Breaking Barriers: Spotlighting Female Entrepreneurs — Katie Bowden, Duke Creative

Being an entrepreneur can be challenging and even more so when you’re a woman. Breaking Barriers is a TD series that celebrates successful Canadian women entrepreneurs by highlighting their journey and the obstacles they’ve overcome. Women like Katie Bowden who grew a successful New Brunswick ad agency, from the ground up.

A writer at heart, Katie Bowden crafted her own story of business success

In business, as in life, building on your core strengths is often the path to the best results. For Katie Bowden, founder of St. John, New Brunswick ad agency Duke Creative Collective, her first step down that path was recognizing the marketable potential of a lifelong love of writing.

“I’ve always been a writer,” Katie explained. “After I graduated with my B.A., I decided I needed to stop writing like an academic and remember how to write like real people do. So, I got a journalism degree, and that gave me some skills that I knew were marketable.”

With a degree under her belt, her next stop was a job at an advertising agency. It was there that she would discover the passion, drive and team that would carry her through to long-term success.

“I remember the first time I got an agency job, walking in and saying, ‘Oh, yeah. This is what I'm supposed to be doing.’ Agency life can be tough though, and the workplace I worked in was tough. It was the best of times and the worst of times, and I guess over time, you only have a certain amount of patience for that.”

Sensing it was time for a change, Katie, along with a few of her agency friends saw an opportunity to branch out and do their own thing. The women got together and rented out an office space near Duke St. in downtown St. John. They started freelancing as a collective, pooling their skills and cheering each other on.

“There was an opportunity when three or four other women I had a lot of respect for, decided to leave the agency at the same time. And so, we all left and started our own little thing. Basically, a clubhouse. It was a collective of freelancers. We had a great time working together.”

With the characters and setting now in place, it was time to move on to the next chapter of small business success.

How they broke through their barrier

With such a strong drive, it wasn’t long before the limitations of the freelance model made themselves clear. As Katie’s client list and confidence grew, it was time to take the next step.

“We weren’t a real thing at first. We were this clubhouse. That’s where the ‘Collective’ came from. We all just wanted to bring our skills to the table and be closer to the creative work, I think. Then, I won a big contract.”

As any founder or small business owner knows, landing that first big contract is an amazing moment.

“Seeing all the hard work payoff is exhilarating. The stars seemed to be aligning — and that’s when the big, new client said, “Oh, Katie Bowden sole proprietor can’t invoice us. Only a corporation can do that.”

A light went off in Katie’s creative mind: Incorporate. She talked it over with her family and took the leap. “We incorporated and I had that conversation with my husband because now we’re starting an actual business.”

The only way forward was up.

Katie’s top 3 pieces of advice for female entrepreneurs:

Foster your team and grow together

• People like stability, so make commitments to the people you want on your team

• Manage your money from day one — when you’re focused on the business side of things, you have more opportunities to do better work

How TD helped Katie on her journey

With her business taking off, Katie started getting help and advice from Kathleen Eastwood, a TD Account Manager Small Business who’s been with her ever since.

“I hear a lot of stories about entrepreneurs who have advisors and boards and mentors. I’m not that gal. It's always just been me. So, when I go and see Kathleen, and she says, ‘It's so nice to see that you don't have a ton of debt and you're being really careful,’ I feel good. Someone telling me that everything is okay and that we’re growing in a way that has all the right signs is valuable.

I’ll come to her and say, ‘I think I might get this giant piece of work. What do you think if I come to you with a million-dollar media buy?’ She's like ‘Katie, we'll just take that when that happens.’”

In addition to the advice and reassurance, Katie’s Account Manager has steered her towards various tools she’s been able to use for financing her business such as a business line of credit and TD Travel Visa.

Line of Credit

“I think that some of the tools she's [Kathleen] connected us with have gone an enormous way to giving me peace of mind as a business owner,” Katie explained. “For example, we have a business line of credit that I didn’t even know we could ask for. As soon as that was in place, my stress level just went away. And we don't really use the line of credit very much, but just knowing that it's there is such a relief.”


TD Travel Visa Card

“Another TD product we’ve had for a long time is a TD Travel Visa. Earlier this year, for example, we wanted to send our art director to a conference in Boston. Sending someone away to a big conference is pretty costly, so we said, ‘Let's just see if we can squeeze this out of the budget.’ Then my Ops person was like, ‘Well, how many points do you have on your card?’ I had a million points, so let's just send her! It was really great to be able to use those points to invest back into our team.”

TD Products and Tools

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