Women in Business Q&A: Kirsty Hughan

05/27/2015 06:55 am ET | Updated May 27, 2016

Kirsty Hughan is the founder of Seamless Marketing, which provides marketing services and consulting to small businesses, startups and agencies, ensuring they align with brand and stay in budget. She is also the co-founder of Mod Nashville, a women's networking group in Nashville, TN.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My life experiences continually direct me towards connections and relationships. For me, it is those connections that allow for leadership; I don't think leaders can act on their own. This attitude comes from growing up active in community organizations, in particular through theatre, in which you are always dependent on other people and always empowered and energized through a cast. You learn that people will pick you up and that you can pick them up. Relationships allow you to dig deep into the advice you give and the way you live, which quickly dominoes into effecting others and has the added benefit of supporting you too!

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as a marketing expert?
What I have loved about my employment experience is that it is so diverse. I had the opportunity to learn marketing at a very deep level during my time at Digby and ShippingEasy, two startups with very small marketing departments. When you're a team of one--or three!--you have to learn to do everything both from a strategic level and literal execution level. However, I learned the hart of what I do by working with small businesses, whether a cookbook author, coffee shop or designer. It is with small business that you learn the essence of why people work. If you let that heart shine it's amazing to see what you attract.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as a small business owner?
The highlight is learning just what I mentioned earlier, like attracts like. If you build an authentic brand, other authentic brands and people will be attracted to you. I love sitting down with people to talk about what they do and what drives them, whether as a means towards new business or just for fun. I'm always amazed that my business opportunities come from close conversations and new relationships. As for the challenge, I was surprised that it was not getting started but making it through that third month. That third month of questioning oneself, questioning business, not finding opportunities come together was the hardest. That was all about working through doubt and disappointment and saying, I'm going to keep going. I can see that light at the end of the tunnel and I'm going to make it bright and and I'm going to make it big.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a creative career?
There's plenty I can give that I'm sure you have heard: have faith, be true to yourself, work hard. What I have found to be the most surprising and that I will pass on is the power of honesty. Be honest with yourself regarding what you can take on, what steps you need to take, what you need. But further, be really honest with other people. Don't lie. Tell the truth about what you can do and what you need. That will establish a trust that opens up a long-term relationship. It is really hard to turn down a new client or a current client, but if you tell them the truth about why you're doing it, you'll likely find you work with them in the future or they recommend you to someone else.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I force myself into it! I've found that the best thing is to set strict guidelines and stick to them. I will clock out every day at six. And I'll hide my cell phone in another room if that's what it takes to not check email! I will meditate a few times every week to keep my energy calm and positive. If that means canceling a meeting, so be it. I'll work better for it. Figure out some guidelines you can make happen and then follow them.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think the challenge we're about to face is how to make the workplace a space that promotes positive lifestyles, passion and fulfillment for both men and women. Women have increasingly been leaving the traditional workplace environment to work on their own or start their own business. They're doing so to promote their emotional health, to not overwork themselves or get discouraged by colleagues. But they're also doing so because the traditional workplace is still a hard place for women! You only need to read a little from Sheryl Sandberg to learn that we don't just feel like it's harder for women, it's scientifically harder for women to succeed in the traditional work environment. The next step is going to be how can we evolve the traditional workplace to be more positive for all of us, instead of simply leaving to do our own thing. We have to impact future generations of both men and women.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has made a difference in more ways than I can say. I am always amazed by the way mentors appear in my life, whether fleetingly over a cup of coffee or long-term through relationships like the one I have with Pam Anderson, food entrepreneur extraordinaire. Everyone has something to offer: men, women, young people, old people, entrepreneurs, CEOs, interns. Mentorships has impacted big decisions I have made like which job I should take but it's also impacted the way I live every day.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The female leaders I admire the most are those who quietly lead careers in their own communities, allowing them to create a positive lifestyle for themselves and joy for others. I admire my mother, who left her golden handcuffs as "the boss" in her workplace when she was in her forties. She took a huge risk starting her own landscape design business and it is because of her that I know I can do it too and that I can do it at a young age. I admire my aunt, who owns her own bookstore in a small town square in Connecticut. Who fights every day to continue to let books thrive. I so admire them and I am so empowered by them.

What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?
I am really excited for this coming year. I just founded a women's networking group, Mod, which I am looking forward to expanding and growing. Two months in and we have found the most amazing, powerful, Nashvillian women. I look forward to seeing how Mod evolves because of them. I have some wonderful new opportunities for Seamless Marketing and I can't wait to continue to offer marketing that is within budget and empowers small businesses. And I have big plans regarding a physical business I plan to open in the next year or two. As a small business owner I think it's really important to have a bunch of projects that can provide fulfillment and I can't wait to expand on them all.