NAME: Kate Toholka
COMPANY: The Toholka Group
TITLE(S): Director / Visibility & Digital Strategist
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Tall, honest, smart, blunt and curious.
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? I began working as an Occupational Therapist, specialising in mental health in Melbourne. It was a job that paid the bills, and that’s about it. I never really enjoyed it - though I do love psychology and figuring out why humans behave the way we do. That has always fascinated me. When I moved down to Bells Beach, I embraced a healthier lifestyle and discovered that there’s a strong connection between the mind and the body. This put me on the path of starting a lifestyle blog, focusing on wellness and mindset. I began coaching women through career transitions, and soon found I inherited my father’s knack for strategic planning. I LOVE IT. I found that helping women build online businesses and assisting them to develop their digital marketing was a perfect combination of my love for strategic planning, and human behavior. Because that’s what business is really about isn’t it? It’s a vehicle to help people overcome a problem in their lives - or improve their lives. If we can understand how we behave, the better we can give them the tools they need to improve their lives. That takes a healthy dose of planning and understanding.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is your elevator pitch on what you do? I assist women to turn their big bold ideas into successful online businesses by providing them with the strategic planning and digital marketing tools to achieve their targets. In the near future, this will change as the next stage is to expand to become a digital media & branding agency.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) Of course not. 10 years ago I had just graduated from high school, broke up with my first boyfriend, moved house and starting a university degree I really didn’t have my heart set on. I had no goals, no direction, no bold desire other than to party hard and get through university.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? Success is happiness. Happiness is success. How to get that feeling is ultimately different for everybody but for me, it simply means being independent. Financially, emotionally and spiritually independent. I’m well and truly on my way, and can see that I’m becoming more successful every single day. It’s all in the journey hey?
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally) The next step is to turn the Toholka Group into the biggest digital media / branding agency in Australia. I’ve teamed up with an incredibly talented photographer/designer and we are in the early days of developing a virtual rebranding program for small businesses.
I also have a strong ambition to be a writer. I’ll be on the New York Times bestseller list with my debut fiction novel, just you wait and see!
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? University taught me many great skills in communication, but not a lot else. I sometimes wish I did a marketing or business degree but I know that would only serve to limit my thinking. I actually believe the best way to be good at something is to dive into head first. Get mentors along the way and learn directly from people in the industry. To this day, I spend on average an hour a day educating myself on the current business landscape. It’s changing so fast, it’s the only way to keep up to date and one step ahead!
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? Gosh, where to start! Writing a book that reached #1 on the Amazon Bestseller list was great, and so was having Lisa Messenger writing the foreword. Being invited to speak for Lululemon, becoming a ‘Courage Ambassador’ for Nudie Juices and speaking for General Assembly were all highlights. But I think the day I quit my part-time job was the most rewarding day of my career by far. Life has just gotten better and better since then.
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? At the moment, I’m working from home in a joint office with my partner. He’s a building designer who designed and built our house with a strong sustainability focus. It’s so light, airy and incredibly comfortable. That said, I’m planning to move into a separate space within a year to separate the home-work life. Sometimes you just need to step away from the house!
My dream office would be bright, airy, with lots of indoor plants and have a pool attached to it. A poolhouse office? Um, yes please!
What are some frustrations you have experienced on your career journey? Too many to list. I’m an impatient person so I move and grow very, very quickly. It has it’s advantages but I have had to learn to slow down at times, especially when it comes to my targets. I had a knack of giving up too quickly and moving to the next thing instead of focusing and persisting. I do that now and the results speak for themselves.
When was the last time you were overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load? Honestly, I’ve never cried about work. If I become overwhelmed, I step away. If I can, I’ll take rest of the day off. Then when I’m emotionally in-check, I ask myself: ‘how do I solve this problem?’ And I do what I need to do to get through it. There’s always a way out! Sometimes the emotion can blur that so it’s important to learn to cool down before making a decision.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? Absolutely. I have high expectations. I want and expect to have an incredibly successful business and career. I refuse anything less. It’s a great motivator but can be an inhibitor if I let it overwhelm me.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough? The beauty of my business is that I have created it so I don’t need to show up every single day. I’m officially trying to make myself redundant! I always schedule in a weekend away every quarter as a reward and it’s something I recommend every business owner do. I’m heading to New York in May to attend the 99u conference and spend some time being energised by New York’s amazingness.
For the next stage of my business, I plan on developing a team around me that will deliver better than I could ever deliver personally. I fully plan on surrounding myself with people who are smarter than me! But I also want a team that can continue the work without needing me there. I think this is important to prepare for now so that when the time comes, it’s all systems go.
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how? My situation is slightly different as my partner also runs his own business from home. It’s challenging for sure - we spend way too much time together! So in fact, we have to consciously spend some time apart. It’s also been challenging on the friendship front. Sometimes it would be nice to meet others and develop friendships with them, and not simply be ‘networking’. I don’t have many close friends in my new hometown, and my closest girlfriends are over an hour drive away so that can be tough at times.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? Absolutely. I’m an introvert and keep to myself a lot but I do need social connection. I actually miss having work colleagues! Hence one reason why I’m actively pursuing developing a team in the near future.
It’s also challenging when you spend too much time in your head. You can be so mean to yourself can’t you? It’s been really valuable having a small mastermind of 5 ladies who meet regularly to assist each other in business and provide the moral support when the timing gets challenging. Mentors have also been invaluable in this sense too.
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? Cash flow problems in the early days definitely. Considering at that time my partner was hardly working and building our house! Can you imagine the stress!? It was an incredibly trying time but we got through it.
Other than that, I have to live with a ‘disability’. I actually have hearing loss as a result from contracting meningitis when I was 10 months old (I’m lucky to be alive really!) It’s a daily challenge, with the biggest being phones. I find telephones EXTREMELY difficult as I need to lipread. So grateful for Skype and video calling! But imagine trying to run your life and business without phones - it’s tough. I do get anxious at times about this as I hate being a nuisance to people. I also somehow seem to think people will perceive me as ‘dumb’ or incompetent, which I know logically is incredibly far from the truth, but that fear of creating that perception can cause some anxiety. I just have to remind myself that I’m more than competent, even if I do things a little differently.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently?The only thing I would do differently would be to hire a business mentor/coach earlier. My business skyrocketed as soon as I hired one! Other than that, I think everything happened the way it did for a reason. Every lesson, every failure, every stepping stone taught me what I needed to know. I’ve learned a LOT in less than 3 years of doing this.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? “Kate, you dag. Forget the boys, do your own thing. And that bender you just had girlfriend? Probably not your smartest move. Spend some time getting to know yourself and treat yourself better. You don’t need a relationship to validate your existence. Fall in love with yourself, take some time out to dream and jump on that plane. Also, stop eating dairy. Your skin hates it.”
Who are some women in business you admire & why? Oh, where to start. Lisa Messenger for her drive, Bianca Dye for her honesty and crusade in helping people with anxiety, Zoe Foster-Blake for her collective wit, Ruby Rose for her groundbreaking year after taking the initiative of her failing career and doing something about it, and you, Samantha for building a global empire and moving to NY (can I join you?). Finally, my own mother, who ran her very own successful veterinary practice and is about to retire with her eye on travelling the world. Seriously, my mother has one incredible business mind and the way she planned it all out was so incredibly clever that it still blows my mind.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? Initiative is so sexy. I love people who have the big dreams but then actually do something about it. All it takes is a little initiative at the start.
I also dig raw honesty. I love people who lay it bare and don’t embellish their stories or lives. I love women that can truly own their quirks and have that drive to continually improve themselves. It’s so refreshing and empowering.
Work life balance… Does it exist? and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? Nope, it sure doesn’t. Life exists. Work is part of life and that’s why I’m such an advocate of finding or creating a job that you genuinely love doing. I think it’s more about finding what works best for you. Personally, I don’t mind doing a bit of work every day of the week. But if I want to take a week off, I’ll do what it takes to make it happen.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? I’d never quit because Plan B is a nightmare. I’ve been tempted many times, mostly when I’m worrying about finances. But then I remember that it’s not all about the money and that I could easily get a great paying job, but I’d lose my independence and freedom.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? That I’m just another sleazy get-rich business coach. I’m not. I work very hard on keeping up to date with all the latest trends in digital marketing and entrepreneurship and work diligently to apply these principles to smaller-scale businesses. The coaching side of things comes naturally because there’s no greater personal development than starting your own business! I love that my clients come from varied industries and have various definitions of success. I have one client who dreams of being a world renowned poet and another who’s simply happy to provide an additional income to support her family.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry? I would tell them to go against the grain. Look at what everyone else is doing, and find that gap that has opened for you. Too many people are doing the same thing, spouting the same messages. It’s becoming boring. Find that thing that makes you unique, amplify it and go all out. Also, make it your mission to know anybody and everybody. Connection and community are wonderful things.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? I’d do it all again, but a little more efficiently this time round. I wouldn’t waste so much time procrastinating on activities that didn’t yield a ROI. Or social media. I love social media but I have definitely wasted too much time on it!
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be That I inspired people into action. I love inspiration - it’s everywhere - but it’s what people do with that inspiration that really matters.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? Nobody ever reaches their definition of ‘success’ by doing it alone. And women supporting each other is one of the most POWERFUL forces I’ve ever seen. I know so many women who have come from toxic corporate ‘battlefields’ and it breaks my heart to hear those stories. They seem so unhappy and unhealthy. Once they become submerged in a positive community, you can just see a light switch on. The possibilities become seen (and endless!) and the belief in themselves just grows and grows. It’s amazing to see. I definitely saw it in myself once I surrounded myself with other women in business - there’s nothing like having your own cheer squad to quieten that negative self talk!
What are some of your favorite quotes?
“Face the fear and do it anyway”
“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” - Rumi
“Nothing will work unless you do.” – Maya Angelou
“I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women." - Nora Ephron, screenwriter