On Women-Run Workplaces: How Kate Izell Built Her Business On Empathy and Integrity
Feb. 16, 2021
A math degree, a knack for analytics and a passion for people and small businesses -- that’s what set Kate Izell on her path toward digital marketing, eventually materializing into Izell Marketing Group, LLC.
Upon the first few minutes of chatting with Izell, you feel energized. She’s resourceful, honest and relational, and her excitement and passion for her employees, small businesses and cultivating a healthy work environment is obvious.
Math Grad Meets the Marketing World
Originally, Izell had no plans of going into marketing, and she wasn’t acquainted with much of it besides print. Once she finished undergrad in 2011, companies were starting the transition into social media and building an online presence, creating a new, high demand for digital marketing expertise.
Izell’s first marketing job was for a family-run digital marketing agency, where she was their first real hire, sought out for her background in math.
“Oh, you’ll be great at analytics,” they told her, to which Izell responded, “What’s analytics?”
It turned out she had a knack for all things digital marketing. With a natural affinity for logic, she quickly picked up on website conversions, Google Ads, SEO, web analytics and social media advertising. She loved wearing many hats, being involved in the startup process, and learning everything she could.
After four and a half years, as the company grew and took a different direction, Izell realized she favored the entrepreneurial stage, helping small companies and consistently coming up with creative solutions for their needs. She wanted to stay nimble, so eventually, grateful for everything she’d learned, she stepped out into her own entrepreneurial journey in 2016, continually growing her skill set.
Creating Psychological Safety Through An All-Women Team
Izell’s experience as a woman in a male-dominated space played a big factor in starting her own business.
She’d originally stepped into the workplace excited, ready to learn and build her skills. She was ambitious and interested in everything. Once she realized she had a knack for what she did and had been doing it for a few years, she found there’s a ceiling at certain companies. She wasn’t necessarily going to get that great promotion or position as things were developing, and there was a cap to her growing potential. It led her to decide that this probably wouldn’t be best for her long-term.
“As grateful as I was for everything I learned, there were little signs that the growth potential wasn't there for me or other women like it was for men,” Izell says. “I don’t think that was intentional, but I did experience that.”
“I didn’t grow up hearing things like, ‘You could be a great leader,’ or things that I'm sure boys hear a lot like, ‘Go out and start a new business or be a lawyer.’ My skills lend to so many things that are traditionally male orientated, and once I figured out that no one was going to orient me towards them, I realized I could just pursue what I wanted. It was cool for me to take control of my own destiny. I took the jump in starting Izell Marketing Group in 2016, and it’s been incredible. We’ve had insane growth year-over-year.”
Hitting this ceiling at her former workplace made her think deeply about what values she wanted to instill into her own company. She’s intentionally infused much of her identity into her business, and to match this, she hired an entire team of women.
“It's funny because we have these brilliant men who work with us as contractors and are so supportive,” Izell says. “They think it's great. People would assume there’s more drama, but we just want to get things done. There's so much psychological safety within this group.”
For Izell Marketing Group, psychological safety at work looks like being able to put up boundaries when you need to without feeling like you’re risking your job. It also means that emotional vulnerability on both personal and professional levels is valued and respected. They have a loving, supportive environment, which has been especially needed during an unsettling pandemic.
Since so much of people’s lives consist of working, Izell wants to make sure their workplace is a giving and fulfilling part of her and her team members’ lives. Sometimes, to keep team morale up, Izell gives the team a day off to relax and take care of themselves.
“Part of our success is through how healthy we are, how supportive we are and how healthy we feel. I've tried to make it a point with all of the women that work for me, that if there's a personal struggle going on, that's priority to me. I want them to take care of themselves. It’s made us more dynamic as a group.”
Izell brags on her team, both in conversation and on social media, about how smart, incredible and resourceful they are, and how rewarding it is to watch how well they work together. She’s intentionally hired women who possess integrity, a collaborative spirit and who are active self-learners. She’s proud of the trusting, safe community they’ve built, and they think just as highly of her and their team environment.
Lauren England, Director of Digital Services and PPC Lead at Izell Marketing Group, has been working for Izell since she was still freelancing, and eventually became Izell’s first hire at the company.
“We work with a lot of amazing clients, and I really enjoy the different challenges that come with working in a variety of industries,” England says. “It's gratifying, and every day is different. I also get to work with some of the smartest women I know; they are all incredibly talented.”
“Kate is one of the most honest, kind people that I know, and she has continued to be a mentor to me as I take on more of a leadership role at the company. We're all very lucky to have her as a boss and to know her as a person.”
England shares that as a team, they believe in a work/life balance. Even before the pandemic, they were able to work from home, at a coffee shop or at their office space if they wanted to.
“We're a small group of women, but we each have a certain set of skills that we bring to the business,” England says. “We make sure everyone has the support they need to be successful and enjoy working hard for our clients.”
Sarah Anne Brewer, Data Analyst for Izell Marketing Group, has been working on the team for two years, supporting the PPC team in their work.
“I love the supportive environment,” Brewer says. “It's been a hard year for everyone, but the support and flexibility we have with each other has made it so much better than it could have been. I enjoy the opportunities for development. Kate encourages us to make time to learn new skills and apply them in our work.
“Our work environment is really considerate and supportive. Kate puts a lot of thought into team-building and selecting the right person for each role. We work to make sure we know each other's professional strengths, interests and communication styles which helps us all work well together.”
Valuing Honesty and Transparency
Izell Marketing Group was founded as a response to a serious need for more flexible, affordable and effective online marketing methods. The team has a heart for the wellbeing and success of the businesses they work with, so if they recognize that the partnership isn’t beneficial anymore, they will recommend them to another company that would serve their objectives better. If there comes a point where they do not represent the best fit for the client’s needs, they acknowledge it, and they are transparent with the client with what they need from their next marketing partner.
As soon as it is suspected that their business is no longer a good fit for a client’s needs, the team meets to discuss next steps. Each member of the Izell Marketing Group team gets to weigh in, and they make a decision that is mutually beneficial for both parties.
“There’s no shortage of opportunity for us, but we only want to be working with a company when they really need us, so if they don't, we have the self awareness and the integrity to hand it over, even if we were making a great profit from it,” Izell says.
“I’ve seen where that doesn't happen, where companies aren’t getting what they need or they could be so much further along in their goals if they had that input. I think sometimes good companies get caught up in this idea of, ‘Are these good clients for us?’ but I like to ask, ‘Are we a good vendor for them?’ I want to make sure that matches, because when it does, it’s beautiful.”
On Inclusivity, Representation and Coming Out At Work
The Izell Marketing Group website has an entire tab dedicated to inclusivity for minority business owners, featuring a photo of Izell and her wife, Kelly Izell, who also works on the team as the administrator, bookkeeper and editor.
“I only know of one other LGBTQ+ business owner in town. Maybe it’s because people aren’t open about it, but I find it very important to talk about. My wife and I got married when I was still at my last job, and I was very fortunate that the entire space was supportive.”
As Izell started her company, she was aware of the potential dynamics surrounding disclosing parts of her identity, especially in new spaces.
“There are parts of our identities we aren’t able to hide, but when you're LGBTQ+, you can hide it, so I have to choose when to disclose that about myself,” Izell says. “Sometimes I’ll be in meetings, and they’ll ask me personal questions. I have to decide every time if I’ll actually say the word ‘wife’ or just say ‘spouse.’ You just never know how coming out is going to be received.
“Something I think is important to know about the LGBTQ community, in business or anywhere else, is that you’re constantly coming out to people. Every time I meet a new person, they don't know these things about me, and it’s not completely obvious. It’s made me acutely aware of other minorities and their experiences. In business, an opportunity doesn't even come for you if you're a certain minority, especially if you can't hide those facets of your identity. This includes racial identities and being female.”
With their inclusivity page, Izell Marketing Group wants to relay an authentic message, a way of signaling to others that they’ll be accepted in their space, regardless of their background.
Izell shared that after last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, she doesn’t want the company's actions to be perceived as performative or reactionary.
“After everything happened, so many people and businesses were posting statements. Where were those sentiments and statements before? I want our actions to feel genuine and to resonate with minorities. Generally, companies like to think they’ll never marginalize people, but they do and they will. I want to create a company that is cognizant of that fact. We won’t always understand or be actively aware, but it’s important that we strive to continue to grow and learn.”