What Should I Do Next? Career Pivots with Karli DePanfilis

Nicole and Marina interview GenTwenty Contributor Alumna, Karli DePanfilis, about how leaving your job and trying different things can change your path completely. 

Karli now has her own very successful graphic design business working with small, women-owned businesses across the country. But it wasn’t always this way! Karli shares how her failures are what lead to her success.

To learn more about Karli head to her website or follow her on Instagram.

Thank you to Serena from Get Me Out Of This Job for sponsoring this episode. Learn more about Get Me Out of This Job here and follow on Instagram here. Mention GenTwenty and get 10% off your coaching package.

Thank you to Corvus Botanicals for sponsoring this episode. Find them on Instagram here!

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This post has been gently edited for clarity.

Nicole Booz: Welcome back to the GenTwenty Podcast I’m Nicole…

Marina Crouse: And I’m Marina! Today we’re talking about leaving your job and what to do next with Karli Depanfilis, owner of Flair by KD, a branding and design studio. Fun fact: Karli used to write for GenTwenty. Karli can you tell us a little bit about how you got to your career path?

Karli DePanfilis: Sure! thanks for having me today. I graduated in 2014 from West Virginia University and right after graduating, like two weeks later, I moved to Oklahoma with my boyfriend/now-husband. There I worked for a small web design company right outside of Tulsa as their PR and content strategist.

There I wore a lot of hats because I was right out of college. My boss kind of just took a chance on me since my background wasn’t public relations. But I kind of dabbled more into content writing, blog writing web design, and that’s where my love for web design kind of started.

After we lived in Oklahoma, we moved to Minneapolis, where I explored a few jobs. I was not sure what I wanted to do when we moved there so I actually started one of my first companies. It was Petite Social and I basically was just managing small business accounts, social media, the majority Instagram and Facebook, while I also like worked at a local cycle and yoga studio just to have some income on the side coming in while I was starting that. Then I wasn’t really successful with that business.

So I applied for this job at a healthcare media company and got a position doing social media writing. I used my background from Tulsa into that and then I wasn’t in that job very long. I worked in another job, which was an advertising and I was a digital media manager so I did a lot of like paid ads through Facebook and Instagram, did Instagram captions and I also shot some content at the small businesses around town. That was pretty short lived as a well because I just was not loving it.

So then we were looking to move back to Pennsylvania  within the next couple months and I ended up working at Anthropologie, which was amazing. That was just kind of where I knew I wanted to work with women-owned businesses when I was kind of like scheming up my business what it is today. So just kind of having that opportunity working there kind of fell into what I’m doing today which I love. We move back home to my hometown in February of 2019 and then a month later Flair by KD was was born.

Nicole Booz: Wow, that is an amazing career path. Just to listen to you talk about everything because one thing I was just jotting down as a note was that you can consistently pivoted and redirected what you were doing to pursue what you love and what you felt like you were good at and what you really wanted to do.

So you said you started that in 2019 and it seems like being an entrepreneur was something you kind of always wanted to do. You were pursuing that throughout your careers and I think a lot of people are now wanting to kind of go down that path. Having had all this experience behind you, what would you share with people who want to kind of do the same thing?

Karli DePanfilis: I’ve had many jobs out of college, probably a lot more than some people in a short seven year span, but I wouldn’t change anything.

Basically what I would do is find something you’re passionate about. Before I started this business, I started another business and that failed but while I had other jobs in the corporate world I was still doing web design on the side. So I just was doing that stuff on the side, I guess my side hustle was what I wanted to turn into something full-time. So when the time came I didn’t really have a business plan. It was just more of like a loose vision. I know some people need more planning and financials and like to look at everything but I was very fortunate that my husband was very supportive and told me to just go all in and “now is your chance” type of thing and I’m very happy that it’s all working out.

Another thing would be to find a mentor or two owns their own business and pick their brain on certain certain parts. I reached out to one or two small businesses within my hometown  as well as my cousin. I leaned on him a lot because he has owned his own business for like 12 plus years now and is very knowledgeable with business backend stuff, which I’m not very great at. You can have a plan or a loose plane at least, or a vision and just honestly start. Whether it would be a side hustle at first or if you have the capability to go full time just go for it.

Nicole Booz: Yeah, yeah, I’m totally with you on that. I’m a very loose planner kind of person and that’s sort of how I started GenTwenty.

Marina Crouse: In the writing community you can plan an outline or you can freestyle. So when you freestyle, you just go with it as you write. It’s called pantsing because you’re literally putting your pants on as you’re like trying to write. I’m more of a pantser than a planner but there’s a hybrid version called “plantser” which is silly but that’s how I approach things with Nicole too because we run a business together and it’s like loose planning and then you can pivot.

I think that’s really helpful because we all know that change and transition can be really unsettling and it sounds like you had that firsthand experience. You were just constantly pivoting as circumstances change.  So how can we cope with making these changes that we want but still balance the expectations and goals of how things might go?  Because obviously as much as we plan, nothing ever goes exactly as we plan.

Karli DePanfilis Yeah that’s such a great question. When I started out in March of 2019 I didn’t start as just branding and web design because I actually didn’t even have any knowledge in branding. That was kind of where I pivoted. I started out doing more email marketing and social media management and web design things that I had learned over the past seven years from other jobs.  Then after nine months in my business I  hated doing social media management for other companies. I wasn’t really putting any effort into my own business’ social media accounts where I knew I needed to in order to grow. Honestly, I was like “okay I’m really interested in branding” so I took a course on that and from there I just kept leveling up my process and leveling up things that I could learn.

I would say don’t stop learning and definitely set realistic goals and expectations. But at the same time don’t allow those to consume you or your worth.

I feel like to this day I still have big goals and dreams and sometimes they’re hanging over my head and I can’t let those stop me from failing on certain certain things or putting myself down because I didn’t reach that goal.

But also I would just say as well as again a side hustle versus a full-time gig: just have expectations and goals for that as well. So whether you’re doing it on the side while you do have a full-time job or if you’re a full time stay-at home mom or something like that and you’re still trying to build something, just set real expectations and goals for yourself. So you’re not feeling so crappy when you don’t, hit all of them or at least one of them.

Nicole Booz: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve written about this before: micro goals where you’re just setting very small, very achievable goals because that keeps you motivated to reach your bigger goals but it’s very realistic. They’re very “easy” things that you can accomplish on your way to reaching those big goals. I really think that especially as you’re starting out as an entrepreneur you need that boost of confidence maybe even every single day because it’s hard out here.

Marina Crouse: Absolutely, It’s a hard out here for sure.

Nicole Booz:  One thing I wanted to dig deeper into as you were talking was when you said to pursue learning because I do think that learning and continuing to learn and pivot is so important. So where you’re talking about how you knew needed to learn more about branding…say someone sitting at home thinking “Okay, where do I go to learn about this?” How did you approach learning more about that?

Karli DePanfilis Yes, so I was following a few people within my industry, web design and branding on Instagram just to see what they were up to and kind of draw and inspiration from the beginning. I don’t like to look at other people’s accounts now because then comparison and all that bad stuff comes in but I did find the girl that I did take my branding course from and it was just amazing! So transformable for my business because once I learned the tools of what branding was, how you can present it to your clients, how to get feedback from your clients, and the different tools that she used for branding I just kind of ran with that. Since then I’ve taken a few other courses on different things, but, I just I don’t know where I would be without her course honestly.

Nicole Booz: Yeah, that’s amazing. I think talking about the process is one thing that a lot of entrepreneurs look over when they’re trying to build a business because there are a lot of parts to it. But really what comes down to making you special and wanting to offer your services or products to the world like is really deeply involved in that process.

I think Marina can probably speak to that too. She’s developing her writing coaching business where she is working to see really what her audience wants and needs from her. So like you were saying, by adding that branding thing it loaded your business and people come to Marina with all different kinds of projects and she’s really refining what she doesn’t want to do and how to best serve her community. So I think that’s just a really phenomenal piece of advice to share is to continue learning and continuing to develop your process.

Marina Crouse: Yeah, and I would also add: find people who are doing something…Karli you’re talking about you don’t look at other people’s profiles on social media because the comparison game is really toxic but there’s a fine line of finding how you’re talking about with mentors or Nicole and I have a business together but we also have our own businesses. So we’re constantly bouncing ideas off of each other and I feel like having the community is so helpful. I mean Nicole just pitched my business and I was like “yeah that sounds good, all right I’m doing that.”

And so that could be so helpful because I think it is really isolating when you’re trying to figure this all out and you can only Google so much. What kind of advice do you have for new entrepreneurs who are getting started?

Karli DePanfilis: Yeah, I’ll say kind of what I did before but honestly, just start. Nothing’s going to happen if you just sit there and think about it over and over. You’re not going to be perfect the first time. No one is. So I would just honestly just say start. Because you’re going to fail and it’s only going to push you further in your business whichever way you do end up going again, set those goals short term and long term and make them realistic. 

If you are starting to accumulate money make sure you’re setting your business up as an LLC so you’re legit and I know a lot of small businesses that either I’ve worked with or other designers that I talked to within the community, they’ve “been in business” for 2 years but they haven’t set up their business as an LLC. So. They’re always like shocked when I say that and I’m like “yeah you need to like do that now.”

Nicole Booz: Yeah, big mistake. Huge. All that like technical backend business stuff can be hard. I think that when you’re even beginning to start your business, it’s what to invest in. Setting up everything correctly and pay your taxes. Everyone.

Marina Crouse: Oh yeah and set aside thirty percent or more for your taxes,  I remember Nicole and I are talking about that one time when I was first starting freelancing and I was like “oh I’m not doing that.”  It was fine in the end but you’ll be in for a shock if you’re not preparing yourself. You need to plan a little bit but be okay with the plan changing and currently I love how you were talking about your first business petite social and you just like it failed and I think so often we are so afraid to admit that something’s failing. It’s has such a negative connotation but it really just means you tried it. It didn’t work. You learned you move on. What other big business learning lessons have you had so far that you can share?

Karli DePanfilis: Yeah, so obviously that was the first one, as well as when I started Flair by KD I started doing web design, social media management, and email marketing, and that was just kind of where I felt like I hit like a plateau and since it was only me working and I only wanted it to be like me for the first year or two, I couldn’t take on any more social media accounts and I was like “how can I grow this business that I can work with other companies on a monthly basis and then kind of like tie their project up, and give them the resources and tools that they need?”  So that’s where the branding came in.

I guess just pivoting where you need to and then also investing in your business.That’s when I honestly started to see so much growth and potential for my business. I took the branding course. I took a Shopify course. I invested in a business coach which was like the largest thing that I’ve invested in and it’s literally been like so eye-opening, after I finished six months with my business coach. Just investing in your business when you can.

Nicole Booz: I’m really curious with a business coach, what do you feel like for the biggest growth catalysts that helped you see more potential for yourself?

Karli DePanfilis:  I would say nine months ago, you would never see my face on stories on Instagram whatsoever. I was terrified of speaking to my camera which I know sounds so silly. But she kind of got me out of my comfort zone on talking to my audience and being a human and also I would say just kind of planning the backend of my content, my messaging as well as planning out certain offers that I came out with.

Honestly she was just there as mentor, too. I could communicate with her whenever I needed to through a certain app. But honestly, I think it was more of just building my confidence having someone there to basically cheer me on. But also, put me back in my zone and push me to where I wanted to go.

Nicole Booz: Yeah I think that’s really important and whether you do that through a business mentor or a coach,  or your community I think it’s really important to have those people to propel you forward and also to help give you ideas from Beyond what you can see for your own business. I feel we spend so much time so close to our businesses that it’s really hard to step back and see the big picture and especially the missing pieces.

Marina Crouse: Yeah, absolutely and I feel like you can only figure out what your audience wants by trial and error. So I had an offering I really wanted to give to my potential clients and audience but I couldn’t figure out how to formulate it and then someone emailed me and said “hey, this is the kind of coaching I’m looking for. Do you do that?” and I was just like “yes I do.” And now I do because I figured out how to ask for it and  sometimes you stumble on those learnings and sometimes you do it really categorically and methodically but it’s all part of the learning process.

People who want to be their own bosses and have an entrepreneurial life are a different beast. There’s a different brain process there, which is awesome, but it can be hard when you’re getting started in your early twenties and you’re following the more traditional career path. I know for myself I was doing the corporate job, I was doing this traditional career path, and I was so unhappy and it was like square peg round hole. I just kept trying to like change jobs to make myself happier and then I realized like oh no, it’s because I meant to do this instead. And no one told me that. I had to figure that out the hard way. Karli what is something you wish you had learned about having a career when you were in your early twenties?

Karli Depanfilis: Ah, well I didn’t really figure it out until like 3 years ago unfortunately, but that’s okay. Like I said I was just kind of bouncing around from job to job. Not really happy, I mean it was just honestly going into clock in and clock out.

Marina Crouse: Relatable.

Karli DePanfilis: Yeah, so I guess I would say looking back, when I just started out, being more in tune with what really makes you happy and excited to wake up every day and not just going into clock in somewhere. Obviously in every job there’s going to be things that you don’t like.

Right now for myself I still I don’t enjoy accounting. I dread it. I dread doing taxes. So there’s always going to be something that you don’t love but I would say finding something that majority of what you do you love. Try to find that and what you’re doing and then it might take you a few years to figure out what exactly you want to do and that’s okay, it’s not like you’re on a timeline just you’re kind of on your own timeline.

Nicole Booz: Yeah, yeah, and hearing you say that I think you should really listen to your gut feelings that you are meant for more and made for more.

Karli DePanfilis: Yeah.

Marina Crouse: Yeah, it’s just if we let ourselves be open to all the things that are possible. It feels a little bit less intimidating to trip along the way. I I love hearing your story Karli because I relate to it so much. Nicole started her business right out of college and she was the only friend I had for so long who was in a nontraditional career path and who ran her own business and I would think to myself” man I wish I could do that but I’m on this path” and it was finally like “oh. I can change lanes”. I think more and more people are starting businesses because  the #hustle culture or because of 2020’s shitstorm for lack of better words or things like that.

Karli DePanfilis: Yeah.

Marina Crouse: Nicole was my first friend to have a business and now I want to say fifty percent of my friends have their own businesses or side hustles they dream of growing to be full time, which is so empowering and so neat. 

I know people are going to want to continue to follow along. Karli, where can people find you…

Karli DePanfilis:  Instagram is my favorite place to be so you can find me there at Flair by KD, and then my website and everything will be on my profile. But that’s just at Flair by KD dot com which I will also be launching my new website soon.

Nicole Booz: Very exciting. Thank you so much for joining us here today! We will link all of Karli’s info in the show notes and this has been another episode of the GenTwenty podcast we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye!

About the Author

Nicole Booz

Nicole Booz is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of GenTwenty, GenThirty, and The Capsule Collab. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and is the author of The Kidult Handbook (Simon & Schuster May 2018). She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s probably hiking, eating brunch, or planning her next great adventure.

Website: genthirty.com