I believe this will be the most personal career profile I’ve ever made, because even though I've personally known Mari Nieves for a little over 6 months, I knew about Pink Studios before I met her and she knew about ambinity before she met me as well! It was the first time that I had met someone who we mutually followed and even had brand crushes on each other (aww).We literally went to lunch one day, clicked and I asked her to be one of my career profiles, since her story is of course, inspiring and fearless. What a love story!
She has a broad experience coming from a computer engineering background, being a former Etsy Shop owner, managing a digital marketing team and now as a online marketing boutique agency founder. But what I've always admired about Mari is her online brand presence. She has a firm brand identity and a digital strategy that is clear from her business blog to all her social media channels. I mean, even her two poodles, Pakko Petardo and Lola Inés del Pilar are insta famous! The girl knows business, to the point she was even asked to talk to a group of psychology doctorate students about the importance of building a brand during a Business Development for Psychologists course!
So without further ado, here's the interview:
What did you want to be as a Little girl?
I wanted to be a teacher, a pathologist or a veterinarian, but only for small dogs!
When did your passion for brands and marketing started?
I would say high school or a little later. I always liked computers, so my mom told me I should study something in that field. I've been creating websites since Sophomore year of high school, so fast forward to Senior year, I decided I wanted to study something that had to do with advertising and Internet. But they told me that didn’t exist! All I knew was that I liked computers, Internet and advertising! So since they told me it didn’t exist, I decided to go for the Computer Engineering major at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico (PUPR). Pleasing everyone who believes you should be a doctor, lawyer or engineer to succeed in life.
During college, I really didn’t feel passion for computer engineering. But I excelled during classes that had to do more with Internet, e-commerce and project management. To the point that I was recommended for an internship at the Bioinformatics Department of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).
You have experience in graphic design, but you didn't study anything in this field. Tell me a little bit of how it all began?
I decided to stay in Palm Springs, California after my internship and even though it's a beautiful city, there is really not much to do there. But since I couldn't find a job, I decided to not get bored and started playing around with PhotoShop and Illustrator and sold my designs through my own Etsy Shop: Pink Studios!
During my Etsy days, people asked me to design graphics for their businesses, which were mostly wedding and baking related. Then one of them asked me to create a blog website and from then on, the word of mouth kept spreading until Pink Studios became what it did.
Where did the Pink Studios name come from and why did you decide to create it?
It was originally going to be Ink Studios, because I wanted it to be all about prints and designs, but then the domain wasn't available. I asked myself "what about Pink Studios?" And I responded, "Pink Studios it is!"
The problem is that a lot of people think that it is a super girly stereotype!
How did you promote your Etsy Shop?
It was truly all word of mouth! Back then social media hadn't had the "big boom" and I also had an "ok" website, so I really didn't invest a dime at the beginning of my business.
But I did build a lot of relationships through Twitter! At that moment I wasn't that busy so I had enough time to go out of my way to tweet to people for business follow ups.
How was your experience jumping from web development and design into social media strategy at a Telecommunications company?
They hired me and someone else in order to manage their newly launched social media channels. I remember this was during the first days of Facebook Ads and all we wanted was just like $20 to test out boosting and it would always get denied. We were such rookies.
How was your experience managing digital communications for a private University system?
After the telecommunications company I was hired to be a web master and social media manager at technical college. Then one day while my boss was on vacation, she put me in charge of media buys. It turns out I loved digital media planning so my boss slowly let me have more control over these topics. After that, I worked my way up the corporate ladder.
How was that transition from mid level to upper management?
I was promoted by seniority and because I had the most hands on experience in the digital field. My co-workers were actually really nice about it! The only way I had to change was in terms of co-workers relationship. I used to be one of them, so I had to draw the boss line with them. That was the hardest part for me! I wanted to be a cool boss but also be respected. But in the end I realized there's no way to be a cool boss.
Nevertheless, my second promotion was a little bit more difficult because it's when the company decided to join the Digital and Traditional Marketing Teams, since it was spread out in different business units. I became the manager of my entire team and let's just say, it was pretty competitive! I was also very young and bubbly, so it was harder to gain other people's respect.
What did you learn from your highest position in this company?
I learned to prioritize, to plan ahead, to create systems and trackers for everything. I have a Type A personality so organization is essential. I also learned that you need to draw line between coworkers to keep a healthy work environment.
Overall, I learned that tomorrow's a new day and sometimes you can't complete everything "today"; healthy breaks are good to boost productivity. Also, working together as a team is what brings the success of the team; it's not what I do, or you do; it's what we do together.
What did you like the most about managing a team?
Helping each other grow and becoming a family!
What were the top three lessons you learned from managing a team?
Being friends with your team: Even though I told you earlier not to be one, I do believe it is good to be a family. If they love and respect you, they will do a better job.
Try to find a way to identify with your team: Let them know that you are also working really hard beside them.
Let them know when they do a good job!
Tell me a little bit about the health reasons you decided to quit?
Once I start something, I commit to it. But unfortunately my father was diagnosed with cancer and went under surgery while I was starting my new managing role.
That's when I started to develop a condition called Costochondritis, which is basically really intense chest pains, but I just kept going with pain killers. I even started to have a weird pain in my toe, which I later found out it was all somatization, which is a way the body looks for other ways to release the stress.
Now, don't get me wrong, of course I can handle stress! But the level I was in, I needed some type of solution, so I looked for it and look at me know.
When did you decide to go full time with Pink Studios?
Almost a year ago I decided to quit and give this a chance, even though I loved my duties in my full time job with passion. But I wasn't happy and it was harming my health. I figured that if Pink Studios didn't work out, there's always LinkedIn and Monster, but if I never tried I would never know if it actually worked. I calculated to see how much time I could live off my savings and until now I have been able to achieve my monthly finance goals effectively.
My decision to quit my full time job was one of the hardest I've ever made, but if I hadn't, I wouldn't be where I am now. I am not a millionaire, but that is the end goal! I would've never met you, or thought that I could be making the income I am making on my own, in my beautiful office with Pakko and Lola and working with such important brands.
Did you have any stablished clients once you decided to quit your full time?
No one! I left because my health was being compromised.
Your brand appeals a lot to feminine qualities. Did you have a clear idea of who your ideal client was?
It certainly helped me attract cool clients like wedding coordinators, event planners, bakers, etc. But it wasn't on purpose. In the end of the day, I'm not such a pink person, I like all colors!
I do know it could be a down side because some people think that I'm just an innocent girl behind the company. Sadly, in any industry, when something is too girly, is not that good.
What is the most difficult part of having your own business in the digital marketing field?
Competition. I'm not the best or the worst, but I've worked really hard to be where I am today. If you think about it, the digital marketing world started in 2008, so anyone who tells you they have 20 years of experience in the digital marketing world is lying. But it's such a brand new industry that there's a lot of ignorant people who think that they know what they're talking about.
There's also a lot of agencies and freelancers that promote themselves as experts, but they really aren't. So they go ahead and give these ridiculous prices to create or manage something the wrong way. This usually leads the client to look for someone who actually knows what they're doing and once you charge them more, they're thrown away by your prices!
What would you tell someone who wants to make it in the digital marketing field?
Get educated, read every day and go for it! It is an ever changing industry, where the competition is fierce.
What do you think has helped you succeed in your career?
What helps me effectively execute in digital marketing is my web development knowledge and experience. I am not a super web master or web designer, but having that knowledge helps me give accurate directions while working with clients.
What advice would you give yourself right after graduating college?
I would tell myself that "what-ifs” get you nowhere. In life you have to take risks in order to follow your dreams.
The things that we want in life rarely come out of nowhere, but some people have a lot of luck! But if you never take a risk you will never know if your dreams could become your lifestyle. It sounds cliché, but it is better an "oops" than a "what if".
Random questions with Mari Nieves:
Plan or Improvise: Plan, but I like to improvise every once in a while.
Favorite Social Media Channel: Facebook
Social Media Story: Snapchat! Since I have a social media strategy for all my channels, I am more selective with who I accept and I can be more free.
Home Office Essentials: A fun bulletin board, pins, notebooks and an agenda.