Our head butterfly, Caryn Brown, spoke with Nan Holmes for the KWBU Central Texas Leadership Series about how she ended up in Waco, started Digital Media Butterfly, keeps our team motivated, and cares for our clients!
Central Texas Leadership Series
Narrator: In this episode of the Central Texas Leadership Series, host Nan Holmes sits down with Caryn Brown, owner of Digital Media Butterfly. This conversation was recorded March 9th, 2022, in the KWBU studio.
Nan Holmes: Hello, I’m Nan Holmes, and welcome to KWBU’s Central Texas Leadership Series. I’m looking forward to this visit with Caryn Berger Brown, owner of Digital Media Butterfly. Caryn, way-come–welcome!
Nan Holmes: That sounded like Waco, and welcome to the KWBU Studios.
Caryn Brown: Thank you for having me.
Nan Holmes: Before we talk about the challenges of creating an entirely new enterprise, I wanna know a little more about you. If I remember correctly, you’re from Southeast Texas?
Caryn Brown: I’m from outside of Houston, yes. Yeah, so I grew up there, my husband grew up there as well, and I followed him here to Waco.
Nan Holmes: Well, that’s interesting. And, I always ask this question because I’m so curious. And I think it is good to know about people if you’re gonna know about them. Who were your early influencers, who you feel like helped you along the way, but really at the beginning, to be the person you are today?
Caryn Brown: Well, you know, my road to where I’ve gotten to has, as I’m sure most people have, has had a lot of twists and turns. And so, I was a dancer for years, and so that . . . my influence was a lot in the dance world. But as far as in the marketing and in entrepreneurship, I really value the people that listen to the stories and take the time to meet with people. I have a card in my office from Graham Weston, who started RackSpace. I met him at a conference before I ever started my business, and he was so kind and really listened to me as a consumer and what I needed to know, and so that reminds me that that’s who signs our paychecks, are our clients and our consumers, and to keep that at the forefront.
Nan Holmes: Yeah, well, when you were much younger, was there a teacher or anybody like that, who laid the foundation?
Caryn Brown: So, probably my dance teacher, Miss Pat. She was fabulous. And so, yeah, just watching her and watching the business that she had built, I didn’t realize it at the time, but, you know, she was the best dance teacher in our town by far, and had a real calling, and just…I mean, she had other teachers, but she was always in the classes and was always present with us.
Nan Holmes: And then you went to Sam Houston State…
Caryn Brown: I did.
Nan Holmes: And majored in…
Caryn Brown: Criminal psychology, yes. So I was there for a year, and then I went back home. I spent a year there. I loved it; unfortunately, it just didn’t work out with life.
Nan Holmes: Yeah.
Caryn Brown: And then I followed Michael here a few years later, and, you know, the rest is history, I guess.
Nan Holmes: So that’s what brought you here?
Caryn Brown: Yeah, Michael was getting his Bachelor’s and Masters at Baylor.
Nan Holmes: And so then, when you came here, you didn’t instantly try to build Digital Media Butterfly.
Caryn Brown: No.
Nan Holmes: And it wasn’t an overnight success.
Caryn Brown: No, I worked for about eleven years for a student loan company here in town. I did some networking in their IT department. I’ve always done website design if I could. Like, when we got married, and for our wedding venue, and our photographer, and those sorts of things. So I always did it on the side, and I never thought it would be what I did full time. But then I took a leap of faith in 2012, and, you know, it took a while to build the business, but I built it slow. Purposefully, because I wanted something that was good and that wasn’t just fast.
Nan Holmes: And so, I think that’s an important message, that you just won’t run out there and succeed, that you’ll fall over. I mean, I know that myself!
Caryn Brown: Yes, yes!
Nan Holmes: And that, one thing is, that during the 25 years, this social media was constantly changing at a really fast pace.
Caryn Brown: Yes, yes, and even, you know, the websites. What I designed as my first website back in the late 90s is very different than what we’re doing now and what we’re having to worry about. We didn’t have to worry about being mobile responsive in the late 90s. That wasn’t even a thing!
Nan Holmes: Mm-hmm.
Caryn Brown: Google wasn’t really a thing. So yeah. It’s just changed so much, and social media didn’t exist. And it levels the playing field for a lot of people, but it also brings a level of complexity. You know, I talk to business owners all the time that are like, ‘I just want to sit in my store and sell. I don’t want to have to worry about posting a live to social media every day.’ It forces them to feel like they have to have more skills than they necessarily want.
Nan Holmes: Yeah. And then, I saw on your website something that I really, really like. And that’s that you stated that you exist to help people stand out from the noise. Tell me about that concept.
Marketing the STANDS OUT from the NOISE!
Caryn Brown: So, you know, again, we are inundated with noise on social media, and this is something that’s changed. You know, in 2008, even in 2012, when I started the business, social media wasn’t so noisy. You know, you followed people because you needed more things to read. You didn’t have enough information, and now that’s not the case.
Nan Holmes: Mm-hmm.
Caryn Brown: There’s so much. And so, you’ve gotta stand out. You’ve got to take the time and look at what’s resonating with the people that you’re reaching and stand out. I talk all the time about stopping the scroll and being something that people want to learn more about. Not just, ‘Oh, that’s pretty, keep going.’ You know you want to encourage them to read. It’s the same thing as, you know, an old newspaper writer, that you gotta make the headline stand out. You gotta grab ’em with the headline, or they’re not going to read the rest of the story. It’s the same thing. We’ve got to grab them when they’re going through the feed.
Nan Holmes: Yeah, well, that’s very interesting. And I would really say that you were a pioneer in this.
Caryn Brown: Oh, thank you.
Nan Holmes: You really seized it. You saw the potential for it and worked hard to develop it. And, keeping a little timeline, you said you started the company in 2012. But had you been thinking about doing it before 2012, or is that the first year you thought you really might start?
Caryn Brown: Well, you know, like I said, I’d been doing website design on the side. I mean, occasionally, I was making money doing it, but for the most part, I was just doing it for friends. And then, in 2008, I stepped up to help Jay Ehret with Waco Social Media and eventually took that over. It’s just a breakfast that we were having once a month. I think that was very helpful to me because I saw for all those years. I wasn’t going and having kind of a case study with people, but I was getting to because I was seeing all these business owners talking about what they were struggling with, and what was hard for them, and what they wish was different. And then, yeah, I didn’t really plan on it. I had some medical issues and had to step back from a stressful job, and I needed something that I thought would be less stressful. I don’t think that was the case.
Nan Holmes: Well, I think that is a component of it. That stress just comes with trying to develop an enterprise.
Caryn Brown: Yeah.
Nan Holmes: Stress is gonna be a big factor because it’s just constant challenges, is how I would describe it. And you now have a whole team.
Caryn Brown: Yes.
Nan Holmes: You went from one woman to a whole complement of services.
Caryn Brown: Mm-hmm. We’ve got eight staff in the office, and we’re expanding our services all the time. We have great clients, and our clients say, ‘I need somebody to do this, and I don’t want to go to somebody else, so can y’all do this?’
Nan Holmes: And so how do you do that? If you need someone who has special expertise.
Caryn Brown: So, Baylor’s been a great partner. We do a lot of interns from Baylor. We know what kind of holes we have in our staffing, so when I’m interviewing for interns, I’m like, ‘Okay, I need somebody that’s got some photography skills. I need somebody that’s got some other graphic design skills.’ I mean, whatever that skill set it is that I need, I fill it that way.
Nan Holmes: And I think, then, whether they be young or old, you always think that young people wanna start something up, but maybe retirees, and they are thinking, ‘Where in the world do you start to do something like that?’
Caryn Brown: I think, you know, there’s a misnomer that there’s always, ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ I will tell you, from somebody one who loves the creative industry and does it every day, and sometimes it’s not a joy because it’s hard. It’s hard to spend your creative time making money. So find what is easy for you, and pursue that. I like marketing because, to me, it’s like falling off a log. Sometimes it’s hard for me to talk to other people and go, ‘How do you not see that? To me, it’s so clear.’
Nan Holmes: Yeah.
Caryn Brown: So do what’s easy for you, and not necessarily what makes you happy.
Nan Holmes: You know, that’s a long way from criminal psychology. Do you think that you took some of that with you to this?
Caryn Brown: It’s really not that far. Because the psychology part of it is so embedded in the marketing and understanding what works, and why certain things work, and why certain things resonate with people. So I think the criminal part of it, I didn’t take a lot with me, but the psychology part of that, I did, and I use it more now than I did when I was in IT.
Nan Holmes: Wow. Well, tell me a little bit about the development and the ongoing process of Social Media Group, because I feel like there are people out there who don’t know about it and could greatly benefit from it.
Caryn Brown: So, in the late aughts and early teens, it was a national group. It was a social media breakfast, we had chapters across the country, and it was a whole section of things. That kind of died out, and everybody went their own ways, and I kept it going. Unfortunately, with COVID, it stopped happening, and now it’s, unfortunately, kind of gone on the back burner. But we meet once a month; we will, if we bring it back up, we typically meet once a month. It’s open to anybody, and it’s free. We usually meet at Egg & I, and it’s a place for business owners to talk about their struggles, to hear from speakers about different social media. It’s very helpful to be able to because I think that on social media, we see everyone’s highlight reels, and so we think that everybody is just killing it in their business. And so to have a place where you can sit down and go, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m struggling with that too, and here’s how I fixed it,’ or, ‘I’m struggling with it, and I tried this, and that didn’t help,’ is really helpful, and for it to be focused on specifically social media because it is something that’s foreign to lot of business owners.
Nan Holmes: Oh, yeah. And it’s not necessarily older people. It’s just all ages who want to take a chance and turn to a new thing or to enhance what they’re trying so hard to do.
Caryn Brown: And it moves so fast. You know that’s the thing, is that there’s always something new. It’s never something where you’re like, ‘I have conquered this. I know everything there is to know about it.’ No, there’s always something.
Nan Holmes: So what day of the month do you meet?
Caryn Brown: Well, so, we’re currently not meeting. I need to start it back up, but we will meet. We usually meet on Tuesday mornings. It’s usually the last Tuesday of the month. But like I said, I haven’t gotten it started after COVID. I need to get that started.
Nan Holmes: Well, I think a lot of us have not gotten back to how it was pre-COVID, and it is understandable. I know what the church, though, we haven’t fully gotten back to programs that we had for so many, many years. It’s just not quite sure that everything’s safe.
Carn Brown: Yeah, exactly, yeah. But we do have a website, WacoSocialMedia.com, there’s nothing up there right now, but we’ll keep that updated as…as that changes.
Nan Holmes: Okay, well, that’s great. And if you couldn’t go to social media, what would you advise to someone…like, where do you start? I know it just looks like there’s a vast number of things, so where do you start?
Caryn Brown: I think to find what you enjoy because it is daunting. So if you’re on Facebook for your personal and you enjoy being on there for your personal, then try that for your business because it’s not so out of the realm, and you’re already there anyway. So find the platform that you enjoy, and spend some time on there. Follow other companies that you like, other companies in your industry, and see what they’re doing. Umh, you can always take ideas from that; nobody’s invented the wheel; we’re all taking our spin on things.
Nan Holmes: Well, I know that’s true because, just getting away…how, how do you say it? Stand out from the noise because there’s a lot of chatter…junk…That I think that if someone is wanting to start a new business, I encourage them at this time because it’s such a time of change for Waco..I mean, it’s changing so much, you know yourself, the downtown doesn’t even look like the downtown we used to know, and things like the new art center, all kinds of things are happening, and they need support from different non-profits.
Caryn Brown: It’s a great time to be in Waco, it’s a lot; I mean, when I moved here in ’99, it was like a little bit of a culture shock coming from Houston, but it’s a great time to be here now, it really is.
Nan Holmes: Oh yes, when we moved here in 1989, and this is still true, you can invent things. There’s still many opportunities where if your dream is Waco Tours, go for it, and there’s more to support you than there was 30 years ago. Because downtown, it’s not that it wasn’t plenty of places to be there; it was that they couldn’t seem to get it together to make it viable. And, do you credit it with Magnolia? The downtown…
Caryn Brown: I think that Magnolia may have started it, but the people of Waco, the Wacoans themselves, are the ones that are really keeping it going and the ones that are really growing. I think that Magnolia started; Magnolia definitely brought a lot of the people here originally, but if it weren’t for the other people in the community that were stepping up and starting the restaurants, and starting the Waco tours, and those sorts of things, it wouldn’t have taken off the way it has. Because it’s not just Magnolia, and I… I see that a lot. I love to sit at a bar top at a restaurant and visit, especially now with the people that are here traveling and visiting Waco and seeing about what brought them here. And there’s so many people that are like, “oh, my wife wanted to come here for Magnolia, but I wanted to come here for this,” and so it’s not just Magnolia that’s bringing people here.
Nan Holmes: Yeah, I think it’s exciting. It’s kind of scary because even just the mall to mall development is like, ‘oh, I didn’t know we needed this because it’s kind of inconveniencing me right now.’
Caryn Brown: Yeah, it runs right in front of my office, and I was in a meeting last week, and they said it’d be like that until the end of 2023, and I was like, ‘oh, two years?!’ but it’ll be fabulous when it’s done.
Nan Holmes: Yeah, it’ll be something that we didn’t know we needed.
Caryn Brown: Exactly, yes.
Nan Holmes: Well, my sister, who lives in Washington DC, is in charge of a project that is a virtual conference to be held in the fall. And I asked her about the learning curve about producing such a conference, and she indicated that it is pretty steep. And so she is my age and old, but learning how to do that that is something very new, and I guess in the era of COVID and COVID variants, people will not be attending traditional conferences anytime soon. Maybe never.
Caryn Brown: Yeah, yeah. One of my favorite stories, we literally got in a banner, a pull-up banner to use at vendor events for a client, a couple weeks before COVID hit; it’s been sitting in our office since then because they haven’t had a need for it yet. The virtual, and it is, it’s a very different skillset, for the people that are putting on the conference, for the people that are attending the conference, for the people that are having the booths, I mean it’s all such a learning curve, and you’re right, I don’t know when it’s going to change, but it also opens it up. You know, because I may not have the time to go to a conference in another state, but now that it’s virtual, I don’t have that travel time and all that, I can just sit at my desk and do it. I can put it on pause if something comes up at work. It does open up some doors, but it’s very different.
Nan Holmes: Yeah, because PBS used to meet when we had the PBS edition, and you’d have to be gone for a week, and it would be sort of hard, to come back and catch up.
Caryn Brown: Yeah, so yeah, I mean there is a lot of advantages, and I mean you know, some of our clients have actually put on conferences, and we’ve talked about how they’re having success breaking them up into multi, half-day events, instead of full-day events, it makes it easier because they’re not having to travel, it doesn’t matter if it takes four days instead of 2 days, but it doesn’t matter because they don’t have to travel. It’s a lot easier to say, ‘I’m going to block off that half-day,’ and it seems to be a big help for a lot of them. Because it’s not so daunting, it’s easier for me to say “for two mornings, I’m going to do this” instead of “I’m going to take my whole day and be in this.”
Nan Holmes: And I can see it has some, it does have some advantages. It’s just such a new concept for those of us who..who don’t have social media. And that’s true of a lot of us, that we are a little afraid of it..it seems daunting.
Caryn Brown: And well, don’t be afraid… I mean, I was, you know, I was lucky enough to have a father that sat me down at the kitchen table when I was a kid, and we took time to talk about computers. And you know, he taught me from an early age that you can just rebuild it, you can’t do anything to hurt this, you can’t do anything to break this, we can rebuild it. And that’s the same way I feel with so much of the social media and websites is that we can always fix it. Ya know? So go in there and take a step, and if you don’t like the way something turns out, you can delete it.
Nan Holmes: It’s intriguing, and a lot of people just wouldn’t know where to start. Which you’ve given us some very good information about how it is not so daunting, you can fix it if it’s broke.
Caryn Brown: It’s a sandbox; get in there and play.
Nan Holmes: How would you describe it? I’ve always admired your work, and have gone to look at your website, which I think is a terrific website, and your ability to hold your head, because you must have had some bumps in the road, and also with health issues, and family, and to work and to develop it’s..daunting, so talk about what..what challenges are there?
Caryn Brown: You know, one of the things, ya know, I started this, I left my corporate job and started this from stress, and I also thought it meant less time at the office, which was also wrong. And what’s nice is that I did this when my kids were teenagers, and so I did have a lot more flexibility. Because if there was something going on at school that I wanted to go see, I could be a part of it. Because when they’re little, they want you to go to everything, and you have time to plan. When they’re older, they decide that morning, ‘oh hey, this is going on at ten o clock, can you come?’ and so to have that flexibility was great. But yeah, just, you know, take the time to get in there and do it, and yeah. And draw on your history, I mean I do that, I look at what.. what I’ve worked through, and what’s worked for me, and hasn’t worked for me, and use that. You know, all those, all those challenges, and all those obstacles that you face help you become who you are, but they teach you lessons.
Nan Holmes: Oh, I think that’s true. I mean, that’s how you learn, mostly from your mistakes, not your successes.
Caryn Brown: Oh yes, 100%, and that’s the thing with the social media being a highlight reel because what we’re seeing on social media are the successes; what we’re not seeing for every success is all those failures and all the things that didn’t work out behind it. So don’t ever feel like you’re the only one failing; we are all failing. Umh, Cory Dickman in town has this great podcast called ‘The One Star Review’ that talks about, you know, the times that these local businesses got really bad reviews and what they’ve learned from that. And so I think yeah, remember that we’re all struggling.
Nan Holmes: I think that’s true, and trying to balance, I think that many women have been terribly impacted by the COVID phenomenon, whatever you call it, because their ability to work has been challenged.
Caryn Brown: Oh, I tell my husband all the time that I’m so glad that my boys were teenagers; I mean, my oldest had already graduated by the time COVID hit. I couldn’t imagine trying to work and having a six-year-old that’s doing school from home. It was such a challenge, and unfortunately, it falls disproportionately on the mothers and the women.
Nan Holmes: Yes, it does, and also that’s… that’s a hard choice. Because you may love your work so much, and you love your children, and you, you want to be able to do both. And for my age group, for so long, women didn’t work. Few of us worked, but most of the mothers were homeroom mothers and did things like that, whereas I always worked. And I think women need encouragement, and they desperately need these alternatives on how to work.
Caryn Brown: Yes, and that is the one good thing with COVID, is that it’s shown that we can work from home, which is helpful.
Nan Holmes: And, do you have some kind of advice for the young and the old entrepreneurs? Do you start with a website? Do you do a blog? What? I mean…
Caryn Brown: I think nowadays, your, your easiest, your cheapest form of entry is social media, and I think that’s a good place to start. It’s a good place to bounce ideas off and to see what’s really working. A website is great, but it’s an investment, and sometimes at the very beginning, you just don’t have that. And finding a partner, my thing that I tell my staff at the office all the time is to work smarter, not harder. So find those things as your business starts growing, starts taking off, those things that you don’t like doing, find somebody else to do those things for you. Instead of going, ‘oh, I really love to do this,’ well don’t get somebody else to do that, get somebody else to do the things you don’t enjoy doing.
Nan Holmes: That is so true.
Caryn Brown: That’s the benefit of being the boss!
Nan Holmes: There are upsides and downsides of being the boss, but what how do you motivate your staff to get the job done?
Caryn Brown: So, I really believe that creativity is a muscle, and so we exercise that muscle. So at least once a month, we have some sort of team-building activity, one of the best ones that we did, we painted denim jackets, it was something, I mean painting is not a skill we need at all in our day to day life, but it’s creativity. And so doing things together as a team, it makes it easier when you’ve got a problem to come to a member of your team that you’ve spent some time with doing something that’s not just work.
Nan Holmes: I think that’s brilliant. Because there are other ways that you build, or you don’t have the commodity, because you’ve lacked to have times where you really get to know each other and what’s going on, and what are they struggling with and what are you struggling with that they can find a solution.
Caryn Brown: Yeah, and there’s so many resources in town for just fun, team activities. I learned the other day, because it happened to one of our interns, that she didn’t know how to change a tire, and so, because we are primarily women, we’re going to have a Saturday where we spend some time with Jeanna Kish, and we’re going to learn how to change a tire and just how to do different car things, because it’s so intimidating for women, and just, you know…So it’s just taking some time again; it’s not something we need in our day-to-day life, but it’s bonding and hopefully helping them a little in life.
Nan Holmes: Well, I know Jeanna Kish from way back, from the KWBU auction days; she is really an entrepreneur.
Caryn Brown: Oh yes, she is, and she is a huge hero and mentor to me because she’s done some wonderful things, and she’s another one that’s taken, you know, her struggles that she’s had, and that’s how she turned it into a fabulous business because she’s leaned into those.
Nan Holmes: And I think that she knows how to really give good customer service that’s built-in, and I’m sure that’s built into what you do, and your team, because it’s customer service that will bring a customer back. Like I say, if you pamper me, I’ll buy whatever you’re selling.
Caryn Brown: Yeah, yeah! But that’s what the difference is, and that’s what helps set you apart too. Especially in our industry, you can do it yourself, you know, or you can hire somebody. So a lot of times, we’re struggling with those businesses that are trying to decide if they want to do it themselves or if they want to hire a professional so if I can make their life easier..
Nan Holmes: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true because so many people, they either can’t make the investment, or they can get the vision for what that initial investment will reap because I guess it is all about vision. You have to have the vision to look beyond how things are today because they aren’t going to be steady.
Caryn Brown: And give up the thinking that you have to do it all yourself. Because you can’t.
Nan Holmes: That’s right.
Caryn Brown: And so taking it, and going “okay, this is what I’m willing to hand off to somebody else,” and it’s hard, because delegating at first it’s like, “okay, it’s going to take me longer to tell you how to do it than it would be for me to do it myself.” But that’s just the first time. The second, the third, and the fourth time, then it is taking something off your plate.
Nan Holmes: Oh, I like that idea; I like to delegate. And then I saw that you’re listed in Waco Women to Watch; that’s a new one.
Caryn Brown: Yes! It’s a part of Modern Texas Living, which is a fabulous magazine, um so yeah, it was a great way to be recognized because there’s so much, and again, there’s so much growth, and there’s so much going on in Waco, so to be honored like that was great.
Nan Holmes: Well, how do you get that magazine?
Caryn Brown: Well, you know at H-E-B in the stands there, but then she mails them to certain households, I think just maybe in Woodway, she doesn’t have a huge reach mailing wise, it’s mainly like, you know the Wacoan and Waco Today, it’s in those there. I always like to say, “If you’re standing outside of an elevator anywhere in Waco, usually they’re there.”
Nan Holmes: You know, or at the bank, where they have those out there.
Caryn Brown: The bank, yeah, yeah.
Nan Holmes: Well, it has been a delightful conversation with you, Caryn; I want to thank you so much for joining me today. I want to wish you the best as you continue with this success, and I hope to see you again in the not too distant future and that we won’t wait so long to see each other. It’s been so much fun.
Caryn Brown: Thank you.