“Nothing made me happier than a happy customer”: Kromad founder Kat Romanoff on how to foster positive client relationships
In the next instalment of our Movers & Makers series, we sit down with leading creative founders to learn how and why they set up their businesses. This week, we meet Kat Romanoff, the founder of Montreal-based creative agency, Kromad.
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Movers & Makers, in partnership with Mailchimp & Co, is a series on how to nurture an authentic business within the creative world. Led by the voices of industry leaders, this new series will focus on creative founders, offering insights into how founders of world-leading studios have set up, and sustained, their businesses. If you enjoy these articles and are looking to kickstart or grow your agency or freelancing business, learn more about Mailchimp & Co here.
In the first few minutes of speaking to Kromad founder Kat Romanoff, it becomes clear why Canada is a place widely known for its extreme weather conditions and unwavering friendliness. Kat calls us from the Kromad’s base in Montreal, which just so happens to be in the midst of a “huge” snowstorm, and exudes a warmth that would be able to melt away any avalanche.
Kicking off our conversation, Kat tells us that it was in 2014 when she first registered her company, Kromad. But, at this point, she was still working as a one-person-band. It was because of one specific reason – one we’re sure many creatives can relate to – that she chose to officially launch her own business: “I registered the company mainly because I needed to show my mother, who didn’t understand anything about this world, that I was working a legitimate job,” Kat laughs. “She needed to know that I wasn’t just freelancing, she didn’t understand ‘freelance.’”
So, while Kat may have initially created the business under the guise of quashing her mother’s worries, it seems she may have something to thank her for. Now, Kromad is a flourishing creative agency that works across numerous areas, from branding to web design and communications, as well as having worked with a number of large names, such as luxury goods manufacturer Mont Blanc and makeup brand Nuda, to name but two.
It’s this attention and dedication to kindness, alongside “imagination and passion,” that Kat believes set herself apart in the earliest days of Kromad. In the years before Kromad became a fully fledged creative agency, in which Kat pretty much worked as a freelancer (unbeknownst to her mother), she tells us that “nothing made me happier than a happy customer.” Not only letting her know she was producing good work, a happy customer usually resulted in a referral, on which Kat really relied.
It was in 2018 that Kromad really began to take shape. Kat saw some of her first major projects come to life and hired some of her first employees. But, while all these things started to work out, the founder remained cautious. “Even though we were doing well, I had that bit of fear in the back of my mind that something might happen one day, so I have to always be prepared for it.”
March 2020 then proved a momentous turning point for Kromad, but perhaps not in the way most would expect. Having gained traction in the few years prior to the pandemic (Kromad was swimming in work), Kat admits they were only just keeping their head above water. “One of the challenges during those years was that I would over-schedule work because demand was high, and we were sinking, like flooded in work, and everyone was way too tired,” she explains. Then, when the pandemic hit, nearly all of their work was put on pause.
However, by the end of April, it seemed the creative industry in Montreal was “spared from the misfortunes of Covid.” With so many businesses needing to adjust to an online space, work soon came in abundance. Not only highlighting how good it felt to help businesses survive, the change in circumstance resulted in more geographical flexibility for the team – for instance, one of Kromad’s longest running employees, Yasmin, moved to Geneva, where she works as if she were still in Montreal. “The past few months have been really incredible in terms of work, and how much we have evolved as a creative agency,” Kat says. “The more people we have met, the more selective we have become, because of all this work and all the lessons we have learned.” On top of all this change, Kat also became a mother during this period and now feels “more useful than I have ever been.”
The ability to be selective over clients has since become one of the most important business aspects for Kat. In quite a unique – and quite brilliant approach – of choosing clients, Kat uses her own barometer of whether the client is someone “you would be able to have dinner with” to aid her decision. Essentially, questioning whether they’re “someone you find really interesting.” It’s a method that facilitates Kromad to enjoy the work they do, which eventually reflects back in the quality of the work itself. “I speak a lot to my team and we’ve all obviously had creative jobs before. Everyone has had a few bad experiences, and they're still scarred from that today,” Kat explains. “So I try and think, would this person be great to know? Is it a fun project? And will it overall result in a good relationship?”
This approach is also one that works both ways. If Kat prides herself on finding friendly clients, she equally prides herself on treating them as such. One way Kromad does this is by coaliting their clients into a CRM system. Through this system, the Kromad team can tell such things as when a client was last reached out to, or when their birthday is, sending a message or gift. “Once we started to implement this it really changed a lot of our organisation, but also I think it solidified our relationship with our customers much more,” Kat reflects. “I think those little gestures usually go a long way.”
Alongside Kromad’s client relationships, Kat has a similarly congenial approach toward the treatment of her employees. When Kromad first began to see its team growing, Kat recalls feeling the need to “micromanage”, but over the years she’s learned how integral it is to let individuals take the reins. “It’s important to be a leader that creates leaders,” as she puts it. “I really make sure my team has the power to carry on meetings, be able to make decisions and take control. I like to just force myself to stand back.” Now, Kat leads a team of seven who specialise in different areas of the company and have the ability to direct their work efficiently, all whilst having the flexibility to jump into other areas when necessary.
In line with this, Kromad is also an agency that stands out from the crowd for its ability to incorporate a broad range of specialisations. This approach finds its roots in Kat’s university days, when she was studying for a degree in industrial design. With the course allowing for a large remit of focus, Kat often found herself both creating a product and designing its identity. When it came to web-focused elements, Kat recalls “coding being something I was really fascinated by”, even taking a certificate at Harvard for a coding 101 class. In turn, when Kat was freelancing she offered her clients an “a-z type mandate,”. Today this extends to collaborators of Kromad, outsourcing necessary aspects like photography or copywriting. “We know there are much better creative agencies and freelancers who we can work in collaboration with,” the founder summarises.
When working across so many remits, Kat explains that Kromad’s use of Mailchimp has been of great benefit to its day-to-day work. Kromad first began using Mailchimp in its integral year of 2018, and one of the first things the founder recalls being struck by was how the platform was “always super friendly and easy to navigate”. Moreover, not only does Kromad utilise Mailchimp, they’ve also taken things one step further in joining Mailchimp & Co and becoming a Mailchimp partner. This has resulted in numerous project requests, which have now grown into larger projects and long standing relationships. When finding its feet, Kromad benefited from the platform's tutorials and courses. “You get to learn so much more than just using Mailchimp,” Kat says, “but also the right practices in general of sending out newsletters, creating different funells, and more.”
Kromad’s steady success is a clear indicator of what can be achieved when you lead your creative career with passion and determination equally balanced by close attention to kindness and compassion; both for your employees and the people you work with. For Kat Romanoff, when starting her own business, neither could be lost at the expense of the other. Now she’s at the forefront of an agency that paves the way for a new, much more considerate design industry.
If you’re currently pondering how to set up your own creatively-focused business, Kromad’s founder offers two key takeaways from her experience to date.
I believe it’s important to involve the team in various aspects of agency life. If my memory serves me right, Brian Collins (from the Collins agency that gave skin to brands like Dropbox and Spotify) once said something along the lines of “be a leader that creates more leaders, not followers”. This quote couldn’t ring truer. Don’t be afraid to give your team the power to carry on meetings, make decisions and take control. Stand back. You’ll be surprised at how effective trusting your team can be.
When looking back at Kromad’s client roster from beginning to now, I realise that most of the people behind the brands we’ve been working with became our friends. This is not only because of the months or years we spend on working with them, but mainly because the people we end up working with are influential in some way or another. They have a story to tell. If sitting across from them over a cocktail for a few hours sounds like an evening well spent, then working on a brand along their side will be a privilege. Take on projects from clients you’d want to have dinner with. They make the best clients, and friends.
Kat in her local park in Montreal. Photography Jodi Heartz and Alex Blouin
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.