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Dawn & Kerry Anne Insight Studio Founders

Insight Studio
Founder Story

 

Small Business Week Q&A

19 oct 2023 | by insight studio
In celebration of Small Business Week, we sat down with partners Kerry Anne MacDougall and Dawn Binns to get the scoop on how they brought their entrepreneurial dreams to life and grew Insight Studio from the ground up!

Read on for some nuggets of wisdom on starting your business, and finding the right people to help make your business goals a reality!

Before we dive in, it’s always interesting to learn about the earliest days of a business founder. As someone who’s been in business for just about 15 years now, were there any hints of an entrepreneurial spirit in a young Kerry Anne MacDougall?

KA: Growing up in rural PEI, my parents worked a lot and my two older siblings moved out when I was young. With few kids around to play with, I became very good at occupying myself. I’d write stories, poems and songs. I’d draw and paint. One minute, I’d be performing for an audience of teddy bears in my mom’s dress, and the next, I’d be heading into the operating room to perform an elaborate surgery.

And how about your parents, Kerry Anne? Did either express traits that perhaps influenced you as a child?

KA: On special days, my mom would let me tag along with her to work. For most of my life, she worked in a senior management role for a hotel and resort chain. I remember feeling so proud as I watched her solve problems and the way in which people responded to her. She had a wonderful way of connecting with others. I wanted to be just like her.

Selfie with Kerry Anne and her mother enjoying a beer

So, fast-forwarding a few years now, Kerry Anne, you attended Holland College and graduated from the Marketing Program. How was that experience for you?

KA: When I found the marketing program at Holland College, everything seemed to click. I could visualize a career where I’d get to hone my artistic skills and work in an environment filled with creative energy. I knew marketing was what I was meant to do and that it would give the opportunity to really help people. I was a young mom, so there were challenging times, but I became a highly determined multi-tasker and completed the program.

Entering the workforce after College can be quite an adjustment for some graduates. Can you share a little bit about your journey?

KA: I moved to Fredericton, NB, after graduating and got a great job at a not-for-profit that taught me so much. When my family and I decided to move back home to PEI, I found out I was expecting our second child. I decided I would try to take on some contract work writing marketing plans rather than starting at a new job. The reality of this decision hit me pretty quick – I’d have to market myself. And with no start-up money.
Kerry Anne MacDougall's quote It's all about engaging people

A bold decision that worked out well, but I can only imagine the excitement, stress, exhilaration, and struggle of being in it! What did you do next?

KA: Well, to generate some revenue and word of mouth, I put my not-for-profit knowledge to work. I created a one-day training session for others in the sector and old-school hand-delivered flyers to groups. Words can’t describe the excitement I felt when I had 15 people register. I can still tell you every single person who attended!

It wasn’t until after my training session, when participants started asking for my business card, I knew I needed to look a bit more legit, so I called around to print companies to price business cards.

On about my fifth call a man answered in a rather stern voice. When he asked what I needed business cards for, I told him I was a marketing consultant. He told me he needed marketing help. We exchanged a marketing plan for business cards, envelopes, letterhead and a very impressive pop-up banner. I was in business!

Kerry Anne standing up beside an Insight Marketing banner

Very resourceful. An important skill for any upstart no doubt. So, being “in business”, doing the thing you trained to do, was it everything you hoped it would be?

KA: Working with my clients set my soul on fire. I loved the creative energy and collaboration. I loved that they let me into their worlds, their struggles. I felt so honoured that they trusted me. I felt so connected to them and the work. And because they felt connected to me too, they wanted me to start implementing the marketing plans I developed.

So, I found a tiny office space in Charlottetown. My dad helped me renovate it and make it my own. I was so proud. I found a marketing intern, who I would later hire. And then another. I formed strategic partnerships with graphic designers, copywriters and video producers. I started to see my work come alive. It was everything I dreamed of: a space to be creative, connect with people and make an impact.

Things escalated quickly!

KA: Right?!

And Dawn, while Kerry Anne was doing her thing, you were involved with the Canadian Cancer Society, correct? Can you share a little bit about your time there and how you two met?

DB: Absolutely! I was the Executive Director for PEI with the Canadian Cancer Society Canadian Cancer Society, and was tackling new projects like changing our IT and internal processes, participating in our national re-branding and acting as the advocacy and media spokesperson on numerous provincial issues. But it was actually through our son’s hockey team that Kerry Anne and I crossed paths at a parent party.
News report about Dawn Binns to join Island firm
KA: Side-by-side at that kitchen island, we chatted all night about work and career goals. We talked about the excitement of growing something from a vision that others can’t see yet, making an impact, helping people and all the forms in which that can take shape.
DB: I loved that job and it taught me so much, but I knew I was getting ready for a change. And I also knew three things about myself: I liked a good challenge, building new things, and helping others. So over a bottle of wine-
KA: Maybe two.
DB: Haha, maybe two. I learned about Kerry Anne’s values and vision for Insight Marketing (as it was then), and for the first time I thought, “Am I meant for business ownership”?

I remember a colleague once saying, “You’re an entrepreneurial ED”, and it stuck with me because I didn’t necessarily identify as an entrepreneur. I hadn’t run a business or ever aspired to. But then I realized I had been running a business. It was just that our sales revenue was donations, and our products were services for cancer patients.

Dawn Binns and Kerry Anne reunited in different places
Once I made this connection, and understood that Insight was going to be about supporting others to achieve their goals and being strategic and thoughtful in our approach, the rest they say is history!
Kerry Anne and Dawn brief presentation

So why “Insight” ? How did you settle on that name?

KA: Finding a name for a business can be tricky. It can be very easy to get in your own head (that thing when you say the same word over and over and it starts to sound weird). Some words are pretty but just don’t resonate. Sometimes you think of something and your friends and family aren’t overly excited about it.

You want to find something that accurately represents you, something you can be proud to call yourself. I googled, I considered and I thought for days. I finally came across it.

Insight: a deep understanding of a person or thing. That was it.

Insight Studio Logo Timeline
I value connecting deeply with people. I value digging deeper and uncovering the real issues and the stories within. If you wanted to buy a one-off ad, I just wasn’t passionate about that. If you wanted help uncovering your brand and communicating it through all forms of marketing, that was what I wanted.
DB: Over the years, this word continued to mean so much, and our most successful projects were the ones where the client valued “insight” as well.
KA: One day, Dawn brought me a definition of Insight she found. “Insight: The moment of clarity when you see not just the information, but what it means and how to use it.” We framed the quote and hung it on the wall in our office. It stayed there for 10 years.

Next year marks 15 years for Insight Studio. That’s not a milestone every business owner reaches. What do you attribute to that?

KA: Insight has seen a lot over the years. From slow growth to rapid growth. No growth at all and then growth again. But through all the highs and lows, tears and laughs, early mornings and all-nighters, our “why” has always remained consistent. Insight was created to be a vibrant space where people can be imaginative, tell stories, and feel connected to their work and its impact.
Dawn Binns and Kerry Anne standing side by side with Insight team

DB: Nothing’s been a straight line, so many ups and downs. But what has been constant are the things we focused on from the beginning: people and relationships. If you work with great people who share your values and clients who want you to be partners in their success, you’ll be successful.

Dawn Binns and Kerry Anne standing side by side with Insight's team

Earlier this year, it was announced that Director of Client Services, Jeremy Marentette, had been named CEO of Insight Studio. What can you say about Jeremy and the impact he has had on the business?

DB: The first time we met Jeremy we could see the most important attribute – he shared our values. We knew bringing a senior leader like Jeremy to the team was an important next step for our growth, and finding someone with experience and focus on people was so important.
Jeremy Marentette CEO Insight Studio
KA: Jeremy brings to us 20 years of experience working in marketing and advertising and we’re learning from him every day. We saw from him immediately upon meeting his desire to grow something special and we’re grateful to have his leadership on our team.

And finally, if you could go back in time knowing what you know now, what three pieces of advice would you give your younger selves that you wish you had known during the earliest days of Insight Studio?

KA: These change every time someone asks me the question because there’s just so much I would say!

1. Less reacting to things you can’t control, more focusing on the present.
2. Sometimes scaling feels like failing. Keep moving forward.
3. Continue to surround yourself with people smarter than you and listen…carefully.
DB: For me, I would say
1. There’s going to be ups and downs, wins and losses and sometimes on the same day. Focus on the wins, learn from the losses but don’t stay there.
2. Relationships first. Know when to be right and when to swallow your ego.
3. Find other business leaders and others to learn from. Then take those learnings, apply what fits and then build your own path!

Insight Studio

We’re a creative agency all about helping people connect with people.

We do this through building engaging brands, producing strong content, and launching effective marketing campaigns.

Insight Studio

We’re a creative agency all about helping people connect with people.

We do this through building engaging brands, producing strong content, and launching effective marketing campaigns.

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