Katie Hunt

Katie Hunt is the founder of Tradeshow Bootcamp, a business strategist, and mentor to creative entrepreneurs. She’s connected and supported hundreds of creative entrepreneurs through her in-person conference Paper Camp and the online courses she offers. In 2017 she launched Proof to Product, a podcast that takes listeners behind the scenes of growing a product-based business. Guests share their successes, struggles and how they’ve made difficult but important transitions in their business to continue growing. 

Katie is a firm believer in professional development, surrounding yourself with community, and pushing ‘go’ even when you might not feel 100% ready. We're delighted to share her wisdom with you today and hope you'll enjoy!


Katie Hunt | Freelance Wisdom


Tell us about your path to becoming Katie Hunt of Tradeshow Bootcamp.

After exhibiting at the National Stationery Show for the first time in 2009 for my stationery line Kelp Designs,  I wrote a blog post where I outlined tough lessons I learned as a first time exhibitor. The post sparked a number of comments and emails from fellow stationers who were considering exhibiting at the National Stationery Show but didn’t know where to begin.  As the emails came in, I kept seeing the same types of questions over and over -- how much product should I bring? Where can I get this product printed? How much does a show really cost? How do I get everything to the show?
I realized there was a need in our community for business education.  I was strong on the business side, whereas my colleagues were talented artists and designers (I was self taught).  I knew that if we shared our collective knowledge and resources, we would all grow our businesses faster. And, soon thereafter, Tradeshow Bootcamp was born.
Launched in the Spring of 2011, Tradeshow Bootcamp programs focus on educating and connecting independent designers and product based business owners who are interested in growing their product line, selling to the wholesale market and exhibiting at wholesale shows.  What started with four teleconference calls has grown into a multi-faceted education business offering conferences, courses, coaching programs and a free podcast called Proof to Product.
Had you asked me in 2011 what I’d be doing today, I probably would have told you that I’d be running Kelp Designs full time.  But looking back, being a business strategist and mentor for creative entrepreneurs is the perfect fit for my skills, expertise and education.  Aside from running my stationery business for 8 years, I also have a background in business -- a dual MBA in marketing and finance as well as over a decade experience in the corporate world with marketing and business development.
Over the last 7 years we’ve helped more than 800 brands strengthen their product lines and get their products on the shelves of retail stores like Target, Anthropologie, Container Store and independent boutiques internationally.
Katie Hunt | Paper Camp | Freelance Wisdom


Before you were Tradeshow Bootcamp, you were Kelp Designs. What motivated you to make the switch from running your own stationery shop and how was that transition?

It was a slow, natural transition.  From 2011 - 2016, I was running both businesses concurrently -- building my stationery line while also building our community of creatives. 2016 was a bit of a turning point for me and when I was forced to make some tough decisions about both businesses. This was the year I was asked to teach four classes for CreativeLive, I spoke at about 8 conferences, we were shipping out Kelp Design products to stores nationally and I was pregnant with and delivered our fourth child.  By the end of the year, I was tired, my family was tired and I knew that it was time to reevaluate my priorities and schedule.
At the end of 2016 after weighing lots of different options, I decided to cease all manufacturing for Kelp Designs and focus my time and effort on Tradeshow Bootcamp. Coaching, mentoring and making an impact in other people’s businesses is where my strengths and passions lie. I wanted to give it my full attention.

You are a product business guru and our readers can learn so much from your offerings, but keeping it simple, if you could give one piece of advice (or a few ;) to illustrators/graphic designers thinking of opening their own product shop, what would it be?

Focus on creating a strong product line with a unique point of view before everything else. Most entrepreneurs want to start with branding, slick new website or setting up your business formation -- the fun stuff of starting a business!  But, if you don’t have a strong product to sell, there is no sense in spending time, money and effort on marketing plans and business operations.
As you’re creating your products think of the end user -- what problems are you solving, what needs are you filling and how are you going to positively impact your customers lives with what you’re creating?  Oftentimes we make things that we personally like -- but that doesn’t mean that it will be for everyone. Think of the benefits, features and ways in which your customers will use and engage with your products.
Slow steady growth is how strong businesses are built.  Those companies that look like overnight successes on Instagram have likely been working at it for years behind the scenes. Be patient, be intentional with your decisions and be open to opportunities.
Katie Hunt | Paper Camp Coasters | Freelance Wisdom
Katie Hunt | Slow Steady Growth | Freelance Wisdom

For Tradeshow Bootcamp you offer in person conferences, e-courses, one-on-one coaching, and so much more. How do you manage the creation and execution of so many different offerings?  

Yes, we do!  As of writing this we’ve hosted 15 conferences over 250 online courses and I’ve spent thousands of hours with coaching clients.  I am very intentional about when and what programming we add to our Proof to Product and Tradeshow Bootcamp umbrella.
My main priority is to service our alumni community and to continue to support them with where they are in their business.  As their companies have grown, they are experiencing different hurdles and need different strategies. We’re evolving with them and finding new ways to support and educate them.
For example, in 2017 I launched our Proof to Product podcast which was my way of highlighting our community members while also providing a platform for newer companies to get to know me, our programs and how we can help them.  I originally wanted to do a podcast in 2015, but didn’t have the time, technical know how or ability to add that to our already busy schedule. At the end of 2016, while I was shifting away from Kelp Designs, I also decided to stop speaking at other conferences and instead launch the podcast -- less travel and more impact.

Speaking of which, what inspired you to create Proof to Product and what has been the most interesting aspect of this new offering for you?

The night before we launched Proof to Product, I remember telling my husband that I didn’t know what to expect.  I had no idea whether one person would be tuning in or lots of people. He kindly offered to set up Itunes accounts for our kids so that we’d have at least 4 subscribers on launch day :)  While I didn’t take him up on it, I do remember feeling uneasy about how the podcast would be perceived.
My goal for Proof to Product as a platform was to showcase our alumni -- tell their start-up stories, struggles and successes through storytelling. Internally for myself and the business, I wanted the podcast to provide visibility for me so that potential customers could get to know me and trust me as an educator and mentor.  I also wanted to use the podcast as a platform for promoting our Tradeshow Bootcamp programs.
I’ve been really pleased with the impact Proof to Product has had for creative entrepreneurs making physical products.  I love hearing what people are working on and how the podcast has helped them grow their business.
Katie Hunt | Proof To Product | Freelance Wisdom


With the execution of all these projects in mind, do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I’m a big fan of time blocks and also batching tasks.  
I have specific blocks of time dedicated to work and time dedicated to family so that one doesn’t seep into the other.  I work better when I have focused time and I also don’t want work interrupting my family time. I try to create good boundaries with both my family and my team so that one doesn’t interrupt the other.  
When I’m working I also like to batch tasks and create systems for things we repeat over and over. For example, I reserve 3-4 days a month to record podcast episodes and I typically record 2-3 each day.  My interviews are stronger when my attention is fully focused on one task for the day and batching allows my team to get ahead of schedule. For things like our courses and conferences where I’ve offered them several times, we have a workflow that we’ve created with step by step instructions of everything that needs to get done before we launch, during the sales period and as we’re running the programs. I highly recommend mapping out different steps and tasks. It’s particularly helpful to have when you start bringing on a team.

What has been your greatest struggle as a creative entrepreneur so far?

I’ve been an entrepreneur for 10 years now and so I’ve had my fair share of speed bumps, but one thing that has been a consistent struggle for me is time management.  I am great at being organized, mapping out plans, delegating and I’m highly driven to get things done. However, I tend to underestimate how long things will take and I have a hard time saying no.  Couple this with too many ideas and there just isn’t enough time in the day to implement everything ;)
However, I have made huge improvements over the last several years.  I’m asking for help more, being more selective in the projects I say yes to and I’m trying to not take on too much at once. Key word, trying!


You are a strong believer in the importance of finding your tribe. Do you have any tips for building and maintaining an authentic and nurturing community as a freelancer/business owner?

I am! I believe that having a strong support system and a community of colleagues who understand the ups & downs of entrepreneurialism is a critical component to building a successful business.
Some key things I’d consider when looking for your community of people:

- Look for people running similar businesses.  Products vs Service.

- If products, look for people in a similar industry.  If services, look for people who sell similar services - courses, coaching, web development, graphic design, etc.

- Look for people who are at a similar phase of business.  If you’ve been in business for 5 years you want to look for people with 5-8 years experience rather than brand new companies.

In terms of where to find them:

- Join facebook groups for freelancers and entrepreneurs.  However, if a group is not a fit move on and find another. You’ll know when a group is a good fit.

- Join a mastermind program or create one of your own.  A mastermind is a group of peers who meet regularly to support each other, brainstorm ideas and serve as a sounding board on big decisions.

- Consider taking a course, group coaching program or hire a coach that has experience working with companies like yours. They will offer new perspectives and solutions specific to your business.

Ultimately, you want to find people that will support you, lift you up and understand what you’re working towards, whether that’s family, friends or other entrepreneurs.
Katie Hunt | Tradeshow Bootcamp | Collaboration Not Competition | Freelance Wisdom
Katie Hunt | Find Your Tribe | Freelance Wisdom


You are a mother of four, could you tell us a bit about how you balance (or...don't balance!) motherhood & entrepreneurship?

Interesting fact:  My husband has never been asked how he balances parenting and work. Yet, today I have been asked this question four times.
I was recently inspired by author Lauren Groff’s response to this question, so I’ll leave it here:
“I understand that this is a question of vital importance to many people, particularly to other mothers who are artists trying to get their work done, and know that I feel for everyone in the struggle. But until I see a male writer asked this question, I’m going to respectfully decline to answer it.”


Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details? 

I’m a huge advocate for delegating the things you’re not good at, that you don’t have time to learn or that someone else could do better than you.  As business owners we need to be focusing on the highest level, revenue generating projects -- and delegating the nitty gritty stuff that someone else can do.
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should be the one doing it.
Don’t be afraid to consider part time, contractors -- hiring doesn’t have to involve full time employees with benefits and payroll -- there are a lot of people that want part time flexible work.
Every time I’ve hired someone for my business, the company has grown, our revenue has increased and my stress levels have decreased.
Katie Hunt | Deciding what to delegate | Freelance Wisdom


Any music, podcast, or books that you are finding particularly exciting or inspiring lately?

I love listening to podcasts while I work - How I Built This, Productivity ParadoxDay in The Life and Creative Biz Rebellion are some of my favorites.
A few of my favorite books include Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis, Anything You Want by Derek Sivers and Work Your Wealth by Mary Beth Storjohann.

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Confidence, Empathy and Fortitude.
Katie Hunt | Paper Camp + | Freelance Wisdom

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Marloes De Vries

Marloes De Vries is an award-winning illustrator and author based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. With almost 10 years of freelancing under her belt, she has a wealth of knowledge which she enjoys sharing openly on her blog. We are inspired by her perseverance, honesty, and commitment to self-care and excited to be sharing her wisdom with you today. Enjoy!

Marloes De Vries | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance illustrator and author.

Drawing has always been my main focus and being creative is deeply rooted in my being. I started drawing at a very early age, around 3 years old. I always said I wanted to be an artist when I was a little girl. When I got older and my cousin said she wanted to go to art school, I started saying the same. At 14 I started designing websites and at 18 I got accepted into art school.
I graduated with a Bachelor of Design in Visual Communication when I was 21. I didn't study illustration as my teachers said I couldn't draw very well. That broke my heart. I tried forgetting about illustration and I ended up in advertising. I was an art director for some years and dabbled as a freelance editorial photographer for a couple of years until something within me said I should get back to drawing. That was scary for me as telling stories in pictures is the thing I love most, and I was certain I couldn't handle another rejection. But the first drawing I made in years was received so well that it was a kickstart for my new career. I've been freelancing as an illustrator for over 8 years now and I am writing now as well. I have written a picture book which I really need to send to some publishers, and I'm writing articles for magazines. This writing is combined with drawings a lot and that balance is perfect. I also create comics and cartoons for magazines and myself. I am exactly where I saw myself when I was 5 years old, which is magic.

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

It took me a while, to be honest. I was working as an illustrator for three years when I got an assignment of which I thought: "okay, this is going in the right direction!" They came directly though Instagram.
I'm not one to go to networking events as I can't do small talk. So with social media the whole game changed! Instagram was the ideal platform for me to showcase my work without the need to do small talk. I love that I'm in direct contact with the audience I draw and write for.
Marloes De Vries | Bench Sit | Freelance Wisdom

You now work with one of your dream clients, Flow Magazine, congrats! How did this come about and what advice would you give to others hoping to get to work with their own "wish list" clients?

I had been posting hand lettering on Instagram for over a year when Flow Magazine contacted me asking if I'd liked to do that for their magazine. This was over 5 years ago and the thing was that I was doing something not a lot of people were doing at that time. Hand lettering was not very popular back then as it is now. 
Coming up with something original is always the best way, if you ask me. You have to be your own voice, stand out from the crowd. I also think it's a matter of building credibility. At first, everyone struggles because you have to build your business first. But as soon as you have shown that you meet your deadlines, that you communicate clearly about everything, you're pleasant to work with and you work your hardest, things will start rolling.

Your blog is a platform for personal musings as well as a place to share information, inspiration, and advice for fellow freelancers and illustrators. What motivated you to start sharing in this way? 

I mainly started blogging because I was getting so many questions from (aspiring) illustrators about how to do certain things. At first I was answering them all individually but as the same questions kept coming, I thought: I should write this down and make it publicly available. And that's how I started my blog! I also like to share some insight in my life; who I am as a person defines a great deal of my work.

Marloes De Vries | Freelance Illustrator | Freelance Wisdom
Marloes De Vries | Being true to herself | Freelance Wisdom

It looks like you've taken a little break from blogging now. Can you tell us a bit about the decision to take that break and what you learned from it? 

I update my blog when I've got something useful to share. At least, that's what I believe hahaha! I don't put a lot of pressure on blogging as my illustration work and writing comes first. When I have spare time left I now take care of myself first. In the past I spent all my spare time on making work for social media, or blogging. Now, I take walks,  go for a bicycle ride, read a book, or binge watch a good tv show. In the past year it came to my understanding that I wasn't take enough care of my own well-being and that I was putting others first all the time. It had to change because I was burning out. 

You now offer workshops! How did you decide to start offering workshops and what do you enjoy about engaging in person like that?

In the beginning, this was years ago, I taught only children. About five years ago I switched to teaching adults. It started as a way of earning money, as illustration is quite tough to make a living from. For about three years I was teaching a lot and I lost interest and joy, because it was taking all of my energy. I realised I give so much during workshops that I needed at least one full day to recover. That's typically me by the way: I give it my all, or nothing. So then I decided to not teach more than one workshop a month and that is the perfect balance for me! I can give my all for one day to a group of people. 

The people that come to my workshops are amazing. Most of them are sensitive, caring souls and they are so enthusiastic about drawing! It's a pleasure helping them, motivating them. My workshops are very personal, sometimes there are a few tears shed. I believe making art has to come from deep within you, so in one way or another you have to open up to draw. I feel very blessed to have people in my workshops that are willing to do that. They're brave.

Marloes De Vries | Cleaning Mess | Freelance Wisdom
Marloes De Vries | Opening up to draw | Freelance Wisdom

You have lots going on, illustrating, authoring, workshopping, do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I am incredibly passionate about telling stories and drawing, and I could do that all day. But doing dishes or laundry? That's just piling up. 
I think there are two ways to be productive: the first one is being intensely passionate about something that you want to do it every day. The second way is routine: if you do something every day for at least 40 days you're making it part of your daily routine. It embeds in your brain as something you have to do every day, just like brushing your teeth.
Maybe I should do that with doing the dishes… ;)

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?

I'd say I find the money the biggest struggle. Over the past 8 years I've seen the fees for illustration going down (especially in the Netherlands) and sometimes I worry if this profession will still exist in 10 years. On the other hand my career has really blossomed in those years as well so I keep holding on to that.
I'm not quite sure why the fees are going down so much as illustration seems to be really popular right now. Maybe I'm a bit contradictory here because on one hand I worry about the future of illustration, but on the other hand I really believe in working hard and making a career for yourself. I don't believe in talent. I wasn't born illustrating or writing like this: I worked for it. I think people can do more than they think and I think saying someone built a career on talent alone is not motivating.
Marloes De Vries | Cleaning House | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details? 

If you are able to hire someone who can do it for you, do so, don't do it yourself. Before I even had one client, I contacted an accountant to do my taxes. I'm rubbish at that, if I were to do it myself I know for sure it would cost me a lot of money because of errors I would make.
What I did learn over the years is to use folders on my computer for incoming and outgoing invoices, and receipts. I use an online invoicing system for all my outgoing invoices and it notifies me when they're not paid. It's good to sign up for a trustworthy service that can do that for you. I pay about €10 a month for it and it's well worth the money because it saves me so much time. I track the time I spend on projects online with Toggl for example. I wrote an article about this too.
The thing is that as a freelancer you want to do those things you're good at. It's a waste to spend too much time on things you can easily delegate or automate. We live in a great time where we can outsource and automate a lot of things online. So do that. This means you will have more time to spend on those things you are best at.

There is a wonderfully detailed post on your blog about working for exposure / working for free. If you could distill that post to one must know piece of advice, what would it be? 

It's good to ask yourself when you're considering to work for free why you think you don't need compensation for your hard work. There are times it might feel better to work for free, for a charity for example, but there are times a company might take advantage of creatives' passion because they know a lot of creatives are willing to work for free.
My rule is: if someone is making money with something I created, I should earn money too. Asking fair compensation for your skills shows that you're a professional. Working for free can really devalue your worth as a professional creative.
Marloes De Vries | Magazine Illustration | Freelance Wisdom
Marloes De Vries | on getting paid for your work | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for freelancers who work with clients in different countries from their own? 

Make sure you have everything in writing. This goes for working for clients in your own country too of course. Make sure you get a proposal contract signed before starting any job and make sure you have clear agreements on what you are giving a client.
When working for foreign clients it's good to get a specialist involved concerning taxes and the like. I have an accountant that checks everything for me before negotiating about fees, because it might happen that you have to pay a lot of taxes in another country and that would be a waste.

Can you tell us a bit more about the "time to myself" break you took in the British countryside, what made you decide to do this and what advice would you give someone looking to do something similar?

For the past five years I was in survival mode, trying to keep head above water. I was really bad at saying 'no', I always took on a bit too much, and although my brain wants to, my body can't always keep up. In September last year, after a big deadline, my body said 'no'. It was done with working so hard and I collapsed one night.
I knew that I should stop working so hard and I needed to learn how to say 'no' to others, not just to myself. I decided I would go away for a month by myself to England because that's my favourite country. I feel so at home there and I feel so at peace. So I booked three weeks in the Peak District, not working, just sleeping, hiking, making food every day, reading, taking care of myself.
It was the best thing ever.
The thing about going by yourself to some place to rest is that you don't have to worry about a partner or travel companion. You don't have to adjust your wishes to have some middle ground. This means you go back to your own core. What do I need to feel good? I couldn't have done it with my partner, I would worry too much if he's enjoying himself.
If you want to do something like this I recommend doing it alone. It may sound scary but it's the best gift you can give yourself. Research the place you want to go (make sure you have a supermarket in the area for basic stuff) and stay for at least two weeks. Because the first week you will need to unwind and get rid of your daily habits and then you'll have another week to fully rest. Don't make too many plans, just see what happens. 
Marloes De Vries | Learning to Relax | Freelance Wisdom

Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?

I really enjoyed Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon. It has very little text in it but it's so on point!
Recently, I started listening to music again. I don't know how it happened, but for two years I didn't listen to any music. I'm listening to Philip Glass or singer-songwriters. I love lyrics with a heart felt story.

Is there anything else that we missed that you'd like to share? 

In this day and age it seems to me that being successful is mandatory. I believe that takes away so much joy of doing something you love. Not everything you do has to be prize-winning or has to be a successful career. It's okay to just enjoy something, have a hobby, even if you don't get instagram-likes for it. I think we're setting the bar too high sometimes. I'd like to encourage people to go back to their core: what did you enjoy doing when you were 6 years old? Try doing that again, without wanting to make a career out of it, because filling your life with those things you enjoy makes life so much more fulfilling. 

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Perseverance, passion and an open mind.
Marloes De Vries | Love Myself | Freelance Wisdom

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Your work inspires us daily. Here is round three of our recent favorites from #fwportfolio

Thank you for sharing and we hope you will enjoy!

You just saw a photomontage illustration by @eshakespeare, Wundalust Wednesday by @smidge.design, a type experiment by @tinaperkodesign, a photoshop mockup by @studiomeroe, a coffee label by @atelier_kami, a rock layer composition by @gretchenwatsondesign, Don't. You. Dare. by @spoonfuloffaithstudio, finalizing brand design by @hellogypsydesign, fun washes by @brightenmade, branded tissue paper by @cloverandcrow, a Friday exploration and experimentation by @annawassmer, and summer mood by @chloeashton.studio.