Our fabulous founders, Karen McKenzie and Scarlett Rosier, are the kind of women who have an acute understanding of thoughtfully designed branding. These lady bosses joined forces more than a decade ago to create Rhyme & Reason Design from the dirty ground up (during a recession I might add), slowly transforming it into a marketing powerhouse based in Atlanta. Packed with bold graphics and witty headlines, this duo leads their team in making clients’ design dreams come true.
SM: Why did you decide both decide to start Rhyme & Reason Design?
KM: Scarlett and I worked at the same agency previously; she was in accounts and I was the designer. It was just a coincidence that we were both planning to leave the agency around the same time. I was looking for more flexibility in every realm: personally to travel and in design to do more than just script and pretty golf course photos. I felt like I had learned all that I could at that particular job and was ready for a change.
SR: I would say Karen had a little more flexibility being the sole designer than the accounts side, so from my end I was looking for a better life. I wanted to create a much happier and sounder place; where people weren’t looked at badly when they left at 5 p.m. and where there was a warmer environment to do great things and be good people.
KM: Yeah, there was not a fantastic work culture at the original agency where we worked and, especially for accounts, it was really hard. So, we wanted to build a better place.
SM: So, you’re starting this new business, what else were you looking to create from this agency?
KM: Initially we started in the web realm. Content Management Systems were just picking up traction and we soon realized that there was a need for functional and beautiful design in the digital space. Eventually, we broadened our offerings to include branding, messaging, print, digital and a whole suite of services. We’ve always just wanted to do great designs. I know that’s what has always driven me to be proud of the product we put out for our clients. We make sure we’re pushing them to be the best they can be and not giving them some canned logo or brochure that they can pick up off the Internet.
SR: When we first started, we were really blonde and really young. People definitely asked if we just woke up one day and decided we wanted to start an agency, like we were Legally Blonde. So I think the other part was to prove people wrong and show that we could build something smart and successful while creating a better experience for customers and potential employees with the tools that we had.
SM: What was the best and scariest part about starting your own business?
SR: I always say the best has to outweigh the worst; otherwise it’s not worth it. There were plenty of sad and lonely moments that I don’t want to repeat. There are a lot of learning experiences that come with building a new business and sometimes you have to fight harder to gain respect and survive. But, there are amazing things that overshadow the darker times. For example, I have clients who have become some of my closest friends because of the partnership we cultivated through work. The relationships, for me, are the best part. It’s why I do this every day.
KM: I’d say on the scary front, we started Rhyme and Reason in the middle of the recession so as far as strategic times to start a business, you could argue maybe that wasn’t the best. I think it ended up working in our favor. Fifteen years ago companies were pouring so much money into marketing so when the recession did hit, they needed to find more affordable options and we became that. Ultimately it worked for us, but it was definitely a scary piece of that timeline.
SM: What does being a female entrepreneur mean to you?
KM: As a mom with two daughters, setting a good example for them is a really important piece to me now that I never saw in the beginning. I’m excited to share this experience with them when they get to be a little bit older and empower them to do the same thing if they so desire.
SR: I think it’s nice to have a seat at the table. I remember even at our original agency sitting down with a man who looked at me and said “prove why you should be here” and I had to go through my entire résumé proving that I had a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and that I was capable and competent …so it’s nice to sit at the table and ensure that there are other seats for women to sit at the table, too. The female entrepreneurial community is a really welcoming place that wasn’t there when we started. The community that it is today didn’t exist. When I went to school, you could be a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher and there wasn’t much discussion about being your own boss and doing something more, building something and creating something to empower other people to be great.
SM: What is your working dynamic together?
SR: We have built a cadence to meetings. Karen and I meet every Wednesday morning to chat and check-in. It’s a time when we connect personally and professionally to know what’s going on.
KM: Work wives!
SR: She’s my work wife! We check in personally, because what’s happening outside of work still affects work. We review work and walk through things. I would say neither one of us is big on confrontation nor are we huge risk takers when it comes to making grand change or executing something that the other doesn’t agree with. If we do have a disagreement, we’ll each say our piece and if one of us is more passionate than the other, they can have it. We’re careful to know where the other is coming from, personally and professionally.
KM: I agree with that, I think too I bring more of a calming force.
SR: Yes, Karen is the calm one and I am not.
KM: I think in that way our personalities balance each other in the work place because there is a time to keep people moving and innovating and then there’s a time to keep things even keel and create balance and harmony.
SM: Where did the name Rhyme and Reason Design come from?
KM: We believe that really amazing design has to be both beautiful and smart so that ties into the rhyme and to the reason. That’s the story we’ve really woven into our mission and vision. Now it tells the story of what that work needs to embody to be really amazing and what sets us apart from somebody else who is just slapping logos together or coming up with a catchy headline that doesn’t have the creative support behind it to be really successful.
SM: What makes Rhyme and Reason Design unique from other agencies?
SR: Agencies historically have been churn and burn places where you’re expected to go in, work late and do it all again the next day. They’re not known historically for being warm, sunshiny enclaves. Of course, there is a cool factor, but it comes with a skewed work/life balance. Not to mention, for many agencies if you lose the big client, that also means you have to cut staff because you can no longer afford them. With all this is mind, we were intentional in building R&R so that we don’t have one big client ensuring that there is a greater sense of safety and security for our team. We’ve also made it to where the expectation is that you work normal hours 9-5 and if you’re working until 6 every once in a while, it’s a rarity. Additionally, we’ve established a process and procedure that allows for a work/life balance where there is space to be creative, which in turn leads to more effective and successful projects for our clients.
KM: And externally really goes back to that rhyme and the reason; of having both sides of that story be integrated in everything that we do. We excel in being collaborative with our clients while building partnerships and not just being another vendor for them. Scarlett has besties now that were our clients. She talked to them every day and got to know their brand and their mission so that we could work really closely and easily with them to do some really phenomenal work. We do a good job of putting ourselves into our clients’ shoes, helping them survive and thrive and making sure that it’s not just about us.
SR: Yeah I would say that creating a really warm and welcoming environment has ensured employee longevity. A lot of our clients ask who their account person is going to be right off the bat, because of the churn that happens in agencies. We alleviate that fear, because our team is in it for the long haul and is committed to building relationships, because they have the quality of life. Internally and externally that warm, friendly environment has created the opportunity for relationships to really blossom and ensure that longevity.
SM: What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs just starting out?
KM: There’s no perfect time. I think a lot of people wait and say “oh this isn’t the right time” or “I’m not quite ready”—just do it and throw something at the wall, if it’s awful and it fails that’s fine because you’re going to learn a lot in the process. We started in a recession. Just do it; you make it work along the way.
SR: Don’t burn bridges. Anyone that you’ve met will come back. Our previous agency actually hired us to do work when we first started out. My college roommate is one of our clients to this day. People that you meet along the way that you never thought would be a part of your community can end up being your biggest cheerleader, so don’t burn bridges is my No. 1. You never know whom you’re going to meet or where they will come back into your life.
No. 2 is surround yourself with people who are supportive because it’s really hard to do it. When we first started a lot of people said go get a real job? So, if you’re surrounding yourself with people who are constantly belittling what you’re doing then it makes it really hard to continue and be successful. Therefore, I encourage you to surround yourself with people who are encouraging you to continue to achieve your goals.
Lastly, if the bad days are not outweighing the good days, you should check-in with yourself and your goals to determine if this is really what you want to be doing with your career and your life,
KM: And to piggyback on that last one, I think surrounding yourself with other entrepreneurs is a really good move. Being an entrepreneur can be really isolating. We are partners so we can bounce things off of each other which has been nice, but a lot of people go out and do it by themselves with no one to keep them accountable, nobody to bounce ideas off of. So, surrounding yourself with other entrepreneurs who have had those same experiences, who have hired and fired and done all those things that business requires is really helpful when you hit points in your business where you don’t know what to do.
SR: And don’t be afraid to ask for help.
KM: And read The E Myth!
SM: Your business is continuing to grow, what’s next for R&R?
SR: We’re in a cycle of growth. We’ve been hanging out on a plateau for a while so next is growing further into our niche markets, building them out and fostering more sustainable opportunities for us and our team.
KM: I agree. Growth of our team, growth in our client base and I know there is some really fantastic work on the horizon so I’m excited to see it all come out into the world.