Kristen Robinson is known as the Military Spouse Business Mentor and helps military spouses build online businesses that create flexibility and freedom within the military lifestyle. As an active duty US Marine Corps military spouse, Kristen created her business to support her husband’s military career while constantly moving from one location to the next. Kristen’s company, KR Design, allows her to do what she loves from anywhere in the world.
Kristen: I am what you call a military spouse business mentor — that’s the title I’ve given myself — and I help military spouses have a business in any location that’s essential to the military lifestyle, because I am a military spouse. But it wasn’t always that way. When I started my company, KR Design, in 2010, I helped entrepreneurs with social media. The reason I’m doing what I do now is because it was hard. I was doing the career ladder thing, jumping from one company to another and then doing well in that company. When I married my husband, I found out I couldn’t have my dream career and the love of my life. I felt like I had to make a choice, a decision.
So in 2010, my husband was actually the one who suggested I start my business in hopes of us being happy together wherever we were. Through starting my own business and about four-and-a-half years of serving entrepreneurs with marketing, social media, graphic design, web design and all those services I’ve done, I’m now at a point that I want to help other military spouses do the same thing and not make the same mistakes that I did, so they can have the love of their life and the career that they always wanted by having a business and not working for someone else. Entrepreneurship is a great answer to that need.
Jasper: There must be quite a demand for what you offer, because the big problem for military spouses is the fact they can be dragged here, there, and everywhere on almost a moment’s notice. And that doesn’t really make the traditional career path a very good one to follow, does it?
Kristen: That’s very true, and I’m glad you mentioned it, because I specifically teach military spouses to do online businesses. A great example is my husband and I got orders to Japan, and we were so excited because it was where we wanted to be stationed. When you go overseas in the military, you get two shipments: one is to ship all the stuff you don’t need right now, and then another shipment close to when you leave. Our first shipment had already left for Japan. Two weeks later, they called us and said, “Oh, by the way, you are going to have to be flexible. You are going to Hawaii
instead.” We said, “But our stuff just left to Japan,” and they said, “Oh, well, when it comes back, you’ll get it.”
We were like, “Well, the boat has to turn around!” We didn’t get our stuff until three months later! I didn’t have my desktop computer, I didn’t have my office, and I didn’t have anything I normally would have in my office. So for three months, all I had were a couple of files and my laptop. It’s things like that you don’t expect to happen in the lifestyle of being a military spouse. That’s exactly why I teach what I teach. And you’re right, there is a demand for that. I feel it’s essential for any military spouse who wants to bring additional income into the household as well.
Jasper: How big is that demand? How many people are coming to you?
Kristen: A lot. It’s funny how they found me. I’d hate to say it, but a lot of them found me on the business scene, especially here in Hawaii. I’m a local expert and very sought-after here on the local circuit. Many of the military spouses were just venturing out of the four walls, so to speak, outside the base for the first time. A lot of them saw the success I had as an entrepreneur, and that’s how they found me. They didn’t find me through traditional introduction, such as “Oh, our husbands are working together,” or “Hey, we’re in the same unit. Can you help me?” Rather, they saw my business success and then found out I am a military spouse, which was exactly what they wanted in a mentor — somebody who’s modeling what they want and who can identify with their needs, frustrations, and worries. That’s how I’ve been drawing them to me, and it’s been a great move. I enjoy it — as you can tell, it’s my passion — and that’s how they’ve been coming to me.
Meredith: Other than just having to have extreme flexibility and not really owning your own destiny, what do you think the biggest challenge is for a military spouse who wants to start their own business?
Kristen: Exactly what you just said. Just like any entrepreneur getting started who wants to have a business. I would say it’s a bit more challenging if you live on base, as there are base rules you have to follow. For instance, I started my business in Jacksonville, North Carolina, but the base isn’t part of the city. I needed special permission from the base and then special permission from the city, because I had to follow city rules when I left the base. In a way, I was juggling two different locations. More importantly, if you’re on base, there are certain rules you have to follow. It’s not that many, only about four or five. But when you want to start a business in town, like any entrepreneur, you need to consider a number of things: What are the rules of starting a business in my own location? What do I do? What permits do I need? What’s the sales tax? And all that other stuff. I would say the biggest challenge in getting started is not being overwhelmed by all the information that you need or in determining exactly what you need.
Meredith: You had a successful graphic design and social media business working with just your garden-variety entrepreneurs. How difficult was it for you to change direction and offer broader services to a much more tight niche?
Kristen: That’s a great question. I feel like I have three chapters of my business. I’m certified in graphic design, web design, mobile marketing, and search engine marketing, so when I started KR Design, I was very broad with my services and I had a very broad audience. However, I found that
just wasn’t working very well. I felt stressed, like I couldn’t keep up on all the different areas of online marketing. So I looked at my services and found that 80% of my clients were social media clients. I thought, “If that’s the case, then I don’t really need the other 20% of my clients. I’ll just stick with the 80%.”
When I moved to Hawaii in 2012, I did only social media, specifically dabbling into real estate with real estate agents, because that was my background before business. And now, like you said, “How are you going from this niche but going broad?” It’s really funny, because I like this model of being broad a lot better, but for one market. Going through this journey of marketing, it makes it so much more simpler since it’s one target market — and you can’t get much more specific than “military spouse”. I can see them. I know what they look like. I can find them online. I love being specific and going really deep with one audience, but then really broad and sharing my expertise and my experience, kind of going from each extreme. I love this model of serving the people I really love while doing the things that I love.
Favorite Book: The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson
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Kristen Robinson founded KR Design in 2010 and what a journey it has been! Starting out as a marketing consultant, her customers quickly dictated their greatest challenge: social media. Kristen has guided hundreds of business owners through the treacherous waters of social media, affirming that social media can be effective and efficient for today’s companies.
Kristen’s background includes working with a range of companies including ESPN X Games, House of Blues, and women’s professional football teams. Her experience gives her a unique perspective on social media.
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