For Kristen Novak, owning her own business and becoming an entrepreneur was ultimately inevitable. From a young age, she was strategically spearheading her own little snow shovelling business within her neighbourhood and organizing people’s homes as she got into her teens. Today, her company, ‘WILD’ is turning 5 and her dream of owning her business has become very much a reality!
Through WILD, Novak and her skilled team of wordsmiths have had the opportunity to work closely with many small brands in the city and help their businesses grow through creative campaigns that get the word out and connect them with their community. They started out as a local agency and have now grown to be making an impact with their clients on a national level — something that Novak is very proud of.
However, when COVID hit everything changed. Not only was Novak pregnant with her second, but PR and marketing budgets were the first things to be cut. It was a scary time, but slowly things turned around and WILD has not only thrived but grown from a small but mighty team of two — to a team three.
We sat down with Novak to talk about the successes and challenges of navigating the last year and a half as a small-business owner, what makes her community so special, and why she feels Calgary’s entrepreneurial spirit is resilient.
What’s the story behind WILD?
Novak: I come from a family of entrepreneurs so having my own business is something I’ve aspired to from a young age. Starting at around 10 years old, I used to go around my neighbourhood when it snowed and ask neighbours if I could shovel their driveway for a small fee. Then in my late teens/early 20s, I would post ads on Craigslist to organize people’s homes and began doing that part-time after my full-time job. I even participated in FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) when I was in high school.
When I discovered the world of public relations here in Calgary, I realized that this was the missing puzzle piece to be able to turn my dream of owning a business into a reality. I learned hard and fast at a couple boutique agencies here and combined those skills with my years in events and WILD was born. And this year marks our 5th year in business!
Why did you choose to start your business here in Calgary?
Novak: Calgary has been my home for nearly a decade now. And since meeting my husband here six years ago, then having two daughters, it has become my permanent home. When I first arrived in Calgary, I was struck by the young, entrepreneurial energy in the city. And while it feels like that energy may have dampened slightly with the recent economic downturn and the pandemic, I think Calgary is set for a comeback of epic proportions. There is so much talent and drive in this city!
How have you fared during the pandemic?
Novak: It was a hard time in the early days of the pandemic. Everyone was so confused and unsure of what it meant, and that fear and uncertainty caused everyone to panic. Marketing and PR were some of the first budgets to be cut. So, there was a week or two around April/May 2020 when I just received phone call after phone call from clients telling me how sorry they were, but they needed to put our contract on pause.
I had just come back to work after having my first daughter and was pregnant with my second daughter so the pressure of that combined with wanting to do right by Erica, my only employee at the time, was incredibly stressful. But I was able to apply for the wage subsidy program which helped me keep Erica on board. And we had a few clients that wanted to continue their PR programs. So, the combination of those two things kept us operational.
But the wild thing is, the fear was so temporary. We only had a few tough months before things started to pick back up again and in fact the last 12 months have been our most successful to date. So much so that we’ve been able to bring on another team member, Meika, who is fantastic and brings so much value to our team. We have big dreams of where WILD will go from here!
What makes your community special?
Novak: Where to begin?! Let’s start with our clients. Our clients have taken a chance on our small business and given us the foundation to build WILD into what it is today. There are many, more established PR agencies they could have gone with, but they chose us and we are humbled and deeply grateful to them for giving us a chance. And then our social networks are incredible. The people we engage with on social media, from local creators, to other small business owners, to the general population who have happened upon our pages has been almost exclusively positive. We chose our niches because they are fun and light and bring a positive energy and I think that resonates with people online when there is so much heavy stuff happening.
And my family is a key piece of my community. My parents, aunt and uncle and brother are all people I admire deeply for their business acumen, but also their unending zest for life. My parents are in their mid-60s and go on multi-week backpacking trips. It’s beyond impressive. And my husband has supported me from the moment I told him I was going to do this. He is there for me on a daily basis giving me encouragement and having my back through the ups and downs of business ownership. He celebrates our wins and picks me up on the tougher days. And at the end of the day, I do this for my daughters who support me with love and snuggles and a stark diversion from the world of business each day. They allow me to get out of my head and into the moment.
I am just deeply grateful to everyone who has given us support these last 5 years. It has deep meaning for me to have a community that believes in us. I am forever humbled by that.
Where do you see WILD headed in the future?
Novak: I see WILD continuing to grow and evolve and bring on even bigger clients! In doing so, I hope we are able to offer more employment opportunities, support local creators with bigger budgets, and support the media industry by making connections with our clients to appropriate advertising avenues that work in tandem with our PR activities. But most importantly, I see WILD contributing to the Calgary community through a deeper focus on philanthropy and looking at ways we can be more effective at giving back. While we’ve definitely made giving back a priority here at WILD, I see it becoming an even more prominent component to the business moving forward. It’s our responsibility as social citizens to give back to our community and we don’t take that lightly.
How would you describe Calgary’s small business community?
Novak: If I had to sum it up in one word, I would say resilient. With Calgary at the epicentre of the Canadian oil and gas industry, we are often at the mercy of how that industry is faring. When you combine the recent economic downturn in our city with the pandemic, Calgary business owners have been through a tough ordeal. But my goodness, you can’t kill their spirit! The level of collaboration and support I’ve witnessed over the past couple years in particular is awe-inspiring. I follow and admire many local small-business owners and hope to have just an ounce of their resilience.
How do you define the word community?
Novak: I would define community as finding commonality in values above all else. While ideologies and cultures and geography can vary drastically, when there is a shared value system, community is powerful.
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