An Interview with Journalist and Entrepreneur Kristin Luna
Starting a business is hard (duh) and can feel isolating. We all follow people online who live in our town, do a job similar to ours, and seem to have figured some shit out. When I started my business, I followed a lot of these women online, but had no idea how to get an IRL introduction, or ask for help and advice. I created the community online that I needed and started These My Bitches as a way to A) highlight the powerhouse women in and around Nashville, and B) make them accessible.
Today's bitch is one of those powerhouse women. Kristin is O.G. Whatever you're doing, she's been doing it longer. But here's the thing, Kristin doesn't want to be on top of Success Mountain™ alone. She wants other women up there with her, me included. Kristin has given me business advice and introduced me to people I've been trying to meet for years. The good news for Kristin is, when I get to the top of Success Mtn™, I'm going to have lots of jokes and snacks with me, so it'll have been worth it. Meet today's bitch, Kristin Luna!
What do you do and what is the name of your business?
I’m the ultimate “age of the slashes” entrepreneur — i.e. I do a little bit of everything. I’ve been working in journalism since the late 90’s, from newspapers to weekly mags like Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly to monthlies, Conde Nast being my last in-house job before going freelance a decade ago. In 2007, I started a travel and lifestyles blog, Camels & Chocolate, that ultimately became a big piece of my business when I started partnering with DMOs (destination management organizations) and travel brands like Fairmont Hotels, Airbnb and Contiki.
After leaving New York, the following year, I relocated to California where my long-distance boyfriend (and now-husband) lived, and it was there that I got into more far-flung travel — I went everywhere from Macau and Israel one week to Rwanda and the Cook Islands the next — and also tourism6 marketing. To date, I’ve visited all 50 states and more than 130 countries. I still freelance for numerous national publications, but my blog became a big focus through my travels; now, I work on content marketing projects for dozens of destinations both in the US and overseas.
In 2012, Scott and I moved back to Tennessee and started our own micro-agency, Odinn Media, Inc., through which we do media consulting and strategy, photography, copywriting, video and drone work, and many, many other things; the nice thing about being a two-person team with subcontractors of varying skillsets is that we can customize our services to a client’s need. We’re lucky to still be able to travel far and wide but also have a great home base (we’re restoring an 1800’s Queen Anne Victorian in our “down time!”) and roster of clients we love.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Under-promise and over-deliver. (The “under-promise” part has been tough for me, as I’m a Type A overachiever and I want to give every client every bit that I have right out of the gate.) We look at every marketing project as more than a quick shot to the arm, but rather a product of long-tail journalism that can benefit our clients for years to come. All that to say, once you hire us, you’re stuck with us — even if our project end date has come and gone, we’ll likely continue to be your biggest fan and promoter for years/decades. A lot of this comes, too, from us being choosy about which projects we take on and only picking the ones we can really invest our hearts and soul into; for every campaign or gig we say “yes” to, we’ve probably said “no” to the last five that just don’t make sense for our brand and our passion.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Always, always, always have a contract. I was burned badly several years back when I produced a sizable media conference in Nashville and my business partner — who had suckered me into this gig in the first place — bailed five weeks out… after we’d been working on the damn thing for 18 months. Turns out she’d also never filed the proper paperwork we sent her, so we were operating without a formal partnership agreement — and did I mention, she left me with a lot of debt I didn’t know she’d spent in the company’s name (*face palm*)? I could have easily sued her and won, but instead, I considered it an expensive lesson learned: Even when working with friends, there needs to be a signed agreement in place before you move forward with anything. The same can be said for every project we take on these days: We won’t get to work until both parties have agreed on a scope and deliverables and signed an official binding contract.
What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of related to what you do?
Carving my own path and being able to live a location independent life with flexibility, one that now includes working with my husband (and somehow not murdering each other in the process!). They say the media is “dying,” but I don’t think that’s true at all. I think those of us who have survived (and thrived) have been smart, flexible, and learned to adapt and evolve with the times. Am I doing what I thought I’d be doing when I graduated from college? No way. Do I love it as much (or even more) than the “dream career” I set out to achieve? Absolutely. I’ve never had more work than I do right now, and contrary to what many people would like to think, it’s not so much luck as it is hard work, persistence and an unwavering entrepreneurial ethic.
Do you have a morning or night-time ritual?
Mornings start early with coffee, catch-up then gym time before my inbox reaches an unmanageable level. I’m usually working pretty late into most nights, but I try to carve out a few nights a week where Scott and I turn off the computers at dinner time, then watch an episode or two of Homeland/Narcos/Westworld/whatever we’re jiving on that month to give our brains a break from the constant grind of writing, editing, contracts and admin work. I used to read on my Kindle every night for half an hour before I fell asleep, but I’ll be the first to confess: Instagram Stories has really put a crimp in my reading time! So now my “night-time reading” is actually my “night-time swiping.”
What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires you?
Does beer count? We have a 5pm ritual (who am I kidding? it starts at 3 most days) where we crack open a beer or pour a cocktail as a reward for a hard day’s work since we’ve usually been up and working since 6am or earlier. Then, we cheers each other and go back to our respective offices (mine on the ground floor, his on the upper level). We very much live by our unofficial business philosophy that “Beyoncé has as many hours in the day as we do, so let’s approach every day as if we’re Bey.”
What does self-care look like in your life?
I get a massage every other week, and I don’t feel a bit guilty about it either! I was a college athlete and have a multitude of lingering injuries and skeletal muscle issues, which are perpetuated by 14-hour days in front of the computer, seven days a week. About four years ago, I started seeing a therapist for deep tissue massages every 10 days or so, and it’s made a world of difference for how I feel — plus, it’s the one hour of every week (or two) that I’m actually forced to disconnect and chill out. I also run, work out with a trainer and, most importantly, practice AcroYoga every Wednesday for both fun and fitness — it’s a standing blackout period on my calendar and a non-negotiable for me; if I’m in town, I’m at that Acro class!
How do you feel about social media?
I feel that social media is our generation’s greatest achievement and biggest downfall. It’s killer that there are multiple free platforms out there for companies, small and large, to use as marketing tools. But it’s also become the source of many people’s anxiety, quite literally. We don’t feel like we’re good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, wearing the right things, doing everything we can to push our business forward, etc. because we’re constantly assaulted with this culture of fakery telling us how much better we can be. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, and I think we’re at the tipping point where people are going offline again instead of on to make those human connections they’ve lost in the past two decades that the Internet has steered our every last move. I recently wrote a post this topic about how Instagram has led to the death of authenticity, and while I continue to use the platform, I do so now more for fun and less for business, knowing the shady underbelly that’s there.
Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?
Without a doubt. I had several English teachers in elementary, middle and high school who helped me sculpt my writing skills; first, there was Mrs. Carole Lynch in the fifth grade, then Mrs. Tommye Price in eighth, then Dr. Dianne Sawyer in high school for AP English and newspaper staff. The latter two are now deceased, but Dr. Sawyer and I kept in close contact through her final year; she was not only a stickler for grammar, but the biggest cheerleader and the wisest teacher I ever have. Of course, my own mother was also a trailblazer for me in proving that women could do anything that set out to achieve—she graduated from Vanderbilt at 20, then obtained her MBA from there a year later, then went on to work at IBM overseas in the early 1970s. She’s also the one from whom I get my wanderlust!
Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite podcast and snack?
I love me a true-crime podcast, so Dirty John, Serial, those types of podcasts have gotten me through many a long drive. The entrepreneur and home renovator in me adores Young House Love’s podcast as John and Sherry are two of my idols and a fellow husband-wife renovation team like Scott and me.
We snack on homemade salsa verde and plantain chips most afternoons during our aforementioned cocktail hour, but a day is not complete unless I’ve had chocolate (does that count as a snack?) — gourmet is obviously preferable, but I don’t play favorites; these days, it’s York peppermint patties all the way.