Title: Founder and CEO of TS2 Digital
Industry: Digital Marketing Consultancy
Tiana Starks is a wife, a mother and an entrepreneur. As the founder and CEO of TS2 Digital, a digital marketing consultancy, she makes big agency strategy, solutions and talent accessible to small businesses by developing data driven digital marketing campaigns that drive quality leads and increase revenue and market share for small businesses.
Tiana went to Michigan State University, which was the only institution that she applied to. She was dead set on going there since she was a sophomore in High School. At freshman orientation they asked her to pick a major, and she was all set to choose Psychology, but something inside of her changed as sh was sitting in the chair speaking to the counselor. She had been an athlete for most of her life and she come from a very athletic family, so naturally, pursuing a career in sports made sense. She changed her major to Kinesiology. She thought, maybe she could be a sports therapist… which she realized wasn’t a good fit. She didn’t like science. Half way into her sophomore year at MSU she realized that she needed to change her major, and after speaking to her counselor and trying a few different electives, she realized she loved advertising – she changed her major to advertising, with a double major in Spanish.
Throughout her career, Tiana has worked for and in partnership with several well known brands, leading special projects and digital marketing initiatives. She’s worked with brands such as Ford Motor Company, The Hardford Insurance, Lincoln Motor Company, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Mazda of Canada, Infiniti USA, The Charles H. Wright Museum and The Motown Museum just to name a few!
Walk us through the journey you took post-college to where you are now with running your own business.
Tiana Starks: I was getting ready to graduate with no jobs lined up, I again went into survival mode and started applying for jobs and internships frantically. I was offered an internship at what was then Team Detroit, now Global Team Blue – The Ford Motor Company’s international agency of record. All of the stars were aligned when I got that position, because at the time Team Detroit had just formed a partnership between all of it’s agencies to create on major agency and there was no structure, which worked to my benefit. I became an intern in the Delivery Services/Project Management department, instead of the traditional Traffic Coordination role typically available to fresh out of college entry level employees. I was then able to get hired in as a Jr. Digital Project Manager. And I fell in love! I love creating in the digital space. I was promoted to Project Manager, but thought that I would try my hand on the Account side of advertising and took an Account Executive role on the International team. Which helped to round out my experience, as it gave me international as well as traditional media experience. Honestly, I loved Team Detroit, however I was expecting my first child and knew that in order to increase my income I would have to leave. So, from there I took a Sr. Account Executive role at Campbell Ewald, working on The Hartford Insurance account. The job was decent enough, however it did not feed my digital desires as most of the content was for traditional channels, such as Direct TV, Direct Mail and Newspaper. I am thankful for my brief time on the Hartford Account, as it gave me a very immersive traditional media experience.
So, I left Campbell Ewald after only 6 months to take a job as an Engagement Manager at a small digital shop in Rochester, Michigan. This is where my love for digital marketing flourished! I was not only leading web development projects, but also online marketing, including SEO, SEM and content strategy. This is when I realized that I could do this on my own and I started my company, TS2 Consulting in 2014. I didn’t really do much with it, other than put up a website and help friends and family as needed on very small projects, free of charge.
I eventually left that company and went to another small agency in Birmingham, MI. The company was smaller in numbers; however, I was back to working on International brands, which gave me a new view of what it meant to be a small business. I was laid off from this company in 2015, and that’s when the magic happened… I knew I needed to make money, so I went to my friend who was in sales and said to him, I need to sell a website for $500 this week and I need your help. And lo and behold, we did it! And we kept doing it. Before I knew it, I had six new clients and that’s when I knew that this is the path I was supposed to be on.
But then… a monkey wrench. I got pregnant with my son and I knew I needed more money. The company that laid me off had called me back and eventually offered me a great full time job, so I took it. It seemed to be the right move at the time.
But the universe knows, and eventually, after my son was one and life was getting back to normal I decided to go part-time at my job and get back into my business. I changed the name to TS2 Digital and adjusted my strategy to go after higher grossing companies and was able to land my first 5-figure deal and from there opportunities just kept coming and eventually I left my 9-5 job all together.
Tell us a bit about your day to day – and what you love most about what you do?
Tiana Starks: What I love most about what I do is that no day is ever the same as the day before. I’m able to design a life that works for me and my family, spend more QUALITY time with my kids and husband and do work that is meaningful to me and makes a difference in my clients’ business. I’m not usually bogged down by bureaucracy and politics.
I start just about every day at 5:45 AM with a spiritual reading and meditation. From there I journal, then write my To Do list, if it’s not done the night before. After that, I usually read industry articles or engage in various entrepreneur or marketing social media groups. This morning routine has been a complete game changer for me. It gets me centered and connected with God and my goals. On days when I don’t do my morning routine I’m definitely off kilter. After my morning routine, I get the kids ready and out the door/to school. From there I tackle my day, which can include a range of things. I try to take care of important emails first, so that I’m not super distracted throughout the day. From there I dive into whatever projects I have going on. I usually have at least 1 meeting each day, be it a conference call or in person. I also try to get in cold calling (yes, I do cold calling) at least twice a week. My schedule is typically planned into blocks the night before so that I don’t forget anything important.
What was the biggest challenge that you face in your role? How do you tackle that?
Tiana Starks: The biggest challenge that I face in my role is time management. Especially since I have my son with me at least twice a week. We have a pretty good schedule, but I have to make sure that I stick to it, so that I can get at least 4 working hours, during the regular business day (9 am – 5 pm) on the days that he is with me. To ensure that I stay on top of everything I go a little over board with lists, but it keeps me together. I write my To Do list daily, and from that list a prioritize a Must Do list of 3-5 things. Then I break my day into chunks to complete each item. I schedule each chunk on my calendar so that I will have a reminder and I know that time is scheduled and should not conflict with other things.
Another challenge that I have is mastering my mindset. Knowing that my sales cycles generally take a little longer because I’m selling marketing, not a commodity. That has been a challenge moving from the corporate world where I knew I would get paid regardless of how long it takes to close a deal. But as an entrepreneur, I don’t get paid until the deal is closed. So, just practicing patience and grace can sometimes be a challenge. I write in my gratitude journal daily to try to combat this, but it’s an everyday struggle.
How do you unplug at the end of the workday or workweek?
Tiana Starks: Speaking of challenges. I would say this is a challenge as well. I rarely completely unplug, which I admittedly need to do more. But when I do, I am watching TV with my kids, usually Disney channel. Or if I’m able to sneak in some alone time I’ll watch a show that I like, like Game of Thrones, Scandal or How to Get Away With Murder… I guess my morning routine counts as unplugging when I’m reading, meditating and journaling. That helps tremendously.
In moments of uncertainty or doubt, how do you build yourself back up?
Tiana Starks: The first thing that I do is allow myself the space to have those emotions. Understanding that I am human and the reason that I have doubt, or uncertainty is because I’m striving for excellence and to do something for which I have no clear cut roadmap. This allows me to give myself grace and forgiveness first. The next thing I do is ask myself why I’m feeling this way. I find that often times people tend to make situations seem larger or more detrimental than they actually are. Once I’ve identified the source of my anxiety, I can then assess the true level of threat or complexity and create a plan to mitigate or combat the issue. I tend to project manage my life.
Being an entrepreneur, wife, and a mother, what advice would you offer other female entrepreneurs about the balance of work, life, and being a mother?
Tiana Starks: My best advise would be, create a space for yourself. Often times, we get caught up in the what’s next of life and forget to take care of ourselves. Selfcare is essential, if you are going to be a high performer for the long run. It’s the reason I started waking up at 5:45 in the morning. I am not a morning person, but I NEED that time to decompress, to become centered and to connect with myself and with God.
I understand that creating that space can be a struggle, but it is absolutely essential, because burn out is real. Anxiety is real.
What tools/apps do you use on a daily basis that you can’t live without?
My favorite app right now is an app called Crowdfire. Every morning it has a list of relevant articles ready for me to consume, based on topics that I’ve programmed into the app or my social media behavior. From there I can post the articles that I find the most interesting or that may resonate most with my audience. It’s connected to all my social accounts, so I can post directly from the app. It’s probably the best social media management app I’ve used thus far, because it not only allows me to manage my accounts, but provides useful and relevant information for me to share.
I also use SmartSheet, it’s a cloudbase project management platform. The closest thing I’ve found to MS Project. I love it.
I use Instagram daily, because who doesn’t, right? I can always find a daily dose of inspiration on Instagram.
I use my Google Calendar app daily, to keep me on track… There is an app called Thumbtack that is useful for finding new business opportunities. And lastly, I use Podcast Addict (because I’m a Samsung user) to listen to my podcasts daily.
What’s your favorite thing about your workspace/office space?
Tiana Starks: My favorite thing about my workspace or office is that it can be anywhere I want! I have a remote team, so you can usually find me at a coffee shop during the afternoon getting work done. I typically work out of my home office in the mornings. I love the space at home because it’s my home! Filled with pictures of my kids and things that remind me of my husband and my support system… I have previously looked into getting office space, but honestly, it’s an expense that I don’t absolutely need at this point in my business. I know that I will eventually need to pony up, but for now I love the flexibility of being able to work from wherever I am.
If you were given 3 more hours per day – how would you use them?
Tiana Starks: I would read and exercise… I’ve have been seriously slacking in my exercise regimen. I absolutely have to get back on track.
What 3 pieces of advice would you offer to other female entrepreneurs?
- Be authentic. I know it’s cliché’, but it’s worth repeating because social media has made it so easy to compare yourself to others and begin to act in ways that are not genuine to who you truly are. Your path is your path, and your story is your story. The only way to manifest what has been spiritually prepared for you is to be you.
- Work hard. It is the only way that your big break is going to happen. Honestly, I was working on a pro bono project for a non-profit. I worked my ass off and that’s how I got noticed. That’s how I got my first – what I would call – big deal, in the upper 10 thousands.
- Take care of yourself, in both your business and your personal life. People will try to take advantage of you, be mindful of that and make sure that in business relationships your interests are being served as well as any partners or clients. And as I previously mentioned, self-care is essential to functioning at all.
Fun Fact: What Movie Best Describes Tiana’s Life?
“I would have to say Blackish, the sitcom with Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross. My family members often refer to me as Rainbow, the mother of the family. I really just think it does a great job of relaying the issues facing upwardly mobile Black families in America. Not to take this conversation left, but I want to raise my kids to have an understanding and appreciation for our history (I absolutely love history, in another life I want to be a history professor), but as the show often displays, hysterically so, it’s hard when they’re in an environment where not many people look like them. Also, my husband is hilarious, and our parents don’t quite get it all the time.
Want to learn more about Tiana Starks and her company TS2 Digital? Follow them at the links below!
Emily Sprinkle, also known as Emma Loggins, is a designer, marketer, blogger, and speaker. She is the Editor-In-Chief for Women's Business Daily where she pulls from her experience as the CEO and Director of Strategy for Excite Creative Studios, where she specializes in web development, UI/UX design, social media marketing, and overall strategy for her clients.
Emily has also written for CNN, Autotrader, The Guardian, and is also the Editor-In-Chief for the geek lifestyle site FanBolt.com