Tiffany Harris Of Kustom Kreationz: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Faith. My faith is really important to me, and having faith in God and having faith that everything would work out with my business has been really important to me. To be a good leader, though, you have to have faith, even if it’s not religious or spiritual. As a leader, if you don’t have faith in your business and its purpose, no one else will have that faith, either.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tiffany Harris.
Tiffany Harris is a 38-year-old mother of three and a wife. Tiffany is the sole owner of Kustom Kreationz Wholesale. Kustom Kreationz is a custom apparel business that customizes personalized items for everyone. Kustom Kreationz also provides dye sublimation products to other small businesses to help them reach their full potential in producing customized items by using its branded sublimation line of products, including sublimation paper, sublimation ink, sublimation shirts, and heat tape. Kustom Kreationz is a one-stop-shop for any small business that does sublimation. Tiffany Harris hopes to help many small business owners grow their businesses by using Kustom Kreationz products.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Kustom Kreationz was birthed through great friends and family. I started out trying to make my own wedding invitations. It took me a few months, but I did it. Then, I found out that there were machines (Cricut machines) that could help you make invitations, and they could also make shirts; you would input a design and the Cricut machine plots things out. Then, you can print your design. A really good friend of mine already knew how to use the Cricut and had one, so we used FaceTime and she taught me how to use the Cricut.
I started making shirts for my wedding, and I posted on social media to be like, “Y’all, look, I made this!” I didn’t realize that so many people were watching me, and suddenly, people started asking me if I could make things for them, too. I decided to turn it into a business.
Later, I started learning that there were a lot of people who wanted to learn about sublimation, which is a specific type of printing where you print onto a special type of paper first, then transfer the image onto the material you’re printing on.
My friend and I made a Facebook page to teach people about sublimation. I thought, Okay, if I teach them to do sublimation for free, they will buy my products. People bought and bought and bought!
Recently, I started my own line of sublimation paper and ink, so people can buy blanks (blank products they need for sublimation, like paper, etc.) and can use those blanks to create their own items.
Now, Kustom Kreationz is a one-stop shop for crafting blanks.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I’m not sure I would say this is or was funny, but it was definitely a huge mistake I made. When I first decided to make a sublimation paper line, I opted to go the cheaper route and package my paper in just plastic. Needless to say, the paper bent up, the packaging tore often causing my customers to return their items for new ones but returning them wasn’t the problem — the packaging was. So, I lost a lot of products aka money trying to be cheap. Now, my paper is packaged in plastic first then inside of a cardboard box to prevent damage to the actual product.
All in all, I learned that trying to cut corners in business can come back and bite you in the end, causing you more money than you thought you were saving in the beginning.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
After I made my wedding invitations, which was my first major project using my Cricut machine, I decided that I wanted to learn more about how to use the Cricut.
I reached out to a close friend, Nikisha, because I knew that she was had a Cricut and knew more about it than me.
She ended up teaching me how to use my own machine over FaceTime, and from that, I was able to grow my skillset.
She was and is still my go-to person in life, and I’m really grateful for her! Learning how to use my own Cricut and learning what niches needed to be filled in this crafting community would’ve been a lot harder without her!
She also helped me create my Facebook group, and that helped my business expand and grow, too. This group has been a helpful tool for both people interested in crafting and for me as a business owner.
Now, my business helps crafters at all skill levels and provides them with materials they need to use their Cricut machines and create beautiful items, and I’m thankful that Nikisha was the one who taught me so much at the beginning!
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Initially, the purpose of my business was to help other people who were interested in a specific type of crafting using the Cricut machine and to teach them how to sublimate. As my business expanded, that purpose expanded, too.
My vision was to create a business that was a valuable resource for crafters and a one-stop-shop for those who wanted to get into sublimation printing using their Cricut machines.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Shortly after launching my business, I needed an emergency hysterectomy. This was really upsetting to me since my business had literally just had its grand opening.
I made sure to communicate with my team as soon as I knew that I was going to be out. I wanted to maintain control, but at that time, I knew I had to rely on my team. I delegated tasks for everyone to make sure the business could run while I was in the hospital.
Even after my surgery, I was still keeping track of what was going on in my business and communicating with my team about what needed to get done and who needed to do what.
Communication was really important at that time, and I think it’s important when leading through difficult times in general. If you communicate well, the people on your team and in your community will understand and trust you. Transparency is essential, I think.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
There were definitely times when I felt like it would’ve been easier to give up. I’m a very business-minded person, though, and I really believed in my ideas and my business. I knew that if I stuck it out that my business could succeed. My vision for my company really sustains my motivation and drive, even when times are hard.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I think the most critical role of a leader in business is to guide their company and know what they want that business to look like in the future. A good leader must be adaptable and know what they will do when challenges arise — because they definitely will — so they can keep their business moving and guide their team even during turbulent times.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Again, being honest and transparent as possible with your team is so important. It helps build trust, which is so important in businesses, especially small businesses.
Talking about the ways you’re planning to get through hard times, and also sharing ways you’ve gotten through challenges before as a business, can really help to engage your team as a leader.
If everyone feels like there’s a plan, then they don’t have to worry so much about what’s going to happen next or what their roles are in the business. As a leader, defining everyone’s roles and giving your team a framework is important.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I think it’s important to be honest when you’re giving difficult news to a team or your customers.
With a team, it’s important to clearly define expectations upfront. You want to make a plan to present to your team when something goes wrong; having that plan in place before something happens helps. You want to have steps that your team can follow easily, even if you’re not there.
With customers, you also want to be transparent. If you’re running low on stock or need to close temporarily, letting your customers know what’s going on behind-the-scenes and when you expect things to go back to normal.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
A good leader must always be a couple steps ahead of the game.
For example, in 2021 I prepared my business for the changes of 2022. I believe you must think ahead because you never know what life will throw at you. Have a plan A, B, C, and D if necessary.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
My number one principle is: no matter what, see it completely through. If you don’t see it through, how will you know if it would’ve worked or not?
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I think a lot of business owners think they’re going to immediately make all this money when they first start out, but that’s not really the case. You have to build up an audience and make sure people know who you are and what you’re doing. People have to trust you. For me, educating people for free meant that people trusted that I knew what I was doing, so they would buy from me.
I also see people overspending when they don’t have the funds. You want to invest into your business, but that takes time. You need to take things one step at a time and make sure you can pay for whatever you’re buying. When you are initially making money, you have to put a lot of that money back into the business to make it grow. Over time, though, you’ll be able to pay yourself more.
It’s also really important to build business credit. I see a lot of people who are new to business not taking advantage of credit cards that are available to businesses. Before you can use these types of cards, you need to incorporate your business first (which means your business is a separate entity from you). From there, you can start to build your credit and can use that to cover your expenses. Just be careful about how you use your business credit cards; just because they say you can spend a million dollars doesn’t mean you should.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Building a community that’s interested in you and your business is really important; having a solid community can help you to maintain financial stability during hard times.
It’s particularly helpful if you start to build that community before you start your business. This gives you the chance to build trust with people who are interested in what you do, and when people are familiar with you and trust you, they’re more likely to be committed to you and your products or business.
I also think staying on top of your finances is essential in good times and bad. You really have to know how much you can afford to spend on your business, how much you need to make to at least break even, and what expenses can be cut out if needed. If there are things you can do yourself during turbulent times, that can save you money in the long run and help your business stay afloat.
Finally, it’s helpful to take advantage of any resources available to you as a business owner and leader. If there are grants, loans, business credit cards, etc., that can help you when you’re struggling, that can make a major difference in your business and can keep the doors open.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
Throughout my time founding my own business and working as a business owner, being a leader during turbulent times has become second nature to me. Whether I was leading my business when I was dealing with a life-altering medical issue, after experiencing a loss, or through a global pandemic, there are five things that allowed me to be a strong leader when life was chaotic.
When you’re in business, things aren’t always bright and happy and perfect, so you have to be resilient and keep going.
For example, after I’d been in business for a little while, I decided to trademark my brand. I’d been applying, and someone from the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) kept denying the trademark because she said the name for my business was too popular.
After I kept reapplying and getting denied, I finally decided to get an attorney. It took eight months, but the trademark was finally approved.
On a larger scale, I’ve dealt with some health issues throughout my life, and that didn’t stop when I created a business. There have been times when it would’ve been really easy to just stop working in and on my business.
When my business wasn’t very profitable, stopping would’ve been easy, too. But I really believed in what I was doing, and I really enjoyed it. I’m glad now that I kept going because I’ve gotten to see my business grow a lot.
Confidence is so important when you’re leading, whether that’s in a business or in your personal life.
After I’d done some research and learned more about the market in my niche, I realized that my idea for a business was a really good one. I think it’s easy to second-guess yourself, but it’s important to be totally confident in the decisions you make — especially when your decisions impact other people.
When I started my business, I was confident that it was something that could really help people interested in certain types of crafting. Even though it took time for my business to make money, and it took a lot of work, I was confident that my business would get to where I wanted it to go.
It took me a few years, but now, I’ve gotten to see my business really expand and grow in some awesome ways. That’s only added to my confidence about my business, as well as my ability to do things on my own.
3. An amazing support system
I’m someone who’s really independent, but I’ve learned that having a good support system makes running a successful business possible.
Ten days after the grand opening of my business, I had to go to the hospital to get a hysterectomy. I was so sad because my business was just starting to take off, and I knew that I would have to rest for several weeks after the surgery.
My friends stopped what they were doing. They came during their breaks from work to help pack the orders. They came whenever they could to make sure I wasn’t lifting a finger. One of my friends literally came from her house, picked me up from my house, drove me to my store, opened the door or the chair and said, “Sit right here and tell me what to do.”
In the two months it took me to recover, I was so grateful to have my friends helping me out when I needed it.
Sometimes, you have to be a courageous leader, and that means putting yourself out there and taking risks.
I’ve had to take some risks in my life, especially with my business, but having the courage to take risks instead of staying on the sidelines and wishing or wondering what would happen if I did something has paid off.
Before my business began, I had to have the courage to learn how to use the Cricut machine — and that meant that I had to have the courage to fail at first. I started out because I wanted to make wedding invitations for myself, and I did. It took so much time, but I was so proud of those invitations!
As time went on and I learned more, I saw that there was a need for my skills and knowledge in the crafting community. After starting my own community, I finally decided to start my own business, and that took courage to do.
Financially, I was also responsible for my business, and that took a lot of courage, too, I think. Investing in a business is a risk, but as a leader, it was obviously my place to take that risk — and I’m so glad that I did.
My faith is really important to me, and having faith in God and having faith that everything would work out with my business has been really important to me.
To be a good leader, though, you have to have faith, even if it’s not religious or spiritual. As a leader, if you don’t have faith in your business and its purpose, no one else will have that faith, either.
When I was trying to find a building for my business, I was trying to decide between two buildings. I really didn’t know which one to pick.
After seeing the two places and debating, I saw a third place. It felt like God was telling me to take that third space, even though I had only been considering the two initially.
I chose the building that I felt like God was pulling me to, and that building had more space than I knew what to do with at first. But I trusted my faith, and I also had faith in myself and my business because I knew that I would make things work and that I could use the space I had, even if I wasn’t sure how to use it at the time.
Later down the line, I ended up needing the extra space as my business expanded, and I really felt as if that space was meant for me. I was so grateful that I’d made that decision, because I really needed the space, and that allowed my business to grow in ways I hadn’t expected or anticipated.
I’ve learned to give God some grace and to give things time. I like to be in control, but I try not to immediately stress over things that I can’t control. Again, you have to have faith that you can get through hard times.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Ever since I was a child, I’ve always followed the motto “if at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.” I even wrote this in my yearbook for middle school and high school. This quote is relevant in my life always because I know that if it doesn’t work out the first time try again. If you fail or think you’ve failed, try again. If you fall, get back up and try again. If you don’t understand why life is seemingly taking you on a roller coaster ride, just hold on tight eventually God will reveal it to you. But if you give up, you’ll never know what you’re missing out on.
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Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Tiffany Harris Of Kustom Kreationz: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.