Creative is not a word I typically use to describe myself. I’m logical, practical, driven and deliberate. In my mind, “creativity” was always reserved for artists and designers, both of which I am not.
It wasn’t until I launched my small business, Kono’s Kitchen, in July 2020 that I realized creativity is everything an entrepreneur embodies.
I started Kono’s Kitchen, named after my rescue dog Kono, so dog parents could give their dogs healthy freeze-dried raw treats that were easy to use in training or on top of their meals. But my goal was never to just sell dog treats on the side for some extra cash.
I’m building an empire with the means to give back to the rescue community. This means building a community around the brand.
Branding has always been my main focus. Before officially launching Kono’s Kitchen, I spent nearly eight months working on the brand guide, logos, brand voice and packaging design.
You might be wondering how I established branding as a non-creative person — the key is to OUTSOURCE things that aren’t your strength. Going through the branding process with a freelance designer, however, was probably the first time I acknowledged that maybe I was a creative person. After all, I had a creative vision and knew exactly what I wanted, even if I didn’t have the design skills to create assets from scratch.
I worked with an incredibly talented designer, Edwing Mendez, to establish the foundation of the Kono’s Kitchen and create a strong brand identity. Naively, I thought that once I had those initial assets, I wouldn’t need too many more designs.
Turns out when you’re building a community and writing guides and setting up email campaigns, you quickly realize that the need for design is never-ending.
I’ve always been someone who loves learning. So I looked for a platform that would help me save time while becoming more self-sufficient. I found Canva, an easy to use graphic design platform. Not only has it streamlined my workflow, but it’s also unlocked a creative side of me I’ve been suppressing my whole life.
Building a solid brand with a persona people recognize and are loyal to is a big part of harnessing your creativity as an entrepreneur, but creativity is also about the ability to pivot.
Creativity Outside Your Comfort
As you get to know your business and your customers and they get to know your brand, it’s so important to stay open to new opportunities and ideas, even if they take you out of your comfort zone. I’m not someone who loves being on camera or being in the spotlight, but as I realized so many of my customers were using Kono’s treats because they’re the perfect size for training.
I thought about ways to create new and engaging content around training with our treats. So I hosted my first Instagram Live with a knowledgeable dog trainer who could share dog training tips with the Kono’s Kitchen community.
I’m excited to go into 2021 with so many new ideas I want to try with my small business, including new ways to collaborate with others and give back to the community.
The Art of Giving Back
Giving back has been a huge part of the Kono’s brand from day one — 10 percent of all profits go towards the medical costs of a featured rescue pup each month. Another way I’ve learned to give back with my business is by supporting other small businesses.
According to a new study by Canva, 71 percent of millennials ages 25-34 started a new business or side hustle this year. Entrepreneurship, especially as a solopreneur, can be so isolating and lonely. But what I’ve loved about this journey is being able to connect with other small businesses to support one another, whether it’s sharing their social media posts, buying their products, or collaborating on new products.
71 percent of millennials ages 25-34 started a new business or side hustle this year.
Immediately after I launched Kono’s Kitchen in July, I started searching for small businesses to include in my TreatBox: Holiday Edition. This is a gift box that features Kono’s treats and products from three other women of color-owned small businesses.
As we enter this new year, I look back at 2020 with gratitude for the challenges I faced and the growth I experienced. 2020 was a year of adapting to difficult circumstances.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that you can’t build an empire alone.
On top of launching a new business, I had to learn how to make it work in the midst of COVID. I reached deep down and tapped into my creativity in so many new and unexpected ways.
- From a graphic design perspective, I learned how to use Canva to create assets that were visually pleasing and engaging to my online community.
- From an engagement perspective, I learned how to experiment with different types of content, pushing myself out of my comfort zone while doing so.
- From a business perspective, I learned to discover other small businesses whose values aligned with mine and who I could support, uplift and collaborate with.
If there’s one thing that 2020 taught us, it’s that the world can change in the blink of an eye. As the world continues to change, the strongest way to build your empire is to harness the power of creativity to seek out new opportunities and build relationships to support and inspire your own growth.
Michelle Chu is the Founder & CEO of Kono’s Kitchen, a brand of freeze-dried raw dog treats inspired by her rescue dog Kono, an American Staffy mix. Prior to starting Kono’s Kitchen, Michelle lived in Beijing for five years working in startups before moving to Los Angeles and working her way up to Director of Technology at a global digital marketing agency. She is passionate about dog training and nutrition, building community, and supporting other women of color-owned businesses.