Start small. Ashton Hauff’s life has been inspired by that mantra, whether she knew it at the time or not. Now, she’s the co-founder of a successful and growing brand studio in Bismarck called The Good Kids. She chatted with Ladyboss Midwest about how she started small, what makes her business successful, where she finds her inspiration, and what keeps her grounded.
Big dreams can start small.
Tell me about your business.
The Good Kids is a brand studio in downtown Bismarck, kind of in the hub of downtown. We love the energy and the kind of lifestyle that’s down here. We help clients build strategic brand experiences. A lot of times, that includes logos, colors, fonts, et cetera. A lot of our clients are food-based, education, and attraction/entertainment organizations. At the heart or our niche, we’re really good at the brand piece where we build a reputation around a product or company.
This isn’t your first business. What else have you done as an entrepreneur?
My first business ever was photography, and it wasn’t intentional. In my first year of college, my brother needed to take senior photos, so I did them. Then, all of his friends wanted to hire me, so suddenly, I realized I needed to register as a company. I didn’t necessarily want to start a business, but since I was making money, I knew I had to do it the right way. Now, I’ve been doing photography as a side hustle the last 10 or 11 years. So that gave me my first taste as to what it’s like to collect money, how to keep track of it, how to talk to clients, how to do all of those kind of basic essentials, which was all new to me at the time.
After college, I moved back home to Bismarck and started a job at CoSchedule. I enjoyed it, but I was missing the design community that I had built up at college. That’s when the idea for Makewell was born, which was more of a nonprofit model organization that is a very community-based organization that provides opportunities for people to connect over the things they craft. That gave me a whole other world of how to work with a team, how to raise money and other parts of how to run a business.
Next, in 2020, I had an idea for a planner product called Evertide, which is a unique planner product, so I created another company. That was my first taste into what it’s like to sell it and create a product.
I had all of those experiences in my back pocket to help me get to where and what I’m doing today.
Surrounded by small pieces of inspiration.
Where did your love of design begin?
In my early childhood, I was completely in the creative world. My mom was a stay-at-home artist, so until school age, I grew up in her art room, watching her create. That was before large format printers existed, so she would do all of the signage and banners herself.
Then growing up, I fell in love with the show Trading Spaces from HGTV where I got my first taste of design. From there, I explored everything, and I was fortunate to figure out in high school that I wanted to do graphic design. I did my research for the best graphic design schools and eventually landed at the University of Northwestern in Saint Paul. It was an absolutely amazing experience, and I loved it.
Your husband also owns a business. What’s that like for you guys as a couple?
My husband started a film production company in Bismarck with his brother called Threefold. It’s been really helpful. We were both creatives, so it’s been fun to go through the processes of our companies together. We’re able to understand each other’s work and worlds, which is really helpful from a spouse perspective. When something’s wrong or feels off at home, we can talk through it. We also get to pick each other’s brains and ideate together, which is really great. The downside is that we’re both super passionate about our companies, so if we don’t set boundaries, we’d just work all the time. But it’s a blessing, for sure.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Start small so that you can test and iterate, because for me, I’ve done so much learning through all the different things that I’ve done and ideas that I’ve had. A lot of times, we enter it and have big dreams, right? We want to “be this” or “do this,” and then we get stuck or don’t take action because we have no idea how to even begin doing that.
If you can boil that down to the one thing you can do to test an idea out and actually take action on it, you’re going to get so much more feedback and value from that experience. When you do that, it’s just a series of small steps instead of one massive leap.
Start the day with small steps of self-care.
What do you do for self-care?
Self-care is a big one. The more that I’ve gone through all of my businesses, the more I’ve learned how much I need it in order to not hit that burnout.
I don’t need to bore you with all the details, but I have the things that I do for myself in the morning before I even start getting ready for the day, just to set my intention and set my focus.
I try to set boundaries around things that matter to me. For instance, my creative work is really essential to the company, so I only do meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That might not look like self-care, because I’m not at the spa or doing something fun, but I’m setting boundaries around the work that matters is really important.
A personal piece of self-care is having date night with my husband every Tuesday. It’s not fancy or glamorous. It just means that we’re going to hang out, because if we don’t set aside the time to do that, it’s just not going to happen. This way, I’m making a priority of it.
So for me, it’s probably like time management more than anything, because where you spend your time is usually where your heart lies.
You said you don’t want to bore us with the details of your morning routine. Can you share them anyway?
I get up with my alarm, and I instantly have to turn the house lights on because otherwise, I could roll over and fall back to sleep. There’s something about just instantly turning the lights on that wakes up my body. I’m not a morning person, so then I kind of walk around the house for a few minutes and pick up random stuff like a dish that was left out or a blanket to kind of get myself moving. Then I pour myself either a glass of water or some tea. I’m not a coffee person – don’t judge me. Next, I sit down, read the Bible for about 10 minutes, do a morning devotion and then I use my Evertide planner. That includes some of the things where I’m setting a focus, expressing gratitude, seeing if there’s any stressors that I could immediately address, and then I kind of go into my regular task list, schedule, et cetera.
After that, I get myself ready for the day. It sounds like a lot, but I wake up at 7:30 a.m. and usually I’m getting ready by like 7:50 a.m. I do small things for just a couple minutes so it doesn’t take forever.
What are some challenges you’re working on?
I am a type “A” recovering perfectionist.
That overlaps into the professional world, but especially as a designer – everything is very intentional, everything has to be thought out. I think my greatest challenge is being okay with an imperfect first day. How can I just get it out there and be okay with the iteration process and knowing that it’s going to change, is going to improve and grow over time?
Perfectionists, we just get stuck, right? We get stuck because it’s hard to detach yourself from what you’re creating. I think that’s probably something artists or designers, or even entrepreneurs, share in general. It’s hard to separate who you are as a person from the company that you’re building or the product that you’re creating. And it’s easy to get your identity wrapped up in that. That’s really something that I have to constantly remind myself. It’s just remembering that I am a human, and that who I am as a wife, as a dog mom, and as a friend are still way more valuable than what I’m doing on a business level.