Katja Presnal is an American Advertising Award-winning business and marketing strategist who has worked with Fortune 100-companies and startups.
She recently launched Insider Society success accelerator for women entrepreneurs and her book Big Rich Money: How To Turn Your Business Intentions Into A Profitable Company (together with Candice Kilpatrick Brathwaite) comes out in August 2021.
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➤ When you meet someone new for the first time and they ask, ‘What do you do?’, how do you respond?
Oh that’s actually really hard. My reasoning for that is I typically try to listen to other people first before I go in and pitch myself. I don’t actually ever go with this one elevator pitch or spiel.
Of course I have it, but I have multiple facets or multiple things in my life, like I’m a business owner, I’m a mother, I’m somebody who has lived outside Finland for a really long time who has moved back so it’s totally on the context. I actually don’t like when people do that.
They think that the only thing that defines them is the workplace or the title that they have at the moment. Sometimes I can go with that but usually it depends on the context and the person that I’m speaking with.
➤ Yeah that’s a really good point. A lot of us, we have the one or two sentences prepared and that’s what we give and there are others like you who listen first and then depending on the context you respond.
Exactly and I think if I say I’m a business and marketing strategist and I’m a marketing agency owner, I think it can sometimes come off really cold and that really is just one part of the story. So I know it might sound really crazy that as a marketing person I try to avoid that type of introductions.
➤ I totally get it but let me ask you when we say we’re in marketing, do you think it provokes a negative reaction and why does it do that?
Excellent question. The reason why I don’t often go with that first is that I see marketing as something other than what, in Finland, people think of the word. The word ‘marketing’ itself, or any word, you know, you say a dog and some people see a pit bull and other people see a poodle.
I love marketing but I don’t like that how some people feel about it or see it as fake or unauthentic or you know it’s about trying to trick people. And I’m not about that type of marketing at all. And I actually don’t like sales you know. I like listening to people and getting a lot of information. I might see those things differently to other people but I definitely think there’s a bias against those words.
➤ Do you think that bias is a little bit stronger here in Finland compared to America?
Absolutely! You know, it’s cultural. Selling, marketing, it’s starting from day one. When you go to school, you have show and tell for kids in the States. They are taught to tell a story or, ‘Market yourself. Introduce yourself,’ you know? It’s a normal part of the culture.
➤ Such a great example. The show-and-tell.
I mean it starts from there. It doesn’t start from business school, that’s for sure. It’s a cultural thing and we don’t have the same culture here. Finns might see it as fake. You can’t boast or you can’t brag about something in Finland because that’s looked at as bad but in the US, it’s like, ‘Well, who else is gonna say that you’re great if it’s not yourself?’
So you know, you have to get ahead. So that is really taught for kids even from a young age. We don’t have that same type of a culture. So when you put students to study, they don’t really start learning about what marketing or sales or even human relations or polite manners, you know? Those are not really taught in Finland.
It’s a very different culture. So when you start studying marketing or sales in college and university you’re already behind some other cultures. Even Swedes – we lived in Sweden for three years – you know Swedes are amazing. They take a hula hoop and call it the rockring and say that it’s a Swedish invention! Or they take sauna and call it bastu and it’s Swedish! So they are great.
➤ You said we don’t have that culture here in Finland. I would say we even have the opposite culture. Meaning we’re encouraged to not talk about ourselves. Even if I’m great, even if my product or service – my thing – is great, I’m not supposed to say it’s great.
Yes, we call it the engineering culture. You create a great product and if it’s so great, people will hear about it.
No, they won’t, you know? Even if you have the best product in the world but people don’t know it exists, how can they come and buy it? So without sales and marketing your company does not exist. Great product is a start, then you need to tell others, ‘Hey, we have this great product!’
➤ Can you tell me a little bit about how you started your career, about moving to the States and starting your entrepreneurial journey because I know you have a super interesting story. Where did it start?
Well I studied engineering here in Finland and I left when I was 22 years old. My last job in Finland was actually trying to get funding for what is now the Espoo Arena, the large ice hockey arena.
Then you know, I met the guy, I fell in love and my husband is American and he’s actually a helicopter test pilot so we moved a lot for his career. We actually had three children who were born within three years in three different countries, so that was kind of the pace that we were moving.
So then in 2004, we were living in Ohio next to Cleveland and I realized that, ‘Okay um I’m a stay-at-home mom of three children under four.’ I just had this moment [wondering] if I’m ever gonna have a career, you know?
And my first online business was actually on a Finnish site called Huutonet. It’s like ebay here in Finland. And in my first month I took my kids’ old clothes, I put them on Huuto and I made $500 and I was like, ‘Okay, maybe I can do this! Maybe I’ll just sell stuff on Huutonet. Like, whatever. It’ll just be something to keep my mind [busy] you know and make a little money. So with that 500, I took it to Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger stores and I bought handbags and more kids clothes and I put those to Huutonet. So I kept doubling my sales until I was making a good five figures every single month.
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