DCF: Who Are You? Why do you love what you do? What makes you funemployment?
Karen Bate, Founder and President of KB Concepts P.R.
With more than 25 years experience in nonprofit and corporate communications, Karen Bate, Founder and President of KB Concepts P.R., rebrands companies and nonprofits; positions organizations to achieve their public policy and fundraising objectives; manages the design and use of websites, publications and videos; garners key media placements; and harnesses the variety of social media tools to tell her clients’ stories and inspire others to support them. Karen is also Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer for Awesome Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), a networking group supporting women business owners with more than 100 members in Arlington, VA, and new chapters forming throughout the Washington, DC region. She co-hosts a weekly radio interview show, Awesome Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), at wera.fm.
Karen served on the board of the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) for six years, and continues as a member of the Development Committee. She also serves on the Board of Advisors for Amman Imman: Water is Life. KB Concepts won an Arlington Chamber of Commerce Best Business Award in 2012, and Karen is a proud graduate of Leadership Arlington, Class of 2010.
DCF: Who was your first mentor and how did you find them?
KB: My parents, who were both entrepreneurs, and my mother, who was tireless in her support for other women, her courage in starting new ventures, and her unfailing support of me and my four brothers. I owe my self confidence to her: she never cared if I was pretty or popular or any of the other things so many women focus on; she wanted me to be smart and ethical and strong, and to stand up for myself in a man’s world. She knew first hand, having grown up extremely poor and having lost her own mother at 7 years of age, that if women don’t study hard and do well in school, and then seize opportunities when they present themselves, even when others don’t support you or try to hold you back, you will be kept down. (DCF: She sounds like an amazing woman.)
DCF: What’s your happy place?
KB: Either by the sea in New England, where I grew up, or in NW Montana where I have also spent a lot of time. A desk with a beautiful view, and the time and space to finish my half-written novel — that is heaven to me.
DCF: Where do you get your energy?
KB: My P.R. company tagline is Great Ideas for Good Causes. I truly, passionately believe that if you work (and work with clients who work) toward making the world a better place, how can you not want to jump out of bed every day and get to it? And now with AWE, supporting other women entrepreneurs, my cup runneth over — I feel like my work and my passions have combined in the most amazing way! I honestly feel lucky to be alive every day, and I try to take a moment upon wakening each morning to appreciate that.
DCF: What does balance mean to you and how do find it?
KB: Because I am super high energy and passionate about what I do, balance is hugely important. I have to exercise, number one, to get all my jimmies out, and to say fit and strong. I also struggle mightily to control my schedule, to not say yes to everything, and to carve out several nights per week and weekend days when I am not working and going 100 miles an hour. It’s really hard to do, but essential for warding off exhaustion and burnout. I always know it’s time for a break when I get cranky and whiny, and start complaining to anyone who will listen about all my troubles and how annoying everyone is. That’s a huge red flag that it’s time to take a break, haha! (DCF: This paragraph pretty much sums up why we get along so well haha).
DCF: What sacrifices did you have to make to get here?
KB: Hmmmm, that’s a very good question. I feel very lucky and believe I won the lottery in life by being born in the time, place and to the family I had. They are far from perfect, but I always had a roof over my head, clothes on my back, food in my belly and unconditional love. My parents modeled hard work and sacrifice every day; they sacrificed many things to provide me and my four brothers with a good life, nice home and good educations. But they expected us to work hard too, and to appreciate all our blessings. I babysat beginning at 12 years of age, and worked in factories the summers that I was 14 and 15. At 16 I worked every summer and often after school my whole life, and was expected to get a job and support myself the instant I graduation from college. This forced me to be very independent, and to not be afraid of hard work. And I’ve always been that way. I took time off full-time work when I had my kids, without hesitation or doubt. We therefore had far less money for a big house and other material things, but it was totally worth it. Raising my three daughters was the joy of my life — and the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. At one point I became disillusioned with the stratification and other negatives of school, and decide to try homeschooling — I ended up homeschooling them for 5 years. That was an amazing experience where we met people from ALL walks of life and all belief systems — Christian fundamentalists, lesbian couples with kids, parents of male ballet dancers in the Washington ballet, parents of kids who were gifted or had ADD and other learning challenges. It was an extraordinary experience, and one I have always been grateful for. Today my girls are truly my pride and joy: all in their 20’s, all independent and working at jobs they love. I made them work when they were young too, just as I had, and they too don’t expect life to be totally easy or to have anything handed to them. I consider this by far my greatest success. (DCF: My future children, cause I don’t have any yet lol, are getting closer and closer to being homeschooled.)
DCF: What struggles have you faced as a women in your industry?
KB: I think in any industry, gender bias and subtle or not so subtle sexism exists. Countless examples of this appear every day. But again, thanks to my mother, I had the confidence to put that aside and just push forward. If someone was a sexist, I moved on, because there are plenty of other clients who didn’t feel or act that way.
In one early job I actually had to threaten a sexual harassment suit against a guy who constantly leered at me and made inappropriate comments, and when I pushed back , he laughed it off and said I couldn’t take a joke. I told my manager in no uncertain terms it was no joke, and I would sue if he didn’t step in and get the guy to back off. The guy was furious, hated me after that and it was a very small office, but I didn’t care. The two other women employees appreciated my taking a stand as well.
And then, after 10 years running my own business and meeting so many other amazing women entrepreneurs, and having been part of many local co-ed networking groups, I decided we needed our own group where we could say whatever we wanted without fear of sexist comments or reprisals. We could talk (and laugh together) about our work, our struggles with bias and discrimination, our periods, our kids, menopause, everything and anything — and still be seen for the strong, successful experts we were. And here we are, with Morgan starting the DC chapter — yay!
DCF: What is the early advice you didn’t listen to that you wish you had?
KB: To be respectful even with people who disagree with me. (DCF: This is major, especially right now). To always remain calm while standing up for myself. To speak softly but carry a big stick. This is a far better way to show strength than to scream and yell in frustration, or to mouth off disrespectfully, which I got fired for doing at an early job. That really shocked me and taught me the hard way.
DCF: What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?
KB: In 2010, three years after starting KB Concepts, I accepted a 6-month, full-time contract with a national nonprofit based in DC as their Director of Communications. I basically put my own company on hold because I supported the cause and thought this was an opportunity too good to refuse. The CEO (who worked from her home in Chicago and hadn’t hired me, the VP had) somehow took an instant dislike to me. She nitpicked, second guessed and criticized everything I did and openly didn’t support me or my work. I over-delivered on everything they asked me to do, but it didn’t change. After 5 months and lots of success at their annual meeting out of town, where I’d handled all marketing and social media, got them on the front page of both of the city’s Sunday papers, had major national figures in their industry blogging for them, had people tweeting and sharing content from the conference as never before, I told the VP — who felt horrible and was mortified that this was happening — that I couldn’t continue to stay without a vote of confidence from the CEO. Well, the CEO said no and I was basically forced to resign. I was shocked, exhausted, stressed, humiliated. I brushed myself off and went back to running my own company. (DCF: The universe was driving you back to what you were really meant to be doing). I was so grateful to have my business, and so grateful to have the heart of an entrepreneur. And I have never looked back. I got new clients, worked hard, and here we are 7 years later. BTW, the VP resigned a month after I left, and the CEO is still there, running that nonprofit.
DCF: What was your proudest moment to date?
KB: I was very proud to win an Arlington Chamber of Commerce Best Business Award in 2012, and to be recognized in from of 250 other businesses at their annual awards breakfast. I am also incredibly proud of having founded AWE, and now of growing AWE to new chapters with you in DC, one in Bethesda, MD, one in Fairfax, VA and another in Vero Beach, FL this year. Being recognized for my P.R. and social media expertise, and helping other women business owners grow and thrive, both make me extremely proud.
DCF: What are you Currently Conquering?
KB: Growing AWE! If anyone reading would like to be a leader and support other women business owners in their community, please contact me! We have new chapters starting or we can provide a robust website platform, successful, polished brand, support and guidance as you launch and grow, opportunities for you and your members to be interviewed on AWE radio, and a terrific, custom accountability group program to help members take their businesses to the nest level. Email me!
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