, I kept applying for jobs and then I found an agency job. And it was very shortly with Just a little bit over a year of COVID head, and that was the first person to be laid off. And that’s, it was good to have experience, even if it was a short time in the agency world as well. And from then I was like, I think this is a sign. Also, I went to Mexico to painting with my parents and my dad passed away while we were there, and I was just so fortunate to be there to support my mom. And that’s where I just knew, like, I couldn’t go back to a desk job. Because I really wanted that flexibility to be there for her when she needed me. And to just be able to figure out this, on being on my own. So what I what I built, it’s a design agency, a using my strengths, too. And my skills to try to help entrepreneurs, and with their brands, and just elevating their brands through other things that I’ve not known and learn through my years in corporate and then the agency. So that’s pretty much like how, how it started, and how it’s going. Although there’s like, there’s also that part of the big motive, and what’s a word purpose, I think, like, after losing my dad, that’s what gave me really the courage to just really believe in myself. Because he was about a turn, he was standing here 10 days, sure to turn 70 years old. And I was about to turn 35 that year. And I was like, I asked myself if this is this is the middle of my life, what I want to really, I really want to do do I want to just keep going with the motions and doing the thing that they tell you that everybody tells you to do and just go the same route? Or should I really just believe in myself, and go all in in my business. At this time, I had already had my business as a side hustle for two years. And I have had like a couple of a little momentum. But it was I think it was important to have that because that’s where I planted a lot of seeds. That then later on when I went full time started to I started to harvest all those relationships that I had built, all those little things that I did to get the business started. And I think mindset was the biggest thing.
But let me just pause there for a moment because there’s already so many themes, I want to pick up on that a really powerful festival. I’m so sorry to hear about your dad, and so glad because you said you had the freedom and the flexibility to be there to support your your mother. And of course, he also had the negative redundancy of COVID and so on. And it’s interesting how these very sad and on attractive on appealing events, like a pandemic being fired. And that kind of thing can actually trigger something almost forced you into making the decision. That’s that’s really right for you. But it’s just as you said, it’s courageous. And it’s quite a tricky one to take. So sometimes we will miss need that extra little nudge. I’d love to what you said about the intentionality and about you asking for what you want. Because I think we can get quite passive especially in corporate, we’re waiting to be told what’s the next step you’re kind of following the ladder, I guess, is the traditional metaphor. I remember. So I told you a few moments ago, I quit my job 10 years ago that started because I asked for a sabbatical to travel three months across South America. And that was from a conversation. I had lunch with someone. And I was like, Oh, I wish I could go traveling. And they said, Well, why don’t you have fun? Of course, and I asked and I got it. And you know, the rest is history. And I’ve never looked back. So I think that’s a really powerful message for anyone listening that, you know, if you don’t ask you don’t get certainly it’s not to say that you’re always going to get what you asked for. But you have that freedom and autonomy to ask for that. And the final thing I wanted to pick up on was the culture I guess and the stories we hear and see from our family because as you said if you’ve seen your both your parents, you know juggling different jobs and so on, no one has sort of the entrepreneurialism for me to my parents both had what’s known as funny enough, my mum was kind of freelance and but I never thought of that it was the path was very much okay, university job. That was the expectation so, so yeah, it’s funny how your particular upbringing and the education you have and the things you see around you really color what you believe is possible. And can I ask you because the the podcast is called reimagining success and you know, when you were on the graphic design path, I guess, how did you see success then? And then secondly, fast forward to now So, what does success look like for you today?
I think at the beginning, success meant just making enough money to be on my own right now, like, it was just monetary, because that felt like the hardest thing, like, try to just make them create that money create that. on my, on my own. And through I think it’s through, it was through my dad passing away and just seeing how much that he was much more than the money that it was about the lifestyle and about the freedom of owning my time. And that was huge. Because before I made a full decision of going on my own, I was claiming unemployment. And it came to a point that like, it was the very end, either I had to extend it or like, just or just say like, Okay, I have not been expended extended anymore, I’m just gonna focus 100% on growing my business. I had this interview, and for a remote position, because I was like, Okay, well, if I get to be to have a job, at least, it’d be a remote position. So I had this interview. And even though the position was remote, they were expecting me to be my computer’s getting down from 8 to 5. And so it just still felt like they all my time, which is totally fine, right? Like, that’s usually the norm. And I just know, I couldn’t go back to that anymore. I wanted the freedom of living, like getting out of my desk and go got my son without asking permission to anyone, if my mom needs to go to the doctor, like I just block my calendar and then I do that, like i now schedule work around my life, and not the other way around how it was for many, many years. And although I’m grateful for that, because I learned so much from that. And so now how success looks for me, it’s it’s this beautiful lifestyle of how like, if I find it, I mean, I just came back from Mexico, I spent six weeks over there, and I just bring my computer and that’s bringing work with me. And I get to decide how much of a workload I can I can take because i i Can I would I want also to enjoy my time over there and be there with my mom and then just do fun things with my son and with family and cousins. So yeah, success really now means my freedom, although with all this freedom comes a lot of responsibility. And being diligent and smarter with my time, and there’s always you know, something’s gotta give, but it’s like, I think like I’ve never I feel like I’ve never worked so hard in my life, but it’s just so fulfilling, like, and it not necessarily has to be like the hard labor work. I think it’s a lot of mental work. It’s like always, it’s there are hard things as far as like, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. I remember the first time I did a podcast interview was so hard for me. So it just, it just felt so nerve racking and just difficult. And that’s the hard part of it. It’s like it’s sometimes it’s just new, the newness until it becomes easy.
It’s sort of the two sides of the sides of the coin, you’ve got the freedom, which is the amazing piece. But there’s also, as you said, the responsibility and in fact, freedom. The other side of freedom is that you have to make the decisions. It’s all on you, right? The free time it means well actually, you need to decide what you’re going to do with your time and the challenging yourself getting out of your comfort zone. That’s what we want, but it means you have to get out of your comfort zone and onto yourself. So you’ve made this intentional decision and now you have to live live with it. And you mentioned earlier mindset as well. And now you talked about that stepping outside of your comfort zone. So what have been the biggest challenges would you say in making this shift?
I think there been many i i consider myself an introvert. And I also and I think it’s still like the story I told myself because some people would not believe that but I think it has been the growth of just keep pushing myself and putting myself out there. I mean, I just came back from a conference of 2000 people and I didn’t feel sick in my stomach, I, as a very first meetup that I join, so like a business owner, and that would have felt like a safe space, it was all like mom entrepreneurs, I think like, it will be like maybe 50. And I just felt like I wanted to go, because it just, it just felt so uncomfortable. So I think a lot has to do with my, my social skills that has been like one of the hardest things that I have to work, just communication as well, like, like I mentioned before, going into, like, the first time that I was invited on a podcast, I just wanted to back out and she’s like, No, we’re just gonna go with it. And it’s just a conversation. And I’m like, okay, and I survived it, and I never listened back to it. But I did it. And then after that, it just became easier. And then the whole, I always say, you know, the best thing about being an entrepreneur is that you’re your own boss. But that’s also, the worst thing is like, you need to make all the decisions, you need to prioritize things, you don’t have no one telling you what to do. I mean, you can always have guides, like, you know, you can have coaches, or mentors, or, or staff that can help you make decisions. But at the end of the day, you are the one who’s driving the ship. And that’s huge. So, I would say those have been the hardest one. Oh, and I think I mentioned mindset, that has been like the biggest one. And I think it’s something that I just still have to work on, on having a growth mindset and positive thoughts that things will work out. Because like we mentioned about how we were raised or childhood, like, sometimes we are so sad into the world that we we grew up with, or what we thought it was true. But I always say like, if you see someone doing something that you like to do, that’s just a proof that it’s possible for you to do, you just need to find a way to make it happen for you too. But that’s that’s the proof of concept. Like it’s it they’re doing, and you can do it too. And that’s how it all started with me too. Like, once I saw people doing the thing that I wanted to do specifically, in graphic design, which is brand design, logo design and helping create the visual parts of a brand. I was like, This is my favorite thing to do in graphic design. And then I was just see, how is that they handle their business, how they package their services, I was like, Okay, if they can do it, I can do it too. And then, you know, it’s always like that, and then just keep keep pushing yourself into the next level. And I think that’s also a hard one, because the next level is a horizon like, it just keeps getting farther and farther and farther. And I’ve learned to learn to embrace the day to day, right, not just sticking with trying to just always get to the next level and not enjoying what I am doing right now. Because I’m always giving myself like bigger and bigger goals. So yeah, I think there are many other things.
It’s so much more we think it’s the strategies. And you know, I come from a brand marketing strategy side. And I think we always think, Oh, this is what we need, I need you to tell me the strategy. And of course, that’s important. And yet, it’s a lot of the mindset. And as you say, You’re your own boss. So you’re now in charge of your own development. And again, it’s the growth and the comfort zone, that all comes together. And the thing that started out being really scary once you’ve done it, I think, once you’ve taken is taking the leap that scary, right? Whether it’s starting your business or doing the podcast going to the event, as soon as you’re flying, you’re like, Wow, this is fine. That becomes then part of your comfort zone, unfortunately, because I think a lot of us are that kind of person. We’re then on to the next challenge. And I think it’s important than to celebrate, look back, see how far we’ve come. And then by all means, keep raising the bar, but I think it is important to say Oh, my goodness, you know, a few years ago, I didn’t even know what freelancing was left alone. You know what it would take and Mike, I’m speaking on this stage, and I’m on podcasts and so on. And you mentioned briefly your agency and so on. So what’s the business model? Do you have a big team? What’s the setup for you?
I have it’s me and our designer, which She’s my niece. Um, I also on my team are contractors. So I also work with a copywriter who not only helps me but also my clients when we develop websites. And I have a virtual assistant and a bookkeeper, I love that it’s a woman in my business like women, entrepreneurs, so yeah, that’s, I’ve never thought about, like, even hiring for help. Like, I was like, always, that’s, that’s another like, scary thing. And it was until I had a mentor who mentioned like, hi, why don’t you like hire someone from your hometown, like, from like, from your home country. And I, the first thing that I said, I think that’s gonna be really hard like, and until I just posted on my Facebook and I had like, all these leads. And then I had my niece who was about to graduate. And then I was like, Well, I really wanted someone who’s like more senior. And it’s just, it all just worked out like that just trusting and even, like, I gave her the opportunity. And it just, it’s been great. To have a family member, be my team and help her, like, employ her and just keep her keep her like all this opportunities that I wish I had, just right after graduating, because I felt like I did a lot of like, kind of like not so exciting things at the beginning like, and just right off the bat. Like I was giving her all the opportunities. I had my previous employer like discovery as a client, and so she was designing like logo designs for TV shows, like on just right after college. And it’s so funny because I I didn’t see it as something like super exciting, because that’s where I came from. But like for her, it was like the biggest thing for me, it was like, I just want to have like, for me like the intrapreneurs it was like something a little more exciting. But because it was just so common for me in like, the media industry. So it’s, it’s been such a fun ride. And so that’s the model is I offer, we offer three core signature packages, logo design, brand identity design, and then Brandon websites. So that’s usually what people come to us. We also don’t advertise this, but it’s something that we do also on the site. It’s graphic design services. So we help we have a retainer, that’s a Jewish nonprofit. And recently, we just signed up with a big cereal company. I don’t know if we can talk about it just yet. But yeah, like there’s, there’s still people that come and look for us for graphic design services. And that even though like we don’t advertise that, that keeps coming from word of mouth.
I also think that’s often the case, isn’t it, you’re focusing on a particular area. But of course, you know, you’ve built that word of mouth, as you said, and you have the referrals from existing, it’s not to say that just because you’re focusing on a particular niche, proactively, you can’t do the other work. I love how you said you really you’re living your values, and you’re building a business, you know, based on working with women from from your home country family, and that you don’t have to I think when you hit agency and you think business, it’s got to be like physical premises and the whole team, you’ve got to hire people. And here you’ve got to put them on the payroll and the fact that you can work flexibly still is really nice. You know, I have clients who then work with parents, you know, often mums perhaps are working part time so there’s some really nice ways to do it. You don’t have to sort of go offshore or whatever it is that might feel uncomfortable. And you mentioned word of mouth there and obviously you’ve spoken you’ve been on podcast How do you find how do you build your personal brand? What is it you do to market your own business?
I am I do a couple things. I send a monthly newsletter to my list I meant that I use represent as a blog. I also am active on social media and what people like about my mostly my Instagram because that’s where everything that’s where I my favorite place and it’s just all sent back to Facebook as well is that I not only show the work side of things, but also the personal side of things is the single mom. Cat mom and yeah, we just we just lost our our 17 year old cat this weekend and it’s like I mean, I share that with my, in my Instagram people. It’s like I felt like people know me, I’m like cats and it’s like, I just go a little bit beyond just the The brand the services. And networking is been a huge one, like, you know, keeping in touch with people, you know, getting to know other people like I just came back from the conference. And it’s like being proactive about those connections, are you just that I just have been sending a message and trying to just keep in touch with people like growing a network, my network has been what felt one of the scariest things and now I really just love doing it. Because I just, I just love people, I love learning the stories I love getting to know them. And with the internet, it just makes it way easier to like, I also went to eat, I went to meet a student of mine, because I also teach others how to become brand designers. So I went to I met a student of mine. And that’s we mentioned about how, how we feel like we’ve known each other because the internet and just it just felt like we know each other, but we hadn’t met in person. And I think like, for me, that’s like the most beautiful thing about like, sharing your strengths for me like in this this service side, helping giving to other intrapreneurs, helping them elevate their brands. And then with education, it’s helping others teaching them everyday No, no, like I’ve learned from over 15 years of experience and trying to make an easier path for them. Like it took me 15 years ago, I like I learned I really didn’t have to take me that long. But but that’s how long was my path. And then after realizing well, I can make it this path easier for others, I really want them to know how they can make this happen for themselves. And that’s where that the teaching part also came also, it came from keeping the legacy of my dad live because he was an educator. And after he passed away, like a lot of students came and reach out and share like beautiful stories of how he helped. He helped them beyond academics. And that’s it if I want to, if I can do this, it can always it was still in my mind, I wanted to do this course. But it was until that until he passed away that I find the courage to do it. Because I just I mean, we all know it. But it’s like until you leave it, it’s that we’re not here forever. That we don’t have tomorrow, guaranteed. So it’s like, that’s where I just found the purchase. Like even if it feels hard, I really wanted to weigh in, if I can impact at least one person. And I did it. And now the next thing is to how to amplify it.
Because it’s so important, isn’t it. And unfortunately, it takes those personal tragedies to remind ourselves of an obvious, you know, life is short message, which seems like a cliche, but it’s so true. And with the mundane realities of getting on with our lives and taking out the trash and paying the bills and stuff, we tend to forget what really matters. And unfortunately, yes, it’s often sad circumstances that prompt us but but thank goodness and what a beautiful legacy that you can then continue that educational spirit as well. And I think it’s a great business model always to both deliver a service and then also kind of have that diversification of, of teaching. And you mentioned, obviously, we talked about traveling to see your family and Mexico and your son as well. And one of my favorite areas is work life integration, or work life balance, as some people call it. So what does your kind of day to day look like? How if you don’t mind us prying a little bit, how many days a week do you work? You know, how do you manage this kind of six weeks traveling? What does what does that kind of juggle look like for you?
I know and I’m gonna even write about them. I love how you said integration. Because it feels more like that. Because there’s no such thing as balance in my opinion. It’s there seasons of where I working on and, and I don’t usually that will be also in the week in the weekdays, right? Like it’s a lot of work. And even though my son will come home at 330 from the boss, he’s here but we’re not bonding because I he’s doing his thing. I’m doing my thing. I’m still working until I don’t know, we’ll be like six, sometimes even seven or sometimes. Or sometimes I will just stop work and then just be with him do whatever he needs to do like karate and have dinner and public homework. And then we’ll finish work at night when he’s asleep. So how a typical day works, it’s during the weekdays, I go to school super early like 730 And if I have something pressing that needs to go out, especially if I don’t want to do it. I will wake up up at 5am, and do like a five to six power hour of just work, especially work that I don’t want to do. And that’s like, just get it, at least started the first first thing in the morning. And then after I dropped him from school, I will just stay outside and I’m like I’m already outside, I’m gonna go and take a walk. And then I go for like a 40 minute walk, I have to prove myself, I don’t love exercising, but it’s so good. Like when I never regretted not taking a walk. So the first thing I do is like, do a 40 minute walk and then I start my day. So usually everything starts start working at nine, it really depends. Like if I have a lot of calls. Like I mentioned, he comes at 330. And from there, it just everything starts like I try to do everything pressing before he comes from school, because I know it’s a distraction, just having come here. So it’s hard to just stay focus. Then we’ll do karate and dinner and all those things. I religiously take Saturday’s off. And then Sunday, I like to work a couple of hours in my business, and just get everything started and planned and organized. But we also like I always say like I work hard, but we also pay very, very hard. And we love to travel. And I try to just keep things when I travel. Just to the most important things that I have to do in my business. I don’t think it’s rare that I completely disconnect from my business. But at least like I talked to my clients and let them know that I’m going to be out. It really depends. But I there’s always like something like an email or something. But like in the summer, I do like to take at least two weeks, as much as office as possible. And December the same thing. Two weeks, as much as I can to the bare minimum, just like little emergencies and just being there. Like, whatever needs to be finalized. Right? Because it’s hard to just draw with a triangle. So that’s pretty much how it works.
And I think that’s it’s such a personal thing, isn’t it? And it’s so easy to judge and to say Oh, this is right, this is wrong. And it’s it’s really about the intentionality again of how you do it and why I’ve now not been working hardly for a month, but it was sort of holiday. And then my daughter started school move moved house. I’m just thinking now as we wrap up our call, I’ll probably need to do an hour or something this evening, which I wouldn’t usually do. I’m usually too tired and you know, after kids bedtime, and it’s good, important to be with my partner and whatever else. But for me, that then has meant that I’ve been able to take a month off. Now I have a little bit more to catch up on. You know, sometimes someone might need to pick up an email on Friday for you working Sundays. Okay for someone else. It’s a religious delay take off, you know, so we I think the most important thing and I think what corporates are struggling with now is that it’s so individual so personal, that it’s hard to kind of have a blanket rule. But the beauty, of course of having our own businesses is that we can do what we want, we can choose to work with clients who respect those boundaries. And usually people do and if we choose to work with people who share our values and so on, and that’s, you know, that’s something that they do respect and color. It’s been such a pleasure speaking to you. I’d love to hear more. Where can we find you? You said Instagram perhaps is your main channel? How can we find you on Instagram?
Yeah, Instagram @karla.pamanes everything is Karla Pamanes my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my website is karlapamanes.com. Thank you, Anna for having me here.
But it’s a pleasure. It’s such a beautiful story to hear about how you’ve shifted and the lifestyle that you’ve built. Now, as you said, putting life before work. It’s definitely a philosophy that I very much agree with and heartily support. So I’m sure there are lots of nuggets there inspirational wherever the audience is on their journey today. Thanks very much for sharing.
Thank you, Anna.
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